27th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Alister McMullin) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Does the Minister recall the promises that were made by the Government a number of years ago to introduce laws and to confer with the States to see whether an educational programme could be instituted against the smoking of cigarettes? Does she recall the many occasions when the Government said that it would consider doing something about cigarette advertisements on radio and television? ls the Minister aware that the United States Senate recently passed a Bill to outlaw cigarette advertisements on radio and television? When will the Government do something positive to protect the health of the people of Australia, especially the young people, by entering upon a public health campaign to warn the people against the known dangers and to curb the advertising on radio and television which is promoting the use of goods dangerous to the health of the people?
– 1 recall very well the questions which Senator Murphy has asked previously. Other honourable senators from his Party and from this side of the Senate, Senator Turnbull and members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party also have referred to this problem. In reply to them 1 have said that I know there have been conferences between State and Commonwealth Ministers on this subject. This is a recognition of the problems which it brings about. I have assured honourable senators that any further information which is made available by my colleague the Minister for Health will be given to them immediately.
I take up a further point made by Senator Murphy. As I recall his question this afternoon, he asked when something will be done - I think those are the exact words; I ask him to forgive me if they are not quite right - to educate people to the problems of smoking and other harmful things. 1 would say that a great deal has been done about this already. Information has been made available and articles have been written. I believe that people are aware of the dangers, but I believe also that a great deal more still has to be done.
– They are even allowed to smoke in schools.
– I shall put before the Minister for Health the matters raised by Senator Murphy and that which is being raised by way of interjection by Senator Turnbull.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry as a matter of urgency request the Australian Wool Board to direct the International Wool Secretariat to make an early report to him giving the views of the International Wool Secretariat on the fall of wool prices over the last 6 months?
– I shall direct the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry to the honourable senator’s question and ask him as a matter of urgency to get these figures for the honourable senator.
– Can the Leader of the Government in the Senate give an assurance that every step is being taken to ensure that the dissension, bitterness and ill feeling existing at all levels in the Government ranks, which were prominently highlighted in today’s Tasmanian Press, will not be allowed to interfere further with the conduct of the affairs of this country? Will he further indicate in the public interest what prospects are in sight for a restoration of the seriously eroded confidence of the public in the ability of the present administration to carry out its obligation to provide the highest level of leadership, guidance and initiative in the conduct of this nation’s affairs.
– I would suggest that the honourable senator is completely bemused by his own propaganda.
– Can the Minister for Housing inform the Senate whether there is likely to be any delay in the granting of war service homes advances as a result of the increase in applications to which the Minister referred in the Senate last week?
– I well recall that last week a member of the Opposition in this place mentioned that war service homes activity was petering out and I contradicted that by saying that there had been increases in the number of applications. I am now asked whether this will mean any delay in the granting of advances. I would like to inform honourable senators - and I am sure that they will be aware of this - that over the past few years there has been no waiting time for war service homes loans. There has of course been the normal period of processing of applications. The processing time is sometimes lengthy and usually is about 4 months. This is to enable applicants to meet requirements. Very often there is delay in relation to title and various other matters.
– What has been the allocation to New South Wales to date?
– I am replying to a question by Senator Sim, the answer to which will cover exactly the points which concern Senator McClelland. I suggest that he listen to the reply. There is always this normal period of waiting while applications are looked at. But it is a fact that the applications for war service home loans have increased. When the allocation for war service homes was under consideration at Budget time last year an increase in the demand for war service homes was anticipated by the Government and the appropriation was increased from S50m for the previous year to $55m for the financial year 1969-70. But in fact the demand for loans has been greater than was anticipated and the loans cannot wholly be encompassed within the appropriation of $55m. I want to make it very clear that as a result it will be necessary to delay the settlement of some applications, notably applications in respect of existing properties, which ordinarily would be settled in May or June. It will be necessary to carry these applications over to 1970-71 for settlement in July.
– Next financial year?
– For settlement in July. New applicants seeking finance to purchase existing properties are being advised that there will be a waiting time of approximately 6 months from the date of their applications before settlement may be expected.
– I asked you this question yesterday and you said there was nothing wrong.
– The honourable senator did not ask me this question yesterday. If he had asked me this question I would have answered it but the honourable senator, not knowing what he wanted to ask, asked me whether loans were being frozen. Those are the words he used in his question yesterday. Let me finish. The period of 6 months covers the normal average processing time of 4 months plus 2 months waiting period. Loans for building and other purposes are not affected by the change in arrangements and there has, of course, been no freezing of loans as suggested by Senator McClelland yesterday. That was what he asked in his question. I repeat that there has been no freezing of loans. I have made the points clear so that it will be easy for the honourable senator to understand them. While there will be a slight delay before some loans can be granted, the delay will amount to no more than 2 months - I repeat, on some loans.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs. I seek information about a question listed on the notice paper which I asked a long time ago. The question is in this form:
How much of the total allocation for Aboriginal welfare, for the year 1968-69, remained unspent as at 30th June 1969?
I now ask whether it is a fact that the Minister has no proper accounting system within the Department and whether the information cannot be made available because of this fact.
– I will endeavour to obtain this information for the honourable senator. I have endeavoured so to do already. I shall again take up the matter with the MinisterinCharge of Aboriginal Affairs.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Because Australian doctors have indicated their dissatisfaction with the patched up health scheme produced by the Minister for Health, will the Minister representing that Minister tell the Senate how the Government will meet the doctors’ confrontation threat not to co-operate? As the scheme will cost the taxpayers twice as much as the figure given by the Prime Minister during the election campaign, what will the Government do now to ensure that the scheme will not collapse completely? If both parties persist in their attitude, when will the long suffering people get a scheme which will meet their requirements and which will be within their means?
– The honourable senator, in asking this question of my colleague the Minister for Health, Dr Forbes, rather implied that the scheme will not be successful. I make this point initially: I believe that it is tremendously important for us all to remember that the main thing with which the Government is concerned is the health and care of the people. I believe that 1 speak for the medical people when I say that the Australian Medical Association also is concerned with the health of the people. Yesterday the Minister released a Press statement on his meeting with members of the AMA. I believe that it would be worthwhile to give details of this Press statement. It reads:
He said he would have studies made of matters raised by the AMA on aspects of the lists of most common medical fees previously supplied to the Government by the association.
Dr Forbes said that at a meeting today, representatives of the AMA had asked that changes should be made to some of the most common fees previously agreed for services performed by both general practitioner and specialist doctors.
He said the Government was willing to review any matters of fact raised by the AMA about the list of most common fees. He had therefore agreed to the reconvening this afternoon of a joint AMAdepartmental working party to look at information supplied to him at the meeting this morning.
Dr Forbes said he had made it clear to the AMA representatives that while the Government was quite willing to consider new information on fees charged by general practitioners and specialists, it was firmly committed to the principle that patients should receive medical benefit rebates based on the fees which were in fact most commonly charged by doctors.
He added: ‘This principle stems from the Government’s resolve to provide adequate financial coverage for patients against the cost of all, and not just a section of, medical charges’.
I believe that statement confirms my point that both the AMA and the Government are conferring to assist the people.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration. In view of the further publicity given to the Motor Marine and General Insurance Co. Ltd, can the Minister now report on allegations made by me some months ago emanating from complaints made by members of the Lebanese community in Sydney about car insurance policy misrepresentations?
– Senator Mulvihill did speak to me about this matter on a previous occasion - I think, on the occasion of the one day sitting last year. I have discussed the matter with the Minister for Immigration, but I do not have any information from him. As soon as I have some information, I will advise the honourable senator. I hope to be able to give him some information before the end of the week.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Housing. I ask: Is it a fact that only applications which were lodged prior to yesterday will be processed by the War Service Homes Division between now and the end of this financial year? Will the Minister acknowledge that as from yesterday prospective applicants are being told that no money will be available to meet their applications until the commencement of the next financial year and that they should go elsewhere pending further sums of money being made available to the Division? Was the information which the Minister just gave to the Senate in reply to a question asked of her by Senator Sim available to the Minister yesterday when I directed a question to her about the freezing of applications for housing loans?
– Yes, the information was available to me yesterday, but the honourable senator did not ask me yesterday to supply it. I am very sorry, but I cannot be expected to read the honourable senators mind. Senator McClelland asked me a question about the freezing of funds and 1 answered his question. No-one can do more. If the honourable senator had asked me I could have given him the informamation which I have given to Senator Sim. I shall repeat the details for his benefit. Although the Government increased the appropriation this year for war service homes it will be necessary to delay the settlement of some applications because of an increased demand, ihe applications which would have been ordinarily settled in May or June will have to be carried over until July for settlement, which bears out the point I made about a 2 months delay. New applicants, who would come into the category the honourable senator has mentioned, seeking finance to purchase existing properties ure being advised that there will be a waiting time of approximately 6 months from the date of their application before settlement can be expected. It should be remembered that the normal processing time is about 4 months. The period of 6 months includes the normal processing period plus the 2 months delay I have already mentioned. I point out that although the Government has made available more money for war service homes the increase in applications is greater than it expected, which not only answers Senator McClelland’s claim but also the Opposition’s continual cry that the War Service Homes Division is winding up. It is not.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. 1 refer to the decline in shipbuilding activities in a number of shipyards throughout Australia, including South Australia. I ask: Is the Minister aware that 76 skilled shipbuilders are to be retrenched this week from the Adelaide Ship Construction yards in South Australia because orders are not coming in as expected? Will the Minister consider the action the Commonwealth Government can take to help the shipyards, including the yard 1 have mentioned, to get orders, as well as assist them in relation to Commonwealth orders?
– I was not aware that 76 shipbuilders were in danger of dismissal.
I shall direct the request of the honourable senator for assistance to the shipbuilding industry to the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– I wish to direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is it a fact that Mr Kevin Cairns, M.P., defeated Mr Dobie, M.P., for the chairmanship of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party’s Economics and Finance Committee? Is it a fact that Mr Kevin Cairns stated several months ago that he would not serve in any position under the Prime Minister? Is there any truth in the statement which is reported to have been made by Mr Dobie that the Committee was stacked by supporters of Mr Kevin Cairns? In view of the fact that the Committee is now apparently under the control of opponents of the Government, will this mean a change in the Government’s economic policy or will it merely mean that the splits which we have been seeing in the Liberal Party of Australia for many months past will become even more exacerbated?
– Again I would suggest that an honourable senator is caught up in the propaganda which emanates from the Australian Labor Party. Of course, that does not exclude the possibility that certain people in the Press thrive on propaganda. But for the life of me I cannot see what the internal appointments within a political party have to do with the welfare and the good of the nation.
– Can the Minister for Supply advise me whether the Government Aircraft Factory at Avalon, Victoria, will participate in the manufacture of component parts for overseas aircraft companies which have already granted or may grant contracts within Australia? Will these contracts be confined to Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne?
– As the question is presented I take the inquiry to be whether one part of the Government Aircraft Factory will be doing certain work or whether the Avalon section of the Government Aircraft Factory will be doing that work. Frankly, I am not aware of the division which may emerge but I can fairly readily obtain an answer for the honourable senator and will make it available as soon as I can.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister for Civil Aviation. Will the Minister make available to the Senate the full and detailed answers to my charges against the administration at the Yuendumu Aboriginal reserve which he received a couple of clays ago from the Minister for the- Interior? As the Minister has described as most serious allegations my charges in this matter, and as, after reading the answers supplied by the Minister for the Interior, he stated that many of the accusations, most of them serious, were not unsupported, what is the Minister whom the Minister represents prepared to do in regard to the not unsupported serious allegations?
– First of all, I ought to say that I did not say ‘not unsupported’. I said ‘not supported’, and I have asked for a correction of that mistake. I will not make available the answers which I had yesterday because, in my view, they do not fully cover the further points raised by Senator Cavanagh. I hope to have a full statement tomorrow and to make it available at the first opportunity.
– I desire to ask a question of the Minister for Supply. Is the Minister aware of a statement which appeared in the Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ last week indicating that the Whyalla Shipbuilding and Engineering Works would be interested in building the proposed Army logistics cargo ship? Is the Minister aware of the scope for and extent of industrial expansion in South Australia based on existing industrial capacity? Will favourable consideration be given to greater use of this capacity through Government orders for such defence requirements as the logistics cargo ship and other defence needs?
– I would like to take the question and make a close examination of it because I am under the impression that this matter would be primarily within the responsibility of the Minister for Shipping and Transport. When I have the lines of responsibility separated I will be in a better position to give a considered reply.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry draw the attention of that Minister to a resolution overwhelmingly carried at the Farmers Union conference in Perth yesterday opposing the lifting of the ban on the export of merino rams, so that the Minister will have a better understanding of the feelings of wool growers in this matter?
– I will draw the honourable senator’s request to the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Has the Minister seen reports that a coroner in Durham, England, has requested a psychiatrist to make an examination of the results of public performances given by hypnotists owing to the fact that apparently three persons have died in England following public performances given by hypnotists? In view of the fact that one of the hypnotists who apparently was involved in these productions is now in Perth where he is engaged in the production of television programmes, will the Minister request the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to investigate the matter and to make some inquiries into whether any dangers could result as was suggested by the British coroner?
– I did see the Press report. It seemed to me to be rather disturbing. I do not know anything further than that which I read in the newspaper but I shall certainly put to the Postmaster-General the point the honourable senator raised and obtain what information I can for him.
– I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport to questions Nos 73, 91 and 115 standing in my name on the notice paper. The first was asked on 4th March, 14 days ago; the second on 5th March, 13 days ago; and the third on 11th March, 1 week ago. To none of the questions have I yet received a reply. I now ask: Have details relating to, and the quantity of detergent used in, the Torres
Strait disaster not been disclosed because of the long range effect on marine life or because the oil companies involved will not supply the information to the Minister?
– As Senator Keeffe has reminded us, we do not yet have answers to these questions and until I get the answers I cannot give any information on the accuracy of the comments he has made. After question time this afternoon I again shall request information on these matters and seek answers to the honourable senator’s questions as soon as possible.
– 1 ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. When may we expect the action for reform of the penal provisions of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act which the Government, while rejecting abolition of the provisions, promised last year? Is not this action for reform overdue seeing that industrial trouble is increasing and that the present penal provisions appear to have been suspended by the Government, thus opening the door to the present indiscipline?
– The aspects to which the honourable senator has directed attention have not escaped notice. From his long industrial experience he will be the first to recognise that negotiations of this importance must not be disturbed by abruptness or premature dislocation. The aspects he has raised are being kept well in mind.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is the impending series of charter flights involving Qantas Airways Ltd and JAT - the Yugoslav national airline - a prelude to the latter joining the number of European airlines which operate regular services to Australia?
- Senator Mulvihill has asked a question about the possibility of an arrangement between JAT - Yugoslav Air Transport - and Qantas. I have no definite information on this although it is customary, once a migration arrangement is entered into, for the air carriers of both countries to do their best to facilitate the use of each other’s air transport systems.
I will endeavour to find out what T can for the honourable senator and update my present state of knowledge on this subject which is about 10 weeks old.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Will the Minister for Labour and National Service make his officers available in any one State of the Commonwealth to conduct a survey of the number of employees whose wages and conditions are governed by Federal awards to ascertain the number of workers who have availed themselves of the benefits of long service leave in the calendar year 1969? In such survey will the Minister disregard any pro rata leave availed of as a result of termination of employment, and also any lump sum payment made in lieu of such leave to relatives of deceased workers?
– On the face of it, the suggestion seems to be one of interest, but of course it is not one upon which I could usefully comment until its setting in the surveys presently being conducted within the Department is seen. The question will be referred to the Minister, who will consider it. T will ask him to reply to the honourable senator if he believes that a reply is necessary.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government. For the edification of honourable senators and, indeed, the community at large, will he provide definitions of the expressions currently used to describe Government activities, namely, the ‘Ginger Group’, the ‘Mushroom Club’ and the ‘Political Cave*, the last of which, I understand, has replaced what was formerly termed the ‘Cocktail Cabinet’?
– I would have thought that one could more readily get the definitions in the Labor Party.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Does the Government consider that control over the availability to the Australian public of harmful drugs in the form of various off the shelf pills is adequate? Is it a fact that the Government, on the advice of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee, has allowed the Australian public to consume a great volume of drugs without any real knowledge being available as to the effect on the health of the persons taking those drugs? Is it a fact that in the case of a number of chemical compounds there is now clear evidence that some pills are harmful to health and that it will now be necessary to caution the users about the hazards to their health? Will the Government give the Senate an assurance that the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee is adequately supported by funds and research facilities so that no drug which may be harmful is released for common retail sale?
– I think the points raised by the honourable senator are very valid. I recall Press statements that have been made by the Minister for Health, showing concern on these very points. In the final part of the honourable senator’s question, as I understand it, he requests that the Drug Evaluation Committee have adequate funds and opportunity - I think that would be the right word - to see that people are made aware of the effects of these drugs. The honourable senator also requests that some consideration be given to their availability if there may be harmful effects for those who take them, I will take this matter up with the Minister for Health. I believe that a great deal of the question would be replied to through State Ministers. But I will take up the matter of the part the Federal Government plays, and advise the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Housing and/or the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has either Minister received representations from the Geelong Chamber of Commerce requesting that flats be erected in that city for the housing of newly arriving migrants? If so, has any decision yet been reached on those representations?
– No knowledge of such a suggestion has come to me.
– Will the Minister make inquiries?
– I will ascertain whether the Minister for Labour and National Service has received any such representations, and let the honourable senator know.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Supply. I refer to his promise to bring before the Senate current information on the state of the Australian aircraft industry and on the achievement of offset orders for the Australian industry in relation to defence procurements overseas. When is it likely that this information on the current position of the industry will be brought before the Senate?
– Currently a series of interdepartmental discussions in relation to offset orders is going on. As I indicated in the Senate, last week I think it was, we had a visitation from executives of the Boeing aircraft company during which we were able to set up a situation in which certain Australian industry groups are going to Seattle to study a series of packages for the purpose of bidding. But that answers only part of the question Senator Bishop has asked. I hope to be in a position to make a comprehensive statement when we resume after the Easter recess. While I am on my feet, Mr President, perhaps I should inform honourable senators that I had intended to make today a statement in relation to Australia’s role in outer space and our responsibilities with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States of America. However, I have elected not to make that statement today because, as honourable senators have been advised, we are under some pressure to pass certain legislation within the next 48 hours. I therefore propose to delay making that statement until the week in which we resume after the Easter recess.
– I address my question to the Minister for Air. Last week I asked the Minister for Air for the cost of supplies and spares for Fill aircraft. In his answer he included that cost with the total cost involved in the purchase of the Fills. Why can he not separate the cost of supplies and spares from the total cost and inform the Senate of that amount?
– I thought that I had given the honourable senator the information for which he asked. If he would like detailed costs, I suggest that he place a question on the notice paper and I will obtain an answer for him.
– 1 desire to ask a question of the Minister for Civil Aviation. What allegations of mine in relation to the administration of Yuendumu Reserve are not supported by the answers received from the Minister for the Interior? As the responsible Minister has answered my allegations, what right has a Minister representing a Minister to withhold such answers which, as they relate to allegations made by me, should become my personal property rather than that of the representing Minister?
– The honourable senator has raised a nice point of constitutional argument that we might dispute forever. As Minister for Civil Aviation 1 administer the Department of Civil Aviation and not the Department of the Interior. Questions concerning the Department of the Interior should properly be addressed to me in my capacity as representative in the Senate of the Minister for the Interior. As 1 said last night after Senator Cavanagh spoke in the debate on the adjournment of the Senate - and I think I am correct - it seemed to me that he had raised quite a lot of new material. I therefore thought it proper and still think it proper to get for the honourable senator at the one time a concise and detailed answer to all his queries, and that is what 1 intend to do.
– Has the Minister representing the Attorney-General received replies to questions I have addressed to the Attorney-General’s Department in connection with Yirrkala tribal activities at Gove Peninsula? Is he as a representing Minister withholding that information and refusing me the right to obtain answers which are properly mine?
– I have not yet received answers to the questions that the honourable senator has put to me about Yirrkala Aboriginals. The other part of his question does not call for notice.
– I address my question to the Minister for Housing. Does the Minister recall stating in reply to my question yesterday about whether the War Service Homes Division has frozen or intends to freeze for a period of 6 months housing loans to be advanced by the Division: “The War Service Homes Division of my Department is carrying on with the lending of money to eligible persons as it has done in the past and will continue to do!? In view of the Minister’s statement today, does she now state that there is no change in the attitude adopted by the Division to applicants who are eligible for loans? When did the latest situation, outlined by the Minister earlier in question time, first come to her notice?
– 1 do not quite know what the honourable senator means by asking: ‘When did the earlier situation first come to her notice?’ 1 do not quite know what the honourable senator means by that expression in his question, so I must disregard it, not because 1 wish to be rude but because I do not quite know what he means. Yesterday the honourable senator asked me a question about the freezing of funds. Hie question and answer appear in Hansard; so he will be able to recall to mind what was said. I replied to the question and informed the honourable senator that the funds were not being frozen. It amazes me now to see Senator McClelland’s reaction to my answer. In the first sentence of my reply I said: This term “freezing” means, I presume, that there are not going to be any loans.’ If I had misunderstood the honourable senator I should think that he would have interjected and said: ‘That is not what I mean.’ But the honourable senator did not interject. Consequently I can only believe that I understood correctly his use of the term ‘freezing’ and that I have answered his question as he asked it yesterday. I have received two further questions today which 1 have answered also.
– I have a question for the Minister representing the Minister for Health. How does the Minister correlate her statement in answer to a question about health, that is, that the first consideration ot the Government and the Minister for
Health was the health of Australians, with the complete lack ‘ of activity in regard to the harmful effects of smoking on Australians? Is it true that a member of her Party resigned his seat in the House of Representatives to become a paid lobbyist for one or more of the tobacco companies?
– Dealing with the second part of the question, I am sorry that I do not know to whom the honourable senator is referring and therefore cannot answer the question. I just do not know to whom the honourable senator refers. In the first part of the question the honourable senator said that I had commented on the concern that the Minister for Health felt for the health of the people of Australia and he asked why, therefore, the Minister had done nothing more about people who smoke. However much information a government gives out and however much information a doctor gives to his patients about the dangers of smoking, there are people who will still continue to smoke. I do not think it can be said that it is the fault of the Minister for Health if people continue to smoke, nor would I ever blame a medical man if his patients continued to smoke.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Housing. As I have been requested by an ex-serviceman who has returned from Vietnam to assist him in an application for a war service home-
– I cannot hear the honourable senator.
– Perhaps we could stop some of the surrounding noise.
– Order! I ask that the honourable senator be given a reasonable hearing. We will have a little order.
– As I have been requested by an ex-serviceman who has returned from Vietnam to assist him in an application for a loan from the War Service Homes Division, may I take it from the Minister’s reply to an earlier question that such an application would have no effect until the next financial year? As this would seem to be a breach of agreement or undertaking
– The honourable senator is not asking for information now; he is trying to make a comment.
– Order! I do not want that argument over again.
– The Minister for Housing disagrees with her leader and nods her head. That is another division in the Liberal Party. Would the ex-serviceman be wasting his time by proceeding with his application? As this is a breach of the undertaking to those who are serving their country, should not a special supplementary appropriation be made to meet present day requirements?
– If I may answer the last part of the question first, a special supplementary appropriation would be a matter of Government policy and not a matter to be dealt with in reply to a question.
– Would you recommend it?
– I thought I was answering the question. If I may say so, I have a terribly helpful chorus. If I may continue I will get back to the point I am endeavouring to make. I know that the honourable senator is always most concerned about young people coming back from Vietnam and wanting homes.
– And concerned about them going to Vietnam, too.
– Yes I know, but at the moment we are dealing with the other matter. The honourable senator has referred to an individual case. It is impossible for me to answer a question about an individual case because I do not know the details of it. But let me go back to the point that I made to Senator Sim. I want to put it very clearly because I think it is very important. As a result of what I have said-
– You have not got the money.
– Senator Georges would do well to listen to this because he might have inquiries. As a result of the greater demand for loans it will be necessary to delay the settlement of some applications, notably applications in respect of existing properties, which ordinarily would be settled in May or June. New applicants seeking finance to purchase existing properties are being advised that there will be a waiting time of approximately 6 months from the date of their applications before settlement can be expected. The normal processing time is 4 months so this is an added 2 months only. Loans for building and other purposes are not affected by the change in arrangements. I cannot give the honourable senator any further information regarding the individual case but the information that I have given him and the other 2 honourable senators covers the overall picture.
(Question No. 44)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories, upon notice:
– The Minister for External Territories has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The answer to the honourable senator was provided in Question 1441 which is to be found on page 1507 of Hansard for the 26th September 1969. The position remains the same.
(Question No. 58)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Australian Governments to enable work onit to be started. Urgent consideration is now being given to the contents.
(Question No. 80)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
In cases of deportation effected under section 21 (3.) of the Migration Act 1958-1966, during the past 5 years, have there been any instances where an airline or shipping company has refused to meet the cost of the migrant’s return to his homeland; if so, how many people are concerned and which airline or shipping company refused to bear the travel costs.
– The Minister for Immigration has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Section 21 (3.) of the Migration Act 1958-1966 empowers an authorised officer to require the master, owner, agent or charterer of the vessel in which a deportee arrived in Australia to provide without charge to the Commonwealth a passage for the deportee to the place at which he boarded the vessel when he came to Australia.
This section may be invoked only in those cases where the Minister has ordered the deportation of a person by virtue of, or by reference to, section thirteen, paragraph (b) or (c) of sub-section (1.) of section sixteen or section seventeen of the Act.
Where section 21 (3.) applies in relation to a deportee but the Minister is satisfied that the deportee will not or may not be permitted to re-enterthe place at which he boarded the vessel when he came to Australia, the responsible persons may be exempted from their obligations to provide a passage for the deportee if arrangements to the satisfaction of the Minister are made for payment to the Commonwealth of a reasonable sum in respect of the cost, or part of the cost, of a passage for the deportee to some other place outside Australia (section 21 (6.)).
The master, owner, agent or charterer of a vessel may not be required to remove a deportee from Australia or to provide passage for the deportee if the latter was admitted as an assisted passage migrant or as the holder of a migrant visa; or in those instances where the deportee is the wife and child of such a person, was included in the latter’s passport, and accompanied him to Australia (section 21 (8.) ).
It is the practice to invoke section 21 (3.) whenever appropriate. The record of these negotiations appears in individual case files and statistics are not available. Officers are unable to recall any instance in which an airline or shipping company has refused to discharge its obligations pursuant to section 21 (3.) of the Migration Act.
(Question No. 18)
asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
– The Postmaster-General has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 27)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
What would be the anticipated cost to the Commonwealth of providing for 4 weeks annual leave for Commonwealth public servants.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: i refer the honourable senator to the statement made in the House on 4th March 1970 by my colleague, the Minister for Labour and National Service, in which he estimated that if the additional work force were recruited to make up the time lost the cost would be $25 m per annum. i understand that this estimate relates to all Commonwealth employees and not only to Commonwealth public servants.
(Question No. 28)
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
What action has been taken by the Department of the Treasury on the eleven findings of Ihe Joint Committee of Public Accounts in its 112th Report, relating lo Commonwealth advertising.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The findings of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts in its One Hundred and Twelfth Report are still under study in the Treasury.
As soon as this has been completed, the Treasury views and action taken will be conveyed to the Committee in a Treasury Minute in accordance wilh ihe agreed arrangements and will be made public when the Treasury Minute is tabled by the Committee in both Houses of Parliament.
(Question No. 29)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
How much has been spent by Australia, and in what countries, on the purchase of (a) television films and (b) feature or cinema films, from foreign countries, in each of the years since 1962.
– The Minister for
Trade and Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The following table shows allocations of overseas exchange which i am informed have been authorised since 1962-63 for the purchase of films for television programme material and for other exhibition purposes. Statistics are not available for payments to individual countries. However, the undermentioned payments to the sterling area and non-sterling area would be predominantly for material of United Kingdom and United States of America origin respectively.
(Question No. 51)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice:
-BROCKM AN - The Minister for the Navy has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 55)
Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
Has the Minister inquired as to the circumstances in which a Commonwealth car allegedly failed to arrive for the Premier of Victoria at a
Premiers Conference session on Thursday, 26th February 1970? If so, what have the inquiries revealed.
– The Minister for the Interior has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Three Commonwealth cars with drivers were detailed to stand by at the Hotel Canberra from 8 p.m. on the day in question to provide transport for those Premiers and their staff and State officials who required it between the Hotel and Parliament House for the meeting arranged for 8.30 p.m. One car only was availed of, taking four passengers. The other two cars remained outside the Hotel and the drivers periodically entered the foyer of the Hotel to see if there were any others looking for transport but they were not called upon. The cars remained there until 8.35 p.m. when they returned to the Transport Depot.
(Question No. 85)
asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for the Navy, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Navy has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
– At yesterday’s question time I answered a question addressed to me by Senator Mulvihill about an incident at Essendon Airport on 28th February concerning the late Mr Pugh, an Australian Broadcasting Commission reporter. In my answer I said I would hope to have further information on this matter later in the day and would make it available to Senator Mulvihill today. Subsequently, Senator Poyser raised the matter in the adjournment debate and I replied by again saying that the matter was being investigated and I would advise the Senate as soon as possible. I have now received a report from the Department of Civil Aviation and am in a position to give the following information in reply to the Senate.
Because of the number of reporters and photographers from the various news media awaiting the arrival at Essendon of the aircraft carrying Mr Burchett, the TransAustralia Airlines assistant airport manager at Essendon Airport addressed the gathering of news men and informed them that photographers only would be allowed to enter the restricted tarmac area and that the reporters were to remain in the holding area adjacent to the terminal building. The reporters were further informed that interviews with Burchett could take place inside the terminal building after all passengers were cleared. These instructions given by the TAA assistant airport manager were acknowledged by the late Mr Pugh in a written statement made by him. TransAustralia Airlines and Department of Civil Aviation traffic staff were given these directions to hold the reporters at the terminal end of the TAA finger and formed a line across this finger to ensure that the plan was implemented. As the Burchett party proceeded along the linger towards the terminal building there was an attempt by the reporters to break through the line formed by the DCA and TAA officers and it was during this attempted breakthrough that the alleged assault on the late Mr Pugh occurred. Statements received from TAA and DCA officers, from reporters and from a member of the Commonwealth Police on duty at the airport on the night in question, present conflicting information and it is obvious that there was a good deal of confusion at the time. The two DCA traffic officers on duty both deny that the late Mr Pugh was struck with intent but both imply that in the confusion he may have been struck inadvertently. If this did happen, 1 believe the act of striking was not premeditated or done deliberately.
I believe it is quite ‘ clearly established that Pugh’s method of attempting to gain access to a prohibited area was the prime cause of the incident and any force used by the traffic staff on duty was the result of strong provocation. I am now satisfied that the letter published in the Melbourne Age’ of 13th March from Mr C. H.
Brennan, referred to by Senator Mulvihill, gives in some important respects an exaggerated account of the incident. I believe the Department of Civil Aviation traffic staff at airports throughout Australia have established a splendid record in the manner in which they have controlled highly emotional crowds during the arrival of international celebrities.
– I have received from Senator Keeffe an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgency, namely:
The need for the Commonwealth to exercise the powers granted to it by the Aboriginal Affairs Referendum of 1967 to uplift the Aboriginal people and to protect their culture and their interests. ls the motion supported? (More than the number of senators required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places).
– I move:
That the Senate, al its rising, adjourn till tomorrow at 10 a.m. 1 do not suppose that any honourable senator has a great deal of pleasure in having to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgency, but I believe that, because of the neglect of Aboriginals in many fields, the apparent inability of the Government to implement powers granted by the people in the Aboriginal Affairs Referendum of 1967 in the spirit in which the referendum proposal was supported by the people of Australia and many other reasons, it is necessary that such a matter of extreme urgency be debated now.
The Commonwealth gained certain powers as a result of the carry in <> of the referendum proposal. It is the desire of the Australian Labor Party to uplift the Aboriginal people and to protect their culture and interests. As a result of the carrying of the referendum proposal the Office of Aboriginal Affairs was formally established at Commonwealth level, but it appears to be hamstrung in its activities. Either it does not have a great deal of power or, if it has powers, its powers are apparently not being exercised by the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth). Though the Minister receives publicity for his efforts in this direction it would appear that behind the scenes the Prime Minister (Mr Gor.ors) manipulates the strings of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. I think that assertion is correct.
I believe that most Australians were very happy to know that a number of Aboriginals had been appointed to the administrative staff of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. Most of these Aboriginals are highly capable. However, although they were very vocal representatives of their people before their appointment to these administrative positions, we have heard very little from any of them since their appointment, although some of them are well known in Australia. I know of at least one occasion when a senior member of the Office was told - and witnesses can be produced to confirm this if a royal commission is held - that if he found any fault when carrying out an inspection of the living and working conditions of some of the people of his race he was not to speak about it publicly at any time. Because of the gag which was placed on him by the Office he was unable to make any public utterance as to his findings on his tour of inspection. The Minister has placed the administration of the Office under a vow of silence. In other words, these people are no longer able to act as official spokesmen for their people.
Section 51 of the Australian Constitution states:
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for ihe peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to-
And the various subsections are set out in the Constitution. In 1903, subsection (xxvi) was included, which states:
The people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.
One would have thought that in the period between 1903 and 1967 a more humane attitude towards the problems of the Aboriginals of Australia would have developed, but that is not so. We had an example of this only a few days ago. The GovernorGeneral said in his Speech:
My Government will continue its policy of fostering Aboriginal initiative, will use the special capital fund which has been set up to assist in this task, and hopes that during the lifetime of the Parliament any remnants of discriminatory legislation against Aboriginals will be eliminated.
In stating these views the Governor-General probably hoped that this Parliament would last its full term of 3 years, though he may not have thought it would do so. Even if the Parliament does last its full term it is a shocking state of affairs when one considers that in 1970 - 200 years after Australia was discovered by the so-called superior white race - we are still discriminating against the original Australians. I ask the Minister for Housing (Dame Annabelle Rankin) who represents the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) what happened at the conference of CommonwealthState Ministers which was held in Sydney, appropriately enough I suppose if one looks at the shocking conditions imposed on these people, on Black Friday, 13 th March. No official report has been presented to this chamber and I do not think any report has gone to the other place. It is significant that the Press coverage of this conference was particularly small. One can only assume that the Ministers themselves decided that they made no decisions of any great moment and, consequently, they did not feel they had anything worth reporting to the Australian people.
I want to quote from page 1143 of the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1969, to show what I term - I think justifiably so - the hypocritical attitude adopted by governments in view of statements which have been made over a lengthy period. This is the quotation from that book:
The Commonwealth and State governments have adopted a common policy of assimilation which seeks that all persons of Aboriginal descent will choose to attain a similar manner and standard of living to that of other Australians and live as members of a single Australian community, enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities and influenced by the same hopes and loyalties as other Australians.
Under the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948-66, all Aborigines are British subjects and Australian citizens. Since the commencement of the Social Welfare Ordinance 1964 in September 1964, Aborigines in the Northern Territory have been equal at law with all other residents, although some special benefits have been retained for them or have been introduced since then. The Ordinance enables assistance to be given to any person who is socially or economically in need.
I submit that, in fact, the spirit of that statement has never been observed and the situation today is exactly the same as it was 50, 60, 70 or 80 years ago.
I want to make particular reference to my own State of Queensland because, as I have said when speaking in debates of this nature before, that is the area with which 1 am most familiar. In Queensland there is an Act known as an Act to Promote the Well-Being and Progressive Development of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the State and the Torres Strait Islanders. It is this little booklet, Mr Deputy President, which contains much of the repressive type legislation that has been applied. But it is even worse in the regulations under the Act, the Aborigines’ and Torres Strait Islanders Regulations of 1966. I want to quote 2 or 3 of the relevant Regulations. It is impossible in the time allocated to a debate of this nature to go into this in detail but I have no doubt we will be able to do that in this place at a later time. Regulation 13 says:
Any person who enters or remains on a Reserve or in a community without authority of the Manager of such Reserve or community shall be guilty of an offence and may be summarily ejected from the Reserve or community by or by order of the District Officer or Manager. 1 might say that other parts of the Regulations and of the Act delegate responsibility to the Manager or whoever may be acting in his place. Regulation 19 says:
An Aboriginal Council established pursuant to these Regulations shall be constituted by four assisted Aborigines who shall be appointed as follows:
Two assisted Aborigines to be elected by the resident assisted Aborigines of the Reserve in respect of which the Council is established;
Two assisted Aborigines to be appointed by the Director:
Provided that if candidates do not offer for election, or if for any reason an election cannot be held, all members of the Council may be appointed by the Director.
I would challenge the Minister to state when the last free elections were held at the 8 or 10 council areas in Queensland. I know that at one time on one reserve an attempt was made by interested people on that reserve to have an election. They were stood over by the manager of the reserve until they obtained the required number and there was no ballot.
But it goes even further than that. Another regulation provides:
Subject to these Regulations an Aboriginal Council shall be responsible to the Manager for the conduct, discipline and well-being of assisted Aboriginals residing within the Reserve or community. The Council shall have the power to make by-laws, resolutions and orders for the well-being and progressive development of assisted Aboriginal residents but-
I emphasise this - every By-law, resolution and order so made by the Council shall receive the approval of the Director before it shall have force or effect.
So even though in theory you can democratically elect a council on the lines I have set out, in practice if the Director or his nominee desires not to implement any recommendations, those recommendations will not be implemented. The Director or his nominee has the last say. This might apply very well if one were running a zoo, a racehorse stud or something like that where you need internal discipline in order to regulate the paddocks in which your animals shall congregate and matters of that nature. But we are dealing with human beings. We are dealing with people who are the same as we are. Their only handicap is that their skin is non-white. However, that is not the attitude that this Government has adopted: that is not the attitude that the Queensland Government has adopted, and it is not the attitude that has been adopted in the Northern Territory or in Western Australia.
– The Party to which you belong was in power in Queensland for many years.
– The fact that things went wrong in past days does not mean that you have to perpetuate the system. The Country Party Government in Queensland is perpetuating a system which was established by its own forebears 100 years ago.
– For how long has the Country Party Government been in office?
– The Country Party Government, with some aid from the Liberal Party, mostly in faction fighting lately, has been in office for 12 or 13 years. I shall refer to 2 or 3 individual cases which 1 think need highlighting in order to emphasise the restrictive practices which are being applied’ under the Act and the regulations. Let me take a recent instance in the Palm Island area. A couple of youngsters look a boat to the mainland. Supposedly they were on a fishing expedition but they did not go fishing; they went to the mainland and picked up a little bit of alcohol. I might say that alcohol is a pretty scarce commodity on Palm Island at present but in comparatively recent months you could buy a bottle of very cheap wine - what Australians commonly refer to as plonk - for SIO. A bottle of methylated spirits was available to residents of the Island for $5 a bottle. You could not get a bottle of beer for under $2. Alcohol is not allowed on the Island except for the white residents for medicinal purposes; I think that is how it is described. It is not allowed for anyone whose skin is not white. Significantly the rum running, if you like to call it that, was done by white people running boats to the Island and making an exorbitant profit. Every so often a while man is caught and fined S50 or something like that, but that is his licence fee for the year.
In this case the boat was impounded for 3 months. My approaches to the Director were successful in getting 2 or 3 weeks taken off the 3 months, and I was requested by the Director to give the man concerned a lecture and to tell him that it was not to happen again. This state of affairs does not apply only to this settlement; it applies to other settlements. This same iron hand of discipline is exercised over the inhabitants in almost every government settlement in Queensland in the same way as you exercise discipline over a cow or on a poultry farm.
– Or as you exercise it in the ALP.
– If you were there, senator, you probably would exercise even greater discipline. Equally significant of the Government’s contempt for proposals of the nature of the one now before the Senate is the fact that not one Minister is in the chamber even though we are discussing a matter of urgency. The absence of any Minister shows the contempt of the Government and of the ministry for matters of urgency and for great social questions of the day. I apologise to Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin who is now here.
Whenever I have addressed letters to the residents of al least two government settlements the letters have never been delivered. So now one is almost forced to use a sort of carrier pigeon system, such as giving them to people going back to the settlements, in order to make sure that they are delivered. I am told that on one settlement a resident wrote to the Minister and it was a fortnight after the reply arrived at the post office before it was delivered to him because all the white officials on the settlement read it. If that is the sort of system that is maintained, it should stop tomorrow.
Child endowment is paid on a group basis. Again I can quote from histories of cases with which I have dealt. I challenge the Minister to have a look at the two hats he wears and see whether as Minister for Social Services and Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs he can play around with group allocations of child endowment. I know of one instance in which a mother on the mainland badly needed the child endowment not in order to look after her children but merely to pay arrears of rent in respect of the very dilapidated little flat in which the family lived. For 2 months she had been paid no child endowment at all. Actually, the period was a little in excess of 2 months. On the point of desperation we conducted a search for this child endowment. The Brisbane office denied responsibility. The local office denied responsibility. The reserve on which she previously lived denied responsibility. Subsequently it was located. But the nonpayment of it caused much hardship for that family.
What we are saying is that the spirit of the 1967 referendum implies much more than the Government has put into the job that is before it and the job that it has done to date. We have to start right at the very grass roots of the problem. It is a problem whether or not we want to look at it and whether or not Ministers in this chamber or members of the Government generally are interested in it. In this country there are people who, judging by the way they voted in the referendum, are most anxious to see this great social blot on Australia obliterated. We will have to start with the children. Because of the neglect that has been shown over so many years there is a group in the 50 to 70 years age range with whom we will not be able to do very much. They are probably beyond help. But there is a tremendous job still to be done among the teenagers, those of pre-school age, those attending school, the young married people and those who are now rearing families.
Let me quote a case that illustrates the lack of ability or lack of interest shown by the Government. 1 think the allocation for the Townsville area in the previous financial year was about $150,000. Something like 15 or 16 homes were made available to Aboriginals from the sum of money that was allocated. But it appears that a person has to be on side with the Government front organisation known as OPAL before he can be recommended to occupy one of these homes. If he has a history of protest, if he has ever said on a government settlement that a wage of S8 or $10 a week is not sufficient to keep a family or if he has ever protested about the living conditions under which he has had to exist on a government settlement, his name will never go on the list tor home.
I know of one individual who has worked constantly in regular employment for 8 years. He lives in a 1 -bedroom home. He has asked on numerous occasions for assistance in purchasing or renting a home large enough to comfortably house himself, his wife and his family of 9 or 10 children.
Where is this?
– In Townsville. I will give the Minister the case history if she ever needs it. Recently he knew of a couple of 3-bedroom housing commission homes that were becoming available.
– This is straight out of the ‘Four Corners’ programme.
– Yes, 1 understand that this case was put into the ‘Four Corners’ programme - and justifiably so, too. The more publicity that can be given to rackets of this nature the better off these people will be and the bigger disgrace it is to everybody represented by Sir Magnus Cormack.
The 2 homes were available but the man was told that he could not occupy either home because local by-laws stated that a family of the size of his would not be permitted to live in a 3-bedroom home. But the by-laws seem to be adjustable enough to allow that family to live in sub-standard conditions. Another instance that is very fresh in my memory is that of a Torres Strait islander who applied for a loan to purchase a small farming property. After a wait of 7 or 8 months the property was no longer available. However, the Government gave him a small loan to allow him to go on to a little patch of ground about 6 acres in area that would not support bandicoots, let alone the man and his family.
A great number of such cases have occurred. Probably Senator Georges is more familiar than I am with the circumstances surrounding the Mona Mona Cooperative. Apparently a loan of $5,000 has been granted to stock this property, but nobody knows where the money has gone since last November. Recently I was able to trace it through the banking side of the Department, but a letter to the Minister on the matter has not even brought a reply. And that is nol the only letter on the subject that has gone to the Minister. The people involved in the co-operative business have made numerous inquiries but have been unable to ascertain details. When Senator Georges speaks later in this debate he will probably give more details than J have been able to cite.
I ask on behalf of my Party and the people involved that the Government adopt a more humane attitude than it has shown; that it operate the Department with the intention of getting something done; that it withdraw the gag from its own employees; and that it abandon attempts made through Government supporters to smash every Aboriginal organisation, with one or two exceptions, in this country.
– That is a ridiculous statement.
– It is not ridiculous. There is plenty of evidence to support it if it is looked for with open eyes and an open mind. One of the obvious intentions of the Government is to divide the Aboriginal people and their spokesmen. This is not a fair go. In this day and age surely the Aboriginal people can speak for themselves, adopt responsible attitudes and put their case as clearly as they possibly can. But that is not being allowed. I submit with all sincerity and honesty that one of the aims of the Government is to divide completely the Aboriginal people so that they are made to speak with divers tongues. This is one way to hold down a minority and it is precisely the attitude and programme being adopted by the Government.
The referendum in 1967 to allow a better deal for Aboriginals under the Constitution was carried by an overwhelming majority of the people of this nation and the results of that referendum ought to be implemented in a humane way. At question time today I asked for details of the allocation of the funds left at 30th June 1969 from the sums set aside for distribution to Aboriginals. It is significant that I cannot get replies to that type of question, or if I do get a reply the answer I seek is hidden in a great mass of verbiage that makes the answer senseless and defies analysis. Allocations of funds ought to be made in special circumstances. No local government authority should be expected to build a dozen houses for people in the area who are badly in need of accommodation, unless additional loans are made available by the Commonwealth.
It is of no use to say that the Commonwealth does not have the power. The Commonwealth has the power to allocate finance for particular purposes wherever and whenever it wants to do so. I do not know of any State in Australia except Tasmania that does not have a great need for additional housing, and in many instances for school and health facilities. A Commonwealth allocation could be made direct to local government authorities to provide accommodation for Aboriginals. The Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) has said publicly more than once that he does not want to tread on the toes of the States. He does not seem to be worried by the fact that repressive State legislation remains in force. The Commonwealth Government has a responsibility to do something about it and my colleagues who support me in this debate will outline details of the way in which action is required.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) [4.21] - I wish to say at the outset quite clearly and emphatically that 1 fail to see the real urgency in the matter that has been raised by Senator Keeffe, who will be supported, I believe, by his colleagues. I wish to remind honourable senators that the entry of the Commonwealth as a government into the field of Aboriginal affairs transpired only as a result of the Commonwealth referendum at the end of 1967. That provided some constitutional sanction for the Commonwealth Government to enter the field and to aid the States in the problems presented by the Aboriginal people in Australia. There is a very big problem, but I repudiate as a senator representing Victoria the statement that the States have not been interested since early colonial times in the well-being of the Aboriginal people. Since the time of self-government in Victoria the Aboriginal people there have been citizens of the State of Victoria and have been entitled to vote in Victorian elections.
In the early 1950s I took the trouble to investigate this matter on behalf of my party. I was delighted to discover that the well being of Aboriginals has been a constant preoccupation of the Victorian Parliament for nearly 100 years. There has always been in Victoria the equivalent of a ministry of Aboriginal affairs. As a result of the investigation made by myself and some of my colleagues, notably Senator Greenwood, we were able to have a royal commission established in Victoria to examine the problem of Aboriginal welfare in the context of the 1950s, a time when scientific aid was more readily available.
A system involving a scientific and anthropological background to the study of Aboriginal affairs began to emerge at Commonwealth level in the 1960s and was first established by the present Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth). He set up the Institute of Aboriginal Studies to provide at least a scientific background to the problems presented by Aboriginals all over Australia. Last year the Minister set up the Council for Aboriginal Affairs headed by a very distinguished Australian, an ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Honourable senators should remember that the powers obtained constitutionally by the Commonwealth Government as a result of the 1967 referendum are additional to the powers inherent in a State. In other words, the responsibility for Aboriginals in Australia, except in the Territories of the Commonwealth, is a concurrent power divided between the States and the Commonwealth. I think it is grossly unfair of Senator Keeffe, who has now raised this matter in the Senate, to make the accusations and allegations he has made. One of his remarks, which I noted, was that the Council for Aboriginal Affairs had done nothing. He said that the Council had made no statement. I have here, because I went to the area where it is possible to get these matters, a Press release.
– I did not say that. Do not start distorting the facts.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACKThe honourable senator said, as I recollect it, that the Council for Aboriginal Affairs had never disclosed any activity in which it had involved itself. Only 3 or 4 days ago a Press statement was issued.
– I rise to order. I claim to have been misrepresented. Shall I leave my remarks until the end of the debate?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - The honourable senator may not make his remarks at this stage, but he may do so at the end of the debate.
– I do not wish to embarrass Senator Keeffe; it is enough for him to say that he did not say that. If he says that I misheard him, I withdraw and apologise. A few days ago a Press statement was issued by the Council for Aboriginal Affairs. As it is of interest I think I should read at least a couple of paragraphs from the statement. It referred to a meeting of State and Commonwealth Ministers responsible for Aboriginal affairs. The Press statement said:
The Ministers reviewed developments over the past year which affected Aboriginal Australians. They also discussed possible programmes for action for the coming financial year.
In reviewing activities in 1969-70 the Ministers considered that significant progress towards the goal of real Aboriginal equality with other Australians has resulted because of the considerable funds available from the States with increased supporting funds from Commonwealth sources.
So in what might be described as the first full year or 15 months in which the Commonwealth has been in the administration of this area we find that the State Ministers have agreed that with the additional funds established by themselves and the flow of Commonwealth funds there has been a significant advance in the affairs of Australian Aboriginals.
I turn now to a report which was issued for the year 1968-69 relating to the Capital Fund for Aboriginal Enterprises. Senator Keeffe has made no reference to this, but there is a document - a blue book of some 20 pages - which sets out the sums of money that have been made available at all levels, in all areas and in all States to enable Australian Aboriginals to set up economic enterprises. The important factor in this is that when the present Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs took over the Office of Aboriginal Affairs in the Commonwealth jurisdiction he laid it down as a fundamental of the Commonwealth’s approach that first the financial security of the Aboriginals should be sought and that when we were able to obtain some degree of economic dependence on behalf of and within the Aboriginal societies in Australia, then and then only would there begin to flow some of the social benefits which would improve their economic status. This is the form and direction that has been taken. This leads me on to analyse - only in part, because I have not time to do this - the sort of economic aid that the Commonwealth Government has been able to give in the 15 months or so in which it has been responsible and able to intervene directly in these affairs. For the benefit of honourable senators I quote from a report which is available to any honourable senator who wishes to look for it.
– What is the report?
– It is called 41/ ……….. ……..’ and is issued by the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, Canberra. At page 2 the report states:
Much has happened since the establishment of the Council and Office of Aboriginal Affairs at the end of 1967 and early in 1968.
Then it goes on to illustrate for the year 1968-69 the financial aid that has been provided directly by the Commonwealth to the States in the context of the economic advancement of Aboriginal people and the social progress that should be able to flow from the availability of money in this area of social management and progress in Australia.
Because Senator Keeffe, who is from Queensland, has been tending to concentrate on his own State, perhaps instead of dealing with this in the order of seniority in which these matters are normally tabulated I should go straight to the State of Queensland. In that year there was allocated to Queensland from Commonwealth resources §800,000 for housing, $325,000 for health and. $325,000 for education, a total of $1,450,000. The allocation by the
Commonwealth to New South Wales for housing, health and education was $775,000. Under the same headings Victoria received a total of $225,000, South Australia received $350,000 and Western Australia, in respect of which Senator Cant will intrude in the debate, received $825,000. For Tasmania, because there are Aboriginal descendants on some of the islands off the north coast of Tasmania, the allocation was $25,000.
In addition to these grants there have been the problems of education. So there has been instituted the Aboriginal study grants scheme. The applications and grants and awards that have been made are of this order: In Queensland, 43 awards out of 49 applications; and in New South Wales 24 awards out of 29 applications. In addition grants were made in the following fields: For university education, 11; for secretarial and business college courses, 64; for matriculation studies, 12; for teacher training, 5; and for others, mainly at technical colleges, 23. In addition to this, as honourable senators will recollect, in the Bill which was passed through the Senate the Commonwealth provided subsidies to the wage structure of Aboriginals to allow them to be employed in areas where their study, education and skills did not put them on a parity with European-descended labour. I have no intention of citing statistics endlessly, although I could do so, as I believe I have quoted enough to illustrate to the Senate that the Commonwealth Government has taken great strides in the 18 months in which it has had the administrative component by which it could move into this field of Aboriginal advancement. The Commonwealth entry to this field has had a fertilising effect inside the States because the States have increased their flow of money and social measures of one sort and another for the Aboriginals.
Before I sit down I think I should make a personal observation on what we are attempting to do. It was thought in Victoria that it was proper to provide in the 1950s a method to enable the people of Aboriginal descent in that State to move directly into the area of normal citizenship activities. But what was also discovered when they attempted to do this was that the Aboriginal people wished to retain their own reservations; in other words, when the Government of Victoria sought to dispense with one reservation known as the Lake Tyers settlement where attempts had been made over the past 120 or 130 years to establish a farming community, the Aboriginal descended people demanded the reestablishment of this reservation system. So although reservation systems such as the one at Palm Island out from Townsville off the Queensland coast, a settlement which Senator Keeffe denounced, are condemned out of hand by many people Aboriginal people feel to a major degree that they must have some place of retirement from the friction points which they tend to find as they try to enter the basically European oriented society of Australia.
When we come to northern Australia where attempts are being made - in the Northern Territory some fairly successful attempts are being made - to set up Aboriginal industries of one sort or another, the records of which, if searched or looked at, will disclose that at least a beginning has been made, it seems to me that we have to be extraordinarily careful that in the emotional approach that we tend to make to this problem - it is a problem - we do not start to create 2 nations in Australia.
– That is what you are trying to do at Bamaga.
– [ am just saying that the Aboriginal people want a reservation system. The intellectual and scientific drive in Australia is to try to create a society in which Aboriginals will fully merge with Australians of European descent. There may be a danger of finally reaching the point where we will not have a fully integrated society. We could have in Australia the emergence of 2 nations.
– We have had 2 nations in Australia over the last 200 years.
– I am not dealing with what has happened in the last 200 years. I am just saying that in our drive to bring Aboriginals to a point of advancement which is cO-equal at least in terms of skills and education with that of the migrant population in Australia, that is, the European descendant population, we may do the very thing that we are seeking to avoid - the creation of 2 nations in Australia, which may have untold consequences for the people.
– I rise to speak in this debate because of my concern about what is happening with respect to the Aboriginals in Australia. I do not doubt for one moment the assistance figures which Senator Sir Magnus Cormack gave to the Senate today. 1 would like to know a little more about how the money is being disbursed; perhaps in a debate at a later time I will try to expose some of that. The honourable senator in making apologies for what had not been done said that the power granted in 1967 was a concurrent power with the power of the States. He completely overlooked the provisions of section 109 of the Constitution which allows the laws of the Commonwealth to supersede the laws of a State where there is inconsistency. Therefore the Commonwealth can pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal people irrespective of the fact that this is a concurrent power, and the Commonwealth laws will be supreme.
The honourable senator also said that the Aboriginals wanted to retain their own reservations. I take it that he was speaking about the Aboriginals in Victoria because 1 do not think that this is the position throughout Australia. The subjects that I want to talk about in this debate are the reservations and the culture and the protection of Aboriginals on reservations. This year we celebrate 200 years of white supremacy in Australia. As I said by way of interjection to the honourable senator a little while ago, we have had in Australia 2 nations for 200 years. There has been white intrusion into a land peopled by those whom we have been pleased of late to call Aboriginals. In the past we have called them all sorts of things but today these have been refined to the term Aboriginals.
– That is not true of me. I grew up with them.
– The honourable senator may not be the only one. I do not think he can claim any privilege on that score. We may well ask what rights these people have in the land of their origin. This is important when one speaks about reservations. Those Aboriginals whom we did not kill directly were pushed out into the less hospitable parts of this country to exist as best they could. They were pushed on to reservations. The white people took the best of the land, the land that provided for the Aboriginals their food and all sorts of things. We pushed them on to reservations and we took the best of the land where the game and water were. We went further than that. We prostituted their women and introduced all manner of diseases amongst them. We degraded the dignity of the Aboriginal males. We destroyed their tribal lands, their myths and their sacred sites. We are continuing to destroy their sacred sites. We herded them on to reservations, areas of land set aside for the exclusive use of the Aboriginal people. I say ‘for the exclusive use of the Aboriginal people’ because under the law in Western Australia no-one is permitted to go on to an Aboriginal reserve without the permission of the Western Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
– But that is to prevent some of the things you have just described - the degradation of their civilisation.
– It may have been for that reason. We pushed them on to these places and we forbade anyone else to go there. I will illustrate shortly the way in which we did not keep this up. We having created these reservations for them and forbidden anyone else to go on to them, I suggest that the natives were then entitled to consider at least that part of Australia as their land. Events of the past few years have exposed the fact that these areas can be invaded at will. The wealth that exists in those areas is immediately taken by the white people. I refer to the mining companies that invade Aboriginal reserves and take all the wealth of those reserves. There is no Aboriginal participation in the wealth that is on the reserves. The Aboriginals are not invited to take part in any mining venture. In Bougainville we set aside 20% of the copper shares to be purchased by the Administration of Papua and New Guinea at par, not at a premium, for the benefit of the indigenes of Papua and New Guinea. But we cannot do the same thing in respect of our own Aboriginals whom we pushed on to reservations, telling them that the reservations were theirs. In many cases not only were white people not permitted to go on to the reserves but the Aboriginals were not allowed to leave the reserves.
One slight deviation from this has occurred in the case of the Yirrkala tribe at Gove where massive bauxite deposits have been discovered. The mining company concerned was eventually persuaded to pay the Aboriginals a royalty for the extraction of the bauxite, but what a miserable royalty it is. It is spread out over all the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and it amounts to about $3 per annum for each Aboriginal. This is the sort of royalty that we get for these people for the immense riches that will be taken from their land, and in the process we have of course destroyed many of their sacred sites. We have heard squeals about this in the past but no-one has done anything about it. The Minister will stand in this place and describe it as vandalism, but once a site is destroyed nothing more can be done about it. Yet these mining companies are permitted to destroy the sacred sites of the Aboriginal people.
I want to refer to the nickel ventures and in particular to the nickel areas at Wingellina on the border of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) in another place the other day made the amazing statement that he would do everything he could within the limited constitutional power that he had to see that the interests of Aboriginals were properly preserved. What has been done to preserve the interests of Aboriginals? It is some years now since parts of the Aboriginal reserve in this area were excised for mining exploration. Nothing has been done by the Minister. Ever since Mr Wentworth became the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs the interests of the Aboriginals have not been protected. The hue and cry arose out of a Press report, which states:
A Melbourne anthropologist said today that one of Australia’s last mie Aboriginal tribes had asked him to get protection for its sacred sites from nickel seekers in the Western Desert area of W.A.
I do not want to read all the report, lt continues:
It was an Aboriginal reserve but a few years ago part containing the sacred sites was excised from the reserve by the W.A. Government to allow mineral exploration. One site had been bulldozed.
That site can never be restored. The report continues:
The tribe is most upset and if we are not careful it. will be the Gove Peninsula all over again, only this lime a lot bigger
Any damage to places of worship is sacrilege and is regarded as a crime. Desecration of sacred sites in Jerusalem would cause horror round the world.
Yet we can destroy the tribal people’s sites and religion without giving the matter a second thought.
Our National Trust gives an ‘A’ classification to places of few hundred years old but the places I am talking about are perhaps 30,000 years old. Yet we want to destroy them at all costs to get at the nickel.
The area could have large nickel deposits. lt is on an Aboriginal reserve, part of which has been excised. The Government has not attempted to ensure that the Aboriginals get some equity in the wealth to be derived from the mining on the reserve, lt is time the Government gave thought to awarding compensation to the Aboriginals. They have been pui on these reserves. The reserve is the last bastion of the land that they have; it belongs to them. At present in the Northern Territory a case as to ownership of land is proceeding. The actions of the Government have brought about the excision of part of the reserve. If the land is to be exploited for the wealth that is in it, the people should be given some recompense.
The Minister went further when he was making his statement about the Wingellina nickel site and said: lt was difficult to delineate the areas to satisfy the requirements of the Aborigines and the mining company.
Who comes first? Of course, under a free enterprise government, we know who will come first; it will not be the Aboriginals. I move on to what 1 suppose has been the greatest scandal on the stock exchange in the history of Australia. I refer to the Tasminex scandal. The Tasminex people entered a native reserve at Mount Venn and either made millions or robbed hundreds of people of large sums by exploiting the stock market in the interests of profit. What did the Aboriginals at Mount Venn get out of this venture? They got nothing. Yet these people were allowed to enter the reserve. Mining companies are allowed to enter any land in Australia. Thev can enter even freehold land and peg it. In Western Australia, apart from the metropolitan area, they can peg all land. Even parts of the metropolitan area have been pegged for mineral exploration.
– What about university students exercising mining rights on university grounds? That proves the honourable senator’s point.
– Yes, but when someone wanted to peg out the Australian War Memorial that person was not allowed to do so. When will the Government take some action to protect the interests of the Aboriginals? Another case which I cite relates to a request for permission to remove building stone from a place called Weebo which is near Leonora. The stone was to be removed from an Aboriginal sacred site. No-one took notice of that fact. The exploiters wanted to remove the building stone and to sell it for profit. A committee was set up to examine the request for permission to remove the stone and to see whether the site was a sacred one and whether it should be protected in the interests of the Aboriginals. The final conclusion of the Committee was:
Accordingly, the Committee recommends the total protection of the whole of the area enclosed in the boundaries shown on the accompanying map from all mining, except the removal of small amounts of stone by traditionally oriented Aborigines for sacred purposes.
That is an amazing statement. I think I should acquaint the Senate of the preliminary remarks leading up to that statement.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Laucke) - Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
[4.51] - This afternoon we have listened to two very interesting points of view put by Senators Keeffe and Cant. All of us recognise the need to interest ourselves in the welfare of our Aboriginal people. Many honourable senators, as I did, grew up among Aboriginals, knew them, had them as friends, saw them develop and wished them well in the future that lay ahead of them. I must reply to some of the points made by the honourable senators. Senator Keeffe spoke of assimilation. He mentioned the definition of assimilation at page 1143 of the Commonwealth Year Book. I do not know the Year Book to which he referred, as the definition he quoted was superseded in 1965.
– He referred to the 1969 Year Book.
– What I said was based on information that I was given by my advisers. I am interested in the point made by Senator Cant. I am glad that he mentioned that. I thank him. I will make some further inquiries concerning that. Senator Keeffe also raised matters concerning the Queensland Act and regulations. I think that Senator Sir Magnus Cormack partially answered Senator Keeffe when he referred to the recent conference of State Ministers and the Commonwealth Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth) in Sydney last Friday, I think, when assimilation was discussed. The conference resolved that unilateral discussions between the Commonwealth and any State regarding its legislation may be held. Further discussions are to be held in the near future. I think that the point raised by Senator Keeffe is covered by the comments of the Ministers who conferred and, more importantly, by the statement that the Ministers have decided that further discussions will be held in the future.
I strongly reject Senator Keeffe’s assertion that Aboriginals over 50 years of age are beyond help. I do not think that this assertion can be accepted. The Government is doing a great deal to improve the health of Aboriginals. I shall refer to this later if time permits. These older people are being given a great deal of assistance. They are being cared for in a variety of ways. To say that people over 50 years of age are beyond help is quite an unjust statement.
– The Minister has misconstrued my statement.
– I am sorry if I have misconstrued what the honourable senator said. I did not do so intentionally. I apologise to Senator Keeffe if I have misconstrued his statement. I am pleased that he did not say what I thought he said. Most of us in this chamber are around 50 years of age. I do not think that any of us would be pleased with the thought that we will be beyond help at this age.
Happily I turn to another aspect which I know Senator Keeffe and other honourable senators will recognise as being of great assistance to Aboriginals. I refer to the assistance which was brought to our notice only last week when, on behalf of the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs,
I announced the Government’s intention to set up the Aboriginal Aged Persons Homes Trust. I believe that the establishment of such a body is another step forward. I hope that the homes built under this scheme will be built in the areas in which the Aboriginals live and have their friends, so that in their later years of life they will have the companionship of their close associates. Of course, the biggest task facing the Government is in relation to the group below the age to which I understood Senator Keeffe to be referring. Included in this area are the very important fields of health, housing, education and employment. Over $9m has been spent in this area in the last 2 years.
I would like to refer to one or two points that have been made in relation to this area of assistance. Honourable senators will recall that when the Senate debated the States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Bill 1969 I incorporated in Hansard a brief statement setting out details of the expenditure by the States of the funds made available in 1968-69. I think it is good to look back at the details of some of this expenditure. Although Senator Sir Magnus Cormack referred to the amounts of money which were allocated to particular areas I think it is worthwhile to repeat some of the details. Grants totalling $5,410,000 will be made to the States in 1969-70 to support State activities in the fields of housing, education, health, employment and vocational training. This figure compares more than favourably with the grant of $3,650,000 in 1968-69. I should remind the Senate of some of the items on which expenditure was incurred. It was incurred in the education field on such items as the grants-in-aid scheme for secondary school students and payment for the mentally handicapped Aboriginal children in existing special schools; the construction of an additional wing at Kirinari hostel, which is run by the Aboriginal Children’s Advancement Society; adult education courses, renovations to Tranby hostel, which is run by the Co-operative for Aborigines Ltd; assistance with the cost of school buses; work in the pre-school area; renovations to preschool buildings; assistance to church and charitable bodies, including the construction of a hall for the Daughters of Charity primarily for follow-up work on former preschool children; and a grant to the Save the Children Fund for pre-schools. That is a very excellent fund which does so much work in this field. The expenditure I am mentioning on these items occurred only in one State, but if one looks at the statement to which I have referred one will see that the same areas of assistance occur in the various States.
In the field of health, subsidies were given to the Far West Children’s Health Scheme. I am sure that my colleagues from Queensland have often seen pictures of children coming down from the far west on holidays and have particularly noticed the happy faces of the Aboriginal children among them. These children are provided with the best dental and health care. The document to which I am referring shows that a subsidy of $7,000 was provided to the Far West Childrens Health Scheme in New South Wales. Assistance is given also in other areas of health, such as to the Bush Nursing Association and the Western Shires Dental Scheme. I have extracted only one or two of the items of expenditure in one State, but it is the pattern throughout every State.
Lel us examine the programme for 1969-70. On 11th September 1969 the Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs submitted details to the Parliament of grants to the States for 1969-70. An amount of $5.4m is being made available for housing, health, education and employment. In relation to the employment programme a number of new projects have been organised to supplement the work of the Department of Labour and National Service in regard to increasing the employment opportunities for the Aboriginal work force. This is another step forward. I believe that if Aboriginals are assisted in obtaining the type of work which they enjoy doing it will be of benefit to them.
I have some details in front of me concerning the Secondary Grants Scheme for Aboriginals. I think this scheme will be of great assistance to the young people of today, who will be the leaders of tomorrow. Secondary level students of Aboriginal descent will be eligible to apply for a secondary grant, which will be tenable from the beginning of the school year in which the student reaches the school leaving age and will continue for the remainder of the secondary schooling, subject to satisfactory conduct, progress and attendance. The secondary grants, which will be available from the beginning of the 1970 school year, will be awarded by the Commonwealth Minister for Education and Science who, in considering the applications to him, will take into account the extent to which the applicants are regarded as capable of benefiting from further secondary school studies.
Honourable senators are no doubt appreciative of some of the benefits which will be offered under this scheme. An amount of S200 per annum will be paid to the parents for the purchase of school clothing, books and other essentials where the child lives at home. An amount of S240 to $300 per annum will be paid as a living allowance to the families of children living away from home, lt is designed to cover the full boarding costs and the payment of tuition and other compulsory fees to the school. I think all honourable senators will agree with me that it is the most practical way to assist these young people to gain an education. I am sure all honourable senators will agree that education is the real answer to so many of the problems of our Aboriginal people. Although it is still early in the year, 1,000 applications have already been received and it is expected that a considerable number will be received later.
Senator Keeffe also referred to the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. He referred to it as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs which is incorrect, because it is not a Commonwealth department. The Office of Aboriginal Affairs comes within the Prime Minister’s Department No doubt the wrong title he used has been corrected by Hansard in the official report.
– The Minister is splitting straws.
– It may be argued that I am splitting straws, but I believe that the correct title should be used.
– It is like saying that Santa Claus starts with a capital ‘S’.
– I think Santa Claus has been very active in that the Aboriginals have benefited greatly from the assistance provided.
– Not by this Government.
– Yes. I think the Government has played Santa Claus to many people and it will continue to do so. I thank Senator Keeffe for reminding me of that fact. It was helpful of him to do so. The honourable senator suggested that a gag had been applied to employees of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. I heard that with some concern. I would say to him that if he means that employed public servants are not allowed to make public Press statements then, I suppose, that is correct. But I do not quite know what he means.
The next thing he asserted, as I understood him, was that the Government has attempted to smash Aboriginal organisations and leaders. I cannot agree with that because $200,000 and more has been made directly available by the Commonwealth Government to Aboriginal organisations in each State to further their good work. I think this surely shows that the Government has been assisting these organisations. We have seen how Aboriginal organisations are doing so much more work for their own people.
The details of the allocation of the carry-over from 30th June 1969 should be no mystery to the honourable senator because what, in fact, happened was that the amount was added to the Budget appropriations for 1969-70. I am informed that this amount is being expended at this very minute. It has just been taken over into the appropriations for the next year. I also want to mention a little about the work with which my own Department is associated; I refer to the work being done in Aboriginal housing through the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. Senator Keeffe raised particular and individual cases. It is rather difficult to give an answer in the Senate chamber on an individual case, but I appreciate the point which was made by the honourable senator.
– I will write to you on that one.
– You are going to write to me? All right. When I spoke during the Address-in-Reply debate last week I mentioned Aboriginal housing. Of the $5.4m being provided by the Commonwealth to the States for Aboriginal welfare during 1969-70 under the
States Grants (Aboriginal Advancement) Act, $2.7m had been allocated for the provision of additional housing. In the previous year $2.3m was granted to the States for this purpose. I want to make it quite clear that these moneys, of course, are additional to the moneys being spent in the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth Government. Since December 1968 when the grants were first made available some 700 houses have been constructed or bought, or are in the course of construction. From the outset the Commonwealth Government has been concerned that as much as practicable of the Commonwealth grant should be spent on housing located within the general community where work opportunities are available. I think that when we have previously discussed some of these points in this chamber this has been a point on which we have all agreed; that is that the houses should be as close as possible to the work opportunities. It was for this reason that, the Commonwealth stipulated as a condition of the grant that at least 40% of the grant must be spent on houses located within city or town limits. It has been very pleasing to note that this minimum figure has been exceeded by all States and that all States are endeavouring to assist in this field. The bulk of the housing now being provided is within city or town limits.
From the information provided by the States and from inspections carried out by Commonwealth officers I can say that a great deal of care has been given not only to the quality of the homes themselves but also to their location in the community and to the provision of welfare support for their occupants. We have not yet obtained all the information we would like on the special housing needs of the Aboriginal people. How this information could be obtained was one of the matters discussed at the special conference, to which I have already referred, which was held in Sydney last week between the State Ministers and the Commonwealth Minister. It was agreed that a survey of existing and future Aboriginal housing needs should be conducted by my Department in co-operation with the States. I believe this survey will be tremendously valuable in assisting in this field. I know my Queensland colleagues will have seen, as I have, what I believe were very well planned houses and very suitable houses in parts of northern Queensland.
– There is nothing wrong with the houses. There are not enough of them.
– I will just continue, if 1 may, Senator. After all, it is my turn. You have had yours. I believe that when we have this survey we will obtain a better idea of the areas of further need on which we can concentrate.
Senator Keeffe raised the case of the Mona Mona Co-operative and said that he could not find out where the money had gone as no-one seemed to know anything about it. 1 think he also referred to this Co-operative as being a matter concerning Senator Georges, if I appreciated the comments during the crossfire. I am pleased to be able to inform both those honourable senators and other honourable senators present that the loan for the Mona Mona Co-operative was approved in November 1969 subject to the Co-operative raising $1,800 towards the project. The Office of Aboriginal Affairs heard no further from the Co-operative until February this year, despite several reminders.
– It heard from me.
– Well, it may have done, but if you just listen to me you will hear a bit too. In February the society did write and say that it had raised $1,600. The Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs considered the matter further and approved the loan. I think that if Senator Georges had something to do with approaching the Office on this he should feel very pleased that the matter was approved and these people given assistance. I know this part of Queensland very well and I am very pleased that they have been given this assistance. lt is a strange thing, but I have never known why when a government does something which helps people those on the Opposition side want to belittle it. Why not be glad and appreciate that these people have been helped? Why not stand up for the thing that Opposition senators themselves have advocated? They are always saying that something must be done for the Aboriginals, but the minute something is done honourable senators opposite try to belittle it and pull it to pieces. This is not the way to help people. The Opposition should either be sincere in what it is doing or refrain from moving an urgency motion.
If lt moves an urgency motion, then it should be sincere and say it wants these people helped, and it should listen to what we are doing. We are helping.
– When was the cheque signed?
– I am not too certain when the cheque was signed. I do not think I have that information, but I think I will be able to get it for you. But I can tell you that the society was advised of the approval on 9th March. That is the important date. Before the money is advanced to the Co-operative it will have to provide evidence that it is a corporate body. I hope the approved loan will be paid to it in the very near future. I think that answers the point. It is necessary for co-operation to be forthcoming from the people involved before the loan can finally be approved. Is not this the whole thing we believe in. helping these people to assist themselves and working together in this venture?
– What you are saying just does not stand up.
– It certainly does stand up. Let me continue. I turn to the next point raised by Senator Keeffe, when he referred to the recent Australian Council of Aboriginal Affairs meeting held in Sydney. The Senate is aware that, as I have already mentioned, the Council is made up of Ministers in charge of Aboriginal affairs in each State and the Minister for the Interior because, of course, the Northern Territory is under the control of his Department, and also the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs. No report on this Council has yet been made to either House. After all, the conference is only a matter of a few days old. As the senator noted, the Press reports were indeed - I believe he used the term sparse’ and perhaps they were sparse. I think the reports contained very important information, some of which was given to the Senate by the previous speaker. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. Of course, I am going to give some more information. A debate on a matter of urgency is always interesting because it gives us an opportunity to record what has been done and to speak to those things which are to be done. I think that the Press statement which Senator Keeffe referred to earlier as being sparse contains some very important points. The Ministers reviewed developments over the past year which affected Aboriginal Australians. They also discussed possible programmes for action in the coming financial year.
– It sounds like a secret society.
– There is nothing secret about this. In reviewing the activities in 1969-70 the Ministers considered that significant progress towards a goal of real Aboriginal equality with other Australians had resulted because of the considerable funds made available by the States with increased supporting funds from the Commonwealth. After discussing these matters they continued their planning for the future in the field of housing, in the field of education and in the field of health, all of which I believe are tremendously important for the future of the Aboriginal people.
Because of the limitation of time one can touch only on a few of the things that are being done, but as you go round the community, as you see these young people attending school, as you see them taking part in sports, as you see them taking part in the life of the community, as you see them growing and developing and as you see them planning their future in a variety of ways you must recognise that the work which is being done by the State governments with the assistance of the Commonwealth is doing a tremendous amount for them and for the future of the Aboriginal people of this country.
There is only one other matter to which I feel I must refer. Senator Cant mentioned the Aborigines Benefits Trust Fund, which has some $480,000 in hand. He wanted to know whether any of the money had been used to assist Aboriginals in any project in which they were interested. The information that 1 was able to receive is to the effect that a loan has been made to construct a kiosk and restaurant to the west of Alice Springs. The money already has been made available from the Aborigines Benefits Trust Fund which I understand is the Fund to which the honourable senator referred when he asked whether the money which was paid in was being used to assist Aboriginals. This kiosk and restaurant will make available to Aboriginals a very pleasant and interesting occupation. In addition it provides evidence of the new areas in which things like this can be done.
Senator Cant referred also to sacred tribal lands, as did other honourable senators. 1 direct their attention to the comments of the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs in trie House of Representatives because sufficient time is not available to me to read them. There is a real appreciation by the Government of these problems and everything that can be done to assist them to keep these sacred areas is being done. The Minister has assured the Parliament that he will give whatever help he can. His statement in the House last week - it would take longer to read than the half minute remaining to me - answers the questions raised by the honourable senator.
Today we have touched on only a few points. We stand at a point in time where a great deal has been achieved. We look to the future when we will continue to give an increasing degree of assistance to these our Aboriginal people.
– In order to complete for the record Senator Cant’s contribution to this debate I intend to read the paragraph of the report which he had commenced to read when his time expired. That portion of the report of the Committee of the Western Australian Museum is as follows:
While the Committee has considerable sympathy for Mr Hoffman in the problems he has unwittingly stirred up in Leonora, it has none for the subsequent applicants for permission to mine the Weebo stone. Both prospecting areas were pegged after it was well known that there was considerable unrest among Aboriginals in the area and the Committee found it particularly difficult to understand why Constable Pense did not attempt to ascertain for himself the feelings of a part of the community over which he had authority before he proceeded to take actions which were directed towards his personal self advancement
I will now proceed with my own views on this debate. I should like to take up the issue of the Mona Mona Co-operative because to me it is evidence that the endeavours of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, and the amount of money and effort which have been expended, are not having the effect that was intended. In other words, the expenditure is not percolating to the area of need. In the case of the Mona Mona Co-operative, some 18 months ago the first application was made for an amount of $25,000. In consultation with the group at Mona Mona Senator Keeffe and I suggested that the amount sought was overambitious and that in the interests of the Co-operative and to assist the Office it would be wise to cut it down to a more reasonable sum. So many months ago they applied for $8,000. They needed the money desperately at that time because they had undertaken considerable improvements of a property which incidentally was a lease of their own mission ground.
I do not want to go into the story of how they were dispossessed by the State Government’s manoeuvre and by the failure of the Church to supervise properly their welfare. At a later stage when the estimates for this Office are under discussion and scrutiny we will raise the matter again. In any case, members of the Mona Mona Cooperative, which consists of people who belong to the Mona Mona Mission but who had a desire to go back to the Mission ground, had carried out a tremendous amount of work on the property. In effect the work that they carried out was valued at $1,650. It included fencing, clearing the land and repairing the dips. Some $1,200, which was the cost involved, was raised from various members of the Co-operative. Not only that sum of money but also physical effort was expended in the area.
The application was the subject of discussions with the Office. I took part in the discussions. We did our utmost to assist and to expedite this application. Admittedly there was a change in personnel in the Office but that is no excuse for the final decision. This arose out of an undertaking given by myself and other persons concerned with the Mona Mona Co-operative that we would help these people to meet their commitments if the loan were made. What was the result? The application was granted to the extent of only $5,000 subject to these people raising $1,800. That put them completely out of court. How can a group of poor Aboriginals isolated near Kuranda in north Queensland be expected to raise another $1,800 after raising $1,600 for improvements to their property?
I wrote back to the Office complaining that this was not intended to be its attitude. I objected strongly to the provision that demanded the raising of $1,800. I finished my letter by stating clearly that it was up to the Office to decide whether to grant the loan or not. 1 am pleased to see that it has granted the loan, but it should have been granted many months ago when this Co-operative could have taken advantage of the availability of cheap breeding cattle in the area. Had this loan been granted when it should have been granted it would have been possible for the Co-operative to obtain breeding cattle at one-third of the cost it now has to pay. So, in effect, the delay by the Office of Aboriginal Affairs has imposed an extra expense upon the people.
Let us look at the problem of delay. Let us try to find out why the Office of Aboriginal Affairs is failing and why we should have before us this letter, which 1 intend to read. The letter was written in answer to an application by a Mr Nawia, one of the councillors on Banks Island or Moa Island, as it is more commonly called. It is over the signature of Dr Coombs and it reads:
Dear Mr Nawia
Thank you for your letter of 12 October 1969 in which you requested a loan from the Capital Fund to establish yourself in the crayfishing industry. 1 am very interested in projects which can be shown to have sufficient potential to enable your people to become part of sound business enterprises. Accordingly I am having officers of the Capital Fund examine the ideas outlined in your letter and they will be writing to you within a few days detailing the information required and advising you on the best method of formulating your proposal.
Please be assured that when all required information is known to the Capital Fund your application will be promptly assessed.
That letter was written on 23rd October 1969. Mr Nawia informed me in Brisbane only a fortnight ago that since October he had received no further reply. In spite of the undertaking given by Dr Coombs, he has heard nothing further. To me, that is an indication of the delays that are occurring within the Office.
The referendum clearly placed responsibility for Aboriginal welfare in the hands of the Federal Government. I believe that that was the intention of the people. There are good and sound reasons for the Federal Government accepting the full responsibility for the Aboriginal people and taking this responsibility away from the States because in effect initiatives which should be undertaken more urgently are passed from the Federal Government to the State Government and back again. In other words, the buck is being passed backwards and forwards.
But if the Federal Government is to assume this responsibility it had better do a little better than it did in relation to the Mona Mona Co-operative and Mr Nawia. I met Mr Nawia under these circumstances: He came down all the way from Banks Island in Torres Strait to seek assistance from the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs so that the people could mine wolfram on the island. They were given the greatest run-around which has ever been given to half a dozen Torres Strait Islanders and which 1 have ever witnessed. The Department immediately thought: ‘If there is wolfram on Banks Island there is great wealth here and the Department can gain from it’. So immediately obstacles were placed in front of these people.
I have before me a letter that I intended to take up with the Office of Aboriginal Affairs in due course. 1 will take it up right now and we wil i see just how quickly the Office will act on behalf of half a dozen Torres Strait Islanders who at a considerable expenditure of time came from right up in the north down to Brisbane and sought accommodation with friends in order to put a case before the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Brisbane. They formed their own co-operative. The registration of the co-operative was held up for 6 months on the advice of the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland. It deliberately held up the legal process for 6 months until we questioned the Registrar of Co-operative Societies in Queensland.
We asked what was the holdup and were advised in an indirect fashion that the holdup was at the request of the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs. The Registrar felt that there was no reason for holding up the registration, and within 7 days the co-operative was registered. The co-operative intends to take up, on behalf of all the people of Banks Island, the exploitation of mineral wealth. I suggested to these people that it would be useless to proceed further unless they had some assessment of the worth and depth of the mineral resources of Banks Island. So we have an application from the Torres Strait
Mining Co-operative Ltd which will be passed on to the Office of Aboriginal Affairs today and which reads as follows: 1 wish, on behalf of the above Co-operative, to apply for assistance to assess the mineral potential of Banks Island (Moa Island). This Co-operative was registered as a Community Advancement Society at the Office of the Registrar in Brisbane on the 17th instant.
The people of Banks Island, using primitive methods of pick and shovel, have been mining wolfram since 1914, but the production has necessarily been low. Our experience leads us to believe that a sufficient quantity of wolfram, and probably other minerals, exists on the Island to warrant commercial exploitation. However, before we can proceed to organise this, we need to have the advantage of a scientific survey. We require the assistance of the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources to assess the area, since it is our intention to approach the Department for Aboriginal Affairs for a loan from the Capital Fund to establish a mining industry on Banks Island under the control of the Co-operative.
In other words, under the control of the people themselves. The letter, which was written to me, continues:
We would be very grateful if you would use your good services with the Departments concerned to assist our project.
And so it goes on. This is the first notification to both departments concerned of this application. We will see just how long it takes for these people to receive assistance. They certainly will not be helped by the Queensland Government which, since somebody else has taken the initiative, will do everything possible to hinder this development. lt wants the development of the island to be undertaken by some huge capitalist concern which will pay a royalty not to the people on the island or on the surrounding group of islands but to the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs where it will be completely absorbed in the cost of the Department.
– The honourable senator cannot sustain that. He is trying to make out a case that will not stand up to examination.
– How does Senator Greenwood know that?
– Let Senator Georges establish his case. That is a ridiculous statement.
– My purpose in standing here in the Senate is to expose in general terms events that have occurred. If Senator Greenwood wants to make the same investigation as I have made by going to the people concerned, I can give him their names and they will give him the results of the interviews and discussions that they had with Mr Killoran, the Director of the Department of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland, on this very matter.
– All I say is that under the Commonwealth legislation the royalties go into a trust fund the disposition of which is on the advice of a committee on which the Aboriginals have a majority. Senator Georges should know that.
– I must say that the arrangements made by the Commonwealth Government in respect of Groote Eylandt are much more to the advantage of the people there than are the conditions laid down by the State governments in respect of Aboriginal people under their control. The Queensland Government is not even concerned about the Queensland people when it comes to the exploitation of coal or other mineral resources. I think it receives about 5c a ton royalty on the good coking coal that is sent to Japan. The royalty will be the responsibility of the State Government. All I am suggesting is that the royalty conditions should be at least as good as the conditions of the royalty paid in respect of the exploitation of minerals on Groote Eylandt. Obviously the honourable senator has missed the point. On the one hand the responsibility at Groote Eylandt, in a Commonwealth Territory, lies with the Federal Government; on the other hand, in Queensland it lies with the State Government. I point out to the Minister that the estimates of this Office and the expenditures made from both the established funds will be subjected to the closest scrutiny. No longer can the argument validly be used that the funds have been established for only 12 months and that they take some time to get under way.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie) - Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I think we should deal with the reasons for raising this matter of urgency and the extent of the urgency. I do not see a great deal of value in pursuing the history of Aboriginals in Australia. I think honourable senators on both sides of the chamber would generally agree that in our history we have gone through some very distinct periods. To recount that 200 years ago at the beginning of our history certain excesses took place may make us feel ashamed, but 1 remind honourable senators of much more modern times in which occurred much more shameful circumstances, not involving Australian Aboriginals. I refer honourable senators to Hansard reports of the House of Commons of only 100 years ago. At that time legislation was passed by the House of Commons to protect 6 and 7-year-olds working in the mines and the spinning mills of England in circumstances and conditions that Australian Aboriginals would have considered to be terrible.
I do not see the value in going into history to create a case with all the goodies on one side and all the baddies on the other side. The last generation or two of Australians have realised that the Aboriginals were becoming a vanishing race and that we should do more to protect them. A rather general attitude developed, just as it did to the emancipation of young people in the developing commercial world. One hundred years ago often the parents of the children employed in mines and spinning mills argued that legislation could not prevent the employment of children because if their employment was prohibited their families would be short of sufficient finance to sustain themselves. I do not think a debate of this nature is well served by going back to the days when Aboriginals were slaughtered and by implying that perhaps the responsibility for that lies all on one side of politics or another.
J do not suggest that that was the intention of Senator Cant or Senator Keeffe. When the slaughter of our Aboriginals was taking place many women were being brought out here from England under atrocious conditions. Conditions on ships were almost as bad as those obtaining on the slave ships carrying slaves from Africa to North America. But that is all in the past. The treatment of those women when they arrived in this country was almost as bad as anything done to the Aboriginals. To evaluate those circumstances it is necessary to turn everything back to those times.
I believe that all Australians today, irrespective of their political philosophies, are trying to do more for our Aboriginals and have a greater social conscience towards them. I think it is completely wrong when speaking of the excesses of the past to assert, for instance, that only wealthy squatters were responsible for the degradation and prostitution of Aboriginal women, lt is probable that the responsibility lay more with people with whom as a trade unionist I would have had a greater affinity. I refer to the people who had to work in Western Australia and, unlike the squatters, were not sufficiently wealthy to have their wives and families with them. I think they contributed greatly to the degradation of the Aboriginal women at that time. But that is all in the past.
I believe that today we have gone beyond the intentions of the people who first became aware of the Aboriginal problem. Our generation was not the first to take to heart the problems of Aboriginals. In retrospect it can be seen how unfortunate, because of undue enthusiasm and too great a haste, were the first attempts to find a solution to the problem of Aboriginals by developing a system of handouts. I think we would all agree today that that method did not fulfil the excellent intentions of the people who wanted to help the Aboriginals. In many instances the opposite effect was achieved.
We have come to realise that there was a tendency merely to hand to people who were untrained in our way of life an obligation to be completely assimilated. We could ask why the assimilation should be all one way. Surely the Aboriginals would wish to retain some aspects of their own code and culture. I think Senator Cormack put a rather extreme point. It is true that many Aboriginals in an endeavour to obtain the things with which they felt more comfortable favoured the idea of reservations. We have moved beyond all that and now for the first time we are tackling the problem in the proper manner.
When the referendum was conducted in 1967 I was one of the people who felt that the Commonwealth would have made a quicker beginning than it did. However, on more mature reflection I have decided that if Aboriginals were to be headed in the correct and wise direction no great advantage was to be gained by undue haste. Senator Keeffe referred to developments over 200 years. Surely we cannot expect to solve all the problems in 2, 5 or even 10 years. To attempt to do so would only aggravate those problems. A long range programme is necessary.
Although the Government seemed a little tardy in beginning I must pay it the compliment that when it began to operate it seemed to be moving along the right lines. It endeavoured to establish amongst the Aboriginals a sense of responsibility and participation. It endeavoured to involve as many responsible Aboriginals as possible - and, in considering the difficulties, 1 believe that the responsible people in the Aboriginal community must have been absolute geniuses to emerge at all from the pack in the manner in which they did, in view of the opportunities available to them. I have a tremendous admiration for some of the leading Aboriginals who, in spite of the conditions they had to contend with, are now looked up to in our society. These people have been involved in the programme as much as possible. I think it is unfair to them to suggest that they are in any way silenced or divided from their own people. I do not support the suggestion that giving them responsibilities as committee members is turning them into an entity separate from the rest of the Aboriginal people. I do not think they are likely to be affected in that way. They may not be proceeding with the haste that some of us think is required to solve the Aboriginal problem, but perhaps they are proceeding with wisdom and a realisation of the immensity of the psychological problems that have to be overcome.
Some anomalies may have been correctly stated by Senator Keeffe and Senator Georges, but such anomalies occur in every walk of life in our community today. It cannot be suggested that the whole thing is wrong, that it is failing or has to be scrapped because we can point to some anomaly where perhaps a public servant has exhibited over-caution. I have been aware of many problems that have developed because public servants have not exercised enough caution. I could recount just as many of those incidents as there are anomalies which could be cited by members of the Australian Labor Party.
I am prepared to accept that all honourable senators who have spoken to this motion are sincere in their intent, but I do not know that they are completely wise. I do not think the Government can be charged with wanting to smash all Aboriginal organisations. The evidence adduced to substantiate a charge such as that has been very flimsy. In fact the evidence which was adduced in this debate could have supported the view that the Government had the opposite intention. Even if it can be shown that a complete mistake had been made or that there had been an error of judgment, that would not necessarily prove that the Government, which is composed of Australian people and which is elected by Australians, is out to smash the Aboriginal organisation. I can see nothing to substantiate that proposition.
I feel that the Government is trying sincerely to tackle the Aboriginal problem. Although I, as one interested in reform and in trying to restore some measure of justice to the Aboriginal people of this country, to give them opportunities to share in the affluence of our society, might differ to some extent with the methods that have been adopted by the Government, I would never go so far as to say that its intentions were not sincere. I do not think that suggestion comes within the general Australian philosophy. I admit that I am puzzled to know precisely what is right and good as a solution to this problem. Perhaps as an example I could refer to a situation in Darwin, a place which I visited and to which Senator Georges has been recently. I am one of those who approve of the idea that we must extend to the Aboriginals as much responsibility for themselves as is humanly possible if they are ultimately to develop and become assimilated in the general community. As a result of the circumstances and conditions in which I have seen young Aboriginal children in a hotel bar in Darwin I could very well be disposed to make a retrogressive step.
Would the answer to the problem of those Aboriginal children be found in the introduction of prohibition for all Aboriginals, irrespective of whether it can be shown that they have not the tolerance to alcohol that some other people more used to drinking would have? Would it be right to suggest that it would be a progressive step to save the young girls whom I saw in the hotel bar if we were to reimpose on Aboriginals the restrictions that applied for many years? This is a classic example to show that one’s enthusiasm to protect an individual might lead one to make a mistake and retard progress.I suppose we would have to admit that in anything we do in the interests of progress for any people anywhere we will find that some people will fall by the wayside. We can point to many people in our community who do not quite make the grade. In some cases it is due to alcoholism or illnesses of that kind. But because of those individuals should we alter our whole system? We know that we cannot do so. Yet most of the attacks on the Government over the question of Aboriginals have been attacks of this nature. The incidents which have been mentioned are, to a degree, isolated.
– They are not isolated.
– The honourable senator says that they are not isolated incidents, but he has mentioned about 3 or 4 incidents which must be considered against the whole history of Australia and the tremendous magnitude of the Aboriginal problem in a country so widely dispersed as Australia. I suggest that they are isolated incidents of the type that we must expect in any great reform programme if we are to progress. It is for these reasons that we do not propose to support the motion. We feel there are anomalies and that there is much to do, but we are impressed with the sincerity of the Government, if not with its speed, and the manner in which it is trying to get to the heart of the problem. We do not support the motion.
That the motion (Senator Keeffe’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Alister McMullin)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cotton) read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This urgent Bill is for the purpose of providing the legislative power necessary to deal with vessels and their cargoes in cases where there is pollution or threat of pollution to the Australian coast or coastal waters by oil. During the last 2 weeks, there have been various references in the Senate to the tanker ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ which struck a submerged object in the eastern end of Torres Strait on 3rd March 1970. The vessel was extensively damaged and in the initial stages a considerable quantity of oil was lost. Under the influence of the north westerly monsoon this oil moved out to sea and apparently has dispersed through the action of wind and waves. Further minor oil spills have occurred since, particularly during the transfer of oil from the tanker. These have been treated in the vicinity of the ship with detergents which have been flown into the area by Royal Australian Air Force aircraft at the request of the Department of Shipping and Transport or by commercial means.
The tanker ‘Leslie J. Thompson’ was in the immediate area and in ballast, but the transfer of oil from the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ did not commence for several days. Eventually the ‘Leslie J. Thompson’ obtained a full cargo from the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ and sailed for Brisbane on 11th March. Since then there has been a period of some 7 days during which time no transfer operations have taken place. It does not appear that another relief tanker will be in the area for several days. As a result ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ still has 30,000 tons of oil on board and unless early action is taken to provide further tankers to take oil from the vessel it may remain in the area as a potential danger to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and the fishing and pearl beds in the area for some time.
This incident has highlighted the fact that under existing legislation the Commonwealth lacks the necessary power which would enable it to deal effectively with such an incident. It has demonstrated the need to provide the Minister with powers to take urgent and effective action to ensure there is no delay in the removal of a potential hazard. It has also indicated that the Commonwealth lacks any authority to recover under its own right costs which it has incurred in taking action to prevent the discharge of oil or mitigate the effects of a spillage.
The Bill which honourable senators have before them provides the Minister for Shipping and Transport with the necessary legislative power to do these things. It allows the Minister to direct a shipowner or other interests to take specific action, such as charter a ship or remove his vessel, and provides a penalty where a direction is not complied with. It permits the Minister to take action in the event that a direction to a shipowner or other interest is not complied with and to recover the cost of such action.
The risk of permitting the vessel ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ to remain in the area of the Barrier Reef without real endeavours being made to have her discharged as quickly as possible will be immediately apparent to honourable senators. Accordingly, I would wish the present Bill to be passed without delay so that its provisions may be applied in the case of this vessel if necessary. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
– We of the Opposition recognise the urgency of this matter and we accept what has been said by the Government. It desires that the legislation be passed expeditiously and we are willing to assist the Government to do this. This is in the nature of an emergency and I do not think that any obstacle should be placed in the path of the Government. However, I want to make some observations. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) said:
This incident has highlighted the fact that under existing legislation the Commonwealth lacks the necessary power which would enable it to deal effectively with such an incident.
Of course, he means that the Government of the Commonwealth lacks the power because the legislation has been defective and that is really the fault of no-one but the Commonwealth. The Government was aware that incidents such as the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ spillage might occur from the experiences of other countries and it ought to have taken steps long before this to anticipate such an incident and provide itself with the necessary powers to cope with the situation.
This is not an unprecedented situation. In a brilliant speech made without preparation in the other place the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) indicated the occasions on which this sort of incident had occurred and the Government should have been prepared. I should indicate to honourable senators that the honourable member for Newcastle said that an opportunity ought to be provided within 6 months for the introduction of a private member’s motion to propose any amendments that might be desired to this Bill. The Government should be assisted by the Parliament to have this Bill passed. Honourable senators should permit its passage. However, we have not had an opportunity to examine the Bill to see what the provisions are, whether there would be any objection to them, whether they go far enough or whether they go too far. We are in the position where we have to say that we are prepared to trust the Government and agree to this Bill. Because we have not had the opportunity to discuss the Bill amongst ourselves - let alone consider it - it is my view that a tag ought to be attached to the Bill, that is, a time tag.
The Bill appears to seek a permanent amendment to the Navigation Act and I think that that goes too far. I suggest that a fair approach would be to say that the
Bil) should be amended in the way that the Government has sought without worrying at all about what it has done. The Government says that it needs these powers. The Government has rushed in. It is not too sure whether the Bill will amend the Act in the way that it wants, in the same way that we are not too sure and cannot be too sure about the Bill. At the Committee stage we will move an amendment to provide that the amendments to the Act will cease to operate after 6 months. That will give the Government 6 months to do all that it needs to do. It will give the Government ample opportunity to introduce another Bill, if it thinks fit, and we can then consider the matter again.
The Government says that an emergency has occured. In those circumstances I think a fair approach to the matter would be to not oppose the second reading of the Bill. We will not and cannot trouble ourselves with an appropriate consideration of the Bill. We have noted what was said. If my suggested amendment is carried, it will mean that at the end of 6 months we can reconsider the matter. If necessary, during those 6 months, opportunity could be afforded, in accordance with the assurance that was given to the honourable member for Newcastle, to allow the introduction of a private member’s Bill to deal with any suggested amendments that were thought to be appropriate. With those remarks I indicate that I think that the Bill ought to pass the second reading stage.
It is important to observe that in cases such as this the Parliament can operate most expeditiously. The Bill was introduced at 8 p.m. It has not been the subject of any determination by the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. It has not been the subject of any determination by the Executive of the Party. Nevertheless, we are prepared to agree that the Bill be read a second time. Members of our Party are free to do what they like. Let it not be thought that on all occasions we will act in the same way and agree to the passage of similar legislation. My advice would be that we should agree to the passage of the Bill without delaying it in any way. I indicate my support for its second reading.
– The Australian Democratic Labor Party realises that we have no alternative but to vote for the Bill. We have been informed that Australia is faced with an emergency and that urgent legislation must be passed if we are even to begin to deal with that emergency. Therefore, we are placed in the position that we must trust the Government and must support the speedy passage of the Bill. I merely comment that I do not think we Australians realise how fortunate we have been over the years in that we have not had a similar disaster of considerable magnitude. Most of our oil must come from abroad in tankers. When one realises the immense quantity of oil that has been imported over the years, one marvels that we have not been faced with a very serious disaster. The Government has said that it does not have adequate powers to deal with a situation such as that existing at present in waters adjacent to our shores. Therefore, I think we should respond to the appeal of the Government and we should pass this Bill.
Senator Murphy said that the Bill appears to be a permanent amendment to the Navigation Act. I do not think any Act is a permanent one. It is always subject to being eliminated from the statute book. I presume that what he meant was that unless there were some guarantee such as he sought the Bill could become a permanent amendment to the Act even though the parties have not had an opportunity to examine its provisions. Normally my Party is not particularly keen to put on tags such as that suggested by Senator Murphy, but we think we ought to hear what Senator Murphy has to say at the Committee stage as he has forecast his intention of putting certain arguments. We will make our decision in the light of the arguments that are put forward.
– I want to make one or two comments about the Bill. I think the basic comment which ought to be made is that the legislation is being introduced for the purpose of enabling a basically good intention to be carried out. I have no objection to acceding to what the Government is intending to do. Proposed section 329f proves that, where the Minister is satisfied the oil is escaping from or is likely to escape from a ship, and the oil is polluting or is likely to pollute any Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef, the Minister may act to reduce the pollution. Oil pollution has been discussed in the Senate for some considerable rime. Pollution of our waters has been the subject of investigation of a particular committee of the Senate. Many honourable senators have asked questions about the particular vessel which is now in trouble within the Great Barrier Reef. I am rather concerned that the legislation was introduced hurriedly, because this does not allow the Senate to concern itself with clauses which might impinge upon the rights of individuals.
We have to agree to a general proposition which provides for the amendment of an Act to allow the Government to take some action against the master of a ship who ought to be compelled to discharge his cargo under reasonable conditions so as to avoid pollution of the Barrier Reef or parts of the coast. All honourable senators would agree that such action would be appropriate. My main concern is about the lack of advice to honourable senators. Nobody knew anything about this legislation until about 12.45 p.m. today. No honourable senator, either on the Government side or on the Opposition side, had any opportunity to consider the particulars of the Bill. 1 am the secretary of the Transport Committee of the Australian Labor Party. At lunch time we were told that the Bill had to be passed some time during the course of the evening. 1 think it is most unreasonable for the Government to put before the Opposition a proposition that it has to pass a Bill because there is an emergency. That does not allow us to vet clauses which might impinge upon the rights of individuals. That is my main objection. I do not intend to impede the passage of the Bill.
– Is not that being a little inconsistent, in the light of what the honourable senator said?
– No, it is not. I think I should repeat what our Transport Committee decided. The Committee consists of representatives from most of the States, including honourable senators from Queensland who have been concerned about a Queensland situation which is also an Australian situation. We said that we would not impede the passage of the legislation but that we thought we should have been given more time to consider what requirements might obtain in a given situation which might imperil the nation and the Barrier Reef. The Government has had ample time to introduce this legislation. Honourable senators on this side of the House has’e asked questions about the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ and about the possibility of discharging the cargo from the vessel. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) could have commissioned a vessel to discharge the cargo. The Government could have ascertained that (he circumstances were such that the vessel’s cargo did not imperil the Australian continent, but it has not done that. What it has done has been to introduce legislation at 8 p.m. and tell us that we have to pass it because it is good legislation.
While we accept the general proposition and while we accept that there might be advantages in the legislation, we are concerned that in dealing hurriedly with it we might impinge upon the rights of u shipping company or of individuals. Those honourable senators who are lawyers should bc the first ones to say that legislation of this nature should be properly considered. I think I have made my point on this aspect. The Opposition does not oppose the speedy passage of this legislation because it is of the opinion that the general objectives of the Bill are in accordance with the policy of the Australian Labor Party. But the Opposition is of the opinion that the legislation should be reconsidered within the next 6 months so that the Opposition will be able to move amendments to certain aspects of the Bill if they are deemed necessary. The Opposition has not had time to consider fully the proposals outlined in the Bill; all it has had is a general outline of the proposals. I agree with the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) on this aspect. In fact, the Government has not supplied the Opposition with a copy of the general statement which was made in the other place by the Minister for Shipping and Transport.
– The honourable senator is elevating inconsistency and uncertainty into a virtue.
– The honourable senator probably has not heard the explanation which was given in the other place by the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In addition to his second reading speech the Minister explained in the other place the scope of the Bill. He referred also to a convention which was carried in 1963. The Senate has not been supplied with this information, yet we find that an honourable senator opposite who is a lawyer and therefore knows the problems involved in the legality and the significance of a Bill saying that we should pass a Bill which we know nothing about.
– I never said anything about that. I am only commenting on the honourable senator’s attitude.
– I ask honourable senators to judge the situation for themselves. The Opposition accepts that there is an urgent need for such legislation in order to preserve the coastline of Australia. But the Opposition is also concerned about why vessels of this nature should use a route which involves their going between the mainland of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Why should they not go out into international waters? The Opposition is also concerned about a matter which the Minister for Shipping and Transport mentioned in passing in the other place concerning the obligations which a convention passed in 1963 imposed upon ship owners and others. I summarise the Government’s attitude by saying that it says: ‘We are doing something good. We want you to trust us because we have to pass the legislation in a hurry.’ I object to such an attitude. I think the Parliament should be afforded the opportunity to consider the legislation properly. Do honourable senators opposite agree with me?
– I understand the honourable senator is still going to vote for the measure he is castigating.
– The honourable senator confuses me. He is a member of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. He is a legal man. During debates on Bills he frequently raises the subject of the rights of individuals. It seems to me that Senator Greenwood is now proposing that the Opposition should vote against the Bill. All he is doing is taking the opportunity to criticise the Opposition because it is trying to be reasonable. Although the Opposition will vote for the Bill it is not satisfied with the methods which are being used by the Government to enable urgent legislation to be passed. Although the Opposition will vote for the legislation it will insist that the legislation be reintroduced to the Parliament within 6 months so that the Parliament can assess what should be done in the light of Australian requirements and international standards.
The Minister has pointed out that what should be done to accord with international standards cannot be done in a short time and therefore this legislation is introduced as an emergency measure. At 1 o’clock this afternoon the Opposition was supplied with one copy of the Minister’s second reading speech and one copy of the Bill and asked to co-operate in the speedy passage of the Bill through the Parliament. It is only reasonable to expect that every honourable senator should be supplied with a copy of the Government’s proposals as well as the remarks of the Minister in the other place. [ have risen to make these complaints because I feel that the Senate should be allowed the opportunity of considering the Government’s proposals in a serious manner. For that reason I believe that the legislation should be reintroduced in the Parliament within 6 months.
During lengthy debates in 1968 and 1969 concerning amendments to the Navigation Act the Government stated that it would introduce comprehensive measures which would bring the Australian Navigation Act up to international standards, but it has never done so. This should have been done. The Opposition wants to know why these comprehensive measures have not been introduced. They concern not only the question of oil pollution but also the general provisions of the Act in regard to lifesaving equipment and the other things which go to make up safety at sea. The Opposition wants to know what progress has been made in this direction. In this regard one has only to be reminded that the evidence at the Court of Marine Inquiry into the ‘Noongah’ disaster indicated that there was great dereliction of duty by certain sections of the Services. In the closing stages of my speech I shall refer to the errors which were made by the Royal Australian Air Force. The Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) is looking at me. The fact of the matter is that there was not the sort of organisation which one would expect from the RAAF in an air rescue. For example, great delays occurred. A more comprehensive examination of the provisions of the Navigation Act is needed. The Opposition wants to know when it wil be given an opportunity to make that examination.
– 1 support the .Bill. In view of the risk of damage to the Australian coastline and our coastal industries I. have been advocating legislation of this nature for a long time. The ‘Oceanic Grandeur is aground inside the 3-mile limit. There is no question at all that it is within Australia’s territorial waters. The vessel is aground 21 miles from Wednesday Island. We have been told that a large quantity of oil is still in its tanks. Apparently no attempt is being made to remove the oil in a hurry. We have been told that no action has been taken during the last 7 or 8 days to remove the remaining oil. lt so happens that there was a tanker in the vicinity of the “Oceanic Grandeur’ when it ran aground and it removed a large quantity of the oil and transported it to Brisbane, but nothing has been done since then.
It is the season of bad weather in that, part of the Australian coastline at present. A cyclone or bad weather could blow up any time which could result in a large quantity of oil being spilled. We might not be so fortunate if there is another spillage in that the currents could take the oil in a direction in which it could do a lot of harm. The Bill gives the Minister for Shipping and Transport the discretionary power to take suitable action in the event of further spillages and early action to have the remainder of the oil cargo transferred to another tanker or removed in some other fashion. Bur someone should be liable for the cleaning up operations and so on. I believe that someone must be made to pay the bill for such operations. As I said at the commencement of my speech, the vessel ran aground within 3 miles of the Australian coast.
It has been pointed out that the number of tankers plying our coastline is increasing. The tankers are also getting larger and larger. As a result, the risk of damage to our coastal industries and resorts as well as many of the other things on the coast is becoming greater and greater. From the information 1 have been able to gather I believe that the draft of this ship is almost too great for it to go through Torres Strait. 1 understand that the maximum depth of water in Torres Strait is around 40 to 42 feet. If a ship from Sumatra or from wherever it is bringing the oil does not go through Torres Strait it has to go right around the top of New Guinea or around the southern coast of Australia. There is a limit to the size of ships which can use Torres Strait. I understand there are only two steamer passages through Torres Strait. One is down close to Thursday Island and the other one is about half way up through the Strait. The presence of this ship wilh its cargo of oil constitutes a big risk to coral reefs, to part of the Great Barrier Reef, to the cultured pearl industry which has developed into a very big industry in that part of Australia, to the fishing industry, to bird life and to the coastal resorts. The other day the Senate was told thai the shipping companies of the world had got together and decided on voluntary insurance to cover the possibility of this type of damage.
During my speech on the debute on the Address-in-Reply 1 said:
But the main hope is that shipowners will police themselves.
The big owners have increased insurance against claims For pollution and guaranteed big compensatory payments to governments.
This insurance scheme is only just getting under way. 1 was told by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) in answer to a question I asked last week that it will take some time for the scheme to become fully organised. This Navigation Bill will have one result in the sense that it will control a ship which is in territorial waters. Unfortunately, the Oceanic Grandeur’ is stuck in the Strait and it cannot get away. The Government wants the insurance scheme tidied up as soon as possible because there is noi only the risk of ships going aground in Torres Strait, hut there is the risk of ships being wrecked in a cyclone, and the risk of a collision. I put it to the Senate that if there was a collision off some part of Australia near big seaside resorts, such as the Gold Coast of Queensland or some other resort in the southern part of Australia, during the week before Christmas nothing could be claimed against a ship involved if it was beyond the 3-mile limit because, as the legislation stands at present, it is on the high seas. The only remedy available to the business people in those seaside resorts w ho would stand to lose - the operators of hotels, motels, guest houses and flats, and the people who provide meals and those who run the other businesses which cater for the large number of people at those resorts - would be to sue individually the owner of the ship at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. As honourable senators oan imagine that would take a long time; it would be almost impossible for those people to pursue that course. I realise that the provisions of this Bill will not alter that situation, as the honourable senator opposite has stated. The Government is establishing the principle of the Australian Commonwealth having a claim against these people by international treaty. The voluntary insurance scheme of the shipowners will overcome the problem provided all the shipping owners are in this insurance scheme. But I do think that this Bill should be part of a permanent scheme. I know it has been introduced in a hurry. We must take heed of the fact that Parliament will not be sitting for 2i weeks and anything could go wrong in that period. Without this legislation power would not be available to deal with any emergency oil spillage. Possibly there would not be enough detergent. We do not know whether detergent is having any proper effect in cleaning up oil spillages. This is a start in legislation which I believe is necessary to protect the Australian coast and protect the seaside resorts. For that reason I support the Bill and I hope it has a speedy passage.
– The Australian Labor Party realises that this Navigation Bill is an emergency measure. I support the point of view that the Senate should give temporary authority to the Government to deal with this emergency and that the Bill should be referred back to the Parliament to evaluate the whole situation which this type of emergency poses to the people of the Commonwealth who are concerned with the waters adjacent to our shores. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Navigation Act 1912-68 for the purpose of preventing the pollution of the coast, coastal waters and Australian reefs by oil. The Bill has quite a wide, sweeping title and one that should be given consideration at length and in depth. Although introduced under the guise of an emergency measure, I think it should be more specific, lt should specifically deal with the critical situation which the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ has posed for Australia because of the vast amount of oil that still remains in her. We have had good fortune so far with tide and winds which have dispersed, to a considerable extent, the oil that was floating around on the surface of Torres Strait waters. I believe the purpose of the Bill should be to prevent the pollution of the Australian coast, coastal waters and Australian reefs.
Senator Lawrie spoke of territorial waters. In 6 months time when we review the situation we should consider whether Australia is not embarking into an area in which the States have established their supremacy for the purpose of collecting royalties and then have passed on to the Commonwealth the responsibility of clearing up the muck.
– Suppose they did, would you not accept the responsibility?
– I want this Bill to be properly discussed and I want people to know the significance of this legislation. I feel that honourable senators should apply their minds to this aspect. This amendment of the Navigation Act has a very wide purpose and it can go on in perpetuity, whereas the idea behind the introduction of this amendment was that it should be quickly passed as an emergency measure. I have had enough experience to know that anything can happen when one is dealing with oil companies and oil tankers. Two hundred years ago Captain Cook went on a reef and the oil companies have not learned the lesson yet. They send over reef-strewn waters ships which they know are going to draw a certain draft. They take these risks for a miserable economic purpose and they are going to pollute these waters off our coast. The oil companies ought to be indicted for one of the greatest crimes against this country; that is the pollution of our coastal areas. These oil companies in the pursuit of profit have polluted the coast of Santa Barbara and other places where we have seen these huge tankers, such as the Torrey Canyon’ and other 100,000 tonners, sailing the oceans without any thought of the consequences of taking this type of cargo over the oceans of the world. No provision exists in this legislation for that type of thing. This is just a cover-up, really, for a very grave error and, perhaps, for the obtaining of some compensation. I would like to refer to the Minister’s second reading speech, lt states:
This urgent Bill is for the purpose of providing the legislative power necessary to deal wilh vessels and their cargoes in cases where there is pollution or threat of pollution to the Australian coast or coastal waters by oil.
We have not seen one action to prevent this by the Queensland Government which is very proud and conscious of its rights over the coast. Senator Georges even had to threaten the Queensland Government with certain action - 1 think we should be thankful to him for doing so - if it persisted with certain plans that it had to drill in the Barrier Reef areas. If it did so Senator Georges threatened that it would have to take the consequences. We have reached the stage now where the Queensland Government has been prevented to a degree from carrying out its policy. What responsibility did the company concerned have to the Australian people, to the Australian tourist industry or to the Barrier Reef? None whatsoever. Apparently the company was allowed to move in and exploit an area of our coastal waters. Even the Queensland Premier allegedly had shares in the operation. This is the kind of thing that is before our eyes but no legislation is coming here in a hurry to deal with it. The legislation before us is designed to cover up one of the inevitable consequences of the exploitation of Australian waters by people who want to bring oil from Indonesia.
– That is not exploitation.
– It is exploitation of our Barrier Reef. They should be obliged to go right around the areas of shallow water which prevent their free passage, but here they took a risk and they failed. The consequence is that under this legislation the taxpayers of Australia are being asked to pay the bill. The Minister’s second reading speech goes on:
During the last 2 weeks there have been various references in the Senate to the tanker ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ which struck a submerged object . . . lt was not a submerged object. According to the Press reports which have been received it was part of the Reef. The Reef was surveyed as having a set draught, I understand, of 37 feet - I cannot recall the exact figure - and when fully laden the ves sel concerned drew 4 feet more than the depth of the passage. The Navigation Act should cover that kind of thing but either it does nol or, if it does, it is not policed properly. The Minister told us about our good fortune in that the north westerly monsoon moved the oil out to sea. He continued:
Further minor oil spills have occurred since, particularly during the transfer of oil from the tanker. These have been treated in the vicinity of the ship with detergents which have been flown into the area by Royal Australian Air Force aircraft.
The Commonwealth has had to come to the vessel’s aid in territorial waters at the request of the Department of Shipping and Transport. Here is the Commonwealth being called on to assert authority in a State matter within territorial waters. 1 had not realised the proximity to territorial waters until Senator Lawrie reminded me so forcefully. This is something that Queensland guards very closely. It is most interested in maintaining the borderline of territorial waters. He made a claim which (. believe should be tested now and for good. Wilh such a test coming up, this legislation should be temporary until many of these matters are resolved.
– What did Queensland say about the legislation.
– Queensland has been notably silent, like the ‘p’ in psychosis’. The Minister then went on:
The tanker ‘Leslie J. Thompson* was in the immediate area and in ballast, but the transfer of oil from the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ did not commence for several days.
In my view the ‘Leslie J. Thompson’ should have gone immediately to the assistance of this stricken vessel for two reasons - firstly, in case assistance was needed on the personal level, that is, for the crew and other people, and secondly, to try to avert the escape of this vast quantity of oil which is causing such a problem. Since then a period of 7 days has elapsed during which no transfer operations have taken place. Why? For economic reasons. It does not pay someone to go and get it. There is only a little bit of oil left, only 30,000 or 40,000 tons, which can float willy nilly along our coastal waters with its consequent effects on the coral.
– They do not care; they are insured.
– f am reminded that Insurance will cover it. But what damage can the oil do to the coral which is such a sensitive growth and to the little polyp which is responsible for the build-up of the coral? What will happen when it has a coating of oil? I suppose no-one cares until trouble has been caused. What happens to the marine life, the sea gulls and so on? We have seen what has happened to them following the ‘Torrey Canyon’ affair and the disaster on the Santa Barbara coast. Apparently this is no-one’s business, but it is my business. I am interested in this. I believe that the urgency of this legislation is only temporary. I agree with my colleague, Senator Bishop, who presented a recommendation from our Transport Committee that we give the Government this legislation for 6 months and that we then have another look at it. Continuing his second reading speech the Minister said:
It does not appear that another relief tanker will be in the area for several days. As a result Oceanic Grandeur’ still has 30,000 tons of oil on board and unless early action is taken to provide further tankers to take oil from the vessel it may remain in the area as a potential danger to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and the fishing and pearl beds in the area for some time.
Will the Department of Shipping and Transport command the responsible people to send a ship there? That is what it should be doing. In fact it should have been done before this.
– That is what the Bill is for.
– Thirteen days have passed.
– You want to make it 30 days.
– I want to make it so that the Commonwealth has no doubt about its responsibilities. That is why we want to give the Commonwealth this temporary authority, but we want it written irrevocably into the constitutional responsibilities of the Commonwealth that we can take action when an emergency such as this arises. The Minister went on:
This incident has highlighted the fact that under existing legislation the Commonwealth lacks the necessary power which would enable it to deal effectively with such an incident.
Why was not this matter taken up between the Commonwealth and the States when they were carving up the areas for the granting of off-shore and similar concessions? I will deal with that aspect on some other day. The Minister then said:
It has demonstrated the need to provide the Minister with powers to take urgent and effective action to ensure there is no delay in the removal of a potential hazard.
I agree entirely. I am prepared and anxious to support this measure so that it will get a speedy passage to deal with this specific situation. But giving an all-embracing authority under the guise of an emergency Bill such as this is something which should have the very close attention of the Senate.
As the Minister has said, the Bill provides the Minister with the necessary legislative power to do these things. What things? The Bill allows the Minister quite a wide power. It defines Australian coastal waters and the Australian reef. These are things that are new. In emergency legislation we find the Department of Shipping and Transport prepared to make definitions that we have not seen. The Bill refers to oil that is polluting, or is likely to pollute, any part of the Australian coast. This Bill gives the Minister authority in relation to likely pollution. That opens the door very widely because the oil industry is a likely cause of pollution of the Australian coast. Even in our harbours our local authorities and marine boards arc having difficulties. They are finding slicks floating in the harbour. They cannot find the persons responsible because bilges are opened, the slick is released and the ships sail off into the night. The local people - the ratepayers and the taxpayers of Australia - are left carrying the slick - a very slick trick.
Finally, the powers of the Minister in the case of non-compliance with the notice are set out in the Bill. I believe that they may serve the purpose here but that penalties should be provided for careless people if, in the pursuit of profits, they are going to destroy our inheritance - the adjacent areas of sea and their marine life, reefs and islands. These people should have to carry sufficient insurance to be able to make good any damage they cause. So, I support the Bill and I hope that during the Committee stage we will bc able to continue to express our belief that this should be a temporary measure; that it should have a limit of 6 months on it; and that it should be reviewed after that time.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sir Magnus Cormack) - Order! Before I call Senator Davidson I point out to the Senate that there is far too much audible conversation. The proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast, and the speakers who are addressing the Senate are finding difficulty in commanding the attention of the Senate.
– I wish to lend my support to the Bill but at the same time to say one or two things about it. In the first instance I express a measure of disappointment that this matter has come through with such a degree of urgency. Everybody realises that the situation confronting the nation, particularly the coastal areas, at the moment is a matter of considerable emergency and considerable danger. Therefore the Government needs to take this sort of measure in order that the Minister for Shipping and Transport may have the power to deal with what is becoming an all too frequent occurrence not only in our coastal waters but in coastal waters everywhere.
As a result of the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ incident, Australia has come into the area of this kind of happening which has been prevalent in other parts of the world. We have seen before us in recent days what I will call the Australian content of a worldwide problem. It is a reminder to us that the Australian Government and the Australian authorities generally must take far reaching steps in order to preserve the quality of our coastal waters. The Bill sets out not only in its title but also in its early stages just what is meant by ‘Australian coastal waters’ and ‘Australian reef as well as oil and mixtures of oil. I have taken some interest in this incident in recent days. Honourable senators may remember that I have addressed a few questions to the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) as the Minister representing the Minister for Shipping and Transport. In those questions 1. have asked for information in relation, to the construction of vessels, particularly tankers, in this part of the world. I also believe that we should receive some information relating to the qualifications of the masters of vessels and other authorities concerned with the movement of vessels that are heavily laden, as the ‘Oceanic Grandeur and others are, with a cargo of oil.
J should like the Minister to give a further explanation of proposed section 329f in relation to the powers of the Minister for Shipping and Transport in taking ‘such action in relation to the ship or ils cargo, or the ship and its cargo, as is specified in the notice’. In the Minister’s second reading speech there is reference to the fact that the Royal Australian Air Force has visited the area of the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ disaster and has treated the water there with detergents. We have had some questions asked in the Senate in relation to this matter. I would like to have a further assurance that, whilst on the one hand the action the Minister may take in the case of a problem of this kind may have the effect of dispersing the oil pollution, the detergent, dispersant or treatment - whatever the case may be - will not have an ultimate effect on the marine life, including the fish life, as well as on the aesthetic and economic aspects. These are matters that are of continuous concern to us.
I hope that whilst the Bill will receive a speedy passage attention will be given to providing the Senate from time to time with information on the matter of retaining the quality of our coastal environment. This matter has received a considerable amount of attention from a group of senators who, with the authority of the Senate, are members of a Senate committee dealing with water pollution. We have received a considerable amount of evidence relating to the pollution of the coast by oil and other causes. It is true that (his Bill and the Minister’s second reading speech refer more particularly to the Queensland coast. But this danger exists in other parts of the Australian coast including the southern coast and the western coast. I hope that when the Senate has given the Bill a speedy passage the Minister for Shipping and Transport will be able to exercise his powers so as to prevent the pollution of the coast; but at the same time there are some questions relating to the Bill and the Minister’s second reading speech on which I would like further information. I have referred to them. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will see fit to give us that information.
Senator BYRNE (Queensland) 1 8.561- The Senate must regret the circumstances that make the presentation of legislation of this character necessary, and more particularly the circumstances that make it necessary to introduce it as an urgent measure. During the past few weeks the sad spectacle of this great tanker going aground on a reef to the north of Queensland, with the consequences of that and the threat to the natural environment of Queensland, has been canvassed. Great concern as to the consequences has been expressed in this place. The Australian Democratic Labor Party, of course, has a point of view on this matter and on the Bill.
We believe that the Parliament has already shown a very keen consciousness of the necessity to take adequate steps to protect the natural environment. As a result of the appointment over a period of time of select committees on the great matters of oil drilling, oil exploration on the Australian coastal perimeter and the protection of the environment- whether the environment of the air or the environment of the water as referred to by Senator Davidson - these matters have received the close and continuous attention of the Senate. These committees are not merely exploratory committees designed to discover facts which will nol bc availed of for the purpose of Executive action. All these committees would hope that as a result of the gathering of these facts the Government would be persuaded to take courses of action by legislation or regulation which would bring into operation circumstances that might avert the dangers that now threaten us.
It would seem to be premature, therefore, for us to commit ourselves to a statute in anticipation of the findings of those committees. Seldom has a chamber had the opportunity to make such a close and continuous scrutiny of circumstances on which legislation might be based. Therefore, to bring in this legislation at this stage and in these circumstances and to give it perennial existence or existence until repeal would appear not to be taking advantage of the mass of information that we hope will come from the reports of those committees, which may make recommendations as to specific legislative action that should be taken as a consequence of their investigations and deliberations. For that reason we believe that to give this Bill a limited life might have much virtue.
Actually, in proposed section 329g there appears to be a situation that would warrant the particular course of action that the amendment seems to contemplate. Proposed section 329f (1.) states:
Where ihe Minister is satisfied that -
oil is escaping from, or is likely to escape from, a ship; and
the oil is polluting, or is likely to pollute, any Australian coastal waters . . .
In other words, two situations are contemplated: One where there is in fact oil pollution and the other where there is a likelihood of oil pollution by virtue of the jeopardy in which an oil tanker may find itself even (hough no actual oil pollution has occurred.
– Would the honourable senator say that it was open to the interpretation that the escape of oil does not constitute an offence?
– No: I think it constitutes an offence. The question that I come to is: What are the consequences of such an offence? I believe that the escape of oil constitutes an offence. If the ship is in peril and is not removed, that contemplates a threat which may attract the provisions of the legislation. Then proposed section 329g sets out the consequential penalties. There is an initial penalty of $2,000. That proposed section is in these terms: 329o. - (1.) A person who fails to comply with a notice served on him under the lust preceding section is guilty of an offence against this Hart punishable upon conviction by a fine not exceeding Two thousand dollars and, in re -peel of each day on which oil escapes from the ship to which the notice relates by reason of his not having so complied or escapes to a greater extent than it would have escaped if he hud complied with l lie notice, an additional line nol exceeding Two thousand dollars.
Conditions precedent to the imposition of the daily penalty will be that a notice has been given and that oil is escaping from the ship. Yet obviously another position is contemplated in the statute - that the ship is in jeopardy and no oil is escaping but there is a possibility of pollution in the event of a cyclone or something of that nature. That situation does not attract the daily penally, lt is attracted only when oil is actually escaping, if it were not leaking oil, 1 do not know what the position would be. If the notice had been served and not complied with there would be an initial fine of $2,000 for non-compliance, but there would be no daily penalty from that time on because oil was not actually leaking.
– But it has to do more than escape. It has also to threaten pollution.
– That is it exactly. But the number 1 condition precedent is that oil must be leaking. So in those circumstances it would appear that the master of a vessel, having received an order and assessed the balance of advantages could fail to comply. He could take a chance on salvage or other circumstances and just go on until the Government stepped in under the other powers of the legislation and took remedial steps to remove the danger or to discharge the oil. 1 suggest that in that respect the provisions of the Bill could be rather weak. That indicates the necessity for the further consideration that in my view should be given to this legislation.
It is obvious that if the Bill were further examined, time permitting, quite real circumstances could be discovered in which there would be weaknesses not covered by the proposed legislation. My friends of the Opposition laid emphasis on an attack on the measure as a threat to the rights of individuals. I prefer to point to the weaknesses of the Bill as a disciplinary measure. That is another reason why 1 feel that prudence dictates that this Bill in the circumstances of emergency should be given operation, but should be given a limited life.
I understand that an assurance has been given in another place that the Government is prepared to allow the legislation to operate with the right of a private member to bring back proposed amendments. But if the Government feels that this amendment is warranted, the measure should have only limited life. I have no doubt that an examination of the operations of the statute in the intervening period would prove most fruitful in the final drafting of a statute in the light of the investigations and recommendations of select committees, ft could be a permanent legislative record, able to be relied on with confidence in the unfortunate circumstances which we hope will not occur but cannot be dismissed from our contemplation. For those reasons the Democratic Labor Party proposes to support the amendment.
– I join with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and other
Opposition senators in giving the Bill my blessing up to a point. However, I wonder what the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) would have done had the disaster to the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ not occurred. I do not indict directly the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton), who represents the Minister for Shipping and Transport in this chamber, but it is of no use begging the question. Senator Lawrie claimed that this legislation will fill the gap until the Tanker Owners Voluntary Agreement on Liability for Oil Pollution becomes an established fact or the effect of the Brussels Convention is felt. We feel that the Minister for Shipping and Transport is culpable because during the last session I asked a series of questions about what 1 call prevention rather than cure. I suggested, in effect, that the 1923 Convention dealing with port facilities be qualified and that if a particular tanker did not carry adequate insurance cover it should be banned from using port facilities, lt is of no use beating our breasts and saying that this legislation is to be the be-all and end-all because it deals only with ships in Australian waters. There will be no major protection until either TOVALOP is an established fact or the full terms of the Brussels Convention are ratified by major nations.
My criticism of the Minister arises from the fact that this week in response to a scries of questions asked by Senator Keeffe, Senator Georges and myself we received a series of contradictions. I quoted a letter written last year by the Minister for Shipping and Transport on the subject of membership of TOVALOP by the Australian oil tanker operators. The information in that letter had to be corrected the other day. I say in fairness to Senator Cotton that Ampol’s membership of TOVALOP was revealed as a fact. I will not transgress any more than did Senator Davidson or other senators in referring to committees. It was pointed out very clearly when the Australian delegation returned from Brussels that Cabinet was considering the situation. The information was given in a Press statement. I wonder what would have happened if the Torres Strait disaster had not occurred. I believe that the Government would still be stalling because Government supporters in their heart of hearts were very diffident about taking independent action. That is the very thing we have argued about.
In far too many fields the Australian Government wants to know what Britain and the United States of America, or some other major maritime powers, are doing. Had the oil spill not occurred in Torres Strait the Government would have done nothing. Senator Cotton and Senator Wright have had to qualify the answers they have given to questions. I do not envy them their jobs. They were not briefed effectively by the Minister in the other place. I asked a question about Ampol and the Minister said: We know that Ampol will do the right thing.’ If the oil companies were doing the right thing the Government would not have produced this legislation. It believes everything would be all right, but it was not. That is the situation. In the second reading speech of the Minister for Civil Aviation a number of things are set out which the Minister can direct a shipping company to do. I am seeking an assurance not merely in respect of that list.
Senator Keeffe has been trying to get information about detergents or dispersants. So far nobody has been able to tell us which product has been used to disperse the oil in Torres Strait. Representatives of the tanker companies flew up there. The oil companies, irrespective of their home countries, are the czars of modern day industry. They are the counterparts of the old-time buccaneers like Morgan and other pirates of that era. In the board rooms of the oil companies they do not think about parliaments. They consider what is good for the particular oil company concerned.
Government supporters know in their hearts that the Government has no power to direct an oil company as to the particular detergent it should use. We are prepared to give to the Government for 6 months the powers set out in this legislation. But do not run away with the idea that at the end of that period everything in the garden will be lovely. It may be necessary to continue unilateral action. If so, I ask the Government to study the proposal which emanated from United States Senator Muske. Even the TOVALOP and Brussels Convention provisions are not the be-all and end-all. They are based on present oil tanker tonnages, but bigger and bigger tankers are coming out of the Japanese shipyards. Unless penalties are geared to higher rates there will be extreme difficulty.
Had the Torres Strait disaster not occurred the Government would still be pussyfooting about whether to support the private enterprise TOVALOP project or to wait for finality of the Brussels Convention. Do not forget that the terms of the Brussels Convention have to run the gauntlet of ratification by various parliaments. This interim legislation is a vindication of our criticism. I hope it will be a lesson to the Government not to act in namby pamby fashion when dealing with the big capitalist enterprises who do not recognise the national aspirations of any country, particularly of Australia.
– I would like first to ask the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) who represents the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) in this chamber whether the States were consulted before this legislation was introduced. I believe in conciliation. Honourable senators will recall that at the time of the Governor-General’s Speech the States were up in arms over some of the points mentioned in it. I believe it is far better to consult with the States than to introduce legislation which will cause dissatisfaction. In those circumstances I ask that the Minister answer that question.
I refer next to proposed section 329a Like other honourable senators I find this to be a most cumbersome provision which I believe would be a lawyer’s picnic if it were ever tested in court. I shall address myself no further to that, other than to say that I believe that the Opposition’s objection on the score that this measure should have a limited life is reasonable in view of the fact that the proposed section is cumbersome and could cause untold difficulties in future. While referring to that 1 draw the attention of the Senate to ihe fact that a most serious situation could arise if we ever found a vessel contravening the provisions of the Bill. I shall not endeavour to relate what the consequences would be, but it is proposed that the penalty to be imposed on a shipping company shall be $2,000. I suggest that a situation of this nature should attract a far greater penalty than $2,000. 1 invite honourable senators to consider bow much the workers are fined for a crime not nearly as severe as polluting Australian waters. When the situation of the workers is borne in mind it will be seen that a great degree of mercy is being shown to the operators of vessels. Like my colleagues I believe that the Opposition has been quite reasonable in suggesting that it will not appose the legislation but at the same time expresses the reservation that the legislation should be reviewed after 6 months.
– The Senate has before it a Bill which is designed to amend the Navigation Act for the purpose of preventing the pollution of the coast, coastal waters and Australian reefs by oil. That is all that the Bill is proposing to do. Some of the comments which I have heard from honourable senators opposite suggest to me that they have an impression that the Bill either covers a much wider area or ought to cover a much wider area. I fail to see where, when Senator Mulvihill says that ships should be insured in some way, that is a comment relevant to this measure. I think I would agree with him when he says that if there is a deficiency in legislative provisions whereby tankers which ply on the high seas are not adequately covered by insurance there should be steps to ensure that they are, but I do not think that is the purport of this Bill.
We have had much criticism from the Opposition with regard to this measure - somewhat, sniping criticism, I fear - because although honourable senators opposite have decided to support the Bill they, as behoves an Opposition which is accustomed to its role, want to say something which is expected from an Opposition. It seems to me that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton), who is in charge of the Bill in the Senate, has stated the facts which justify a measure such as this being brought forward. I should have thought that the Government was to be complimented upon the speed with which it has reacted to an emergency situation. The ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ struck a submerged object at the eastern end of Torres Strait at the north of Australia on 3rd March this year. That created a certain spillage of oil. Another tanker, the ‘Leslie J. Thompson’, was in the process of taking oil from the tanker. Apparently it took a quantity of oil from the damaged ship until 11th March and then, for reasons which are not disclosed, the ‘Leslie J. Thompson’ left the wreck and sailed for Brisbane.
The situation in which the Government is placed is that it has a wrecked tanker in which there is still some oil, that it is in a cyclonic area where there may be a disturbance which would bring more oil on to the reef, and the Government is without adequate power to compel the owners or the master of the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ to take some appropriate action. It is in those circumstances that this Bill is brought forward. When one considers that the position arose only on 11th March-
– That is not right; it is international.
– I can see
Senator Bishop wants to be an Opposition senator tonight. I believe that the Government has shown prudence and has acted swiftly in having before the Senate tonight a measure the merits of which the Opposition is not prepared to vote against. That, in the light of all that has been said, is the ultimate justification for this measure.
– It would not have done anything if there had not been a disaster.
– All I am saying, and I am entitled to say it, is that I think the Government has acted quickly to meet an emergency situation and the attitude of the Opposition is an implied concession that the Government has done so. The Minister said in his second reading speech:
This incident has highlighted the fact that under existing legislation the Commonwealth lacks the necessary power which would enable it to deal effectively with such an incident.
– It should have done something about it years ago.
– I know that some honourable senators have said that the Government should have done something about this years ago, but I have not heard suggestions from the Opposition to that effect over the years.
– Tell the truth.
– I repeat that I have not heard any suggestion from Opposition senators that the Government should at some earlier stage have done what it is doing tonight. Twenty years ago there were tankers which foundered in the ocean and oil was spill, but the current conservation agitation did not at that stage require that there should be taken the action which the Government is now taking. In those days an oil spillage was an economic loss. The effect upon the water, the ecology of the sea, was not a matter of importance. Today it is important. That is one reason - I think a perfectly valid reason if one looks at the facts reasonably - why in times past no action has been taken in this area by the Government to introduce legislation. A second reason which 1 think would explain why no action has been taken is the notorious difficulty which has been experienced in determining what are the limits of the Commonwealth’s power with regard to navigation and how far the Commonwealth can go in passing legislation in the expectation that it will stand up.
– In recent years the Government has never faced up to the issue.
- Senator Bishop is entitled to his opinion and all I shall say is that if the Opposition is so concerned to beat the Government off the mark it is surprising that the Opposition has not come forward with this at any stage in the 20 years that it has been in opposition. It has not done so. If criticism is levelled at the Government on this score, I can reply - I think quite reasonably - that J think the Opposition has not regarded the matter as one of pressing urgency either. The area of difficulty to which I have been referring is that the Commonwealth Navigation Act is one which has not fared very well at the hands of the High Court. The Navigation Act was first passed in 1912 and on 2 occasions shortly after it was passed significant parts of it were declared invalid by the High Court. There has been constantly, I am sure, a recognition on the part of the Government that there are areas in the field of navigation in which it is uncertain whether Commonwealth power applies or State power applies.
What we are faced with at the moment is a situation requiring immediate action. Queensland is not in a position, either by legislation or by the equipment which it would have at its disposal, to meet this emergency situation. Therefore, are they not crocodile tears which the Opposition is shedding when it suggests that in some way the States’ rights might be affected and so the States should be consulted? The Opposition in the past has never, with regard to any matter of legislative power, been tender about the States’ rights because we know that the Opposition believes that so far as possible all power should reside in the Commonwealth Government. I notice that Senator Keeffe, who normally is quite vociferous, is not dissenting from that proposition. Therefore on this occasion it is crocodile tears for the Australian Labor Party to suggest that we ought to be tender about the rights of the States. The point which I make is that in this area the Commonwealth has the ability to enforce any action it takes, lt recognises that there is an emergency situation in which action should be taken, and it has taken action. What the action is, 1 think is sufficiently explicit and clear not to warrant the concern which has been expressed by some members of the Opposition.
The Bill provides that the Minister, where he is satisfied of a certain situation, may give certain directions to the owner, the agent or the master of the vessel to take such action as he thinks is proper to stop the oil from escaping and, after the oil has escaped, to stop the oil from polluting the waters or the Reef. The Bill then provides that if a person does not comply with the directions he is liable to be fined, and I would say fined very heavily, because the initial fine is $2,000 and thereafter if he does not take the action and the oil still escapes the fine is $2,000 per day.
– The Minister can act on this when the oil is not escaping but is likely to escape.
– 1 appreciate the point that Senator Byrne made in his speech and 1 was about to make a point which I fee! is in some way responsive to it. If the oil is still escaping in defiance of a notice given by the Minister to the shipowner, the agent or the master, then that person is liable to a fine of $2,000 per day every day that oil is escaping. As I understood Senator Byrne, he was saying that the penalty is inadequate because the oil may still be on the ship and the ship may still be liable to disturbance and there is no particular penalty.
– Because the oil is not in fact escaping.
– I appreciate that point, but I would say that the Bill is concerned with the protection of the waters and the Reef against the escape of oil and pollution by oil, and the Minister can act only as provided by sub-section 4 of the Bill when oil is escaping. The Bill is very limited in its scope. It is designed to meet an emergency situation. Whilst I am conscious of the argument raised by the Opposition as to why it ought to be limited to a period of 6 months, and while I appreciate that the issue has been resolved by the fact that the Australian Democratic Labor Party-
– If the oil is likely to escape the Minister can act. The oil does not have to be escaping.
– I appreciate the point Senator Byrne makes, that where the Minister is satisfied that oil is escaping . . .
– Or is likely to escape.
– In those circumstances the Minister can make an order, but having made that order, I rhetorically ask Senator Byrne: Has he the right to make a further order? If he has not the right to make a further order the one order prevails and therefore if oil is still escaping the fine is $2,000 for every day that the oil is escaping.
– There may be 50,000 tons of oil sitting there for a month and the vessel can go down in 1 hour in a cyclone.
– I appreciate that I may have invited this sort of comment by the way in which I have tackled this problem. If the order of the Minister is designed to ensure that oil should not escape from a ship and in fact the oil is stopped from escaping, why should a person be liable to any penalty thereafter? That is the issue with which we are concerned. If after that situation - which is one situation - there is still a risk that the oil which is within the tanker might at some later stage escape, then the Minister can take appropriate action at that stage. But why should a ship owner be liable to a fine if he tries to stop oil from escaping and in fact oil is not escaping? I appreciate that one is in an area of semantics in regard to this but I am concerned merely to answer what I conceive to be the point raised by Senator
Byrne and as I see it once the owner has stopped the oil from escaping he has discharged the obligation cast upon him by the Minister, and if at a later stage the oil is contained within the tanker and there is some risk because of some element of disturbance which is likely to arise, the Minister can make another direction to the owner. At that stage it is obligatory upon the owner to take that action. This is a Bill which is quite clear in purport. It is an emergency piece of legislation to meet an emergency situation. I feel that it should have the support of the Senate. I think it reflects credit on the Government that it has been prepared to act in an area where there has been legal uncertainty to resolve a situation and, as I said earlier, the fact that the Opposition is prepared to accept this measure is an indication that the Opposition recognises not only the needs of the situation but also the merits of the legislation.
– I do not propose to delay this Bill for a lengthy period but because of the manner in which it has been introduced I feel there are some things that must go on record. One can almost describe the Bill as a disastrous piece of legislation to deal with a disastrous situation and brought down by a disastrous Government. We were supplied only a short time ago with the explanatory note on this Bill put out by the Department of Shipping and Transport and the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair). This explanatory note is probably one of the briefest that has ever come into this Senate in all the years that I have been here.
– They have to keep the paper up.
– It will be good to use as scrap paper and some people will probably use it in other places. I want to refer briefly to some of the things that Senator Greenwood said on behalf of the Government. The only thing that surprises me is that the Minister did not call the honourable senator in to draft the Bill because the suggestions he put up were merely a sickly defence of the Government and he made no real contribution to this debate. First of all, he accused members of the Australian Labor Party of being in doubt. We are not in doubt. Every time that a Bill is rushed through the Senate there is a nigger in the woodpile which has to be watched carefully. The Opposition is the watchdog of the Australian public and that is exactly how we propose to act. Even though we do not oppose this Bill the Government will not get away with a clean sheet. On 3rd March the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ ran aground in Torres Strait and for 3 weeks the Government has not taken one iota of interest in what happened.
– You cannot count. It is only 2 weeks ago.
– lt is near enough to 3 weeks as far as 1 am concerned. This is the third sitting week of this Parliament and this incident occurred early on the morning of the day on which the GovernorGeneral sat in this place and said that everything in the garden was lovely. Another stupid accusation made by Senator Greenwood was that the Opposition has never before worried about this type of thing. All I can say is that he is used to reading Ginger Meggs comics and he has never studied the Hansard record. If he were to go through the Hansard over the last 10 years when this sort of possibility emerged, he would find plenty of evidence of the things which he denies we have tried to do.
Let us look at the other aspects of this. The Torres Strait is traversed by 350 to 400 tankers every year. In years gone by small tankers were able to negotiate these channels without a great deal of difficulty but today vessels are much bigger and the channels need to be much deeper than they are. I propose to say something about this in a moment or two because there are allegations about the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ and the depth of the channel as charted. If one wanted to sum up very quickly one would say that our friend in the Liberal Party, Senator Greenwood, has become the official spokesman and official lobbyist not only of the oil companies but also of the major shipping companies. I have no doubt that Mr Onassis will find a nice little spot on his staff for the honourable senator.
In 1967 this House passed legislation dealing with off-shore petroleum developments. Parallel legislation was passed by the State parliaments. The Commonwealth and States were in complete collaboration. The Navigation Act, the Customs Act, the Excise Act and all other relevant Acts should have been amended at the same time. The Government has had 2-1 years to do something about amending those Acts. Now, because disaster strikes in a particular area and because the Government knows that it will be unpopular politically if it does not take some positive action to protect the Great Barrier Reef and its surrounding areas, it rushes through legislation without giving the Opposition an opportunity to study it. The Government could have had draft legislation prepared earlier.
– How was the Government to know that this disaster would happen?
– This legislation has nothing to do with wheat organisations or with wheat farmers. The Government could have produced draft legislation much earlier in the session because the potential disaster was there on the day on which the Parliament was opened. The Parliamentary Draftsman should have been asked to prepare something then so that Parliament could have studied the legislation in an orderly fashion instead of having it rushed through tonight, as the Government is doing. Allegations have been made that the Oceanic Grandeur’ had a draught of 37 feet and that it was trying to force its way through a channel that was 34 feci deep. We have asked questions consistently about this for 3 weeks and the Government has not replied to those questions. Why cannot the Government reply? Is it because the respective Ministers are incompetent or is it because the Government no longer cares what goes on? Earlier today I mentioned the problems associated with obtaining replies to questions on the notice paper. The Government has not yet told us what type of detergent is being used to disperse past and present leakages from this tanker. The Government has not been able to answer any of the other questions on the notice paper.
If the Minister for Shipping and Transport is so incompetent, why is he not taken back to the Liberal Party stable and sacked? Senator Greenwood could replace him, if he wished. The honourable senator certainly could not do a worse job than the present Minister has done, but I have grave doubts whether he would do a better job than the present Minister has done. These things must disgust any thinking Australian.
The Government is a government of expediency. It rushes in because it is faced with a disaster. This is the only time that it can think of taking action. We certainly do not intend to vote against the Bill but we insist that we be given the right to study all the features of the legislation when this moment of crisis has passed.
– My decision to enter the debate was prompted by the fact, which was highlighted during the course of the debate, that we were informed of the intended introduction of the Bill only this afternoon. I do not decry the fact that the legislation was introduced. I think it is very necessary to introduce this legislation, but that when legislation is introduced in this manner those of us who have some doubts and some reservations about certain aspects of it have a right and a responsibility to rise and highlight the imperfections that we see in the legislation. Naturally legislation introduced in this manner is bound to have weaknesses, imperfections and limitations. In all the circumstances surrounding the legislation, I wonder why it is necessary to introduce it at this late hour so long after the event which gave rise to it and so long after every publicity organ in the nation has been highlighting the pollution of the waters and of the atmosphere for so long. Not a day passes when one does not read in the daily Press references to the growing problem of pollution and to the possibility of further pollution of our waters and our air.
The legislation is very interesting in that it is the first, to my knowledge, placed before Parliament to deal with pollution. I hope somebody will correct me if I am wrong in that statement. I ask honourable senators to bear in mind that when I commenced to speak I said that some of my observations on the legislation would arise from my ignorance of some of its provisions. If I did not say that, I meant to imply it by my words. The legislation highlights an event in the parliamentary affairs of this nation. For the first time, to my knowledge, the Commonwealth has involved itself in this very vexed and very important matter of pollution. The legislation has limitations in that it deals with only one aspect of pollution; it is introduced as an emergency measure to meet an emergency situation. The Commonwealth has set a precedent, quite properly, by becoming involved in trying to combat pollution. In due course and when subsequent legislation on pollution is introduced, I hope we will be aware that the Commonwealth has involved itself in trying to combat pollution by oil and has established a precedent for Commonwealth involvement in trying to combat the many other forms of pollution.
Earlier the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) showed his generosity by indicating my Party’s concession to legislation of this nature remaining on the statute book for a period of 6 months. I think that is a most generous concession. I believe that in all the circumstances - because of the background of pollution generally, because of the possibility of oil polluting our waters at all times, because of the increasing transportation of oil by ships in this new era and because of the finding of oil in waters adjacent to the Australian coast and on the Australian mainland - there is a likelihood of pollution by oil, through ships running aground off the coast or through some other mishap, becoming a matter of very grave concern. In the circumstances, the Government has a right and an obligation to become involved. The legislation has been introduced in great haste. Honourable senators on this side of the House have indicated that we will give passage to this legislation. An undertaking should be given that within a specified period of time - within the period of 6 months, as has been suggested - adequate legislation should be introduced to cover contingencies of a like nature. In the light of reports and of investigations by parliamentary committees, the Parliament should have placed before it comprehensive legislation dealing with all aspects of the matter.
I make this point: While we are dealing with an emergency situation confronting the oil industry, I hope that organisations other than those involved in the oil industry will be assisted. I am talking about marine boards, municipal councils, local authorities and similar organisations. They could be assisted to overcome any difficulties or problems arising in an emergency or in any other way as a consequence of pollution. I wish to make two or three other points. The first one relates to section 329f. Again
I draw attention to the fact that 1 have not had an opportunity to study this matter at great length, lt seems to me that two ingredients are involved in clause 329f (1.) in relation to the commission of an offence. It states:
Where the Minister is satisfied that -
oil is escaping from, or is likely to escape from, a ship; and
the oil is polluting, or is likely to pollute, any Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef . . .
I would suggest that the clause means that there must be the two ingredients before clause 329g(1.) applies. I think the operative word is the word ‘and’. If oil is escaping from a ship and there is no threat or likelihood of pollution of the coastal waters and the other things which have been mentioned it would seem to me that no offence has been committed. This is my understanding of the legislation. I am a layman and therefore I am not familiar with legal terminology and interpretations. But it would seem to me as a layman that both conditions must apply before it can be said that an offence is committed under the provisions of the legislation. Is that the intention of the Bill? Is that the accepted opinion in the minds of honourable senators of the intention of the legislation? Is it believed that there are two separate ingredients which can both be regarded as leading to the commission of the offence?
– Senator Greenwood is not in the chamber to answer the honourable senator.
– I am sorry that I do not have the valued knowledge of the honourable senator.
– If it occurs in the vicinity of our coastline it would be difiicult to say that it is not likely to pollute.
– I do not know what interpretation should be placed on this aspect of the legislation. I am in some doubt also in relation to the application of some of the terms used in clause 329d, which relates to definitions. For example, it states that Australian coastal waters means Australian territorial waters. I am in some dilemma as to an interpretation of that definition. I believe that some of the great legal minds in this country have either expressed some doubts on this aspect or have ruled in certain ways which give rise to doubt. In clause 329e reference is made to ships in Australian coastal waters. Again 1 am in some difficulty in regard interpreting this term. To my knowledge nobody has attempted to interpret what constitutes pollution. So one can readily see that there are many difficulties in relation to the interpretation of this legislation. If my view as to the joining of the two ingredients in clause 329f(1.) is correct I would suggest that no offence can be committed under clause 329g(1.) because it merely provides that $2,000 shall be the fine in respect of each day on which oil escapes from a ship. It is my understanding that it is not an offence anyway if oil escapes from a ship. Therefore, how can one impose a penalty of $2,000 in relation to oil which is escaping from a ship unless it is shown that the oil which is escaping is polluting or likely to pollute Australian coastal waters and so on.
The Bill before the Senate is an example of the imperfections we have commonly come to expect from the Government. Although the legislation has been drawn up in such a hasty manner and presented to us with all its imperfections and limitations the Opposition is asked to go along with the Government and say: ‘We will accept it because we know from out own knowledge and our own readings on the subject that a very serious situation exists as a result of a ship unfortunately going aground’. Any one of us who has any sense of responsibility - and surely we all have - - must be concerned to ensure that proper legislative provisions are passed by the Parliament. The Bill is virutally an authorisation to the Government to meet a particular situation. It is remarkable to think that in this instance because a ship with 30,000 tons of oil is aground on a reef the Government is forced to introduce legislation which is designed to require the owners of the oil and the people responsible for its transportation to do something which will ensure that there is no possibility of pollution of the Australian coastline.
It is not good enough for the Government to commence to initiate legislation at 1 o’clock this afternoon and request the Opposition to give it speedy passage through this chamber. So far as I am concerned it is asking too much of the Opposition to expect it to do so. Honourable senators on this side of the chamber have not had an opportunity to go deeply into the legislation nor even to peruse it. No explanation has been given as to the meaning of some terms. For the life of me I cannot see how a penalty of $2,000 a day or any other amount can be imposed under clause 329c (I.) if oil escapes from a ship. A penalty cannot be imposed unless one can be assured that the oil is polluting or is likely to pollute something. I suppose it is a reasonable assumption that it is likely to pollute, but it could pollute the coastline of this country from thousands of miles out. I would hope that before the Bill is passed by the Parliament somebody will spell out to me the meaning of the expressions territorial waters and coastal waters as well as explain some of the matters which are concerning me. I believe my view of the legislation accords with the views of the other honourable senators who, knowing of the urgency of the matter and having a sense of responsibility to ensure that appropriate action is taken to deal with the present situation and any other situation which could arise in the future, are prepared to vote in favour of the legislation.
Senator Davidson, who is the occupant of the chair at present, raised a very interesting point indeed. He said that on many occasions it has been found that the measures which have been taken to cure a situation result in the situation being worse than it would have been if such measures were not taken. In trying to break up the oil which is threatening to pollute our coastline detergents and various other materials are being used. The use of these materials could result in the building up of a situation which would be a lot worse than would be the case if the oil were allowed to wash up on the shore.
– Does the honourable senator suggest that we should just allow the oil to go everywhere and not do anything?
– Who wants to do that?
– The honourable senator is suggesting it.
– I am not suggesting it. I said that Senator Davidson raised the point that measures taken to meet this sort of situation - the detergents and so on which are used to break up the oil - could result in the problem being worse than it would otherwise be. Nobody has referred to what happened some years ago in relation to fish being killed in the Rhine. It was suspected that some chemical escaped into the waters of the Rhine from a factory and killed the marine life. If a chemical can kill marine life it could have the same effect on human beings. Therefore, we should carefully examine each case of pollution. But the point I wish to make is that there is no use introducing legislation to meet an emergency situation if it is not well prepared and unless an opportunity is given at a later stage to reconsider it. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, a period of 6 months is a reasonable time to allow this legislation to remain on the statute book. 1 would seriously urge the Government not to take it that the Opposition is content with the legislation in its present form. Further action is needed to meet the overall pollution problem which has been bedevilling Australia. As I indicated earlier, 1 shall not object to this Bill.
– 1 rise to speak in support of the Bill. I am very conscious of the unfortunate circumstances which have made it necessary to give the Bill rapid passage through the Parliament. At present the Senate is sitting in a state of emergency. Having listened to the debate tonight, I must say that in some ways I was rather amused with the attitude which the Opposition took. Honourable senators opposite criticised the manner in which this Bill was introduced into the Senate. I would have thought that they were conscious of the fact that we are sitting in state of emergency. Senator Devitt, who has just resumed his seat, questioned whether the Bill would be effective because it is being rushed through the Parliament. Senator Keeffe, in his usual fashion, said that he is very suspicious of there being niggers in the woodpile.
The point I wish to make is that it is necessary for the Parliament to provide the utmost protection it can to counter any pollution or risk of pollution which will damage our coastal areas, reefs and the ecology of the sea. I do commend the Government for the rapidity with which it has introduced this Bill. All honourable senators are conscious of the dangerous and unfortunate circumstances of the holing of the
Oceanic Grandeur’ and the great amount of oil that has been spilt. We are fortunate that the initial spillage of this oil has drifted away from the Australian coastline and not on to it. We are also conscious of the fact that something like 30,000 tons of oil is left in this tanker. We know that Ampol Petroleum Ltd quickly despatched a tanker, the ‘Leslie J. Thompson’, to the scene and that it took on a full cargo of oil. We also know it will be some time before another tanker can go to the scene and remove some of the 30,000 tons of oil which is left. The point I want to make is that it is necessary to give powers to the Minister so that he can act very effectively and quickly, if necessary, because this ship is not sitting in an area of safety. It is sitting on a reef. It is sitting in an area which is a cyclonic area, and who knows what could happen in a few days? Another 30,000 tons of oil could seep out into the sea.
– You have given the Minister a gun but it is not loaded.
– I will deal with that in a moment, Senator. I think the gun is definitely loaded for the Minister. That is the very reason why this Bill is introduced into the Parliament tonight. The Minister did not have the powers to do these things before, hence the legislation was passed in the other place today and it is here for us to pass tonight. I hope that the Senate will carry this Bill tonight. Earlier Senator Mulvihill questioned whether or not the shipping companies were doing the right thing. He mentioned the fact that other ships were going by. I want to say that I am not going to argue with Senator Mulvihill whether or not the ship owners are doing the right thing. I think any captain is a responsible man with a lot of value under his control. He will do his best to give protection to his ship, crew, and cargo. But I do support Senator Mulvihill, who is one honourable senator who has taken a very keen interest in the protection of wild life, flora and fauna, in his remarks regarding the big tankers which are plying up and down the coast and the potential dangers of these big tankers. Tonight this legislation is giving protection to our coastal areas as far as we are capable and able to go in giving protection because within this Bill the Minister has powers to do these things which some honourable senators have suggested this Bill does not empower him to do.
I listened with interest to Senator Byrne tonight. Of course, he has a legal background.
– He has a very sound one too.
– I agree. Paragraph 329g deals with the escape of oil. If honourable senators look at paragraph 329f they will see it states: (1.) Where the Minister is satisfied that -
Under this provision the Minister can act, if there is any risk at all, as promptly as he likes. If the oil is either escaping or if he considers there is any risk of it escaping, the Minister has power to act. If one goes on further one sees the further powers the Minister has. If he considers there is even a risk of oil leaking he may act. Paragraph 329f (2.) states:
Under this provision the Minister has power to call in some other tanker to the damaged tanker and to discharge oil from it. If the captain does not agree to this action the Minister has power to charge the master of that damaged tanker with all the costs.
– No, he does not.
– If you read the Bill, senator, you will find he does. If one reads on further (c) states:
The removal of the ship to a place specified by the Minister.
Here the Minister has full control to do what he likes with the ship or the cargo of that ship if oil is leaking or if he thinks there is any likelihood of oil leaking.
– It does not say that.
– Yes, it does. If the honourable senator reads paragraph 329f (a) he will see that even if the Minister considers there is a likelihood of any oil escaping he can act. As far as I am concerned, if one reads this one will see that the Minister has full power. This Bill gives him complete and utter power. Senator Byrne questioned the matter of penalties, but he did not question the power of the Minister. I want to make this clear.
He questioned the penalties but he did not question the powers of the Minister. This is the effective part of this Bill. The effectiveness conies in with the powers which the Minister has to do the things in his capacity as Minister to give the utmost protection in the event of a leak or the possibility of a leak. I have spoken for only a short time but I wanted to point these things out.
– Hear, hear!
– One does not have to waffle on. One can make one’s point in a few moments. On this occasion 1 have made the point that this Bill gives the Minister full powers to act. I support this Bill and I am pleased to see that other honourable senators are going to do the same.
– ] riSe for a few moments to debate this Navigation Bill. It has taken me completely by surprise. I believe that members of the Australian Labor Party were notified of this Bill at 1 o’clock today and they have protested as to their inability to study the Bill in that time. Possibly due to my neglect of my Party organisation, not being here at 1 p.m., I first heard of this Bill when I came into the House at about 8.10 p.m. I then found that I did not have a copy of the Bill but one was produced immediately. I noticed that the Bill was for the purpose of amending an existing Act. Before one can understand a Bill which seeks to amend an Act one has to look at the parent Act to see where it is proposed to amend it. I sent for the parent Act and I found it was voluminous. It was an Act with amendments up to 1968. Before one could read the parent Act it would necessitate a day’s work to consolidate the Act by incorporating the amendments up to 1968. Therefore, how can any honourable senator here say that he knows what the Bill is about and what it seeks to do?
This Bill makes provision only for the question of pollution by oil, and therefore possibly it has no relationship to the parent Act. But one must ask. the question: Is this the best approach that one can make? Is the putting of an additional clause into the parent Act the solution to the problem or is there some method of amending the parent Act which could solve this problem? I understand from the discussion tonight that the Opposition recognises the urgency of this Bill; it recognises that some urgent legislation must be enacted and therefore it does not oppose the Bill. As Senator Greenwood has said, the Opposition is not prepared to vote against the Bill because of the necessity to do something about tankers which are leaking oil in our northern waters at the present time. But is this the best method of attacking this problem? From what has been said the Australian Labor Party does not know and the Government does not know. Let the Senate look at this Bill in 6 months time and see how it is working and whether there are other methods which could be applied, lt appears to me that the Bill seeks to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted. Could remedial action be taken before dangerous vessels reach Australian waters? The Senate should be pursuing that line to see whether there is some such remedy.
– We could still get it before it got too far away.
– What we are seeking to do now is to remedy the position when the oil is leaking or is likely to leak We are not much concerned with oil as long as it is not polluting Australian coastal waters or any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef. We are not concerned with all forms of pollution; we are concerned only with oil pollution, and oil means crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil and lubricating oil. If the oil is not diesel oil we are not concerned if it pollutes the Australian coast. Why, I do not know. If any substance other than that defined as oil is causing the pollution, we are not concerned with it. We are concerned with only one small group of oils which may pollute the Australian coast.
Those oils have to be escaping or to be likely to escape from a ship. As Senator Devitt said, the fact that the oils are escaping or are likely to escape is no concern of this legislation unless in escaping or being likely to escape the crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil or lubricating oil is polluting or is likely to pollute any Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef. Senator Devitt asked for a definition of Australian coastal waters and Australian territorial waters. We find that Australian coastal waters are defined in the Bill as Australian territorial waters, but we do not have a definition of Australian territorial waters. No such definition appears in the Bill.
Assuming that there is a legal definition but being very fearful about the High Court not being kind, as Senator Greenwood said, in relation to interpretations of the Navigation Act, I am wondering what will happen if the Minister serves a notice on the master of a vessel and the master defies the notice and decides to challenge it in the High Court. It will be bad luck for the Reef while the High Court is making a decision. It would take a long time for competent legal men to argue whether the Commonwealth Government had any constitutional power over Australian coastal waters. This is a question of Commonwealth and State powers, and you can imagine the argument that could take place on a question such as that. If the order of the Minister is not enforced the oil will continue to flow into the sea while legal argument goes on to determine the limits of power under this legislation.
I think that pollution and the Minister’s power in relation to it are pretty well defined. What is needed is a definition of Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef. This could be a subject of great argument before the High Court. When we have reached that stage and when that matter has been settled we will know the meaning of this Bill. But it must be remembered that the legislation will apply only to a ship that is in Australian coastal waters. Proposed new section 329f does not apply to a ship which is not registered in Australia unless the ship is in Australian coastal waters, but it does apply wherever the ship may be if the ship is registered in Australia. If it is not registered in Australia the ship has to be in Australian coastal waters.
Section 248 and subsequent sections of the Navigation Act refer to dangerous goods. Any goods are dangerous goods if so proclaimed by the Minister. Dangerous goods are goods which may cause possible loss of life or damage to a ship. The Minister can interfere when goods are being loaded or unloaded. In that case the stable door is closed before the horse has bolted. Perhaps amendments to the provisions of that part of the Act which relate to dangerous goods would afford us better assistance in preventing pollution of Australian coastal waters.
– Oil would not be considered to be dangerous goods within the meaning of that section.
– Dangerous goods are goods which are proclaimed by the Minister to be dangerous goods.
– The goods do not become dangerous until the ship is holed.
– I do not know whether the Minister, following an accident at sea, has power to proclaim any goods as dangerous goods. We could have special regulations which would give us power over such a vessel long before it reached our coastal waters and long before it created a nuisance by the possibility of polluting the Australian coast.
– That is a dubious argument.
– That may not be correct, but the Opposition does not know the possibilities and has not had an opportunity to study them. I understand that we will meet the emergency by allowing this legislation for 6 months, thus giving the legal experts who know what we want an opportunity to reconsider the matter. I do not think the Government will oppose that approach by the Opposition.
– in reply - Obviously this is a matter of concern to every honourable senator and I approach it in that light. 1 will be as brief as I possibly can having regard to the scope, the complexity and the area of the debate which seems to have brought in most things which would be raised in a very broad discussion of a matter of this character. As was mentioned in the second reading speech which I delivered on behalf of the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) this is regarded as an urgent measure. It has been accepted as such. It is necessary for the Commonwealth to lf>.ve with expedition the powers sought. From what the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) said very early in the debate, I take it that Labor is disposed to accept the measure with a qualification in time. The Australian Democratic Labor Party has indicated the sama qualification. So although the debate has taken a long time one might feel that it could have been concluded more quickly.
This has been an interesting debate. Much of it has been of great interest to me because I was actively concerned for some time wilh some of these matters. I am sure we all share some of the concerns which have been expressed. I have a great number of notes which 1 hope will help me to answer most of the queries that have been raised. 1 will go through them as quickly as I can. This is an interim measure in itself. The whole matter will become subject to review when Parliament is asked in due course to consider giving effect to the two Conventions negotiated at the Brussels legal conference last year. I hasten to add that I am in no position to tell honourable senators when that will be, but there are international conventions dealing with this.
The legislation ls supplementary to State legislation and is designed to strengthen the overall position. I am informed that the Premier of Queensland has been consulted and is completely happy with the substance of the Bill. Proposed section 329k ensures ensures that there will be no adverse effect on State law. In passing let me mention that an honourable senator said that it was rather odd, or perhaps not right, that the Commonwealth should have flown the detergent or dispersant to the site to help in breaking up the oil. I would hope that that is what the Commonwealth would always do in times of difficulty and trouble of this character. I would hope that the Commonwealth would use every art it has in trying to help. The Commonwealth should assist in every way it can. These are practical things that we have to do. We should not necessarily wait for fine points of law to be determined. We have to take action if there is an emergency. The people of Australia expect us to do whatever we can do to try to help. The purpose of the Bill fundamentally is to enable action to be taken, and to be taken expeditiously and efficiently.
Senator Davidson made certain comments. I am advised that the new conventions will cover the points he made, such as refusing tankers without insurance entry into ports. The construction standards of tankers are laid down in international conventions. The Intergovernmental Maritime Organisation is continually reviewing these standards. Masters and some of the crew have certificates for commanding ships throughout the world. Work is proceeding internationally to achieve uniformity of standards. 1 may not have caught all the points Senator Mulvihill made. I think we can cover them on another day. Both Senator Mulvihill and Senator Davidson referred to the detergents used. The use of these detergents has been overseen and controlled by government officials, and only when agreed with scientific experts in the area were they used or will they be used. I have mentioned that proposed section 329k ensures that there is no effect on the State law. This legislation is complementary, lt strengthens the situation.
Senator Keeffe ls concerned about the Great Barrier Reef, as we all are. I am advised that at the present time there does not appear to be any prospect of the whole of the Barrier Reef being threatened, as he suggests. Nonetheless, I believe that all of us share his concern that the Barrier Reef will not come to any harm. The Minister for Shipping and Transport has asked for an inquiry into the accident. No doubt that inquiry will refer to draughts of vessels using Torres Strait. As I said, the detergents have been used under close government control. Advice as to the quantities used is now available. I am told that replies to the questions Senator Keeffe has asked will be given very shortly.
Many honourable senators referred to proposed section 329f. f do not think there is any point in reading it out again, but these comments can be offered on it: Both paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed section 329f (1.) need to apply. If, in the rare case, the second paragraph could not be said to apply there would be no need for the Minister to take any action. The sequence of events, as I have tried to set it om in replying to the honourable senators who have participated in this debate, is that under proposed section 329f the Minister may give directions to persons as to what is to be done; proposed section 329g provides for the offences if they do not comply; and under proposed section 329h the Minister can step in and do what is necessary and charge the cost to the ship.
Honourable senators will understand that my view on this legislation is that one should be looking at what is the practical, commonsense way of going about getting a result. Reading through the legislation, that seems to me to be what would happen. I am prepared to agree that we could argue for quite a long time about the meaning of words in law, but I am quite sure (hat the intent is expressed in the Bill. Senator Devitt asked a question as to the meaning of ‘territorial waters’ and ‘Australian coastal waters’. The best I can say to him is that the usual definitions are the ones used and that in order to obtain further information he would need to have sat on some of the Senate select committees that have sat over the last 18 months or so and heard the legal opinions offered on the meaning of territorial waters’ and ‘coastal waters’. The term ‘territorial waters’ generally means waters within 3 miles of the Australian coast or the coast of an island forming part of Australia.
Senator Cavanagh mentioned the need to consolidate the Act. It is pointed out to me for his information that an Act of this size cannot be consolidated every time it is amended. In any case, this Bill does not affect any of the other parts of the Act. The Government considered carefully other possible methods of attacking the problem, and this was regarded as the most appropriate one. I am informed that the major spillage that took place has been dispersed adequately and that there is no leak at the present time. In replying further to Senator Cavanagh I point out that the definition of ‘oil’ is taken from the Pollution of the Sea by Oil Act 1960, and so far has been found to be adequate. I also point out to Senator Cavanagh that some control over foreign tankers outside as well as inside territorial waters was originally envisaged, but the Convention on the High Seas and general international law prevent any wider application of our powers than as now drafted.
I do not think I need to take much more time. This has been a very widely canvassed and hotly argued measure. The debate began with a reasonably calm statement by Senator Murphy which seemed to me to have set the general tone for the debate, but it became increasingly warm as people became increasingly interested. This is a subject that involves people in thinking quite seriously. There are people who are concerned about this matter. I, for my part, accept that concern. This measure is designed to make sure that the Commonwealth has adequate legal power to act. As such,I am glad that all honourable senators welcome it.
I am informed that in the other place the Minister for Shipping and Transport said that a member could introduce a private members motion to review the Bill and that he would be prepared to debate and vote on that motion. So the Government at this stage is prepared to say that it is disposed to accept the amendment which has been circulated by Senator Murphy and which would have the effect of limiting the operation of the Bill to 6 months. I have some comments which I might as well make now as at the Committee stage, since we have had quite a lengthy second reading debate. It is pointed out to me that the amendment would put us in the situation of dealing with the matter in about mid-September, which is a particularly busy time for the Parliamentary Draftsman. Be that as it may, the amendment circulated by Senator Murphy makes mention of 18th September. The acceptance of that amendment will ensure that the Government will bring this measure or a fuller measure before the Parliament within the next 6 months. This will give the Parliament the opportunity to examine with greater care the measure proposed.
The Government is grateful - I personally express my gratitude - to all sections of the Parliament for co-operating with it in giving a speedy passage to this legislation in order to deal with a situation which today or in the next few weeks may require instant action. This makes certain that we will have that capacity and that power. The acceptance of the proposed amendment acknowledges that co-operation and guarantees that the Opposition parties will be given an appropriate opportunity to look to a more permanent solution within the next 6 months.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-I refer to clause 4, and move:
After proposed new section 329k add the following new section: “‘329l. This Part shall cease to have effect on the eighteenth day of September, One thousandnine hundred and seventy, and shall be deemed to have been repealed on that day.’.”.
The reasons for this amendment were canvassed very widely in the second reading debate.I do not want to traverse them in any detail. I simply say this: We have not had the opportunity to consider the Bill fully. If this amendment were carried it would mean that the amendments made by the Bill to the principal Act would operate for 6 months. That would cover the period for which the emergency would seem likely to prevail. If it prevailed for longer than that - we certainly hope that it would not - there would be ample time for the Government to introduce legislation, if thought fit, whether in these terms or in somewhat different terms. After listening to the discussion tonight it seems to me that the Government might well in its wisdom take some of the advice that has been tendered by the land lawyers and sea lawyers and extend the operation of this legislation a little further.
Some quite good sense has been spoken about the restriction to pollution by particular kinds of oil and also in the suggestions made that the penalties are quite inadequate. I refer to the imposition of a primary penalty of $2,000 and the continued penalty of $2,000, dependent upon the actual escape of oil. One would think that the real offence would be to continue to fail to comply with the direction that had been given, rather than having the penalty depend upon the actual escape of oil. That does not seem to be the real point of the matter, as has been pointed out. There could be no escape of oil but such a situation that a cyclone or a similar event could cause the oil to escape all at once. It is quite insufficient to have the penalties dependent upon this condition.
We ought to have a chance to study this legislation.I have no doubt that the Government has introduced it in good faith. It is not necessary to repeat now that the Government has been tardy and ought to have anticipated this situation. It has obviously been introduced in a rush. In the interests of the Government, the Opposition and the nation there should be an opportunity for proper consideration. That will be available during the next 6 months. I commend the proposed amendment to the Senate. In answer to what was said by the Minister I would like to indicate that senators of the Labor Party are acting entirely in accordance with their individual conscience. If they support the proposed amendment it is because they choose to do so.
– I fully understand the position of honourable senators opposite outlined by Senator Murphy.I believe that the comments made this evening will be extremely useful to those people who will be studying this legislation at a later clay.
Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) [10.231 - I wish to refer to a specific point because I am in rather a deep dilemma. That dilemma has been increased by the observations of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) on the points I raised as to the need for two ingredients for the commission of an offence. 1 refer to the proposed section 329f which provides, in part: (1.) Where the Minister is satisfied that -
The two requirements arc joined as ingredients. The judgment of the Minister is exercised as to whether oil is polluting or is likely to pollute Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef. In that event he shall have a notice served on the party concerned. I turn now to the proposed section 329g, which refers to a person who fails to comply with a notice. A notice cannot be a notice within the terms of the law unless the two ingredients comprising an offence are joined. So that unless the notice specifies those two ingredients, the mere fact that a ship within 3 miles of the Australian coast has oil escaping from it does not constitute an offence. A ship can come within 3 miles of the coast and have oil escaping from it and there would be absolutely no offence committed at all. That is the point I am making.
– Outside the 3-mile limit?
– The Minister said within territorial waters’, or within 3 miles of the Australian coast. A notice cannot legally be served unless the two conditions are operating at the time.
– Are you saying that a vessel outside the 3-mile limit would not pollute the Australian coast?
– I am referring to a ship within territorial waters. If oil is escaping or is likely to be escaping from a ship it is not an offence within the provision 1 have quoted unless the oil is polluting. The two ingredients have to be present to constitute an offence. If the two things are not present at the time a notice cannot legally be served on anybody. 1 hope that somebody will help me on this point. As a notice cannot legally be served there is no offence and no penalty is applicable. Any ship can come within 3 miles of the Australian coastline and by misadventure or misfortune have oil leaking from it- - oil may be escaping from the ship by some means - and there is absolutely no offence under the provisions of this Bill. Therefore no penalty is attracted. Would somebody please clear up this point? This is the third time I have raised it.
– If Senator Devitt will turn to the proposed section 329f he will see that two elements are required to exist before the Minister is authorised to serve a notice. The first is that the oil is escaping or is likely to escape: the second is that the oil is polluting or is likely to pollute.
– You said two; it is not two.
– Two conditions must found the notice, but once the notice is given it is a notice by which the Minister by virtue of the authority under this legislation can require the owner, agent or master of a ship or all or any of them, to take such action in relation to the ship or its cargo as is specified in the notice. The required action may be to remove the vessel, to stop the leak, or to apply detergents or something else. It is necessary to lake such action as is specified under the notice. The proposed section 329g provides that if a person fails to comply with a notice, fails to take the action specified in the notice, he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of $2,000. The continuance of the penalty for failure to comply with the notice does not depend upon the double condition.
– No. only if the oil discharges.
– Yes, but continuance of the penalty does not depend on the duration of the double condition but only upon the condition that the oil escapes from the ship by reason of failure to comply with the notice; or escapes to a greater extent than it would have escaped had there been compliance with the notice. So that for the continuance of the original penalty of $2,000. invocation of the daily penalty does not depend upon the double condition prescribed in proposed section 329f, but on the single condition which I have read carefully for the particular attention of Senator Devitt. If is not simply a continuance of escaping oil. If the oil escapes from the ship by reason of non-compliance with the notice or escapes to a greater extent than it would have escaped if there had been compliance with the notice, the additional daily penalty is attracted.
Senator BISHOP (South Australia) 1 10.30 - I propose to follow up the point raised by Senator Devitt. Although the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) has explained the situation, ( want to consolidate the point made by Senator Devitt. As I read proposed sub-section 329f (2.) it means, as has been explained in relation to the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’, which is the vessel that has caused most of the immediate complaint although there have been many international incidents which should have occasioned the Government’s attention earlier, that if the Minister requires that the vessel shall be shifted immediately and the owner, agent or master does not comply with that requirement, the owner, agent or master would attract a penalty of $2,000 only. As Senator Byrne has said, this is despite the fact that the ship might present a hazard because of weather conditions such as cyclones, that it might create much damage to the Australian coastline or to the Great Barrier Reef. But the fact is that the only penalty which the owners of the ship would suffer would be $2,000.
– But the Minister has the power under proposed sub-section 2 (c) to remove the ship.
– The explanation given by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) in another place - we did not hear so much by way of explanation here - was that the Government could not instruct the master to shift the vessel, lt was suggested in the other place that this situation could arise and in explanation the Minister said that he could not tell the master to remove the vessel and in the event of the Department taking action to remove the ship it would not be able to recover costs. I am suggesting that the only penalty that the owners of the vessel would have to face under this legislation is $2,000 for not removing the vessel, despite the fact that the vessel might present a great danger while it remains at that spot.
I come next to the point that the Minister may serve a notice on the owner, agent or master of a ship requiring the removal of oil from the vessel. That provision is qualified by proposed section 329o which provides the owner with a qualifying argument. The owner might be able to prove that although he did not take action to remove oil from the ship, his failure to do so did not matter very much because the oil might not have escaped to any greater extent than it would have escaped if he had complied with the notice. The owner would attract the continuing penalty only if it could be proved that he failed to do what the Minister had instructed him to do. These are some of the matters which it might be possible for the Minister to clear up now.
Docs the provision mean what we think it means? If the Minister requires the owner to shift the ‘Oceanic Grandeur’ or requires him to remove the oil from the ship and he fails to do so, will he be liable for a penalty? It seems to us that this legislation has been introduced because the Government cannot get an assurance from the owner of the vessel that it will be shifted or unloaded. That is what the Minister has said in his second reading speech. If that is the situation, is $2,000 the only penalty that can be applied against the owner or master of the vessel? As Senator O’Byrne has said, for as long as the vessel remains in its present position it will present a hazard which might cost Australia millions of dollars. If the Minister serves a notice requiring the owner, agent or master of a ship to take action to prevent the discharge of oil, is there open to the owner, agent or master a qualitative argument which would limit the power to apply a continuing penalty?
– I should like to make one observation because I do not think some honourable senators have grasped what Senator Devitt was saying. I do not think the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) assisted us with his explanation because it seems that he did not understand what Senator Devitt was saying. Even if the penalties which have been referred to are sufficient, before proposed section 329g can have application some action must be taken by the Minister for Shipping and Transport under proposed section 329f. The point made by Senator Devitt is that the Minister cannot take action unless two things happen and proposed section 329f cannot apply unless two things happen. Firstly, oil must be escaping or be likely to escape from a ship before 329f (1.) (b) can apply. Then it is necessary to establish that the oil which is escaping, or is likely to escape, is polluting, or is likely to pollute, any Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef.
It can be assumed that if oil is escaping from a ship .in Australian coastal waters it would immediately pollute those waters, and that if it was likely to escape it would immediately create a likelihood of pollution to Australian coastal waters. But I come now to the point made by Senator Devitt. Australian coastal waters extend for 3 miles from the highwater mark, but a vessel could be just beyond the 3-mile limit and be leaking oil. In that event, although the tide or waves might carry the oil and cause pollution of a reef or the coastline, there is no power in the Bill for the Minister to do anything and therefore proposed section 329c would have no application.
– Why does the honourable senator say that there is no power in those circumstances? Supposing the ship were 3± miles out, would there not still be a risk that the coast would be polluted?
– Can the Minister not act if it is likely to pollute the coast?
– Yes, where the oil is polluting or is likely to pollute Australian coastal waters, any part of the Australian coast or any Australian reef. I see the point now. Senator Devitt was saying that that is one escape - that if there was a likelihood of pollution there would possibly be action. Senator Devitt has suggested that there should not be the two requirements. If a ship beyond the territorial limit is leaking oil I suppose it would become an international question to be considered and questions involving how much we are concerned with the high seas would come into it. However, in view of Senator Greenwood’s interjection, I do not think that matter can be taken any further.
– I rise to mention two points. The first point relates to what Senator Bishop said. With all respect to the honourable senator 1 suggest that he is putting a very strange interpretation on the sections. As I understand the provisions of the Bill, where the Minister is satisfied that oil is escaping or is likely to escape and to pollute he may give a notice to the owner, the agent or master of a ship, and the type of notice he gives may be to require the owner, agent or master to take action to prevent the escape of oil from the ship. That, presumably, would be some specific action which could be taken on board the ship.
– That is not exhaustive; the action that the Minister may take includes those things.
– 1 appreciate that. Secondly, the Minister could require oil to be removed from the ship. Presumably that would require the presence of another vessel in order to take the oil off. Thirdly, the Minister could require them to remove the ship entirely from the area, but that could take place only if the ship was not so holed that it could not be removed from the reef. Supposing in those circumstances that the owner declined to move the ship. True, he would be liable to a penalty of $2,000 only, but the Minister would still have residual powers. If he thought it proper he could still give notice to require the escape of oil to be prevented or to have oil removed from the ship. That would still require compliance by the owner, and if there was no compliance that would attract a further penalty of $2,000. I suggest that the Minister would not act in that way because once there had been a refusal to comply he would take the view that this was a recalcitrant owner who required sterner measures, but he would rely upon new section 329h. and he himself, using all the resources of the Commonwealth at his disposal, would have the ship removed and he would then be able to bill-
– What if it were a Russian ship?
– He would have the ship removed if he wanted it removed or he would have the oil taken off, and then he would be able to bill the owner of the ship with the full cost of what he did. In that sense it is a fairly comprehensive section which ought to overcome the points which were troubling Senator Bishop. The other point which I raise and about which I would be concerned if the Minister had not indicated his willingness to accept Senator Murphy’s amendment is that proposed section 329f commits to the Minister’s discretion a host of actions which carry quite substantial penalties. I would have thought that it is not good enough to have the satisfaction of the Minister as to certain events as the sole criterion upon which liability depends. The liability to which some people may be subjected, and to which they may believe they should never be subjected, would be dependent upon the Minister’s opinion and that would be unexaminable in court and it would be unchallengeable on any prosecution.
– It is only the condition precedent to the issue of the notice. There is no liability.
– I appreciate what Senator Byrne says, but still it is an essential pre-requisite to any liability that the Minister must be satisfied. I would hope that it would be a matter which the Minister’s advisers will take into account in the reconsideration which they are giving to this matter. It would be far more satisfactory if this condition precedent could simply be where oil is escaping or is likely to escape and where oil is polluting or is likely to pollute, rather than the Minister’s opinion that that is happening.
– I do not feel that my remarks will add anything to this rather long and interminable discussion but I would like to say this to honourable senators. We have taken careful note of all that has been said about this Bill. We will have available to us the Hansard record. Honourable senators may be assured that the points raised will all be referred to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) for consideration in the 6-month period which we are discussing as a period of time to take into account suggestions for improvement.
– There still seems to be some doubt about the interpretation of proposed section 329g and the incidence of the penalty de die in diem of $2,000. The whole condition rests on the presence of oil in a vulnerable condition in the subject area. That seems to be the condition precedent. As Senator Greenwood pointed out, the notice can be given requiring any one or any conjunction of 3 things to be done by the owner or master of the vessel: To remove the oil, to remove the ship, or to prevent the leakage. If the vessel is removed the position then completely changes and there is no possibility of a leakage of oil. If the oil is not removed but remains in the vulnerable area there is still a possibility of leakage. If the oil is plugged there is still a possibility of a resumption of the leakage. In those circumstances the whole area of vulnerability still exists and one can understand an owner having a ship in that condition, which is holed on a reef and is liable to cyclonic interruption and possible destruction, and faced with the possibility of employing a salvage vessel and having to pay salvage, saying: ‘Well, I refuse to obey the notice and I will wait until a vessel from my own line comes along.’ At that stage there is a tremendous vulnerability and the only penalty to which a master or an owner is liable is the initial penalty of $2,000 providing there is no actual oil leakage from the ship.
– Have you any ready way of overcoming that.
– I do not see why, when a notice is resisted and the order is not obeyed, the penalty de die in diem should not immediately attach, at $2,000 for every day on which default is made in not complying with the notice, or perhaps an initial penalty and a lesser penalty per day until notice is complied with. I see no practical reason why that should not be done. It would be very easy to draft and it is something that would really require compliance by the master or the owner under a not inadequate penalty. I do not know how correct this is but it is my understanding that the weather map shows cyclonic disturbances in this region at this time and a cyclonic disturbance now approaching this area. If that is true the situation that has been discussed here becomes very clearly etched out, and nothing can be done in this case, no notice having been given because there is no authority. We must recall that this part of the world is an area subject to cyclonic disturbance and the delay in moving a vessel or taking off oil is one that is particularly dangerous in the tropical areas of the Great Barrier Reef. In those circumstances I felt disposed to offer a precise amendment to that provision but in view of the necessity of getting the legislation through I restrained myself only because of the Government’s undertaking that the legislation would have a limited life and these things may be canvassed at the proper time and with the leisure which should accompany the consideration of a Bill of such moment. However, I would like to hear the Minister comment further on this particular matter.
– As I understand the situation the practicality is that under proposed section 329h the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) can step in and do what is necessary and charge the cost to the owner of the ship. I rose only to say to Senator Byrne that later - perhaps tomorrow - he might care to give me the exact form of his amendment and I will see that it is given to the Minister.
– There was a suggestion made from the Government benches as to the method of dealing with the problem of an escape of oil without complying with the conditions of section 329f. If the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Sinclair) is looking for suggestions I suggest that that matter is entirely apart from the question of serving notice on a master or an owner of a ship. The Government should give consideration to introducing an amendment to provide for extremely heavy penalties for the master or owner of any ship responsible for polluting the waters, irrespective of whether notice has previously been served. I cannot for the life of me see why there is not such a provision in this Bill but 1 will not go into any more detail. 1 thank the Senate for its support to the amendment.
– I did not hear the Minister say in his summing up whether the powers entrusted to the Minister include power to stipulate the type of detergent to be used in the dispersal of oil spillages?
– I can only say that it is my assumption that it does indeed do that.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Colton) read a third time.
– I. move: “that the Senate at its rising adjourn until 10 it.m.. tomorrow
In speaking to the motion 1 make the point that tomorrow the motions for the second reading of the Social Services Bill and the Repatriation Bill will we hope be debated currently, and then the Bills will be dealt with separately at the Committee stage. For reasons which are known, we wish that legislation to be passed tomorrow. We also seek passage of the Loan (Australian Wheat Board) Bill. At 4.45 p.m. we are due to go to Government House to present the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency the Governor-General. After 8 p.m. tomorrow General Business will be called on. We have a fairly tight schedule for tomorrow. I am grateful to the Opposition, the Democratic Labor Party and Senator Turnbull for their co-operation in the matter. The point 1 make is that there will be a need for a high degree of co-operation tomorrow. I know that honourable senators opposite will give us that co-operation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Anderson) proposed:
Thai the Senate do now adjourn.
Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) I.I0.52J - I want to raise a matter about which I am most concerned. I am much concerned that a Minister in this House, in his capacity as Minister representing another Minister, is withholding from me information that was given to him for my benefit. Last night when I spoke in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, I spoke about the Yuendumu Aboriginal reserve. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton), as the representative of the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon), said:
On 5lh and 10th March Senator Cavanagh made some extremely serious allegations. On those occasions I listened to his comments and com municated the full text of them to the Minister for the Interior.
One would expect that of a Minister representing another Minister. The Minister continued:
A couple of days ago I received a full and detailed answer to the comments which were made at that time.
I made accusations which, the Minister said, were serious accusations. The replies to my accusations were replies to me. The Minister is only the go-between between the Minister to whom 1 made the representations andmyself. He should have delivered the replies to me. For 2 days he had those answers, which are my answers. He will not disclose those answers to me. That was revealed when the Minister said last night that I introduced some additional material and that he had decided to withhold the answers delivered by the Minister for the Interior until he can reply to all my allegations. That is only an afterthought. For 2 days he held my replies before I raised any additional matters. The replies that belong to mc ure held by the go-between - not the Minister of whom 1 asked the questions but the Minister who should have delivered the replies to me. As I was concerned about this I rang the Minister for the Interior this afternoon. I was informed that the Minister was at a Cabinet meeting. 1 spoke to his secretary and informed him that the Minister s agent in this House had replies for me from the
Minister for the Interior and was somewhat holding the Minister up to ridicule because he would not make the replies available to me. Obviously the secretary could not give an answer to the matter I raised, but he promised to look into it.
I take a serious view of this. If the Minister for Civil Aviation has answers to the questions I raised, I should have the replies. I would expect the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) to take some action with the Minister who will not convey the replies from the responsible Minister of whom I asked the questions. Tomorrow we will go into recess for a fortnight. I am in the position of having to say that, having raised these points during discussion in the House, the Minister has failed to reply when in fact he has not failed to reply. The responsible Minister has discharged his obligation and has replied, but there is some lesser person in this building who has decided that the replies will not be given to me. The excuse about extra material did not apply for 2 days because no extra material was raised. Therefore, my reply was held for 2 days. The Minister for Civil Aviation further stated: . . I must say that, it seemed to me that many of the accusations he had made - most of them extremely serious - were not supported.
The Hansard report states:
This afternoon the Minister assured me that he said:
That is my interpretation of what the Minister said. This afternoon he also said he had arranged to have the record corrected.
Those answers should be made known to me so that I can desist from making wrong accusations, as it is extremely difficult for me to know which of the accusations that I repeated on5th and 10th March cannot be supported. On 5th and 10th March I did not make accusations; I repeated accusations that were made previously. I relied upon documents presented to the Minister - they were from 13 councillors at Yuendumu and from Revered Flemming of Yuendumu - to support my contention that the accusations were true. If the Minister’s answers do not support the accusations I repeated on5th and 10th March, all the Minister is saying is that there were untruths in the documents that he collected from the 13 councillors and from Reverend Flemming at Yuendumu. I want to know before repeating them which statements are untrue accusations. I want to know how the Minister sought this information from his welfare officer - I gave the details of how he sought statements from the 13 councillors - and produced back here a document which is not true and which does not support the allegationsI made.
The additional matter thatI raised is of grave concern to certain people in South Australia. Mr Townsend established a precedent when he instituted prosecutions against those whom he considered were guilty of offences under the Crimes Act when the Federal Government would not carry out its own laws. Certain people in South Australia think that a private individual should make charges alleging mass rape against certain people at Yuendumu. BecauseI thought it would be disastrous if it were found that the Government knew such mass rape occurred and was not prepared to prevent further incidents by prosecuting, I asked the Minister for Works (Senator Wright), who represents the Attorney-General in this chamber, to inquire into the allegations and examine the documents now held by the Department of the Interior. Having more confidence in the Attorney-General’s Department than I have in the Department of the Interior I am hopeful that the Attorney-General will take the appropriate action to bring the offenders to trial. But I do not know how long 1 shall have to wait. Although 1 asked the simple question, whether the AttorneyGeneral’s Department would inquire into these allegations and examine the document, I have not received a reply to my question. Despite the desire to have the authority which is policing the Government laws examine the matter and despite my confidence that the Attorney-General’s Department will act properly, I am in doubt as to whether it is delaying its reply to protect another Commonwealth department.
– I appreciate the Minister’s assurance. But I fail to understand why the Attorney-General is unable to answer whether he will examine certain documents which are now in the possession of the Minister for the Interior. The Department of the Interior has refused to supply the information. It has been caught and is seeking ways out. 1 have made certain allegations. The Minister has apparently made a reply to clarify his position as best he can. J want to examine his statement and possibly reply to it. But the Minister for Civil Aviation, who represents the Minister for the Interior in this chamber, is withholding information which should have been given to me in answer to a question I asked. That information is my properly and it is being withheld by him. I think some action should be taken to ensure that I am provided with the answer which has been provided to the Minister in this chamber so that it may be passed on to me.
Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) 1.11.3] - 1 do nol propose to whip myself into a frenzy about this matter, as Senator Cavanagh has done. 1 would like to recite the facts. I am glad that Senator Cavanagh acknowledged the fact that I am only the representative of the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) in this chamber. 1 am nol the principal; 1 am only endeavouring to be the agent. I asked for some information to be supplied to me in relation to the comments which Senator Cavanagh made. The information was supplied in the form of a speech to be delivered in the Address-in-Reply debate, but it arrived too late last Thursday for me to provide it in that way because the Senate rose earlier than I thought it would. Therefore, it was not an after thought; it was a prepared speech. I thought the AddressinReply debate would give me the best opportunity to try to answer some of his comments, but as the debate concluded on Thursday 1 had to watt until Tuesday to raise the matter. I thought that the next best opportunity to raise the matter would be on Tuesday night in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. But on Tuesday night Senator Cavanagh again spoke. Upon listening to him 1 thought to myself that he was introducing new material and that I had better send my information back and have it augmented, otherwise he would accuse me of making a fragmentary reply. I did not want him to accuse me of that. I said to the Department of the Interior: ‘Could you please let me have the full information in order that I can deliver it to the Senate before it rises this week?’ It is still my intention to do so.
– I regret the fact that I have to rise at this late stage. I appreciate that we have had a long day today and we will have another one tomorrow, but I promised that I would raise a certain matter. I shall be as brief as I can. I can understand why the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton), who represents the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) in this chamber, will not whip himself into a frenzy. It seems to me that the Department is unlikely to whip itself into a frenzy about even more serious matters. The Administrative and Clerical Officers Association has asked me to draw the attention of the Senate to its concern about a situation which exists in the first floor of the Administrative Building in Parkes, which is a suburb of the Australian Capital Territory. On 25th June 1969 the Chief Officer of the Department of the Interior, who is, I think, concerned about the fire hazard in the building, wrote a letter to the Association concerning complaints about the building. He said:
This officer does agree that in the event of a lire within the Administrative Building it is highly probable that members employed within the building would have extreme difficulties in reaching avenues of escape, indeed they may find this impossible. This opinion is supported by the open stair construction, inadequacy of escape facilities and the further prejudicing of these means of escape by the security requirements of the building. lt should be noted that the inadequacy and inefficiency pertaining to means of escape from this particular building is not confined only to the rooms mentioned in the reference correspondence but to the building as a whole.
The Chief Fire Officer has reported to the authorities previously re the situation concerning means of escape in case of fire from the Administration Building Parkes and therefore it seems proper that any further correspondence on the matter should bc addressed to such authorities.
It would appear to be a serious situation. Apparently a lot of people are working in the building. I think I saw somewhere in the documents I have in front of me that there are 1,500 Commonwealth employees working in the building. Apparently this situation was known before 25th June 1969. Certainly there was correspondence from the Chief Officer of the Facilities Branch of the Department of the Interior confirming the complaints of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. With the concurrence of honourable senators, I incorporate the letter dated 25th June 1969 in Hansard.
RE: Means of escape in case of fire (Department of Trade & Industry)
Reference: Correspondence N.H.B/H.B. dated 17th June ‘69
In reply to your correspondence (NHB/HB) dated the 17th June 1969 relative to complaints from members working in the Department of Trade and Industry, Rooms 1-20, first floor of the Administrative Building, Parkes, Canberra, A.C.T., the following comments are submitted.
Upon receipt of the correspondence the Chief Fire Officer, in the company of two members of the Department of Trade, did on Friday the 20th Inst. inspect the area of the building referred to in the reference correspondence.
This Officer does agree that in the event of a fire within the Administrative Building it is highly probable that members employed within the building would have extreme difficulties in reaching avenues of escape, indeed they may find this impossible. This opinion is supported by the open stair construction, inadequancy of escape facilities, and the further prejudicing of these means of escape by the security requirements of the building.
It should be noted that the inadequacy and inefficiency pertaining to means of escape from this particular building is not confined only to the rooms mentioned in the reference correspondence but to the building as a whole.
The Chief Fire Officer has reported to the Authorities previously, re the situation concerning means of escape in case of fire from the Administration Building Parkes and therefore it seems proper that any further correspondence on the matter should be addressed to such Authorities.
There was further correspondence after that date. I think I have most of the correspondence in my possession. I shall provide it to the Senate. On 12th August 1969 a letter was written to the Minister for the Interior by Mr Butler, who is the Branch Secretary of the Association, concerning this matter. On 9th October 1969 the Minister replied to Mr Butler to the effect that some consideration had been given to the matter and the item would be included in the major works programme and so on. But the situation remained the same. On 21st January 1970 a further letter in terms a little more terse was written by the Federal Secretary of the Association to the Minister. With the concurrence of honourable senators, I incorporate these letters in Hansard. 12 August 1969
Minister for the Interior,
I am enclosing a copy of a report made by the Chief Officer of the Fire Station, Forrest, to my Association, concerning the fire risk in the Administrative Building, Parkes, A.C.T.
The report makes disturbing reading and we view the risk to our members as being very serious.
In the last paragraph of his report the Chief Officer draws attention to a previous report about which apparently nothing has been done by your Department.
When the Department of Trade and Industry transferred to the Administrative Building a few years ago, renovations were made and a number of partitions were erected, the chief wall material used being plywood, a highly combustible material.
Officers working in various sections of the building feel that, in the event of an extensive fire (there are no sprinklers), smoke would soon replace the air. The only exit (the main stairs) might be too crowded, a trap in itself, or there might be difficulty in reaching it.
These matters have been presented to the Department of Trade and Industry, which in turn has made representations to your Department. Improvements are now under way which will increase the number of escape routes from sections of the building to the interior stairways.
However there is still a pressing need for outside fire escape ladders. This does raise a security problem (e.g. in External Affairs Section of the building), but surely it would not be impossible to install suitable alarm systems. Also, I would suggest that the proposal for outside fire escapes should not be rejected on the grounds that it would detract from the appearance of the building - surely the safety of the people in the building would come first.
Pending the installation of external fire escapes, a fire drill could be prepared for the officers working in the building.
I look forward to your reply and trust that action will be taken immediately to install adequate fire escapes and introduce fire drill. It would not give me any satisfaction to be able to say at a coroner’s inquest, ‘I told you so.’
Minister for the Interior
CANBERRA, A.C.T. 2600
9th October 1969
Dear Mr Butler,
I referto your letter of 12th August 1969 concerning the fire escape facilities in the Administrative Building, Parkes, A.C.T.
For some time consideration has been given by my Department in consultation with the National Capital Development Commission and the Chief hire Officer to ways of overcoming any deficiences in the means of escape in case of fire in the building. However, one of the major problems is the special requirements of the occupying departments in maintaining security of the areas occupied.
Investigation into the provision of fire security locks to all fire and steel grille doors separating Block B2 and Block C has reached a stage where cost estimates are being prepared and it is proposed to have the installation carried out during the current financial year. The fire security doors will automatically unlock when the fire alarm system is activated.
Ways of providing a separate additional fire escape route for the building have also been investigated and the construction of eight new internal enclosed fire escape stairways has been accepted as the best alternative. This, however, involves a major expenditure and also the loss of considerable office space within the building. Office layouts which have been prepared for the various wings in the building over the last few years have recognised that the stairways would be constructed when the necessary finance could be made available for the work.
The item has been included in the Departmental Major Works Programme proposals in each of the past three years but has not achieved programme status. Efforts will continue in conjunction with the National Capital Development Commission to have the item included in the Major New Works Programme as early as practicable.
My Department is aware of the need for fire drills and is taking steps to seek additional staff to introduce drills in conjunction with the Chief Fire Officer as early as possible.
(P. J. NIXON)
Administrative and Clerical Officers’ Association,
MANUKA, A.C.T. 2603
21st January 1970
The Hon. P. J. Nixon
Minister of State for the Interior
House of Representatives
Canberra, A.C.T. 2600
Dear Sir, re: Administrative Building, Parkes:
My Council, a Division of which will be established in the A.C.T. in May this year, has been asked to lend its support to efforts being made by the A.C.T. branch of the Administrative and Clerical Officers’ Association to have adequate fire escape facilities at the Administrative Building, Parkes, provided.
In your letter of 9th October 1969 to the Branch Secretary of A.C.O.A. you state:
Ways of providing a separate additional fire escape route for the building have also been investigated and the construction of eight new internal enclosed fire escape stairways has been accepted as the best alternative. This, however, involves a major expenditure and also the loss of considerable office space within the building. Office layouts which have been prepared for the various wings in the building over the last few years have recognised that the stairways would be constructed when the necessary finance could be made available for the work.
The item has been included in the Departmental Major Works Programme proposals in each of the past three years but has not achieved programme status. Efforts will continue in conjunction with the National Capital Development Commission to have the item included in the Major New Works Programme as early as practicable.’
I understand that prior to giving that response you had been provided with a copy of the Chief Fire Officer’s certification dated 25th June 1969, that:
It should be noted that the inadequacy and inefficiency pertaining to means of escape from this particular building is not confined only to the rooms mentioned in the reference correspondence but to the building as a whole.’
Having regard to that certification, your reply to the Branch Secretary reveals an amazing indifference to a matter of industrial safety. The question of the safety of the building has responsibly been raised with you for action. The extraordinary diffidence shown in your letter to taking decisive action on what is a simple (albeit perhaps expensive) matter of industrial safety suggests that reasoned and authoritatively supported argument is not an adequate stimulus in industrial matters where the public service is involved. One would have hoped that the possible responsibility for the consequences of a serious fire would have been sufficient to prevent the deferment of the installation of adequate escape facilities for four years.
On behalf of my Council, I should like to make clear that your letter of 9th October 1969 leads to the conclusion that the delay in making the necessary alterations is not the responsibility of any other body or person than yourself. Your ambiguous, imprecise and almost meaningless response that’efforts will continue in conjunction with the National Capital Development Commission to have the item included in the Major New Works Programme as early as practicable’ does not indicate that you are prepared to take steps to ensure that necessary priority is given to the provision of escape facilities.
I would stress that in the view of my Council a matter of industrial safety is involved transcending questions of competing priorities for public works. I should be pleased if you would reconsider the view implicit in your letter and advise me in due course as to what action my Council can expect to be taken as a matter of urgency to render the building a safe place to work.
I am forwarding copies of this letter to a number of affiliates involved, to the Public Service Board and to the National Capital Development Commission.
There was also a letter on 17th December 1969 from Mr Taylor, who is the Branch Secretary, to the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) regarding the same matter. With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate that letter in Hansard. 17 December 1969
The Prime Minister,
CANBERRA. A.C.T. 2600
As the attachments show, the Chief Fire Officer of the A.C.T. has reported very adversely on the fire escape facilities at the Administrative Building, and the Minister for the Interior accepts that the construction of special internal fire escape stairways is required. The Minister says, however, that this item has failed for three years to reach ‘programme status - apparently they could be constructed next year, in twenty years’ time, or never, if left to the N.C.D.C. and the Minister.
A scale of values that places works that would remove a threat to the lives of some 1,500 people below the many decorative projects being undertaken around this town defies comment.
The Association has already approached the Public Service Board seeking its support, but in view of the attitude adopted by the N.C.D.C. and the Minister, and because the very lives of officers are imperilled, we have decided not to wait to see whether success can be achieved by other means before requesting you to use your authority and influence to have the situation speedily remedied. This I now do on behalf of our Association. If a special grant would be needed to enable the work to be done as soon as is technically possible we contend that it should be made.
We would ask you to receive a deputation from the Branch to discuss the case if it would assist in reaching a satisfactory solution.
Some acknowledgements have been made concerning these letters. Apparently the Association was unsuccessful in its endeavour to have a deputation interview the Prime Minister. Today the building is still in the same situation. I think we can agree with the Minister for Civil Aviation that regardless of what isdone the Department of the Interior will not get itself into a state of frenzy about a simple matter like hundreds of Commonwealth employees working in a building which is a fire hazard so as to be exposed to the unnecessary risk of injury. If private employers were involved they would be prosecuted to the hilt and, no doubt, daily penalties would be imposed upon them for what they were doing to their employees.
-Whatever else is the position, apparently his colleagues are not afraid of any over-heating. I think it is time something was done about this. I know the honourable senator has spoken before and I do not expect him to have an answer but I thought it at least proper to get this material on the record so that something could be done without any further delay.
– by leave - I was not referring to any frenzy in the Department of the Interior, but only in this chamber. 1 was concerned to hear the things Senator Murphy said about the fire risk in the Administrative Building. All his comments have been noted. I will do what I can to find out more for the honourable senator. I will see if I can obtain a more satisfactory answer than he appears so far to have received.
Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) [1 1.12] -I had no intention of speaking on the adjournment debate because 1 understood that Opposition senators were tired after the length of today’s proceedings. But I discovered it was permissible to speak on the adjournment debate and therefore I want to raise a matter of some substantial importance, or what I consider to be a matter of substantial importance. Some reference has been made to the need for Australia to establish an area of defence, and this brings me to the problem which I see existing in terms of what is known as the Butterworth air base in northern Malaysia. What interests me about this is that under South East Asian Treaty Organisation arrangements in earlier days the Commonwealth of Australia in obedience to its treaty obligations spent about $20m building this base. Australia was operating under no other arrangement than an exchange of letters between the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of Malaysia. We adhered to treaty arrangements made between the Government of Malaysia and the United Kingdom. As the United Kingdom feels it proper to pull out from east of Suez, it appears - I have heard nothing to the contrary - that the Butterworth air base has been handed over to the Government of Malaysia by the United Kingdom. I do not have any objection to that because I assume that the United Kingdom informed the Government of Australia that that was its intention, andI presume this is in the process of negotiation at the present moment. But as an Australian senator I am disturbed by this situation.
It has been stated in the international Press that it is the intention of the Government of Malaysia to take control of Butterworth and appoint a commander of it. In normal peacetime circumstances, under which we operate at the present moment, I do not suppose this seems important to everybody, but it seems important to me because there is an administrative responsibility springing from the occupation of this Base by the Royal Australian Air Force. Honourable senators who sit in their places here will recall if they have been in that area that we have a responsibility not only in terms of having built this base and built the supporting services around it, but also because of our billeting arrangements on the island of Penang involving about 600 or 700 houses. We have a school manned by Australian teachers who are responsible for the education of about 1,000 Australian school children. In addition to this we have a great number of private civil contracts for the feeding of base personnel. The present plan is that the base will be taken over by the Malaysian Government which will appoint a commander to control the base. There are circumstances in the administrative arrangements by which the ability of the Royal Australian Air Forceto service itself inside this base would be subject to the overriding instructions of a Malaysian commander appointed by the Malaysian Government.
– Would we be paying the rent?
– I do not know, but some millions of dollars a month are going out in Australian taxpayers’ money for the maintenance of this base and to provide the administrative support and facilities to maintain it. In the event of tension, when this base is to become operational it may be necessary for the Australian Government, because of matters which are properly its concern, and because it has forces on this base, to do certain things. Therefore, the unfortunate situation could exist where a person of another nationality would be commanding this base. The commander could, in circumstances which I envisage, because this is not novel, interpose his authority above that of the commander of the Australian forces in the area seeking to carry out obligations and responsibilities reposed in him by his Government.
I am only sketching this in outline because to me it is a disturbing matter. I illustrate how disturbing it is by pointing out to honourable senators that a similar situation confronted the United States of America in its obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in north western Europe. In much the same sort of pattern ex-President de Gaulle of the Republic of France stated that all American bases in France were to come under the control of the French Government. The United States Government considered this an intolerable situation and, at enormous expense, moved all its bases out of France into West Germany, Belgium and other areas. On the surface it seems to me that pressure tactics are being used. But in the final analysis it seems to me insupportable and insufferable that Australia should disperse its defence forces forward to an area where those forces are not under the control of the Australian Government or of responsible officers appointed to control the area.
-I will seek to obtain the facts of the matter for the honourable senator.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.18 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 March 1970, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1970/19700318_senate_27_s43/>.