31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I inform the Senate that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Mr Garland) leave Australia today to attend the meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Manila. The Prime Minister is expected to return next weekend and Mr Garland on 27 May. During their absence Mr Anthony is acting as Prime Minister and Minister for Special Trade Representations. The Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) left Australia on 5 May to attend a meeting of the International Energy Agency, and a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Ministerial Committee on the Environment. He is expected to return on 26 May and during his absence the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr McLeay) is acting as Minister for National Development. Mr President, the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) left Australia on 3 May to visit China, Europe and North America on cultural and sporting matters and the arts. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) is Acting Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory until the Minister’s return on 27 May.
– I present the following petition from 1 1 7 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate’ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
Restore twice-yearly pension adjustments in the autumn session.
Raise pensions and unemployed benefits above the poverty level to 30 per cent of average weekly earnings.
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 783 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned electors respectfully showeth:
That compensation benefits payable to injured Australian Government employees and defence forces personnel under the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1 97 1 should be increased as a matter of urgency in view of the financial plight of recipients, particularly those suffering long term incapactiy and because of the significant increase in the cost of living which has occurred since compensation payments were last adjusted; and
That statutory provision should be made for the automatic - adjustment of compensation benefits.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 24 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country does not have the support of the people; that the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems; that the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilise whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire; that weather reporting be as it was prior to the passing of the Metric Conversion Act; that the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways; that the Australian Government request the State governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth that pensioners are disadvantaged if their pensions are not adjusted every six months to meet monthly consumer price index changes.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in parliament assembled, should index pensions half-yearly. by Senator Missen.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country does not have the support of the people;
That the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems;
That the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray.
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilize whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire;
That weather reporting be as it was prior to the passing of the Metric Conversion Act.
That the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways;
That the Australian Government request the State Governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will every pray, by Senators Davidson and Sibraa. Petitions received.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1978-79 Budget is of vital concern to onset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate’ is not valid.
Great injury will bc caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Senators Douglas McClelland, Missen, Puplick and Scott.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the credibility of the Westminister Parliamentary system is weakened by the resignation in protest of Ministers of the Crown without adequate explanation of the reason or reasons for the resignations being given to the electorate and that the situation is further exacerbated by the reappointment of the recently resigned Minister within a very brief period, again without any meaningful explanation to the people of Australia.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, take note of the need for the electorate at large to be fully informed so that the confidence of the people is not diminished in the democratic process in general and the Parliamentary process in particular.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, by Senator Missen. Petition received.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That in spite of numerous measures taken by various governments, unemployment in the country has not significantly declined.
As a result, supplies of both goods and services have declined; human resources are wasted, capital resources arc not used and natural resources are left under-developed.
Both local and overseas experience shows that prosperity is encouraged when taxes, which penalise production are replaced by taxes which provide incentives for productivity. These also provide disincentives to idle speculation such as that which results in so called ‘windfall profits’ from land price increases.
The reduction of income-tax, sales-tax and payroll tax is known to reduce the costs of production and to stimulate demand.
It is also known that when land tax or council rates are raised on the unimproved site value of land, then the development of vacant land and under-developed slum areas is stimulated.
It follows then, that the gradual replacement of taxes on production with taxes on non-production will create new employment, reduces the costs of production, reduces the rate of interest, the cost of housing and stimulates all industries.
We wish to point out that the replacement of production penalising taxes if a very practical proposal. According to official municipal valuations, it is estimated that unimproved site values have increased from $37, 000m in 1973-74 to $67,000m by 1976-77. This represents $30,000m so called windfall profits’ which was completely unrelated to productive improvements.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should act to relieve unemployment by a taxation reform to replace taxes on production with taxes which provide incentives for the increased supply of both goods and services.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Missen. Petition received.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
That the Minister for Science and the Environment no longer has the confidence oTthe Senate.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Senate proceeding with the motion forthwith and that Standing Order 127 do not apply.
– I move:
Mr President, a motion of no confidence in a Minister is a serious matter and should never be moved unless, in the considered opinion of the mover, there are reasonable grounds to justify it. After giving this matter careful thought, in consultation with my colleagues, I believe those grounds exist.
For all the criticism that may be levelled at our parliamentary system, for all the doubts that may be expressed as to the reliability of much that is said in the Parliament, and no matter how imperfect we may all be as individuals, it is recognised that when giving information to the Parliament a Minister of the Crown must not mislead, or be believed to mislead, the Parliament. This essential feature of our parliamentary system has become very strongly established over the years. When it is evident that a Minister has misled the Senate, it would be an abrogation of duty on the part of the Opposition if such action were allowed to pass unchallenged, not only to the Parliament of the day but also to our whole parliamentary tradition. The Senate will be aware that over the years several Ministers have been accused of giving misleading information to the Parliament. The history of those events is well documented in the parliamentary records. It is therefore not in any light-hearted sense that I move this motion today.
Last Thursday, Senator Webster, the Minister for Science and the Environment, provided information to the Senate which was wrong, which he knew to be wrong and for which there has been no satisfactory explanation. The Opposition charges that Senator Webster has deliberately misled the Senate and calls for his resignation. The misleading information given by Senator Webster came in the form of answers to questions concerning the Great Barrier Reef. Before dealing with the information provided by Senator Webster, I will go through the history of this matter to spell out the facts. Prior to 1971, a number of petroleum exploration permits had been issued to various companies in and around various parts of the Great Barrier Reef. As a result of concern about the effects of oil drilling on the Barrier Reef, a royal commission into exploratory and production drilling for petroleum in the area of the Reef was set up in 1971. At that time, the work conditions of those permits were suspended. In 1974, the commission brought down its report. Unfortunately there was a division between the chairman and the two other commissioners. However, all commissioners agreed that research into the issue should be carried out. The issue between the commissioners was whether or not long term research needed to be completed before any further action was taken in relation to exploratory drilling on the Barrier Reef.
The Labor Party was and is opposed to oil drilling in the Barrier Reef area. As a result, the Labor Government did not allow the company holding permits in the Great Barrier Reef region to continue with its exploratory drilling. That opposition was maintained up until the end of 1975. Since the Fraser Government came into office, various Ministers have concerned themselves with the issue of permits to carry out oil drilling on the reef. An interdepartmental committee was established to look at the matter. The issue came to a head towards the end of 1977. In October of that year, the Minister for National Resources, Mr Anthony, and the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, who was then Mr Newman, put up a Cabinet submission recommending exploration in the Capricornia channel area of the reef. The submission proposed that short term research be completed before approval to drill was granted, but that drilling could proceed prior to the carrying out of any long term research.
Honourable senators may recall that the existence of this submission was publicly disclosed by me shortly afterwards, that is, during the election campaign. Because of the pending election, the Government recognised that the political consequences of the decision were highly significant, and it was not proceeded with. The whole matter was raised again last year when the Government sought the views of the Australian Science and Technology Council on this question. In the middle of last year that body recommended a $10m research program to be carried out over five years into the effects of drilling on the reef and also recommended that the effects of oil spills from tankers should also be looked at. Since that time, nothing appears to have happened. Mr Groom, who had taken over from Mr Newman as Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, was at that time in disagreement with Mr Newman who since taking over the National Development portfolio was very keen to have the applications for permit renewals dealt with. This dispute between the two Ministers led to the Government’s making no decision in relation to the research program which had been recommended.
Now we come to the part of the story which concerns Senator Webster. Rather than give my version to those events, I will let the ministerial correspondence speak for itself. Last Thursday, I referred to a letter written by Senator Webster on 5 April. That letter was in response to a letter to him from Mr Newman, the Minister for National Development, dated 22 January 1979. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a copy of a letter dated 22 January 1979 from the Minister for National Development to Senator Webster, the Minister for Science and the Environment. I also seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a copy of Senator Webster’s reply to the letter from Mr Newman. That letter is dated 5 April 1979.
The letters read as follows-
Letter dated 22 January 1979
My dear Minister,
Your predecessor. Mr Groom, wrote to me on 28 October 1978 concerning the proposed proclamation of the Capricornia Section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In particular Mr Groom sought confirmation that the oil companies and the Queensland Under Secretary for Mines have no objection to the proposed proclamation.
The Under Secretary of the Queensland Department of Mines has advised my Department that the Department of Mines would have no objection to the proposed declaration provided the permittee of Q/4P and Q/5P is agreeable and only areas which the permittee proposes to relinquish are included. There has been no formal contact with the permittee and the official views of the permittee are not known.
Tlie Under Secretary expressed the view that before proclamation of the Capricornia Section it would be desirable for the application for partial renewal of the two permits to be processed. (You will recall that 1 expressed similar views in my letter of 5 January.) Furthermore the declaration should not proceed until formal extension of State powers over the territorial sea has been accomplished in line with the decisions taken at the Premiers ‘Conference in June 1978.
I assume that in view of the Prime Minister’s suggestion in his letter to you of 1 9 December 1 978, that action in relation to the proclamation be deferred until the outcome of the proposed discussions with Queensland on territorial sea matters is known, no action to proclaim the Capricornia Section will be taken.
In connection with the proposed talks with Queensland I should like to draw your attention to my responsibility for the Seas and Submerged Lands Act which includes the responsibility for the drawing of baselines from which the territorial sea is to be measured. Action to proclaim baselines around Australia including consultation with the States has been proceeding for some time, but there have been no consultations with Queensland to date. The matter may well be raised in the proposed discussions with Queensland or, at least, is likely to be a factor in determining the Commonwealth position in the discussions. My Department has therefore written to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet suggesting it should participate in the preparation for the proposed discussions and also possibly the discussions themselves when they take place.
Yours sincerely, (Signed) KEVIN NEWMAN Senator the Hon. J. J. Webster, Minister for Science and the Environment, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600
Letter dated 5 April 1979
I refer to your letter of 22 January 1979 concerning the proposed proclamation of the Capricornia Section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
To enable my Department and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to examine the environmental and park management consequences of the proposal for partial renewal of the two permits to be processed, I suggest that your Department provide my Department and the Authority formally with specific details particularly as to the boundaries of the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits. This will enable the Department and the Authority to assess the adequacy of information available to relate the proposed exploration program to areas of environmental and marine park significance.
I have also noted your reference to your responsibility in relation to the drawing of baselines and look forward to continued collaboration between our Departments and early resolution of this matter which has major implications for both our portfolios.
For the same reasons as advanced for deferral of proclamation of the Capricornia Section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, I assume no renewal of leases will take place before resolution of the baselines and other relevant aspects of seas and submerged lands policy in relation to Queensland. 1 have sent a copy of this letter to the Prime Minister for his information.
Yours sincerely, (signed) J. J. WEBSTER The Honourable K. E. Newman, M.P., Minister for National Development, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2600.
-I want to refer firstly to the letter from Mr Newman. It began by referring to a letter that Mr Newman received from Mr Groom, who was then the Minister for
Environment, Housing and Community Development. Mr Newman’s letter pointed out that Mr Groom wrote to him on 28 October 1978, seeking confirmation that the oil companies and the Queensland Under Secretary for Mines had no objection to the proclamation of the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. What an extraordinary request that was. The Minister in charge of the environment was seeking second-hand views as to whether various oil companies would object to the proclamation of a park authorised by this Parliament some three years before. That information demonstrates just how weak this Government has been when it comes to environmental matters, and it demonstrates just how much the Government is subject to manipulation by oil companies.
The letter went on to point out that the Under Secretary of the Queensland Department of Mines had no objection to the proposed proclamation, provided that the person who held the permits in the area was agreeable. In other words, if Gulf Oil did not mind the park being proclaimed, then the Queensland Government did not mind either. The letter went on to state that the Under Secretary of the Queensland Department of Mines insisted that only areas which Gulf Oil proposed to relinquish should be included in the park. In other words, if Gulf Oil does not want to carry out drilling in certain parts of the Capricornia section, then the park should be proclaimed in respect of those parts. The Under Secretary of the Department of Mines did not stop there. He went on to suggest to Mr Newman that it would be desirable that the application for the partial renewal of the two permits, that is Q/4P and Q/5P, as they are designated, be processed before the park was proclaimed. In other words, the proclamation of the park should be held up until those permits have been renewed.
Then, in a most damaging admission, the Minister for National Development went on to say that not only was he in agreement with that view but that he had expressed a similar view to Senator Webster in a letter on 5 January. This is clear and unequivocal evidence that, at least in the mind of Mr Newman, the most important reason for delaying the proclamation of the park was the need to process the permit renewals prior to that proclamation. That view was communicated in a letter to Senator Webster on 5 January and repeated in a letter to Senator Webster on 22 January. Mr Newman’s letter went on to say:
Furthermore . . .
I stress the importance of the word furthermore’- . . the declaration should not proceed until formal extension of State power over territorial sea has been accomplished in line with the decisions taken at the Premiers’ Conference in June 1978.
It is clear from the tone of this letter that what has since been described as ‘the constitutional issue’ was a secondary consideration. Mr Newman’s letter went on to refer to correspondence from the Prime Minister on this point, but it is clear from the tone of Mr Newman’s letter that there is a considerable dispute between his Department and Senator Webster’s Department, and that the constitutional issue is being used by Mr Newman as an excuse to hold up the proclamation of the park.
What do we learn from Mr Newman ‘s letter? We learn the following things. Firstly, a number of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have been involved with the issue of renewal of permits for some considerable time. Secondly, the Minister for National Development is pressing to have the permits renewed, and to that end he is receiving assistance from the oil companies and from the Queensland Government. Thirdly, there is pressure from the mining lobby and from the Ministers who favour drilling to hold up the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park until the permits, particularly those in the Capricornia section, are renewed. Lastly, to avoid any difficulties with the Queensland Government, the proclamation of the park should be held up pending resolution of extension of Queensland powers into off-shore waters. It took Senator Webster two and a half months to reply to that letter. On 5 April 1 979, he wrote back seeking information about the boundaries of the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits. His letter now makes it clear that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has been deferred indefinitely. In an attempt to hold off Mr Newman, he refers to some weak assumption that no leases will be renewed until all off-shore jurisdictional matters have been taken care of. What do we learn from this letter? We learn that Senator Webster was aware that there are strong moves to have the permits, at least in the Capricornia section, renewed. We learn that Senator Webster is resisting the renewal of leases at this time and we learn that he has informed the Prime Minister of the issue.
How then does all this information square up with the answers we were given in the Senate last Thursday? On that day there were eight questions, including supplementary questions, asked in relation to the Barrier Reef. All of the questions revolved around the possibility of drilling on or in the vicinity of the reef, to use the words of Senator Missen who asked the first question. Of those eight questions, three were asked of Senator Carrick. The first was asked by Senator Missen who sought from Senator Carrick information about the Government’s attitude to government drilling, in view of a claim by the Chairman of the Australian Petroleum Exploration Council, that the oil industry expects to be drilling on the reef within 2 to 5 years.
As is so often the case, Senator Carrick could have taken more care with the answer he gave. He told Senator Missen that the Government took action to establish the Marine National Park, but his memory was not the best because that action had been taken previously by the Labor Government. He also went on to claim that the Chairman had no background of any statement or indication from the Government on which to base his claim. How Senator Carrick would know that is beyond me. From the correspondence I have put before the Senate, it is clear that certain Ministers have been discussing this question and perhaps the Chairman of the Council is much better informed on this issue than is the Leader of the Government.
The important thing to note is that Senator Webster was already on notice that senators were interested in drilling on the reef. The next question came from me. I asked Senator Carrick about the submission from the Minister for National Resources and the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, seeking approval to limit drilling on the reef. Although Senator Carrick declined to answer the question, Senator Webster was once again on notice that the Senate was concerned about any suggestion that the Government may permit drilling on the reef.
Subsequently Senator Puplick put directly to Senator Webster a report that there had been discussions between the Federal and Queensland governments which would lead to certain areas within the reef region being opened up for oil exploration and drilling. Senator Puplick wanted to know whether there had been any such talks and what had been their purpose. Although Senator Webster declined to answer that question directly, he did refer to the renewal of permits for exploration and he said the question had been suspended pending government decisions on the royal commission report. He went on to assure Senator Puplick that no action would be taken in that area- that is, the question of drilling- in the foreseeable future.
Aware that there had been correspondence between Senator Webster and Mr Newman in relation to this issue and aware of the contents of that correspondence, I put to Senator Webster that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park had not been proclaimed because the Government was considering the renewal of permits in the Capricornia section. In response Senator Webster said that the only reason for the delay in proclamation of the Capricornia section of the park was a constitutional one involving the renegotiation of jurisdiction over off-shore waters following a decision of last year’s Premiers Conference. He went on to say:
The reason why [he Capricornia Reef has not been declared has nothing to do with the comment made by Senator Wriedt and it has nothing whatsoever to do with exploration in that area.
At this point I should interpose once again the assertion contained in two letters from Mr Newman to Senator Webster that the proclamation of the Capricornia section should be deferred until permits Q/4P and Q/5P are partially renewed.
Senator Webster went on to say that the proclamation of the Park had been held up purelyand I stress the word ‘purely’- because discussions are taking place on what he described as a constitutional issue. This answer drew a supplementary question from me asking him to specifically deny that the only issue was the constitutional one and that the Government was considering renewing permits. I will repeat Senator Webster’s answer in full: 1 can assure the honourable senator that the comment I made is correct. The Capricornia Reef is not declared at the moment due to constitutional problems. So far as I am aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
That answer was given to the fifth question which had been asked in relation to oil drilling on the reef. It was the third answer that Senator Webster had given on this issue.
As I have said, a charge of a Minister’s deliberately misleading the Senate must not be taken lightly. We are all aware how easy it is to make a slip of the tongue or to forget a minor detail when we are asked about some issue. This happens from time to time in the Parliament and is repeatedly acknowledged. Such a slip is more likely to occur if someone, and particularly a Minister, is caught by surprise. On this occasion there was no question of surprise. The number of questions which had been asked would have alerted any Minister to the issues behind those questions. It was clear that all the questions that had been asked concerned the possibility of renewing permits to drill on or in the vicinity of the reef. Not only did Senator Webster assert that ‘absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef but also he, with the aid of Senator Carrick, gave the impression that nothing was further from the mind of Government Ministers.
Yet, we know from the correspondence that he was aware not only that there was movement pending to renew exploration permits, but also that considerable movement was taking place in relation to those permits and much of that movement was being generated within the Government. In giving that answer, he was aware that only one month before he had written a letter seeking the details of the boundaries of the areas over which it was proposed to renew permits. He knew in answering that question that his letter was in response to letters he had received from Mr Newman which had suggested that the proclamation of the park should be held up pending renewal of the permits in the Capricornia section. It is clear from the correspondence which has been made available to the Senate that Senator Webster’s answers were wrong. The specific answer that I have referred to was a deliberate attempt to mislead the Senate and was wrong in nearly every particular. On a more general level, the answers given by Senator Webster with the aid of answers given by his leader, who probably did not know the full facts, created in the minds of honourable senators the impression that the Government was determined to resist any drilling on the reef and that any suggestion that permits should be renewed was totally false. In view of the correspondence which has been made available, it is clear that that impression is very far from the truth.
It is important to note that the questions were not hostile ones coming from the Opposition. The whole process was triggered by a question from Senator Missen to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The first question Senator Webster received was from Senator Puplick. This was not a cross-examination of a Minister by hostile senators on this side of the chamber. Two Government senators had sought information based on what they had read and although the answers they got were not lies, they were sufficiently misleading to create grave misgivings in the minds of all honourable senators about the Government’s intentions on the Great Barrier Reef. Not only does the correspondence demonstrate that Senator Webster’s answers were wrong, but also it demonstrates that he knew they were wrong. It is clear from the correspondence that there has been substantial correspondence between Ministers on this issue. Clearly, the discussion has become sufficiently acrimonious for the correspondence to be referred to the Prime Minister. We all know that this process takes place when Ministers expect the Prime Minister to have to adjudicate eventually over a dispute between them. Under those circumstances, any suggestion that Senator Webster was not aware of what was in the correspondence could not possibly be sustained.
The fact is, of course, that Senator Webster does not make that claim. When invited to comment on the discrepancy between the letter and his answers, Senator Webster declined to do so. Although insisting that he was able to recall any letter which he wrote a month ago, he said that there was ‘nothing in any letter that I wrote to anyone that I wish to disclose to Senator Wriedt’. In taking that line, Senator Webster appears to have been very misguided.
After he gave answers which in the light of evidence were clearly wrong and known to be wrong, I gave Senator Webster the opportunity of giving the Senate an explanation last Thursday. Senator Webster insisted that the answers he gave were totally correct and refused to comment on the contents of his letters to Mr Newman. In other words, Senator Webster was going to bluff it out. He made no attempt whatsoever to provide the Senate with an explanation for his conduct, even though he not only misled the Senate as a whole and a number of honourable senators in particular but also deliberately misled honourable senators on his side of the chamber. Under those circumstances Senator Webster must take full responsibility for what he did in this chamber and he must be prepared to accept the consequences.
Under the Westminster system, members and senators rely upon Ministers for information concerning government policy and government action. Under that system, a Minister accepts responsibility for the administration of his portfolio, including any actions taken by him or his department. Under those circumstances, it is essential that Ministers retain the confidence of the senators or members who are dependent on them for information. This is particularly true under this Government which is so obsessed with secrecy and so insistent that information come through Ministers. Honourable senators are put in an intolerable position if they cannot rely on what Ministers tell them. The whole system of government breaks down if there are suspicions that false information is being given to conceal the facts, not only from the Parliament but also from the people. If a Minister is discovered providing misleading information, whether inadvertently or otherwise, the Parliament is entitled to call upon that Minister for a complete explanation and, if the Parliament is not thoroughly satisfied with the explanation, to call for that Minister’s resignation.
On this occasion we are concerned with the Great Barrier Reef which is an issue that commands considerable interest throughout the community and is one on which many people have very strong views. Under those circumstances, the question of drilling the Barrier Reef is an extremely sensitive one politically. We are all aware of that fact. Any Minister of the Government knows it. Last Thursday Senator Webster provided information that gave the Senate a very false impression of government action concerning renewal of permits to drill for oil on the Barrier Reef. As the correspondence has demonstrated, that incorrect information was provided deliberately, no doubt with the intention of misleading this chamber and the Australian people.
When invited to give an explanation for his actions, Senator Webster declined to do so. Under those circumstances, no member of this Senate can any longer have confidence in answers given by the Minister for Science and the Environment. As I pointed out, he gave answers not only to the Opposition but also to members on his side. Clearly, the people in this country interested in the reef can no longer be satisfied with any answer he gives as they can never be certain whether they are being deliberately misled. Because of that fact, this motion should be supported not only by members of the Opposition but also by members of the Government parties who believe in certain standards of ministerial conduct and, in particular, hold to the view that Ministers who deliberately mislead Parliament should resign or be sacked.
This is yet a further example of dubious conduct by a Minister of the Fraser Government. Only two months ago we had a major debate in this chamber dealing with standards of ministerial conduct and the failure of the Government to lay down proper standards. If there is any belief by this Government in proper ministerial standards, Senator Webster can no longer remain a Minister. Once again I refer Senator Carrick to an answer he gave on 1 March 1979 when he was questioned about the standards of conduct which the Fraser Government applies to its Ministers. On that day he said:
Over the course of the Fraser Government, where there has been any query of the quality of action taken by a Minister or where a question of high principle has been involved, the Minister concerned has stood down voluntarily or has been asked to stand down; a public inquiry and a debate have occurred and, as a result, the matter has been resolved.
They are the words of the Leader of the Government. If there is any substance in that statement, now is the time for the Government to act on it.
In this case, the two prerequisites exist. By this motion the Opposition is querying the quality of action taken by a Minister. Because it is a question of misleading the Parliament, there is a question of high principle involved. If there is any validity in Senator Carrick ‘s statement, Senator Webster will stand down or be stood down. Let there be no mistake, the Government will be judged in relation to the way it responds to this series of events.
That is not the only issue. On Christmas Eve the Queensland Government opened up the whole issue when one of its senior Ministers called for drilling on the Barrier Reef. This action led to the banding together of conservationists to mobilise support to protect the reef. As a result, the question of the reef became highly political.
Since that time, various Federal Ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for National Development and the Minister for Science and the Environment, have made statements about government intentions in relation to the reef. All of those statements have stressed government intention to protect the reef. For example, the Prime Minister gave what he called a ‘complete and unequivocal guarantee that the Government would not allow any drilling or mining that would damage the Great Barrier Reef. Other Ministers have given similar assurances.
What emerges from the correspondence put before the Senate today is that many Ministers of this Government are aware of the fact that there has been considerable debate within the Government about the renewal of oil exploration permits in various parts of the reef. They are aware that oil companies and the Queensland Government are putting considerable pressure on to renew the permits and that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anthony, and the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, have actually put their names to a Cabinet submission recommending such renewal.
The Prime Minister has been the recipient of what has clearly been voluminous correspondence on the issue. All three Ministers who have been responsible for the environment at some stage under this Government have been involved. Yet none of this is mentioned when Ministers talk publicly about the Great Barrier Reef. 1 can recall that during the election campaign of 1977 when I raised the matter the Deputy Prime Minister created the impression in the minds of journalists through various statements that the Cabinet submission dealing with the mining of the Barrier Reef did not exist, or that it did not recommend any exploratory drilling. Since that time, other Ministers have been at pains to cover up just what is happening within the Government in relation to the reef.
As I indicated in a statement last Thursday, it is now time for the Government to tell the public just what is going on. On that basis, the Opposition calls for the publication of all the relevant correspondence in relation to this matter. Clearly, that would include Mr Groom’s letter of October last year. It would include the Prime Minister’s letter of 19 December last year. It would include the two letters that Mr Newman wrote to Senator Webster in January of this year. It would include any letters that Senator Webster has written either to Mr Newman or to other Ministers dealing with this issue.
For all we know, the two letters put before the Senate today are just the tip of the iceberg. Without a proper explanation from the Government, backed up by disclosure of the relevant documentation, this question will continue to haunt the Government. Certainly the Opposition will not let up in its attempt to reveal the full story to the Australian people.
– The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wriedt) has moved:
That the Minister for Science and the Environment no longer has the confidence of the Senate.
I regret the motion that has been moved by Senator Wriedt. It is a serious matter, but having listened carefully to his address to the Senate in endorsement of his motion I find no reason to be concerned. His attack has no strength and can be seen to be purely a political stunt.
Mr President, it may be as well if I spend a moment or two referring back to the questions that were raised in the Senate on 3 May. I believe that Senator Wriedt, in his comments, may have put his finger on the problem that is worrying him, but that is not the point that makes him move against me. In the last half dozen sentences of his speech he referred to drilling on the Great Barrier Reef in toto. He used the words, ‘renewal of permits to drill for oil on the Barrier Reef. I really believe that that is the matter that is concerning Senator Wriedt. I should like the Senate to consider that in relation to the questions that were asked of me in the Senate.
– What are you trying to tell us?
– I would have great difficulty in telling the honourable senator anything. The first question directed to me was asked by Senator Puplick. That question can be seen on page 1618 of Senate Hansard of 3 May. It related generally to drilling on the Barrier Reef. It stated:
Has the attention of the Minister for Science and the Environment been drawn to an article in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review which reveals that Offshore Oil NL has written a confidential letter to the Queensland Commissioner for Corporate Affairs announcing that it has acquired a majority shareholding in Gulf Interstate Overseas Ltd, a corporation registered as a foreign company in Queensland, which has some expectation that it will be able to drill on the Barrier Reef? The article goes on to say:
Talks arc currently under way between the Federal and Queensland Governments which could lead to certain areas within the reef region being opened up for oil exploration and drilling.
Are such talks under way? ls that the purpose of such talks? If not, can an assurance be given to that effect?
My reponse to that question was:
My attention was drawn to the article to which the honourable senator referred. At present the question of renewal of permits for exploration has been suspended pending a government decision on oil drilling in the region following the outcome of the royal commission into exploratory and production drilling for petroleum in the area of the Great Barrier Reef.
I made several other points which I do not think are very pertinent to this matter. The question raised by Senator Puplick related to oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Wriedt immediately addressed a question to me in relation to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Mr President, you would be aware that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is an area which lies within my province as Minister for Science and the Environment. Senator Wriedt asked:
Will the Minister for Science and the Environment confirm that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been proclaimed? In light of the answer that he has just given, is the reason that it has not been proclaimed that the Government is considering the renewal of drilling permits in the area and in the Capricornia section in particular?
Senator Wriedt’s question related to the Marine Park, in particular the Capricornia section. My answer to that question was this:
The answer to the first part of the honourable senator’s question is yes, the Capricornia area has not been declared, and there is sound reason why it has not been. The Leader of the Opposition will be aware that few people have recognised the constitutional problems in relation to the Great
Burrier Reef area. For instance, it was traditionally held that a three-mile limit was associated with the rights of the State.
Perhaps other parts of the answer which have nothing to do with this particular matter could be quoted, but I am concerned with my response to Senator Wriedt ‘s question about the Capricornia section. My answer continued:
The reason why the Capricornia Reef has not been declared has nothing to do with the comment made by Senator Wriedt and it has nothing whatsoever to do with exploration in that area, lt has been held up purely because discussions are taking place between Attorneys-General and Premiers as to where base lines may be finally drawn in relation to that territory.
Senator Wriedt immediately asked a supplementary question as follows:
Will he now deny, in view of what he has just said, that it is purely a constitutional matter between the Commonwealth and the States as to why the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef has not been proclaimed? Will he now deny that the Government is considering the renewal of oil drilling permits in that area?
I intend to quote some of the other questions, but let me say that the last half dozen sentences the Leader of the Opposition used in his attack on me- I wrote it down- were all related to drilling the Barrier Reef and, further, to the renewal of permits to drill for oil on the Barrier Reef. Senator Wriedt ‘s attack on me and on the Government was about information relating to the whole of the reef, and he suggested that I had misled the Senate in my answers. Mr President, you will note that the questions I have quoted to date from Senator Wriedt are all to do with the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef. Senator Wriedt received this answer to the question he had raised with me:
I can assure the honourable senator that the comment I made is correct. The Capricornia Reef is not declared at the moment duc to constitutional problems. So far as I am aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
Those are the matters upon which Senator Wriedt stood in this place and attacked me for misleading the Senate when he himself knows that they are not true.
– Come on! How about giving a definition of what you mean by the ‘Great Barrier Reef?
- Senator Georges again is talking, and you can bet your life that he came into the question. Senator Georges then asked a question in relation to the Great Barrier Reef but, as usual, it was irrelevant. As recorded at page 1621 of the Senate Hansard, Senator Wriedt asked me two more questions. Again, I ask whether they were in relation to the matter about which Senator Wriedt addressed the
Senate, that is, the total area of the reef, or in relation to a particular area. Senator Wriedt said:
My question is directed to the Minister for Science and the Environment, lt follows previous questions concerning drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. Does the Minister recall saying that the reasons for the Capricornia section of the marine park not being proclaimed were constitutional and then, in response to a further question, denying that he was aware of any intentions to renew permits for drilling? I ask him whether it is a fact that on 5 April this year he wrote to the Minister for National Development and said-
That was the first time that Senator Wriedt disclosed that he had been the recipient of some stolen property. He then quoted what I had written to another Minister. Having done that, he concluded with this comment:
Is it not clear that the Minister personally misled the Senate in his previous answers and that both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Minister are deliberately covering up the Government’s intentions in respect of drilling on the Great Barrier Reef?
Mr President, you will note that in the last proposal Senator Wriedt does not develop a question to me about the Capricornia section of the reef but suggests that I was denying something about the renewal of permits for drilling over the whole reef, and finally makes a comment about the Great Barrier Reef. In answer to Senator Wriedt I said:
Yes, I do recall saying that there were constitutional reasons. The answer to the second part of the question is yes. So far as I am aware, the answers I have given in the Senate are totally correct. Whatever the honourable senator’s connections are, the fact that he is able to get confidential letters either to me or to the Minister for National Development must be something of concern to him as Leader of the Opposition. As far as I am concerned there is nothing in those letters which indicates that the matter is being held up pending . . . exploration work on the area of the Great Barrier Reef.
asked another question, but I think that basically I have looked at the thrust of the questions relating to the Capricornia section, an area for which I have some responsibility. As has been the case with other questions asked both here and in the House of Representatives, Senator Wriedt ‘s questions related to drilling in total on the Great Barrier Reef. Following that Question Time and the disclosure of some part of a letter which I had written to Mr Newman, Senator Wriedt thought fit to disclose the whole of the letter to the Press Gallery. I suppose that if he has the letter in his possession that is his entitlement. At the same time Senator Wriedt issued the following Press statement:
Federal Ministers are involved in a major cover-up on plans to permit oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef.
Senior Government Ministers including the Prime Minister, his deputy, Mr Anthony, Senator Carrick, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and Senator Webster, the Minister responsible for the environment, are all publicly denying that drilling on the Reef will be permitted.
One can see the way this man misuses words. His statement continues:
Yet, less than a month ago Senator Webster, in a letter to National Development Minister Newman, sought details of the boundaries of the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits’.
In October 1977 Mr Anthony and Mr Newman recommended to Cabinet that approval bc given to drilling in the Capricornia channel- a section of the Reef off Rockhampton.
Because that statement was publicly disclosed prior to the election, it was not dealt with at that time.
Later the submission was put to ASTEC for its reactions. In June last year that body recommended a $10m research program to investigate the effects of oil drilling on the Reef.
Since then there has been considerable pressure from the Queensland Government and from oil companies to renew permits to permit oil exploration.
Later, I will demonstrate how untruthful that statement is. Senator Wriedt ‘s statement continues:
This pressure has prevented the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park even though the legislation to establish that Park was passed over three years ago.
No action has been taken to proclaim the Capricornia section of the Park which was due to come into operation in 1977.
The reason is that the Government is considering the renewal of exploration permits Q/4P and Q/5P which fall within this section of the Park. lt is clear from the letter which Senator Webster wrote to Mr Newman that the proclamation of the Capricornia section of the Park has been deferred indefinitely.
Now that the Government’s intentions have been exposed, it is essential that a full statement be made concerning Government intentions towards oil drilling on the Barrier Reef.
No longer can we be satisfied with the evasive answers of the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers.
Senator Wriedt continued:
Senator Webster’s deliberate misleading of the Senate today demonstrates just how far the Government will go to conceal what is happening in relation to the Reef.
Even though he has been in correspondence with Mr Newman about the renewal of permits, he told the Senate that there was no movement whatsoever to renew exploration permits in that area.
Under these circumstances we will not be satisfied until the Government puts down a full statement dealing with drilling on the Reef.
I draw the attention of honourable senators to a statement that Senator Wriedt made the following day, which I will table and ask to have incorporated in Hansard. I also draw attention to a joint statement issued by Senator Ken Wriedt, Senate Opposition Leader, and Mr Barry Cohen, shadow Minister for the Environment. I ask that these two documents be incorporated in Hansard.
PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA- THE SENATE
Leader of the Opposition Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. 2600
by Senator Ken Wriedt
For deliberately misleading the Senate, Senator Webster should resign from the Ministry.
Should he fail to resign, the Prime Minister should invite the Governor-General to withdraw his commission.
Over 24 hours have elapsed since the charge of misleading the Senate was first levelled at Senator Webster, but he has declined to respond in any way.
Even the Minister supporting the renewal of oil drilling permits on the Barrier Reef has made some response, even if an unsatisfactory one, to yesterday ‘s charges.
Yet from Senator Webster there has been complete silence.
The misleading of Parliament by a Minister has always been treated as a very serious matter.
On Thursday, Senator Webster gave the Senate information which was in conflict with material contained in one of his own letters.
Senator Withers’ resignation was forced because he had misled the Senate.
If this Government adheres to any reasonable standard of ministerial conduct. Senator Webster must no longer remain a Minister.
Canberra 4th May 1979
PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA- THE SENATE
Leader of the Opposition Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. 2600
JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY SENATOR KEN WRIEDT, SENATE OPPOSITION LEADER, AND MR BARRY COHEN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
The Federal Government clearly intends to maintain the cover-up over drilling on the Barrier Reef if Thursday’s statement by the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, is any indication.
The statement failed to deal with any of the important questions surrounding the future on the Reef.
Certainly, it is true that no decision on the renewal of permits has been made and that Ministers have said publicly that they would not allow the Reef to be damaged.
That is not the point.
The Minister for National Development has been seeking the renewal of permits in the Capricornia section since October 1977.
At that time he was party to a joint submission recommending further exploratory drilling on the reef.
For many months he has been seeking to have the Government reach a final decision on the permits while at the same time attempting to delay the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. On these matters he appears to be acting in the interests of the Queensland Government and the oil companies but not the Austraiian people as a whole.
The Labor Government ‘s legislation to establish the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was passed by the Parliament in 1975.
To date no action has been taken to proclaim any sections of that Park.
The Opposition charges that the reason for the delay is that the Government intends to permit oil drilling in certain areas of the Reef and is determined that the establishment of the Park will not inhibit such drilling.
Glib half truths from the Minister for National Development will do nothing to allay the fears of the public on this issue. lt is time for a full statement of the Government’s intentions with respect to the Barrier Reef.
Canberra 4th May, 1979
-The matter in the first instance concerned the Minister for National Development, who put out a statement on 3 May. That was the day on which Senator Wriedt ‘s statement was issued. I quote from the Minister’s statement:
The Minister for National Development, Mr Kevin Newman, said today that the Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator Wriedt, had completely misrepresented the Commonwealth’s position in regard to drilling in the area of the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Newman said that activities under the six petroleum exploration permits current in the area of the Great Barrier Reef have been suspended since 1971. The action had been taken because of the establishment of the royal commissions into exploratory and production drilling for petroleum in the area of the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Newman said that although applications for renewal of these permits were lodged in 1974, the Commonwealth had taken no decision on the matter.
He said that decisions in this area had been deferred pending the outcome of the Commonwealth’s consideration of the recommendations of the royal commissions.
The Minister said he had made it perfectly clear on a number of occasions that the Commonwealth Government placed great importance on the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and would not allow any drilling or mining that would do anything to damage the reef.
That was the response of the Minister for National Development. I note that he indicates that permits exist over the Great Barrier Reef. They were taken out, I think, in 1969 and were renewable, if I recall correctly, at the end of five years- 50 per cent of them to be given up and 50 per cent of them to be applied for as new permits. The Minister says that these permits came up that way and that applications were lodged for renewal in 1974. Senator Wriedt has taken the unusual step of again making some inroads into his own character, I believe, by today tabling a statement from one Minister to another. 1 understand that the letter that he put down today was one apparently from the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, to me. That is the letter which in actual fact I responded to and which the Minister used at Question Time when the Senate last met.
Let me instance quickly how untruthful Senator Wriedt actually is in this matter. He used these two statements this afternoon in his attack on me. He said that strong moves to have the leases renewed have been made. Senator Wriedt tabled a letter from the Minister responsible which used these words in the second paragraph:
There has been no formal contact with the permittee and the official views of the permittee arc not known.
In short, Senator Wriedt, for his political ploy, is attempting to say that strong moves to have the leases renewed are being made by the oil companies. Again, he attacked the oil companies. I am assured by the Minister in that letter that there has been no formal contact with the permittees and that the official views of the permittees are unknown. Senator Wriedt ‘s comment is untrue. There have been no strong moves to have the leases renewed. When Senator Wriedt speaks about the oil companies, I point out that, so far as the Minister for National Development is concerned, there has been no official contact with them whatsoever. I hope that at some stage Senator Wriedt may care to acknowledge that. He also made some comment about the actual situation as to why the deferral was taking place. In his attack on me he stated that something more than the constitutional aspects relating to this particular section of the reef was involved. He incorporated a letter of 22 January. It would be interesting to know whether Senator Wriedt has all the letters that in his statement today he has called for. I think it may be encumbent upon Senator Wriedt to produce them. He has incorporated two private letters.
Whether through his own means or those of his staff, or from some pimp within some section of a department, the Leader of the Opposition has been supplied with a particular letter. As Senator Wriedt comes to the table, I quote from the fourth paragraph of that letter. The Minister for National Development says:
I assume that in view of the Prime Minister’s suggestion in his letter to you of 19 December 1978, that action in relation to the proclamation be deferred until the outcome of proposed discussions with Queensland on territorial sea matters is known no action to proclaim the Capricornia section will be taken.
The Minister reiterated to me the comments of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to me that no action is to take place until those constitutional matters are brought to a head.
There are two other matters which I think assist my case. I do not have the letters, but I quote from earlier advice which I was given. Mr President, you may acknowledge that as I came to the Environment portfolio in December of last year there was a great deal of background relating to this matter which is probably best known by the former Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development and others. I quote from advice which I have been given by Mr Newman. On an earlier occasion Mr Newman advised Mr Groom that there was no formal contact with the permittee and the official views of the permittee are not known. The advice was that there had been no contact between the Minister for National Development and any permittee in the area. In a letter from Mr Groom to Mr Newman, I note that Mr Groom has stated various points. I ask Senator Wriedt to listen. I would prefer that he sat at the table instead of in some back seat. Mr Groom wrote to the Minister for National Development. This is particularly important for those who would at least give credit to the fact that when I was answering questions I was answering in relation to the Capricornia section of the reef. I quote from that letter which Mr Groom had written to the Minister for National Development. He states:
Recognising that operations for the recovery of petroleum arc excluded from the Marine Park under section 33 of the Act, the Authority has resolved to recommend an eastern boundary of the Capricornia Section of the Park which avoids the areas which it is understood may be sought in any renewal application for permits Q/4P and Q/5P. The Authority has received advice from the permit holder (Australian Gulf Oil Co.) that they are not seeking renewal of oil leases within the area of the proposed Capricornia Section of the Marine Park.
– How can you separate the areas?
– I know that there are some very vocal people on the Opposition side who keep talking so that they cannot listen, but they would be wise to listen. When I answered the question as to whether there was anything other than constitutional matters holding up the declaration of the Capricornia section of the Marine Park, I had in mind the comment I have just quoted, that is, that the lessees are not seeking renewal of oil leases within the area of the proposed Capricornia section of the Marine Park. In that case there is no reason to consider anything relating to permits within the area, but it is important for one who is interested in the whole of the Great Barrier Reef to discover what are the delineated lines of original permits from 1971, permits that may have been sought to be renewed, and then renewal applications in 1 974.
– Come on! Why do you not define what the reef area is in your terms?
– I have indicated clearly that the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is delayed pending the resolution with Queensland of the question of extending its powers into the territorial sea in the region of the reef. I have also made it clear that there is no intention or movement by the Government to renew exploration permits in the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef. I take this opportunity to reaffirm those particular points.
I turn to the charge by Senator Wriedt that I have misled the Senate. In passing, let me answer the complaint he has made about my so-called failure to reply in public to the charges. 1 did not do so because I treasure the dignity of the Parliament. I answer Senator Wriedt ‘s charges in the place where they should have been made, but were not made by Senator Wriedt, and that is in this chamber. Senator Wriedt has used one of my letters to lift from it, out of context, some remarks which he would have us believe contradict my affirmations in this chamber. I have to tell him that he is mistaken, although I do not think for one minute that he has any real doubt about the truth of what I am saying. I think it is quite probable that he would have been offered and would have accepted other related papers which put my written remarks of 5 April in proper perspective. Whether he has such additional material no doubt will come to light fairly soon. My letter of 5 April, which has fallen into the hands of Senator Wriedt, responded to a letter from my colleague the Minister for National Development and attempted to carry forward the elucidation of some questions to facilitate the declaration of the Capricornia section of the Park.
As honourable senators will know, there are a number of permits to explore for oil in the Great Barrier Reef region which have legal status but which were put into suspension at the time of the Royal Commission. Under the current off-shore petroleum arrangements, the status of those permits is a matter for determination by the Queensland Government in consultation with the Commonwealth. Whether they should be renewed hinges on Commonwealth decisions on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, about which it will be recalled the commissioners were divided. Whilst the Commonwealth Government has yet to come to a decision on this particular aspect, it has said again and again that it is committed to the protection of the reef and that no exploration or drilling that might damage the reef would be contemplated. I understand that there are only two permits which comprehend the areas within the proposed boundaries of the Capricornia section of the Park. These permits are entitled Q/4P and Q/5P. Whether ultimately these two permits should be renewed, in whole or in part and under what conditions, is, as I have said, a matter for determination when the Government has fully considered the Royal Commission report. That this is the case is well known to all, including the exploration companies and the Queensland Government. Applications for renewal are submitted to the Queensland Designated Authority, who is the Minister for Mines in that State. But the last named cannot act without consultation with the Commonwealth Government. I have been given to understand that the permittees do not require inclusion of those parts of the areas covered by the original permits Q/4P and Q/5P which are within the proposed Capricornia section of the reef.
My correspondence with Mr Newman can now be seen in its proper light, as I will explain. I am anxious to ensure that there is no impediment to the declaration of the Park once the primary issue of extending State powers into the territorial seas has been settled and I am prepared to take every step which I think is necessary, in consultation with Queensland as appropriate, to achieve that end as soon as practicable. The references in my letter to proposals to renew the permits are references to what it is believed the permittees have proposed. The references in no way reflect how the Government might react to the applications. If the applications for renewal were ultimately to be entertained, it would be necessary to assess them in terms of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act. It would be necessary from my portfolio perspective to ensure that they were compatible with the proposals by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for the Capricornia section. The reasons for my interest in the applications are obvious. Quite simply, my attention is focused on the aim of declaring a section of the Park in the area. 1 want to be in a position to put a firm suggestion for declaration to the Government as soon as possible. If I can establish formally what I believe to be the true position- namely, that the applications for renewal are compatible with the Authority’s proposal- one possibly contentious issue is removed from the deliberations. If it is not compatible, I am the better prepared to tackle any problems ahead and the better placed to set action in train forthwith.
That is the full story. Senator Wriedt is incorrect when he alleges that there is a cover-up or that there has been any misleading of the Senate. As I have explained at length, there is no movement by the Government to renew permits. My letter, quoted by Senator Wriedt, implies no such intention. Contrary to his charges, the main purpose of the letter was aimed at progressing the declaration of the Park. But as I have said, and as I now repeat, that is a matter which is delayed pending resolution of the question of extending State powers into the territorial sea- a factor which I have stressed in the Senate previously.
-l support the motion which has been moved by my leader, Senator Wriedt. In so doing, I am indebted to the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) for rereading to honourable senators the Hansard of last Thursday. Of course, that is precisely why the motion has been moved today. We have all read Hansard of last Thursday. It is precisely because of what was said on Thursday that this motion is brought before the Senate today. The Minister, in his speech, tried to avoid a very serious charge that he misled the Parliament. That is a charge to which I wish to refer in general terms, and the particulars of which have been dealt with very well by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and Ministers in this place when they have spoken on earlier matters dealt with in the Senate. On 8 August 1978, in dealing with the report of the McGregor Royal Commission the Prime Minister purported to lay down certain standards which he applies to Ministers in this Government. I quote what the Prime Minister had to say on that occasion:
We had no doubt that our first and foremost responsibility was the maintenance of the high standards of propriety set and maintained by this Government.
The community rightly demands a high standard from the Ministers of the Government. The judgments on Ministers are more exacting and sometimes more harsh than the judgments which might be passed on those outside the sphere of public life. If these high standards were not upheld, the people’s confidence in government- a confidence which is fundamental to Australian democracy- would be undermined.
The Government has an obligation to uphold them even though the cost can be and is in this instance, a high one.
It was a very high one indeed in the instance to which the Prime Minister referred. Senator Webster should be reminded of those words. By a series of evasions, Senator Webster has tried to dismiss the substance of a whole sequence of questions and two very important letters which go to the heart of this matter. Lest there be any doubt about that, it is interesting to look at the last question he was asked by Senator Wriedt on 3 May last. When a question concerning the letters from Mr Newman to Senator Webster and the reply from Senator Webster to Mr Newman was put specifically to him, Senator Webster said:
I can assure the honourable senator that any letter that I wrote a month ago is quite clear in my mind. I well recall any letters that I wrote either to Senator Wriedt or to anybody else. lt is an extraordinary sort of explanation of letters between Mr Newman and himself. He went on:
The basic question that he asks me is about a confidential piece of information. Apparently the honourable senator is willing to stretch that, but so far as I am concerned there is nothing in any letter that I wrote to anyone that I wish to disclose to Senator Wriedt.
It is a different story today when this allegation is made in the Senate. The Minister is quite keen to disclose the contents of a variety of letters which he thinks supports his position. The answer Senator Webster gave in the Senate last Thursday is the type of answer that used to be described in the criminal court when particular pleas were being put forward as one that reflects a condition of guilty but insane. Any Minister who gives that sort of answer in a public forum, in the Parliament of this country, is clearly in that situation.
I turn now to the substance of the matter before the Senate. Let me put the charge in simple lay terms, as one would put it in a pub. It is simply this: While on the one hand this Government is making noises, in order to woo the conservation vote, about protecting the Great Barrier Reef and proclaiming the area as a marine park, it is having discussions with its mates in the Queensland Government and in the oil companies to subvert that very process.
– Not formal discussions; not at an official level.
-I am reminded that the Government is having informal discussions with those two groups of people to subvert the very process which the Minister for Science and the Environment should be concerned to protect. Let me look very quickly at how the issue is documented in the records of this Parliament and in the correspondence that has been tabled by Senator Wriedt. I deal first of all with the correspondence tabled by Senator Wriedt. Part of Senator Webster’s defence of his position was to say: ‘If you read all the correspondence in a variety of ways, if you read the Hansard in a variety of ways, if you add a bit of extra material which I am about to reveal today, and if you put it altogether, then really there is no substance at all in the charge’. His second defence was to say that Senator Wriedt is a thief in the night and that he relied on stolen documents. Of course, we all know about documents which fall off the back of trucks. We all live in the age of the photocopy machine.
In the age of the photocopy machine the standards to be followed by members of parliament and by public officials were quite clearly spelt out by the Prime Minister of this country in 1975. The Opposition is entitled to rely on those standards because honourable senators opposite keep talking about them. They should listen to the standards which were laid down by the Prime Minister of this country in 1975, and I will quote from a transcript of Four Corners of 5 July 1975. The question put to Mr Fraser, who was then Leader of the Opposition, whether he would accept documents or information that was stolen. He said this:
There could be circumstances, 1 believe, in which a Treasury official could regard his overriding duty to Australia as being greater than his duty to a government. And ultimately our duty lies to Australia first.
Mr Hogan then said to Mr Fraser.
That’s a fairly controversial statement isn ‘t it?
Mr Fraser said:
Well, it might be, it might be.
Mr Hogan said:
You are suggesting that there are occasions when Public Servants should not be primarily responsible to their Minister but perhaps to the Opposition?
Mr Fraser, with that grand vision, then said:
No, not to the Opposition, to Australia. Certainly not the Opposition, lt would have to be a major matter of conscience.
We are talking in this debate about the Great Barrier Reef, something which is dear to the hearts of millions of Australians; something which is of concern to millions of Australians and which is of concern to senators like Senator Missen and Senator Puplick, whom I know have raised on numerous occasions in this chamber, the question of the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. It is properly a matter of concern to millions of Australians and it may be a matter of conscience, as the Prime Minister laid down the standards in 1975. But they, of course, are the standards to which parliamentary life and political life in this country have been debased by what happened in 1975.
– You accept that they are debased?
-They are the standards on which we in the Opposition are entitled to rely. I say again and again that honourable senators opposite, including Senator Chaney, keep talking about those standards as if they were the highest in the world. Of course they are not; they are some of the lowest in the world. But they are the standards which have been set by this Government, and I am entitled to refer to them.
Let me refer to the questions which were asked of Senator Webster on Thursday last and the correspondence which was also referred to. I shall just quote from Mr Newman’s letter of 22 January to Senator Webster. Senator Webster says: ‘Well, look, this is really all a constitutional question’, lt was not a constitutional question in the mind of Mr Newman. Listen to what he had to say:
My dear Minister,
Your predecessor. Mr Groom, wrote to me on 28 October 1 978 concerning the proposed proclamation of the Capricornia Section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In particular Mr Groom sought confirmation that the oil companies and the Queensland Under Secretary for Mines have no objection to the proposed proclamation.
The thing that was in Mr Newman’s mind when he wrote to Senator Webster was whether those two groups to which I have referred- the Queensland Under Secretary for Mines and the oil companies, had no objection to the proposed proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
– Read on.
– Those are the criteria which this Government adopts to determine whether or not the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park will be proclaimed. Senator Walters has invited me to read on; I intend to do so. The letter continues:
The Under Secretary of the Queensland Department of Mines has advised my Department that the Department of Mines would have no objection to the proposed declaration provided the permittee of Q/4P and Q/5P is agreeable -
That is another condition; that the permittee be agreeable- only areas which the permittee proposes to relinquish are included.
That is another condition determined by the oil companies, not by the Minister. The letter goes on:
There has been no more formal contact with the permittee and the official views of the permittee are not known.
The Under Secretary expressed the view that before proclamation of the Capricornia Section it would be desirable for the applications for partial renewal of the two permits to bc processed. (You will recall that I expressed similar views in my earlier letter of 5 January.) Furthermore the declaration should not proceed until formal extension of State powers over the territorial sea has been accomplished in line with the decisions taken at the Premiers Conference in 1 978.
So in the context of that letter, a very supplementary and secondary issue has been raised. Senator Webster has been at pains today to try to distinguish between what he calls drilling on the reef and drilling in the Capricornia section. I do not know what the benefit to the Senate is of that distinction but if any honourable senator looks at the maps of the Great Barrier Reef region and at the permits which are the subject of discussion in this debate-Q/4P and Q/5P- he will see that the areas in question are identical. Of course, they were identical in the mind of Mr Newman when he wrote to Senator Webster. In a moment we will see that they were identical in the Minister’s reply and in the answers he gave to questions last Thursday.
Senator Puplick ‘s question to Senator Webster was followed by a question from Senator Wriedt, in which he referred to the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Each question asked by Senator Wriedt referred to the Capricornia section of the Marine Park, lt is to these questions that Senator Webster gave the answers with which we are concerned. He said that the proclamation of the Capricornia section of the Marine Park had not been made for constitutional reasons. He repeated that statement on several occasions. It is interesting to note how Senator Carrick and Senator Webster adopted each other’s comments throughout Question Time last Thursday. Senator Webster said that Senator Carrick gave the correct answer and Senator Carrick said that Senator Webster gave the correct answer. They sounded like a Marx Brothers duo as they answered questions on this very sensitive subject. Senator Puplick pursued the matter after a question was answered by Senator Carrick and asked a question in relation to drilling on the Barrier Reef. In answering that question on 3 May, Senator Webster said:
That statement was made by a National Country Party Minister in the Parliament in answer to a question asked by a Liberal Party senator. The answer was: ‘I assure you that no action will be taken in that area in the foreseeable future ‘.
– Quote it properly.
-If the honourable senator wishes to take a point of order and allege that I have not quoted the answer properly she can do so. I will read it again for her benefit. In answer to a question asked by Senator Puplick relating to the Great Barrier Reef- I am getting tired of repeating things for Senator Walters- Senator Webster said:
That brings us to the substance of the charge which is laid by the Opposition. The Opposition is often given little lectures by patronising Ministers about its function as an opposition, what it should do and what its role is. The Government says that its role is to provide a vigorous forum in the Senate- God help us a difficult task. The function of the Opposition in this place, it is said, is to keep the Government on its toes. We often hear apologists for the Government saying that what they would like to see is a strong opposition. The Opposition would be derelict in its function if it did not raise a matter of this substance by way of a motion to censure a Minister in this place.
Senator Webster has misled Senator Puplick. There is no way that he can avoid that fact. He has given an assurance which he knew to be untrue. The same sort of pattern emerges in the answers to questions asked by Senator Wriedt. Senator Missen raised a matter by way of a question. In his words, it concerned a very serious claim made by the petroleum industry. Senator Carrick gave an answer calculated to give a particular impression. Senator Wriedt then asked Senator Carrick a question. Senator Carrick gave what might be described as an elliptical answer- ‘it was the Government’s intention that the reef should be preserved ‘, in essence. Senator Puplick then asked a question which was quite specific. In answer to that question, Senator Webster misled the Parliament and misled Senator Puplick. Then Senator Wriedt asked Senator Webster a question. In answer to that question Senator Webster tried to pretend that the aspect delaying the proclamation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was a constitutional question between this Government and the Queensland Government. Again, when he was pursued about that, Senator Webster repeated that it related to a constitutional question. Then, finally when there was a further question from Senator Wriedt and the truth had come out in relation to the letter from Senator Webster, Senator Webster, said: ‘Well, look, really I do not want to answer any more questions about this subject at all’. Today he has to answer questions about this subject, and he has not done so.
I will quote what Senator Webster had to say in reply to the letter from the Minister for National Development of 22 January, which letter dealt with the specific subject of consultation with the oil companies, consultation with the Queensland Government about proclaiming the Great Barrier Reef Park. But before 1 refer to Senator Webster’s reply, let me remind the Senate that they were the two matters of substance dealt with in Mr Newman’s letter- not constitutional issues, not environmental issues, but the consent of the oil companies and the consent of the Queensland Government. In reply to that letter of 5 April this year Senator Webster said:
To enable my Department and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to examine the environmental and park management consequences of the proposal for partial renewal of the two permits to bc processed. I suggest that your Department provide my Department and the Authority formally with specific details particularly as to the boundaries of the areas over which it is proposed to renew permits.
It goes on to deal with the question in the following terms:
This will enable the Department and the Authority to assess the adequacy of information available to relate the proposed exploration program to areas of environmental and marine park significance.
As I said earlier, the substance of the charge, of course, is that the Minister told this Parliament that there were no proposals about for renewing oil drilling in the Capricornia region of the Great Barrier Reef or any other region. He told this Parliament that, and he told it in the context of an exchange of letters with the Minister for National Development. It was quite clear that he knew that on 5 April and it was quite clear on 3 May that he knew that when he misled this Parliament by giving the sorts of answers which he did. The essential point is that even if Senator Webster had forgotten all this- and it would be a very strange thing for a Minister to forget that he had written a letter a month ago -
– Well, he denies that in answer to a subsequent question.
- Senator Cavanagh is right in saying that Senator Webster denies that he forgot it in answer to a subsequent question, lt was only in relation to an earlier question that his memory was hazy. Of course, if he did forget it, he should not be a Minister anyway. I invite honourable senators on the Government side who are concerned about the issue of the Great Barrier Reef to read Senator Webster’s speech today. If ever there was a smokescreen, a tissue of evasions, a whole attempt, if I may use an unfortunate analogy, to pour oil on very troubled waters, if ever there was an evasive speech by a Minister, it was the one which was given today.
As I said earlier, it is important that the same standards which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has referred to time and time again as being the standards of this Government should apply to Senator Webster as well as to anybody else. Let me again refer to what those standards are. On 9 July 1975, the present Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, had this to say:
Ten per cent or even 50 per cent of the truth is as good a way of misleading this Parliament and the Australian people as a downright lie. The hair truth, the partial answer and the slipping over of the full facts arc a misleading of this Parliament just as much as and maybe much more deliberately than the statement by the former Deputy Prime Minister.
The partial answer and the slipping over of the truth are a misleading of this Parliament. Listening to Senator Webster today I was reminded of that unhappy character in My Fair Lady, ‘oozing charm from every pore, he oiled his way around the floor’. I would hate that to happen in the Senate with its beautiful red carpet, but it happened here today. It happened here today when Senator Webster tried to evade the substance of this issue. To put it in his own Prime Minister’s words, he has been guilty of the partial answer, the slipping over of the full facts and a misleading of this Parliament.
Of course there are other items of advice which we have been given in this Parliament on this matter relating to the highest standards which ought to be observed. On 15 October 1975, this was said:
The fact is that evidence on this matter has had to be dragged out of the Ministers day after day. They should be on their feet apologising for the abject faults and falsehoods that they have brought into this Parliament. If they are not ashamed of themselves they ought to be.
A leader with any respect for his own image would declare immediately in this Parliament that he had misled the Parliament, although perhaps unintentionally. Surely those who have followed the disgrace and discharge of the various Ministers during these past months must endorse my comment that any leader with any respect for his own image would resign immediately.
Those of course were the words of Senator James Webster, then the Deputy Leader of the Country Party in Opposition and now a Minister in the Fraser Government. Senator Webster, the essence of this complaint is that you should put your portfolio where your mouth is. You should apply to yourself the standards which you lay down for others. I support the motion moved by my Leader, Senator Wriedt.
– The Senate has before it a motion moved by Senator Wriedt that the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) no longer has the confidence of the Senate. In other words, it is a censure motion by the Opposition moved in the full seriousness of such a motion, as Senator Wriedt has said, against the Minister for Science and the Environment. But in the terms of the motion there is obviously no ground stated on which the Senate should make that very severe and harsh judgment about the Minister for Science. Therefore we are obliged to ascertain as best we can from the speeches that have been made by Senator Wriedt and Senator Button speaking in support of this motion what are the grounds for and what is the nature of this most serious charge that is levelled against Senator Webster.
In the course of listening carefully to the speeches of Senator Wriedt and Senator Button, I must say that it is not very clear to me whether the charges that are being brought here today are really levelled particularly and solely at Senator Webster or whether they are being levelled at my colleague, the Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) or at the Government as a whole. I think that that is one of the serious weaknesses that has already been revealed in the Opposition’s attack. Because this is a very serious charge to raise. It is the most serious charge that can be raised against a Minister- it should be made against him and him alone, and in very clear terms. It should leave no room for doubt as to what is the nature of the charge that is being laid. Senator Wriedt got close to it at one point when he said that the nature of the charge is not that Senator Webster had misled the Senate but that he had deliberately misled the Senate. I think that is a very important distinction to make. Senator Wriedt himself recognised that in this chamber, in the heat of debate or in answering questions, slips or mistakes can be made. Therefore, any charge of this kind must be established as a charge of guilty mind and guilty intention in the sense that there has been a deliberate attempt by a Minister to mislead. That does not take the Opposition much further.
We have to ascertain from what the Opposition has been saying in what respect Senator Webster deliberately endeavoured in a guilty way to mislead the Senate. In other parts of his speech Senator Wriedt suggested that the nature of the misleading of Parliament by Senator Webster was in the fact that there were strong views within the Government for renewal of permits for drilling in the Barrier Reef and surrounding areas and that the answers given by Senator Webster expressed a view contrary to the view that Senator Wriedt believed could be spelt out from statements which were made in correspondence within the Government and between Ministers and which were tabled by Senator Wriedt. Senator Wriedt further suggested that, generally speaking, Senator Webster, when answering questions, had given a false impression of Government policy and action concerning drilling on the Barrier Reef or in the region of the Barrier Reef.
Senator Button’s speech gave another and very peculiar slant to what the nature of the charge against Senator Webster is. Senator Button was not worried about whether Senator
Webster had done this deliberately or had a guilty mind; apparently he was satisfied that he could make out a censure motion by proving that there had been a misleading of Parliament, regardless of any intention to mislead and whether it was a mistake. Senator Button said that the gravamen of the charge was that whilst the Government was making noises to placate conservationists, it was having discussions with its mates in the oil companies and with the Queensland Government and that, because of this, in some strange and, to my mind, quite incomprehensible way, Senator Webster was guilty of misleading the Senate. lt is clear that the charges made are confined within certain questions asked and answers given in the Senate during Question Time of 3 May and reported in Hansard. I suggest that two quite different questions arise out of the matter raised here today. Firstly, there are questions which Senator Wriedt addressed to Senator Webster as to the reasons why the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef region had not been proclaimed as a National Park. Senator Wriedt ‘s question on that matter reads:
In light or the answer that he has just given, is the reason that it has not been proclaimed that the Government is considering the renewal of drilling permits in the area and in the Capricornia section in particular?
Senator Wriedt’s interest and concern seemed to be related to the reasons why the Government has not proceeded to proclaim a marine park in a section of the Great Barrier Reef region known as the Capricornia area. In answer to that question, Senator Webster said why it had not been proclaimed. As Minister for Science and the Environment, Senator Webster is responsible for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and its administration. His responsibilities also include recommendations to the Government and any questions of declarations of parks under that Act. Senator Webster gave a clear answer. He said that there were constitutional and legal problems associated with this off shore area of Queensland. He said that discussions were taking place with the Attorneys-General and the Premiers of the States, that there had been questions about the width of the territorial sea and other matters of that kind. As the man responsible for the Act and its administration, he said that the reasons that steps had not been taken to proclaim that area as a marine park were generally of a constitutional nature. Arising from that answer, a different question was raised by Senator Wriedt and apparently the answer given to his question is now a subject of the charge against Senator Webster. Senator Wriedt’s question reads:
Will he now deny -
That is Senator Webster- that the Goverment is considering the renewal of oil drilling permits in that area?
That is the Capricornia section. Senator Webster repeated that the Capricornia Reef is not declared at the moment due to constitutional problems. His answer continues:
So far as I am aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in that area of the Great Barrier Reef.
That answer was given to the question:
Will he now deny that the Government is considering the renewal of oil drilling permits . . .
From those questions and answers the Opposition has sought to make the point that the Government was considering the renewal of oil permits in the area and this consideration was the real reason why the declaration of a marine park had not been made. The Opposition has sought to make out that the answer given was false on two counts, namely, in the reasons he gave for the Government not declaring the park and in his statement that the Government was not considering the renewal of permits for that area. In order to establish this charge, if that is what it really is, Senator Wriedt incorporated letters in Hansard. One dated 22 January was written by the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, to Senator Webster and one was Senator Webster’s reply of 5 April to that letter. Let me deal, firstly, with the Government’s position in regard to this question of drilling or renewing permits to drill in the area of the Barrier Reef or on the Barrier Reef. I think there has been a lot of fairly loose talk in this area as to whether we are talking about drilling on the reef or about drilling in the Great Barrier Reef region, area or whatever one likes to call it. The legal position is that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has jurisdiction in a very wide area known as the Great Barrier Reef region. It may declare a marine park or parks within that area. The prohibition on mining or drilling which is contained in the legislation relates to the areas that are declared to be marine parks. That is the legal position as it arises under the legislation covering the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Let us get the background to this matter. From what has been said by many members of the Opposition and others, I do not think, that these people are keeping this matter quite clearly in perspective. The background to the Government’s policy has been mentioned by Senator Wriedt, but I want to repeat it. Drilling permits were issued in the Great Barrier Reef area under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act some years ago. They were issued under that Act by the State Minister who is the Designated Authority to issue permits. In fact, six petroleum exploration permits were issued in the general area with which we are concerned. When the Royal Commission into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the Area of the Barrier Reef was established any activities under those exploration permits were suspended, and they have remained suspended ever since. Activities were suspended because the royal commission was to inquire into the whole question of drilling, whether on the Barrier Reef or in the area of the Barrier Reef. The applications for renewal of those permits were, in fact, lodged in 1974, but because of the royal commission’s inquiry and because of its subsequent report no action has been taken by the Commonwealth Government in regard to the applications. It is well known to all honourable senators that, after a very extensive inquiry, the royal commission was not unanimous in the recommendations set out in its report of November 1974. Two members of the royal commission contemplated that, in certain circumstances in certain areas, drilling might be carried out in the reef area although not on the reef itself. The Chairman’s minority report recommended that drilling should be postponed until there had been long term research into the whole question of the effects on the reef of drilling in any of the area, not just the reef itself.
The Government’s position is perfectly clear. The Government has not yet come to any decision in relation to the recommendations in that report. The Government- in the sense of the Cabinet- has not fully considered, much less come to any decision, in relation to the recommendations in the report. Consequently, the Government has not made any decision on whether the applications for renewal of existing permits should be processed. That is the Government’s position, despite what may have been said or implied in some correspondence. Surely Senator Wriedt, who has been a Minister, knows of the volume of correspondence which is dealt with by the Government. Correspondence passes between the departments or between Ministers writing on behalf of departments about debate that is taking place. When we talk about government we are talking about the decisions of this Government which are made.by the Cabinet. No decision has been made about considering these permits.
The Government’s position has been made clear by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). As recently as February this year, in answer to questions in the House, he said:
There will not be drilling on the Reef.
That is a clear commitment by the Prime Minister on behalf of this Government that regardless of permits, regardless of applications for permits and regardless of royal commission reports, there will not be drilling on the reef. Furthermore, he said:
Those are the commitments that the Government has made. They are solemn commitments made by no less a person than the Leader of the Government in the person of the Prime Minister, answering questions in the Parliament. The Government will not be making any decisions in relation to renewing the permits until it has considered the report of the royal commission on the Great Barrier Reef and decided what its attitude should be. That is the Government’s position. For the life of me I cannot see anything misleading in the answer Senator Webster gave when Senator Wriedt asked him whether he would deny that the Government was considering the renewal of oil drilling permits. Senator Webster denied that and said that as far as he was aware- he was cautious in speaking only of his own knowledge- no movement was pending to renew exploration permits in that area.
I turn now to the charges that have been levelled as a result of correspondence that has been submitted. That correspondence has been referred to and I do not propose to quote it again. It is quite clear that a suggestion was being made by the Minister for National Development, Mr Newman, that before any marine park be declared in the Capricornia area, the application should be processed. The situation is not clear to me from that correspondence. The Minister for National Development is not here and I cannot ask him exactly what he meant by the expression the application should be processed’. It seems obvious and evident that where there are applications there has to be a processing of those applications at the Public Service level. In relation to the application there have to be discussions with the applicants and others to ascertain for instance, the boundaries of the area that they are seeking to renew. It should be borne in mind that the Government has made it clear that it has not made any decisions in relation to drilling in the area of the Barrier Reef. Certainly it will not make any decisions in relation to the renewal of permits until that fundamental question has been considered and a decision made on it. The Minister for National Development may well be saying in his letter that the Government have these applications and something has to be done about them. The applicants have certain rights under existing legislation and something has to be done about them. Let me reaffirm that whatever the view of the Minister for National Development may have been, whatever submission he may have been preparing to make to the Government, the Government was not considering and has not considered the question of renewal of such permits. Therefore, whatever Senator Webster said in answer to the question from Senator Wriedt was perfectly proper. I do not believe that the answer was misleading, much less deliberately misleading.
The only other matter that arises is the answer given by Senator Webster that there had been no proclamation because of the constitutional question. He said that it was a smokescreen, that the Minister for National Development had made it a secondary consideration in his letter, and that in his reply he had been talking about the problem presented by the processing of applications for partial renewal. Senator Button seems to be offended by the fact that this Government may be talking to people. Because they are executives of an oil company or members of a State government, apparently they are to be denigrated in this place as they were by Senator Button when he said that the Government was talking to its mates, or some such opprobrious expression.
The fact is, however, that even in the letter from the Minister for National Development it is clear that he is aware of the constitutional and legal problems. He is aware of the views of the Prime Minister that action in relation to this matter ought to be deferred pending the outcome of discussions with Queensland on the territorial sea. Of course discussions are going on with Queensland in relation to the territorial sea and the seabed. Discussions are going on with all the States in relation to this matter. This is not something of which the Government is in any way ashamed. In fact, it is proud that it does talk to its State colleagues and does try to resolve these issues by consultation and not by an attitude of confrontation, which in this and many other areas was the policy and attitude of the Australian Labor Party when it was in power. We are proud of the fact that we have these consultations, and these matters have been discussed at two Premiers Conferences. They have been discussed on a number of occasions by the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General, the most recent being at a meeting in Sydney last Friday at which I was present. They have been the subject of very extensive consultations at State level, officer level, State Solicitors-General level and so on. There have been the most intense consultations in this area. Senator Webster was quite right in what he said in answer to this question. The constitutional settlement of the powers relating to the marine parks is a matter which is under intense discussion. In fact, Senator Webster and I are shortly to have discussions with Queensland Ministers in relation to these constitutional and legal questions, so that at the Premiers Conference at the end of June this year we can come to final settlement of these matters by agreement, after consultation with the States, and not by the imposition of centralist doctrinaire socialist confrontation which is the way in which the Opposition would seek to solve these problems.
Senator Webster has explained the reply he gave to the letter from Mr Newman as indicating that he wants to go ahead and proclaim this marine park. He wants to find out whether there is some conflict between the boundaries proposed for the marine park and the boundaries in the applications for the permit area. I think that that is a very fair and reasonable interpretation of his letter, whatever other contorted meanings the Opposition may endeavour to extract. What a sensible attitude Senator Webster’s is. We have applications for the renewal of permits. We want to find out what the boundaries are and what the permitees really want. Do they want an area which comes into that being proposed by the park? If they do not, there is no further problem. If they do want that, perhaps the matter could be resolved by further consultation and discussion and Senator Webster can go ahead with his recommendation about a proclamation. Here again we have a reasonable attitude, one of discussion, of finding out and trying to resolve problems; not one of pigheaded confrontations with people, with companies and with States. That seems to be the way in which the Opposition would conduct itself- as we know it did before- and the way in which it believes government should be conducted. That is all that Senator Webster had in mind in the letter.
Senator Webster is the Minister concerned with making recommendations to government about the proclamation of the park and its areas. He is the person who can primarily say what, in his mind, is holding up the decision. That is what he has said here and what, I think, any fairminded senator will believe was a perfectly honest and correct reason which he, the Minister concerned, gave to this Senate. The question of the future of the Barrier Reef, its protection, the declaration of marine parks in the area and the settlement of constitutional problems are important issues. What is the policy of the Government in relation to all these very important matters? They are important questions. I concede the propriety of raising these issues for debate, and it is incumbent upon the Government to say where it stands in relation to these matters.
I believe the Minister for National Development, in a statement which he issued on Thursday after the questions were raised here, has made the Government’s position clear. The Prime Minister, in the answers he has given, has made the Government’s position clear. In the course of this debate I have, I hope, been able to make clear the Government’s position in relation to these matters. I do not believe those issues which are the subject proper for debate here should be confused with grave personal charges against a Minister of State based upon allegedly misleading answers that the Minister has given to the Senate. I believe that the answers and explanations given by Senator Webster are clear and ought to be clear to the Opposition and that there was no substance in any suggestion that he was deliberately endeavouring to mislead the Senate in relation to his own responsibilities or, so far as he was aware, of any policies or actions of the Government itself. I do not believe the Senate can take the matter any further as far as Senator Webster is concerned. The matter has been raised. The letters on which the charges have been based have been tabled. He has responded to them in a very fair, open, frank and, I believe, totally honest manner. I believe that ought to be the end of this motion of no confidence in Senator Webster. I move:
Question put. The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question put-
That the motion (Senator Wriedt’s) be agreed to. The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative. QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind him again of the statement he made on 1 March which I restate following the debate which has just taken place:
Over the course of the Fraser Government, where there has been any query of the quality of action taken by a Minister or where a question of high principle has been involved, the Minister concerned has stood down voluntarily or has been asked to stand down;
Does the Minister recall using these words? Is he satisfied that no grounds exist which would lead him to believe that Senator Webster has in any way brought himself within the meaning and intent of that statement?
– I recall my statement of I March. If I had any doubts beforehand, the lack of any revelation or any argument whatsoever produced by the Australian Labor Party in what was a mischievous and useless debate, removed those doubts. The Labor Party, by its absolute barrenness of arguments surely has satisfied the people of Australia.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It relates to the very heavy increase in the price of Avgas and the fact that approximately 50 per cent of the Avgas used in Australia is imported directly from Iran. As we can therefore expect more and possibly heavier price increases, will the Government consider intervening in the next Prices Justification Tribunal hearings to suggest that the price increase of Avgas be spread across the whole product range of the petroleum industry, thus alleviating the intolerable burden now being placed on a very vital part of our transport system?
– The Prices Justification Tribunal, in its report of 1 1 April 1979 on the application by the Shell Co. of Australia Ltd and related companies, found that an increase of 6c a litre in the wholesale price of Avgas was justified. Increases in Avgas prices certainly have been higher than those which have been found justified for most petroleum products. The PJT explained the reason for this in its report. At its inquiry, the PJT considered submissions from the General Aviation Association (Aust.), the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and the Royal Aero Clubs of Australia dealing with the effects of price increases on the aviation industry. The PJT’s view was that the cost increases for this product should not be spread across the whole product range. The Government does not propose to intervene in further PJT inquiries into petroleum products to seek to alter that approach. However, it will consider applications from the general aviation industry for increases in its charges to recover cost increases. Presently the Government has fare increase applications from commuter air operators under consideration.
-I ask the Minister representing the Treasurer what indicators exist by which the Government can study the impact of” the investment allowance on investment, employment and output, both at a macro-economic and a micro-economic level.
– I ask Senator Button to put that question on the Notice Paper.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, concerns the contribution of different member countries of the United Nations to that organisation’s budget. Can the Minister indicate what percentage of the United Nations’ budget is contributed by Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Saudi Arabia respectively? Which of these countries contributes most in terms of a percentage of its gross national product to the support of the United Nations and which country contributes least?
– I have a considerable amount of information on the contribution of member countries to the budget of the United Nations organisation. I am advised that the United Nations’ charter provides that the expenses of the organisation be apportioned amongst members as decided by the General Assembly. Under the current scale of assessments approved at the General Assembly’s 32nd session in 1977, the percentage contributions of the four countries mentioned by the honourable senator are: Australia, 1.54 per cent; New Zealand, 0.26 per cent; Israel, 0.23 per cent; and
Saudi Arabia, 0.23 per cent. Assessment of contributions to the United Nations regular budget is made broadly according to capacity to pay with comparative estimates of national income taken as the fairest guide. Assessments are based on figures for national income which, since 1977, have been averaged over a seven year period. Per capita national income and ability of member States to secure foreign currency are also taken into account. lt is not possible to indicate precisely what percentage of a country’s gross national product it contributes to the UN, since although percentage assessments are published, the actual cash contribution may be offset by other factors- for example, in Australia’s case, repayment of interest and principal on the issue of United Nations’ bonds. Nevertheless, a preliminary examination based on the latest available figures for GNP suggests that of the four countries nominated, Israel contributes the highest percentage and Saudi Arabia the lowest. The United Nations committee on contributions will meet this year and submit a revised scale of assessments based on its latest figures for national income to the 34th session of the General Assembly.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware that a statute of limitations will come into effect shortly in the Federal Republic of Germany whereby persons who could be guilty of war crimes will not be liable for prosecution? Does the Minister not agree that if any persons who were guilty of these most monstrous crimes were to escape justice on the grounds of such a technical reason as the statute of limitations, this would be an affront to the conscience of civilised people? Does the Government have any views on this matter? If so, has it made these views known to the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany?
– I am aware that the statute of limitations will come into force soon. I do not want to express anything but a personal opinion on the second part of the question. I do not know what the Government has done in this regard. 1 agree with Senator Wheeldon that the heinous nature of the crimes is such that the world, I think, considers that the pursuit of the major criminals should continue. That is a personal view. I am not aware what the Government has done or contemplates doing. I will seek the information and let the honourable senator know.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations. Is it true that this morning the Federal Secretary of the Australian Railways Union announced that railway workers in Victoria and South Australia would stop work indefinitely from midnight tonight and that workers in Tasmania would stop work from 4 p.m. today? Have negotiations concerning the claims by members of the Australian Railways Union been under consideration for some weeks? Are they capable of being resolved by arbitration? Is it not a fact that the decision to strike was deliberately deferred until after the Victorian elections last Saturday? Will the Government seek postponement of the national wage case hearing until this blatantly political strike has been abandoned?
– I call the AttorneyGeneral to answer those parts of the question which are relevant to the portfolio which he represents.
-The Minister for Industrial Relations is aware of the threatened stoppage to which Senator Lewis refers. The transport union leaders announced this morning that there would be an indefinite stoppage of government-run public transport in Victoria and of the Australian National Railways Commission in South Australia commencing at midnight tonight. The unions are seeking a $10 a week wage increase. The wage claim arises from a recommendation by Commissioner Walker of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1977 that Public Transport Commission employees in New South Wales covered by Federal awards should receive an increase of $ 10 to bring their wage up to that paid to employees performing similar work in State instrumentalities. Subsequently, unions representing employees in other States sought an increase and Commissioner Walker sought to incorporate a $6 allowance into the award. This action was appealed by the Victorian Government with intervention by the Commonwealth Government. The Full Bench of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission upheld that appeal. The action of the union in seeking a $10 a week increase followed an announcement last week that the matter would be brought before an anomolies conference of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Commonwealth Government will approach the Full Bench on the resumption of the national wage case hearing seeking an adjournment of the current wage indexation hearing because of the industrial action taken by railway unions. The Commonwealth Government will be supported by the Victorian Government in seeking this adjournment should the Australian Council of Trade Unions be unable to halt the planned stoppages.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services. On 20 February this year, I asked the Minister whether the Government had a policy of favouring Australian companies in the purchase of government supplies and referred to the printing of Senate diaries in Hong Kong. Is the Minister’s failure to answer an indication that the Government’s policy has been ignored? It is true that the policy has again been abandoned in the case of Dalma Manufacturing Co. in its tender to the Department of Administrative Services to supply stamp pads and ink? Was this contract awarded to suppliers which import their goods, particularly from Taiwan? Was it awarded despite the fact that the Stores Supply and Tender Board indicated that the Dalma tender was competitive? Is the Minister aware that this decision will force Dalma to lay off workers in New South Wales? Finally, how serious is the Government’s resolve to buy Australian goods and to lessen unemployment?
– I assure the Senate that it is the Government’s wish and policy to buy Australian goods whenever possible. Obviously one cannot make a blanket commitment to do so simply in the face of any cost difference that might exist. However, I am not aware of the purchase which the honourable senator has outlined. I will refer the matter to the Minister for Administrative Services and seek a reply to the various parts of the question which has been asked.
– I draw the attention of honourable senators to the presence in my gallery of a former highly respected member of this place- ex-Senator Kennelly. We welcome him back to the chamber.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport following the recent meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council where stage 3 of the
Australian design rule concerning emission controls was discussed. Can the Minister say whether all States submitted figures on air pollution levels for their respective capital cities. If not, which States failed to submit figures? What were the levels of air pollution in the respective cities for which figures were submitted?
– That is a great question without notice. Give us the figures off the top of your head.
– I can put the honourable senator’s mind at rest. I am not able to give the precise figures that Senator Young has requested. I suggest it is about time that Senator Georges took his suspicious mind home and had a little rest. I am aware that there was a meeting of the Australian Transport Advisory Council as recently as 27 April. There was a lot of publicity about that meeting. I think many honourable senators would be aware that Ministers at the meeting could not agree to proceed to the third stage of Australian Design Rule 27A. The majority view of the States, the Territories and the Commonwealth is that the third stage should not be implemented. New South Wales and South Australian Ministers indicated that their governments would proceed through State legislation to introduce more stringent motor vehicle emission controls. Victoria will review its position in the light of action taken by New South Wales and South Australia.
There was some agreement at the meeting, however. It was agreed that at the next meeting the Ministers would consider a report from advisers on the principal issues associated with present and future vehicle emission standards and controls. Advice is not yet available on the implications of New South Wales and South Australia proceeding independently to the third stage; nor is independent advice available on how those States propose to implement that approach. I understand that the Ministers had before them a number of studies and reports but that no new information was presented to the meeting. I should, however, mention that there appears to be a significant difference of technical opinion on present and projected air quality. The expert advice which is available to us is that the position with regard to photochemical pollution in Sydney has improved slightly since 1 976 and that current levels are likely to be maintained until some time in the mid-1980s with existing controls. Trends for other urban areas appear generally to follow this line but at a lower level. I am sure that this matter is of great interest to honourable senators. They will all await the next meeting of ATAC with great interest.
– I address my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In the light of the further increases in home loan interest rates which will cause acute hardship for persons on fixed incomes, will the Government give urgent consideration to introducing a moratorium on home loan repayments where the major income earner of a family unit is unemployed?
– The question raises a matter of policy principle. I will refer it to the Minister concerned.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. The national eradication campaign against bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis is aimed at Australia’s being tuberculosis and brucellosis free by 1984 so as to meet with United States requirements to cover export meat. The three cattle producing organisations in the Northern Territory have indicated their concern that, because of several factors, this timetable, despite the efforts of the pastoral industry, may not be achieved. Having in mind that encouragement was given to the industry for carrying out capital improvements such as fencing et cetera, prior to the Coombs report on expenditure policies to the Labor Government in 1 973, 1 ask: Can the Minister indicate what actions are being planned by State and Federal authorities to ensure that the eradication of these two diseases is carried out within a reasonable period?
-My understanding is that the eradication of brucellosis has been progressing satisfactorily on a national basis. All States, in presenting their estimates and statements of expenditure, have assured the Commonwealth that they are on schedule towards the 1 984 target date for provisional brucellosis freedom which is required under the terms of the eight-year program.
Tuberculosis eradication is not subject to the 1984 target date. However, I am advised that 99.6 per cent of all holdings are free of bovine tuberculosis and, in southern Australia, complete eradication is in sight. In the northern remote cattle producing areas, low levels of the disease on many properties continue to cause concern. As the honourable senator would know, eradication procedures in these areas were seriously hampered by the cattle industry recession. The Bureau of Animal Health, in conjunction with the States and the cattle industry, is presently reviewing the program to ensure that government resources and producer support are adequate at present.
The low level of tuberculosis, in itself, does not greatly affect the northern cattlemen in the present market situation. However, market countries wishing to capitalise on their own freedom or impending freedom from bovine tuberculosis could discriminate against meat from a country or an area still infected or from meatworks taking cattle from such an area. I think the Minister for Primary Industry has made statements on this matter recently. The general situation is that, nationally, the program is expected to be on target.
– I refer the Leader of the Government in the Senate to recent reports in the Press that a senior public servant from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet helped to prepare the TCN9 application to the Broadcasting Tribunal for a television licence renewal. I ask the Minister: What guidelines have been laid down by the Government on the participation by public servants in private enterprise when dealing with issues that are public and controversial?
-If the honourable senator puts her question on notice I will ensure that an answer is given to it.
-Is the Minister representing the Minister for Transport aware that a serious shortage of aviation fuel for pistondriven aircraft is about to restrict severely the operations of general aviation until mid-June at the earliest? Does the normalisation of supply, rely on the arrival of a new tanker load from overseas in early June and the re-instatement of cracking capacity at the Altona refinery, which is currently down for maintenance? Does this reflect a grave lack of concern for Australian consumers? Is it a coincidence, significant perhaps, that this shortage comes at a time when a 47 per cent increase in price has just been finally approved by the Prices Justification Tribunal after a protracted hearing? Will the Minister convey to his colleague the concern of all honourable senators at this development and its implications, with a view to alleviating the most serious effects upon the general aviation industry and its customers?.
– I will convey the concern of honourable senators and the rest of the question to the Minister and seek replies to the various questions raised.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, concerns increased motor vehicle pollution in Australian cities, necessitating further emission control systems to safeguard health. 1 ask the Minister whether he thinks these controls would not be necessary if there were widespread conversion to liquid petroleum gas. Furthermore, if the Government is seriously concerned with the shortage of fuel and the effects of pollution, will it consider abolishing the huge excise on liquid petroleum gas and thus pass on the benefits of such abolition to those motorists who are prepared to convert their vehicles to liquid petroleum gas? Finally, I ask the Minister: When is the Government prepared to convert all its Commonwealth vehicles to liquid petroleum gas?
– The Minister for National Development has already made some statements in which he indicated the encouragement that the Government feels ought to be given to the greater use of liquid petroleum gas. I will pass on the further suggestion contained in Senator Elstob ‘s question. The matter of the conversion of government vehicles to liquid petroleum gas is of course a matter which comes within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Administrative Services. I will draw his attention to the question and endeavour to get for the Senate an early answer to both matters.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, by reminding him that rural telephone costs are extraordinarily high, even for normal neighbourly contact and for essential local services. I refer especially to the west coast area of South Australia. I ask the Minister: Will the Government give every consideration to a more reasonable basis for the equalisation of rural telephone call charges with those of urban communities? In particular, will the Government, together with the Telecommunications Commission, give full consideration to the proposal that telephone charges should penalise time much more than distance as time, not distance, ties up the telephone network and contributes to the required capital outlay?
- Senator Teague raises matters which are very often raised in rural areas right around Australia. They are matters of very great concern. I do not have any detail on the matters which the honourable senator has raised, but my recollection is that over the last few years Telecom Australia has either stabilised costs or effected some reductions, particularly in rural areas, under certain categories. An attempt has been made to reduce the burden on the sort of people to whom Senator Teague referred in his question. The matter of equalising telephone call charges has also been subject to frequent representations. Again I am sure that the Minister will well be able to give a reply to that question. The third matter raised by Senator Teague is quite new to me, but once again I will refer it to the Minister and seek a reply.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Science and the Environment. As the Federal Government has agreed to the opening of the Nabarlek mine in Arnhem Land by Queensland Mines Ltd, the Minister would know that radon gas decay products will build up very rapidly in the small Nabarlek pit and may exceed the levels adopted in the Australian Code of Practice on Radiation Protection in Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores. If, therefore, miners are in danger of being exposed to higher levels of radiation, Queensland Mines would be in danger of breaking the law. I ask: Does the Government intend to amend the code of practice to accommodate Queensland Mines Ltd? Is the supervisory scientist to be given any special instructions on the matter? Will the mine be closed if the level of radiation exceeds the set limit? Will Queensland Mines be required to check constantly the health of miners and will Queensland Mines be responsible for any loss of wages arising from such closure of the mine?
-The honourable senator has raised five matters in her question. If she puts the question on notice, I will attempt to get an answer for her.
– I direct a question to either the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs or the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, whoever is the more appropriate. By way of brief preface, I refer to the case of an American citizen resident in Canada who, as a Professor of Chemical Engineering, wishes to spend his sabbatical leave in Australia and who has been required to be fingerprinted when applying for his visa. 1 ask: How long has Australia required fingerprinting in such circumstances and what is the purpose and justification of the action taken?
– I think this may be a matter that needs to be referred to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I will undertake to draw his attention to it and obtain an answer for the honourable senator.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. I refer to an advertisement which appeared in the Courier-Mail on. 1 1 December 1975 headed ‘You will get two pension rises a year! ‘ Amongst other things, the advertisement stated that the Liberals would automatically increase pensions every six months and urged readers to vote Liberal. Will the Minister refer this advertisement to the Trade Practices Commission as a blatantly misleading advertisement? If the Minister cannot refer this material to the Trade Practices Commission because of some aspect of the Trade Practices Act, will he seek an amendment to the Act so that the pensioners of Australia are not again deliberately misled by the Liberal Party?
– This question, of course, is not seriously presented to me for consideration. It is clearly raised to try to further the debate in relation to the twice-yearly indexation of pensions. The fact is that the Government implemented the promises made in this regard.
– For how long?
– Let me illustrate the genuineness of the question. The question referred to an advertisement in December 1975. Obviously, the Opposition has been dredging up every possible thing it can find as far back as 1975. The Government and the Minister for Social Security have made it quite clear why changes were made in the last Budget. I do not propose to canvass those reasons at Question Time. My colleague, Senator Guilfoyle, has done that far more expertly than I would be able to do it. The provisions of the Trade Practices Act are available to Opposition senators. They can get their own legal advice as to what they mean. I suggest that they resort to that and not ask me for a legal opinion in this chamber.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for the Capital Territory. Will the Minister assess the need for the introduction in the Australian Capital Territory of a compulsory course of defensive driving for all prospective licence applicants and, if it is considered necessary, set aside an appropriate amount to evaluate the success of the scheme in the first three years following its introduction?
-That seems to be a particularly brilliant suggestion from the honourable senator. As she would know, the Minister for the Capital Territory is overseas at the moment. I will certainly see that the advice is brought to the Minister’s attention and seek a response for the honourable member.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Home Affairs. From a newspaper report in the West Australian of 9 April it appears that the Brazilian Government is taking seriously a claim that a multi-millionaire, Mr Daniel K. Ludwig, intends leaving his vast holdings in the Amazon jungle to the United States Government. Mr Pericles Goncalves, an Opposition member of the Chamber of Deputies, believes that this would mean that the United States would own an enclave in Brazilian territory. Because of the vast areas of Australia- rural, industrial and residential- owned by foreign nationals, would we find ourselves in the same embarrassing situation as Brazil if these nationals were to bequeath their Australian holdings to their respective governments?
– I am advised from legal sources that the answer to that question would be no. At times people have come to this country from overseas. Some people have suggested that enclaves have been built up in this country. I do not know whether that is correct. I do not know the facts relating to Daniel Ludwig and the other gentleman to whom the honourable senator referred. I will seek an answer from the Minister for Home Affairs, and advise him further.
-Has the Minister for Education seen a report in today’s Canberra Times based on letters apparently made public by the Australian National University relating to the Government’s proposed legislation on student fees? Is the reported statement by the Chancellor of the National University, Sir John Crawford, that there was no discussion or no explanation given to the University before a statute dealing with this matter was not approved by the Executive Council correct?
– Let me simply say at the outset that upon reading that report this morning I could only hope that it was not a complete report of the information handed out by the Australian National University. If it is, it is a gross distortion of what has happened. I think that the matter should be put right. From reading that article this morning, one would believe that there was an exchange of letters and no consultation at all. One would never know that subsequent to the writing of the letter to me by the Chancellor I received the Chancellor and three of his councillors in a very lengthy discussion. I was able, I believe, to assure the Chancellor that there had been very frequent discussions on this matter.
– Prior to or after the statute?
– Prior to, during and after the statute. There were discussions throughout the whole period. Let me make that abundantly clear.
– You took no notice of what the Council wanted.
– I will be very happy to hear Senator Ryan ‘s interjections. The more she interjects the more she will help me. During the whole of the framing of the legislation, the planning of the statute by the University and subsequently I personally had no fewer than three lengthy discussions with the Vice-Chancellor himself. My staff were in constant discussion with the ANU on this matter. There was never any doubt left in the minds of the Council members of the ANU. For a newspaper to suggest that there was merely an exchange of letters- an almost brutal exchange- and no consultation and not to publish the fact that subsequent to the Chancellor’s letter there had been an extensive discussion with him and his councillors is a most unfortunate misrepresentation of the facts. Let me recite the facts. Two or three years ago the Government invited universities and institutions throughout Australia to amend their regulations and ordinances themselves so that students would not be compelled to belong to sociopolitical bodies.
– They do not have to belong in any case.
– The more Senator Georges interjects, the more I will continue to state the facts. Virtually nothing was done. A year or two subsequently I was questioned in this chamber concerning a student of the ANU who was told that he would not get his university examination results if he did not pay his student fees. I made it abundantly clear that that would be intolerable to social justice and that steps must be taken to rectify the situation. I made it abundantly clear that this Government would not allow the compelling of students to pay fees to associations and causes which they abhorred and to which they objected. The University said that it would create opportunities for people to opt out. It set about doing that. In subsequent cases each one of those who sought to opt out failed in his objective.
The Government said that as two or three years had gone by it would itself make the arrangements through statute and that it would invite the rest of the States to follow suite. The University then asked: ‘Please, will you have second thoughts and let us do it through its own statutes?’ That request was given careful consideration. I took the request to Cabinet and the Cabinet said no. So the misrepresentation in the newspaper that no consideration was given to a suggestion that the university would do this by statute could not be more wrong in fact.
Equally, the article suggested that the statute itself would have done what the Government wanted. Again, that is fundamentally wrong. I was able to indicate to the Chancellor that on at least two main subjects the university statute would have been against the policies of the Government. I can say only that I regret that this is so because nobody could have gone out of his way to consult more than either I as Minister or my own Government. Nobody could have tried more than we did over a period of years to bring about a satisfactory situation. Nobody could have made it clearer than we did that we were willing to consider what the university wanted and to give it considered answers. At all stages this was so. I have no doubt that the Chancellor, after he saw me last week, was aware that there had been far more consultation between his university and this Government than he himself had apprehended in the past.
-My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services follows other questions about the need for a Commonwealth office centre in Adelaide. The Minister will recall advising that, whilst a site is available, at present no project is proposed. I therefore ask: Is it a fact that at least two statutory authorities located in Aelaide are anxious to build new premises? If so, will the Minister consider whether the objectives of those two authorities might be merged into one proposal to build a new Commonwealth centre in Adelaide, which was certainly proposed and accepted by a Minister some years ago? I ask the Minister to ascertain what consideration can be given to that proposal.
-Senator Bishop has raised this subject in the Senate on a number of occasions. This is a new suggestion, and I will refer it to the Minister for Administrative Services for consideration.
-Can the Minister representing the Minister for Transport advise whether or not the Government has an attitude on the possible sale of instrumentalities such as the one handling railway services? Has the Government yet been approached by Australian Wide Travel Services with a proposition showing interest in a portion of the services provided by the Australian National Railways Commission? If so, will the Government give it consideration and establish the criteria necessary to enable the proposition to be considered?
– I seem to recall the Treasurer being asked a question at a meeting in Perth a few weeks ago when he indicated that the Government would be interested in hearing of proposals of that sort. I am somewhat surprised to hear that someone might want to purchase a bit of the Australian National Railways services. I did not think that tax losses applied in the particular circumstance. In any event, I will refer that question to the Minister for Transport and perhaps to the Treasurer and seek a reply
-I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs a question relating to the passport section of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Does the Minister realise that the large-scale salesmanship plan to encourage people to fly overseas at reduced fares has increased pressure on the staff who issue passports in the major capital cities? Will the Minister look at the current staff ceiling, particularly in Sydney, to ascertain whether the burden could be eased by providing additional staff for the issuing and processing of passports?
-I will certainly bring that question to the attention of the responsible Minister and to the attention of the Prime Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. In view of the number of Australian National Line bulk carriers in mothballs, will the Government insist when it is overseeing major commodity exports that a reasonable ratio of Australian owned and manned ships be used to transport these commodities?
– I will refer that question to the Minister for Transport for reply.
– I ask the Minister for Social Security: Is it not a fact that in its policy speech of 1977 the Government made a definite promise to pensioners to the effect that twiceyearly adjustments to all pensions would continue? As this undertaking was quickly dishonoured and has caused grave hardship to many thousands of pensioners in all categories, will the Minister give an undertaking that the 1977 election promise will be honoured in the August Budget this year?
– I think that the promises and undertakings made by the Government are well known. Indeed, its own legislation reflected those undertakings. It is also a fact that in the last Budget the legislation was changed. I am unable to make any promises or to speculate in regard to decisions that may be made in the Budget this year, and it would be improper for me to deal further with the question because of the speculation to which my comments would add.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. The Minister may be aware that in recent years a period of more than nine months has elapsed after the close of their reporting period before the following statutory authorities have presented reports: The Australian Wool Corporation, on five occasions since 1972; the Australian Dairy Corporation, on five occasions since 1972; and the Australian Wheat Board, on each occasion since its restructure in 1974. Can the Minister indicate why each of these statutory authorities has not been able to comply with any reasonable reporting requirement? I ask the question particularly bearing in mind that public companies which do not comply with far more stringent reporting requirements are prosecuted.
– 1 acknowledge the interest in this matter of the honourable senator from Tasmania. One of the responsibilities he has taken on his shoulders is to follow through the annual reports of various bodies and statutory authorities. I can say to him that I was not aware that the Australian Wool Corporation, the Australian Dairy Corporation and the Australian Wheat Board had failed to submit their annual reports within that nine-month period. I am unable to give the exact reason for that. I imagine that it may be to do with late returns for the end of a season, but I do not think that that is a sufficient argument in any case. I will put forward to the Minister for Primary Industry, whom I represent, the proposition that these bodies should at least have their attention drawn to the late presentation of reports. The honourable senator’s comment relating to public companies is appropriate. These companies are required to submit their reports on time, and some of them have much bigger organisations to handle than any of the corporations the honourable senator mentioned. I think it is a very appropriate comment and I will draw it to the attention of the Minister whom I represent.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Science and the Environment. It will be recalled that in the discussion this afternoon the Minister said that he found it difficult to make me understand. He did not succeed. For the purpose of endeavouring to get some understanding on the Great Barrier Reef proposals, I ask the Minister: What interpretation should one make when he speaks of a proposal for partial renewal of the two permits to be processed and when he asks the Minister for National Development for specific details, particularly as to the boundaries of the area over which it is proposed to renew permits? I emphasise the words proposed to renew permits’. Can I take it from the words used in today’s discussion that it is proposed to renew permits for drilling in the Great Barrier Reef area but not in the Capricornia area?
-The honourable senator commenced with a question as to whether I would give a clear answer so that he could understand. I find that that would present me with enormous difficulty, particularly in relation to the honourable senator who asked the question. Mr President, at times you have taken exception to honourable senators asking a number of questions. Senator Cavanagh has asked four questions on this occasion. I suggest that if he wishes to have answers to those questions he should take the opportunity to put them on notice.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. It is prompted by ambiguous comments yesterday from Mr Sinclair and Mr Frearson, the Chairman of the Primary Industry Bank of Australia Limited, regarding future PIBA loans, and also by an answer to a question on notice by Senator McLaren stating that $86.2m had been approved for lending from the bank and a statement by Mr Sinclair in the House last Thursday that some of the PIBA agent banks had lent too enthusiastically and had used up their share of the apportioned money. Does Mr Sinclair’s statement mean that no PIBA loans will be available for clients of those banks which have used their share of the apportioned money? On what basis and when were these shares allocated to PIBA’s agents? If $86.2m has already been approved for lending, which I understand is the total amount of funds available to PIBA, how can any further borrowers be accommodated? I realise the Minister may not be able to answer these questions now, but can he get me an answer from the Treasurer promptly?
- Senator Walsh is correct in assuming that the information would be in such detail that it would not be available. Therefore I suggest he should put his question on notice.
– I am not sure whether my question should be directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources or the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. I see that Senator Durack is the relevant Minister anyway. I preface my question by saying that no doubt the Minister is aware that daylight saving was introduced into Tasmania many years ago for six months of the year during a period of power shortage due to a water shortage in the lakes of Tasmania. Has the Government examined the fuel saving that would be possible if permanent daylight saving were introduced throughout Australia? If not, will the Minister request that the matter be investigated?
– I would be hesitant to engage in any discussions in the Senate on daylight saving. As a Western Australian, my views on the subject do not necessarily accord with those of Tasmanians. It has been suggested that this is a matter upon which the Commonwealth Government could legislate under certain of its powers. However, I am very thankful that nobody has proposed that we should attempt to exercise those powers on the subject. Although I am reluctant to reply to Senator Townley’s proposals about daylight saving, he has raised an important question as to what fuel savings could be made. 1 will certainly refer his question to the Minister for National Development who, I think, should be the one who should make those calculations. Whatever the calculations may be and whatever they may prove, 1 am sure there would be very rugged debate, wherever it may come up, on a decision to make daylight saving Australia-wide.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. 1 refer him to the resolutions of the Australian Constitutional Convention held in July last year which were tabled in Parliament last week. Given that the Government has now had 10 months to consider its position, what is the Government’s attitude to the holding of referendums on the three specific Federal jurisdiction amendments which were adopted by that convention? Further, does the Government support the holding of another session of the Constitutional Convention either in Adelaide later this year, as was proposed last year, or at some other time and place?
– The Government has not considered either of the matters raised by Senator Evans, namely, what action, if any, may be contemplated in relation to some resolutions which were passed concerning the court system or when future meetings of the Australian Constitutional Convention should take place. If my recollection is correct, and I suppose after today one ought to be very cautious about making any suggestions about what one’s recollection about something may be-
– As long as you are honest.
– I do not think that is the criterion the Opposition adopts in making accusations against Ministers. If my recollection is correct, there was a very considerable division of opinion at the Constitutional Convention even in regard to some of these matters.
– A clear majority was obtained.
-Even though there may have been a majority, I think it would be very difficult to extract any clear consensus from that
Convention as to what action should be taken in regard to these matters. Senator Evans has raised the matters. I will look at them again to refresh my recollection, but I do not believe it would be feasible to put forward referendum proposals arising out of the Constitutional Convention unless there were a very strong consensus at the Convention itself. We know there is always a great deal of controversy about the most seemingly simple type of amendment to the Constitution. I believe that Government would not consider a referendum unless there were the very clearest indication that it would get widespread support.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. I would like an answer to the second part of my question about the next session of the Australian Constitutional Convention to which the Attorney-General did not address himself. In the light of what he has just said, does that mean that the resolution passed rather less than unanimously by the convention on the question of the Senate and Supply will not, according to the criteria which the Attorney has articulated, be put to the Australian people by his Government?
– I did answer the question. I said that the question of any future meetings of the Australian Constitutional Convention has not been considered. I specifically answered that part of the question. As to the other part of the question, I will again take note of it and refresh my memory. My recollection is again that it is a matter which is the subject of further discussions within the committee of the Convention, of which you are a member, are you not, Senator Evans?
– I ask a question of the Minister for Education. It concerns specific learning difficulties. I am concerned that children with invisible handicaps such as dyslexia or specific learning difficulties be given sympathetic and professional assistance by special education programs within our schools. What is the Australian Government’s attitude towards the identification and treatment of children with specific learning difficulties? What schemes of assistance are currently funded or proposed to be funded by the Australian Government? In particular, what were the circumstances which led to the Schools Commission innovation grants program earlier this year turning down a submission by the Specific Learning Difficulties Association of Australia in Adelaide which sought only $3,500 for a scheme which I believe was effectively arranged for assistance to children suffering specific learning difficulties?
– The question that Senator Teague asks is an important one. We are all now obtaining a growing realisation of the wide range of children with specific learning difficulties- not only dyslexia, aphasia and autism but also the less obvious difficulties. The Government’s attitude, in the first place, is to get the earliest identification possible of any such difficulties in the young child. The earlier the identification, the better and quicker the remediation. Of course, the Government endorses the House of Representatives Select Committee’s report which states that every teacher should be trained as a remedial teacher. Indeed, I hope that the national inquiry into teacher education will take up this matter in depth. However, the Government pursues, through the Schools Commission, special education programs which are funded through the States. The States also provide funds both for special education and for special schools. I am unaware of the specific matter to which Senator Teague refers. The recommendations regarding innovation programs come from widely representative and objective committees. Therefore, I believe that the reasons would be soundly based. I will seek out the reasons and advise the honourable senator.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Social Security, refers to questions raised last week about the homeless persons assistance program. Has the Minister investigated the claims that in several States money is owed to organisations and that to complete projects under this scheme they obtained bridging finance on a guarantee of funding from the Department of Social Security? Has the Minister decided to use any of the unused funds from the 1978-79 Budget for the purpose of reimbursing these organisations?
– I recall the questions asked by Senator Grimes with regard to this matter. I met with the representatives of homeless persons advisory committees yesterday in Canberra. I am unable to state now what action may be taken in response to the question raised earlier by Senator Grimes. 1 will have the matter investigated and see whether anything can be done with regard to this program. As I said earlier, it is in my mind a most important program and the use of funds that are available to it is important.
The continuation of the program is also important. I will get a response for Senator Grimes as soon as possible.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. Has the Government yet considered the Industries Assistance Commission ‘s report on cheese? Can the Minister give an indication when the decision may be made known?
– I have no information in relation to that matter. I will refer the question to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs and ask him to let me have an early answer to it.
– I direct a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to last month’s truckies protest blockade of our major highways. Have calculations been made of the extent to which the Federal Government’s 40 per cent investment allowance contributed to the oversupply of heavy transport units to the road transport industry by financial institutions? Was any use made of the statistics available after the first year of operation of the 40 per cent investment allowance to assess its effect on the industry, particularly motor vehicle registration figures and the numbers of repossessions by financial organisations? Finally, as the blockade highlighted the whole issue of the investment allowance and the easy accessibility to huge transporter units through financial institutions in an industry that was oversupplied, will the Government refer this matter to the Campbell committee of inquiry into financial institutions that is currently meeting?
– This question contains a number of requests for detailed information which are not available to me. I therefore ask that it be placed on the Notice Paper.
-Senator Mulvihill asked me a question about the increase in air travel and the effect on the passport service. As it happened, I had the information. I inform the Senate that coinciding with the introduction in February 1979 of substantially reduced international air fares between Australia and the United States of America and Australia and the United Kingdom, there has been a significant increase in applications for Australian passports. For the quarter ended 31 March of this year, 118,362
Australian passports were issued by officers throughout Australia. This figure represents an increase of 24 per cent over the number of passports issued in the corresponding period in 1978. It is anticipated that as cheaper fares become available on other international sectors there will be a continuing increase in the number of persons applying for passports. This part of the answer relates specifically to Senator Mulvihill ‘s question: The Government is aware of the possible effect this will have on the operating efficiency of passport offices throughout Australia. The developments in this area will be closely monitored with a view to ensuring that an acceptable level of service to the public is provided by passport issuing officers.
-Earlier today Senator Teague asked me a question about rural telephone costs, the cost of calls to essential local services and other related matters. I have had further advice on that matter which confirms that rural subscribers are continually making representations on this matter. I am also advised that there are 2,400 local charging zones in the national network. The Government has asked Telecom Australia to review and report on possible changes to this network. Matters of significance included in the study and still under review are local call availability to the nearest service centre in remote areas and the urban spread which is creating pressure to extend urban local call access in metropolitan fringe areas. The review is currently being completed by Telecom.
A major focus of attention this financial year which has been of benefit to subscribers seeking extended local call areas has been the adjustment of trunk rates. I made some general reference to that in my earlier answer. Reductions in the trunk rates for shorter distance calls were announced last July. Present indications are that it may be practicable to do something worth while for subscribers in some country areas, particularly for many of those who do not have access to a reasonable centre at local rates.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
I present Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1978-79 which, together with Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1978-79, 1 shall introduce shortly, comprises the additional Estimates for 1978-79. In these Bills, Parliament is asked to appropriate moneys to meet essential and unavoidable expenditures additional to the appropriations made under Appropriation Acts (Nos 1 and 2) 1978-79. The additional appropriations total $289.565m. Of this, $223.205m is sought in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and $66.360m in Appropriation Bill (No. 4).
The additional appropriations sought in the Bills are offset to some extent by savings in other appropriations made by Appropriation Acts (Nos 1 and 2), resulting partly from the Government’s determined efforts to achieve savings in expenditure wherever possible. These savings, amounting to $107. lm, are detailed under the relevant appropriation headings in a document which has been distributed to honourable senators.
Notwithstanding the additional appropriations now sought, current expectations are that total outlays in 1978-79, including those financed from special appropriations, will exceed the Budget estimate by only a relatively small margin. This reflects the Government’s continued adherence to its policy of restraint in public sector spending.
I now outline some of the main areas where the Government has found it necessary to seek additional appropriations in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1978-79. Honourable senators will recall that the Budget contained an allowance of $50m for prospective wage and salary rate increases in the Public Service but that that amount was not then appropriated. Parliament is now being asked to appropriate $43. 5m in respect of such increases since the Budget, and a further $ 1 2.4m is needed, mainly for essential staff increases, particularly in the Department of Social Security and as a consequence of the re-arrangement of departmental functions which took effect on 5 December 1 978. The appropriations for the latter purpose are offset by savings in the appropriations of the abolished departments.
Included under Administrative Expenses votes is $2. 9m for the Department of Transport due to increased activity, particularly in the air transport area, and cost increases; $4. 7m is required by the Attorney-General’s Department for legal aid payments to private legal practitioners, although a substantial portion is offset by savings in amounts appropriated for payments to State legal aid commissions, which will not now be spent due to delays in the commencement of some commissions.
Under the ‘Other Services’ heading, $16. 5m is sought for the Department of Defence for replacement equipment and stores and a further $48. 2m for new equipment and stores. Of the latter amount, $ 10.2m has been included for the purchase of two Boeing 707 aircraft for special transport purposes. This amount represents an addition to that which otherwise would have been decided upon by the Government for defence purposes.
An additional $3. 3m has been included for the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs for the extension of the Community Youth Support Scheme and $3.0m for the Department of Foreign Affairs for increased contributions to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees program of assistance for Indo-Chinese refugees.
Other provisions include: $2. 5m for the Australian National University for cost supplementation; $2.8m for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, mainly to meet the cost of national wage and other awards; and $3.8m for the Australian National Railways to meet interest charges on interest bearing advances. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
I present Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1978-79 in which appropriations totalling $66. 36m- additional to those made by Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1978-79- are sought for capital works and services, payments to or for the States, and other services. The proposed appropriations are needed to meet essential and unavoidable expenditures for which provision was not made in Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1978-79. I now mention some of the major items in respect of which additional appropriations are sought in the Bill.
An amount of $4. 14m is being provided as additional working capital for the Government Printer Trust Account to enable repayments to Consolidated Revenue of operational charges and other balances which have had to be withheld due to operational losses and working capital requirements; $3m will be provided as additional working capital for the Government Aircraft Factory to finance additional stocks of Nomad aircraft; $4.78m is being provided to accelerate the Tarcoola-Alice Springs Railway with a view to achieving completion by November 1980; $!2m is needed to meet the Commonwealth’s contribution towards natural disaster relief and restoration; $ 1 1 .Om is for payment to Medibank Private to assist in building up reserves and to ensure that the fund would continue to operate in the market place without further Commonwealth backing.
Other additional appropriations include $5. 6m for payment to the Housing and Construction Services Trust Account, representing the value of assets transferred to the Northern Territory under the self-government arrangements; $2. 25m for the Department of Productivity for the funding of public interest projects under the industrial research and development scheme; and $7. 7m for the Australian National Railways to meet accrued interest charges on borrowing from the Budget. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders Motion (by Senator Webster) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the Wine Grapes Levy Bill 1979, the Wine Grapes Levy Collection Bill 1979, the Wine Grapes Charges (Repeal) Bill 1979 and the Wine Overseas Marketing Amendment Bill 1979 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Motion (by Senator Webster) proposed: That the Bills be now read a first time.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
(Nos 1 to 5) 1979
Bills received from the House of Representatives.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion ( by Senator Webster) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the questions with regard to the several stages for the passage through the Senate of the Wool Industry Amendment Bill 1979 and the Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos 1 to 5) 1979 being put in one motion at each stage and the consideration of such Bills together in the Committee of the Whole.
Ordered that the Bills may be taken through all their stages without delay.
Motion (by Senator Webster) proposed: That the Bills bc now read a first time.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill 1979
Consideration resumed from 2 May.
Proposed new clause 23a.
CHAIRMAN- I remind the Committee that the consideration of clause 18 and two amendments moved thereto by Senator Evans has been postponed. The Committee is at present considering an amendment moved by Senator Evans to insert a new clause 23A. The question is: That the proposed clause be inserted in the Bill.
– I just want to say a brief word about this. It will be sensibly brief because Senator Evans has canvassed this proposed new amendment extensively. The essence of this amendment, I should remind the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), is that he should be satisfied on reasonable grounds that other lawful methods of investigation have proved insufficient. I want to make only a general comment by way of getting back into the spirit of this debate, which I think is most important. Opposition senators have continually expressed concern about the civil liberties aspect of this legislation. What we have sought to achieve by this amendment is a situation where the Attorney-General has to make a judgment about the circumstances in which he will issue a warrant and he has to make a judgment on the basis that he is satisfied that, firstly, other lawful methods of investigation have proved insufficient, or, secondly, that other lawful methods of investigation would prove quite impracticable. We have put the second part of that provision in because of the way we have approached the spirit of this legislation. The whole emphasis of the Opposition attack on it has been on the basis of the desirability of the protection of civil liberties at all costs unless the provision of adequate safeguards for civil liberties would render the legislation impracticable.
I mention that because we put it as a quite responsible approach that the legislation should not be rendered unworkable in any sense. But long before that point is reached, we emphasise again and again that the safeguards in relation to civil liberties issues are just not clearly spelt out in this Bill. That has been the basis of our whole opposition. Senator Evans, on the last occasion on which we met, canvassed a member of circumstances which illustrated the specifics of the point which I now seek to make generally. I reemphasise that it is the thrust of the Opposition’s amendments, and this particular amendment is illustrative of that point. If it seems to cast an onerous obligation on the Attorney-General, so be it, because he is the principal law officer of this country and he should discharge that obligation in the interests of Australian citizens who are threatened in any way by the provisions of this legislation.
– I want to raise one or two minor questions relating to the amendment, which I support, moved by Senator Evans. I think particularly the Senate ought to have regard for the more sophisticated methods of intelligence which have grown up since the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was established almost 30 years ago. If we look at what we have done in respect of clause 2 1 , we have in fact opened the door very widely to the introduction of the most sophisticated methods of listening devices, the means by which quite legitimate conversations can be the subject upon which a security body may, in pursuance of its normal operations, that is, putting legitimate political activity under surveillance and reporting upon it, utilise the sort of devices that are now available. I am sure the Parliament does not appreciate the extent of developments and sophistication that now exists in this area. I would be concerned, for example, if the reports that I have heard are true, that it is possible to record a conversation several hundred yards away. It may be an ordinary conversation or it may involve a political discussion which has absolutely no relationship to the security ofthe country.
Whilst it will be argued by the Government that with the sort of authority that is to be given to the Minister that sort of device may not be used, what the Government and ASIO require is a franchise that does not necessarily take in that new sophistication to which I have referred. I am not so sure about the way in which the Organisation has operated in the past. But the Parliament and the community at large are not entitled to say to the Minister that he shall accept the responsibility and not delegate it to somebody else. Of course, that is what clause 23 seeks to do, that is, to have authority delegated to the DirectorGeneral. As we have said in previous debates, Directors-General come and go. They are not directly accountable to the Parliament, whereas Ministers are. But I think there is a fair case to be made in favour of the Minister being the person who should have the authority, because he is the person responsible to the Parliament. If we find that he is too busy pursuing all his other activities as is the chief law officer of the Commonwealth, perhaps we need a special Minister for the purpose of protecting the citizens of this country from the sort of sophisticated prying and surveillance that are now so much a part of the whole security scene. I do not think we are gilding the lily with the sorts of devices, appliances, premises, et cetera which are envisaged in this Bill. They have been abused by intelligence organisations in other parts ofthe world.
I think that the American Senate has shown the way by placing considerable constraint upon the way in which not only the Central Intelligence Agency but also the Federal Bureau of Investigation operates in the internal and external security areas of that country. What worries many citizens in this country, particularly those concerned with civil liberties, is that we have not really learnt very much from those important Senate considerations of the way in which security organisations have, in fact, broken the law and placed in jeopardy the futures and careers of people legitimately involved in political activities. It is argued by people like Senator Puplick and Senator Hamer that if the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has a dossier on somebody it does not mean very much; it is not important. But I can imagine members of the conservative parties not being concerned about ASIO having a dossier on them. The security organisation does not look at those sorts of people. It concerns itself with those who are considered to be on the radical side of politics. As we well know, that can embrace people who are one degree left of centre to those on the far Left to whom my colleagues have referred from time to time. I have no doubt that dossiers on tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people in this country are held, if not by ASIO, by some other organisation. ASIO says that it does not have dossiers on politicians or such classes of people. I believe that they exist. If they do not exist at one level they exist at another because we have a scattering of security organisations operating in Australia. In fact, this Government has been associated with a proliferation of them rather than a coming together of them, which has been suggested as one of the features of this piece of legislation. Of course, the States have their police special branches. Police commissioners in the States, including my own State, have very dogmatic views and try to set themselves up above the law.
We do not have a great deal of confidence that if the Government passes authority on to the Director-General it will be a good thing from the point of view of legitimate political activity and the civil rights and liberties of people. I do not believe that the Government or the Minister can say that the exercise of authority is too much of a load to carry. I suppose that that is virtually what he implies when he wants to delegate authority to the Director-General. He does not want to accept the responsibility. We want the Government and the Attorney-General to accept the responsibility. I expect that the AttorneyGeneral probably would not transgress in this area. I think he would seek to be satisfied that all the other methods of investigation suggested in our amendment had been taken through the hoops before he applied the sorts of devices to which I am referring. 1 suggest that the Minister ought not to be too backward in accepting the sorts of responsibilities that his office demands. He may find that it is too onerous to handle the multiplicity of matters involved. I think my colleague, Senator Evans, in one of his contributions to the debate has referred to the number of warrants that are issued and the number of approvals that are made. They must make administration a difficult task. We must also consider the periods of time and whether warrants should lie on the table for three months, six months or even longer.
These are matters which surely ought not be left in the province of a public servant, certainly not in the province of an intelligence organisation which, as disclosed in the report of Mr Justice Hope, admits grave dereliction of duty and grave breaches in carrying out its responsibilities.
Of course, the legislation is designed to regularise the affairs of ASIO. Of course, it is a postoperative piece of legislation because, in fact, what was previously illegal this Bill seeks to make legal. That is not a very satisfactory state of affairs when those who have acted illegally have been told nothing about it, they have not been brought to book, they have not been disciplined, the community does not know which officers transgressed and the Parliament has not been told. If there is to be any confidence in the Organisation it certainly will not come from this side of the chamber or from those sections of the Australian community concerned with civil liberties. I hope that they constitute a growing band of people. There is some evidence that even many lawyers who hitherto have kept themselves free from concern about civil liberties are showing a greater interest in the protection of civil liberties. In fact, the establishment by State parliaments of privacy committees and greater activity by Attorneys-General collectively and in their individual State capacities indicate that we are moving into an area of computers and surveillance by devices which imperil the whole fabric of our democratic way of life. 1 cannot understand, except for the weight of the applications, why the Government should take the view that it should delegate authority to the Director-General. If it is conceded that the Attorney-General is a very busy person- and we do not contest that view- he surely will not say in the next breath that the Director-General is not also a busy person. Does that mean that the Director-General, whose activities are not under the control of this Parliament or that the Australian community, can, because of the way in which he operates- I do not suppose many of us know the way in which he operates- delegate authority in the way that has created problems in the past?
I urge the Minister to appreciate the concern that exists about this area and to give very serious consideration to the insertion of proposed clause 23A. The Opposition holds very strongly to the view that the Minister must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that all the other lawful methods of investigation have proved insufficient and that it would be impractical to obtain the information in the normal way. Although none of us can claim to be specialists in security and surveillance matters these days, I think there is enough evidence to show that the Bill gives a very wide jurisdiction. It is one area about which we would have grave misgivings unless the Minister were prepared to accept the responsibility. I imagine that it would be better to provide for the Minister to be able to say that he wants to depute somebody from his own staff to act in certain ways rather than to leave the provision as it is expressed in clause 23 and gives the DirectorGeneral full power and authority to act in the way suggested. After all, clause 23 refers not only to the Director-General but also to persons approved by him. The delegation is there. I hope that the Parliament, and particularly the Senate will agree that that delegation should be in the hands of the Minister.
-The Opposition is pressing this amendment, which admittedly is of an unusual kind. We are asking the Attorney-General to exhaust every other legal and practicable means of obtaining information before he issues a warrant. After all, the Opposition would not have pressed this amendment had the Government accepted earlier proposals put forward in good faith by the Opposition in order to ensure that an organisation of integrity emerges as a result of the passage of this legislation.
Let me remind honourable senators of the three main areas of opposition from this side of the chamber to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill. The first category relates to accountability. The Government rejected our very reasonable proposal as to accountability to the Parliament directly through an annual report containing the numbers of warrants issued in relation to various sectors such as listening devices, opening of mail and so on. It rejected our proposal that provision for a judicial audit be written into the Bill. The proposal would have ensured fair-minded judicial scrutiny of the actual day-to-day operations and files of ASIO. Our proposal for a financial audit was rejected. Our proposal that the Minister be more closely informed by the Director-General was rejected. All our reasonable proposals were rejected, including of course the proposal that the Leader of the Opposition be provided with the annual report of ASIO, that such a provision be written into the Bill, so that the furnishing of the annual report be not merely dependent upon the goodwill of the incumbent of the day. All our proposals to make ASIO more accountable to the Australian people, because it exercises these extraordinary powers, were rejected.
The second main category of our objection to the Bill as drafted was as to the event which triggers the exercise of these extraordinary powers. We put to the Government proposals to tighten up the definition of what constitutes subversive activity. We found that the proposals, rather than being accepted by the Government, were rejected. We were left convinced that innocent political activity- innocent, that is, either of ending in violent overthrow of a government or of means which were violent- could come under the definition of surveillance activity. In rejecting that amendment the Government, as honourable senators will recall, has left an officer of ASIO with power to look at an activity at a certain time and prophesy that ultimately it is likely to lead to a situation of violence, even though it is not intended or a purpose of the current activity. We felt that that position was so dangerous that we were obliged to urge that further constraints concerning the actual exercise of powers be written into the Bill.
In other words, our three main categories of objection to the Bill- accountability, the trigger mechanism which sets the powers in motion, and the powers themselves- are in a sort of descending order. The greater the accountability, the tighter the definition of subversive activity, the more readily the Opposition might have accepted the exercise of powers as contained in the Bill. But because of the Government’s rejection of our accountability proposals, because of the Government’s rejection of our suggestion for the tightening of the definition of subversive activity, the Opposition feels obliged to say to the Attorney-General that when warrants are issued to carry out a search of premises of Australian citizens who are not guilty of offences, to open their mail and to intercept telephonic communications, the Attorney ought to satisfy himself that every alternative legal and practicable step has been taken to obtain the information which is sought.
I totally reject Senator Puplick ‘s suggestion made in the debate on this amendment late last Wednesday night that the first law officer of the Crown could say, in accordance with the way the amendment is drafted, that he had been satisfied that all reasonable, practicable and legal steps had been exhausted. Such an approach by the Attorney-General to a statutorily imposed duty needs only to be stated to be rejected. I for one do not believe that an Attorney-General, from whichever side of the chamber he comes, would so lightly regard the duty cast upon him by this amendment. We recognise the amendment to be unusual and onerous, but we contend that it is necessary given the rejection of earlier reasonable amendments put by the Opposition.
– The Australian Democrats support the Labor Party’s attempt to salvage some rags of sense and honesty from the Committee stage of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill. The Bill already has been exposed as a slovenly, thoughtless and dangerous piece of legislation which the Government, I believe, is too indolent to consider seriously in all its implications. This has been revealed by the performance of the Government in considering the proposed amendments that have been moved in the Senate. I believe that from the point of view of the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats there might have been a general bipartisan view of this Bill. If there is not, be it on the head of the Government. The Government has destroyed such a possibility by its refusal to allow reasonable and sensible changes to be made to this Bill. I feel that very strongly.
The Attorney-General (Senator Durack) might have noticed editorial comments in those dangerous left wing periodicals, the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, objecting to many aspects of this Bill. He might also have noticed that the radical revolutionary Robert Milliken expressed some objections to which our leading periodical of the underground Press, the National Times, devoted not less than one page. I would say that those objections covered the reasonable and considered viewpoints of a large number of Australians. Since I have been concerned with this matter I have received feedback from many people on a letter I wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald. They include people with whom the Attorney-General might be glad enough to have a drink. I refer to people of his own profession, not radicals or left wingers but people from the North Shore and the eastern suburbs of Sydney who are deeply concerned about aspects of this Bill. They say that the Government has not done its duty and that it has failed to look seriously and responsibly at the matter.
The Australian Democrats want an honest, useful and effective security organisation in this country. I do the Labor Party the justice of believing that it also wants such an organisation. It is reasonable and sensible that we should have one. But we do not want an organisation of little people with God knows what unhealthy motivations and malices, people who are able behind a veil of secrecy to persecute ordinary, decent Australians who have reasonable grounds for dissent. The Attorney-General has given a blueprint for such action in this Bill, and I hope that at some stage, if not here then at least in the other place, enough sense will be got through to the Minister’s party to enable it to realise that. I can assure him that it is the view of many Australians. If we are to get through the crises that will confront us in the next decade, surely we must have freedom to express reasonably our dissent and our differences of viewpoint. I know that I am out of order by referring to clause 5 which deals with the ridiculous definition of subversion- somebody blowing his nose might be subversive if he did it in a certain circumstance- and clause 8, with its unbearable and unreasonable load of responsibility on the Director-General. I only hope that, if the Government wants bipartisan support, something will happen after the Bill leaves this place and goes to the other one.
I believe that the Committee stage of this Bill has become a mockery. There is no reason for it. It has been a waste of time because the Government has refused to accept reasonable arguments from the Labor Party and, to some extent, from ourselves as to why the Bill should be amended. It is our view, quite strongly, that the Bill should be referred to a committee which can go back to the Australian community and seek its views in a responsible, reasonable and orderly fashion over a period. The Australian Democrats support the initiative of the Labor Party in that direction.
– Having listened to Senator Mason’s contribution to the debate on this amendment, one would have thought that he was opposing all these clauses which in fact the Opposition is not opposing. But the logic of his somewhat impassioned intervention in this Committee debate would seem to me to indicate that he is really opposed to the special powers in this Division of the Bill. So I must say that I think it is rather strange that he should simply be contenting himself with supporting this amendment. The Government is not prepared to accept this amendment. In my view, the amendment is based on a confusion of the roles of the DirectorGeneral and the Minister who has the responsibility for the legislation and who, of course, at present under administrative arrangement order, is the Attorney-General. We have had discussions previously about this amendment and the other amendments that have been moved. The Opposition does not seem to appreciate that what we are doing here is establishing an independent organisation under a DirectorGeneral and that it is the responsibility of the Director-General to be concerned with the way in which the organisation operates and with its methods which are subject, of course, to the law as provided in the legislation and to the law of the land generally.
This Division provides some special powers. Of course there are powers in related legislation such as the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill which we are debating cognately with this Bill. These special powers are provided on the basis that a case for their being exercised is made out to the Minister. Specifically in the case of telephone interception, a case has to be made out to the Attorney-General. But that does not require the Attorney-General or the Minister, whoever he might be, to be connected intimately with the way in which the organisation operates. However, he does have to be concerned that the statutory requirements are met. He has to be concerned, of course, with the general question of civil liberties which will be affected by the warrant that is sought from him.
What this amendment seeks is for the Minister concerned to have to investigate in some detail the methods of operation of the organisation in order to satisfy himself that other methods have proved insufficient or in normal circumstances would prove quite impractical as a means of obtaining information. In order to do so, this would necessarily require him to become involved in considerable detail in the way in which the organisation operates. As I have said, under this legislation, that would be the responsibility of the Director-General. I would expect that the Minister or the Attorney-General would have some broad interests in these matters and would discuss with the Director-General or other officers the grounds on which and the circumstances in which special powers would be sought, and so on. But actually to impose a statutory requirement on the Minister to become involved in each and every application, to become involved in the considerable detail of the organisation, is, I believe, contrary to the scheme of the legislation which places those responsibilities on the Director-General. Furthermore, it would impose an enormous burden on the Minister or the Attorney-General. In that case, it seems to me that what the Opposition really wants is some sort of super Director-General who would be required to be constantly looking over the shoulder ofthe Director-General and his officers. I suppose that if we were to agree to such a provision, the Opposition would still not be satisfied. It would want somebody else to be looking over that person ‘s shoulder. That is the way the Opposition thinks. It really does not trust anybody in this area.
– We don’t trust them because of the way they have acted in the past. They have broken every rule in the book in the past.
– Well, those are the views of Senator Gietzelt. We have heard them ad nauseam in this debate. Mr Temporary Chairman, for those reasons the Government is not prepared to agree to this amendment.
-Lest silence be taken as consent to the last contribution by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack), let me say, on behalf of the Opposition and as the mover of this amendment, that the Attorney-General’s speech represents what I can regard only as a quite deliberate, and for that reason, disgraceful misrepresentation of the effect of the Bill as it stands. Generally speaking, the Bill does, as the Minister said, vest specific functions in the Director-General as to the matters of detailed administration for which the Act provides, leaving the Minister’s role as one of general accountability, one hopes, for what the Director-General and the officers of the organisation do. True enough, overall that is the scheme of the Bill, but this Division of the Bill at which we are looking now- Division 2 of Part III- the special powers division of the Bill- does not operate that way. This division, with the exception of the emergency power provision- let us leave that to one side and deal with it when we come to it- operates quite explicitly and directly to vest powers not in the Director-General, with only a supervisory role for the Minister, but in the Minister himself. The way the Bill is cast at the moment, a direct statutory responsibility to make decisions about the issuing of these warrants and actually to issue the warrants is vested in the Minister himself. Under those circumstances, it is incumbent upon this Parliament to be satisfied that the guidelines provided in the Bill as to the way in which the Minister does exercise those powers are in fact satisfactory and do spell out all the considerations which should be present to the Minister’s mind.
What does the Bill do in this respect and what does it not do? Clearly, what it does not do, and what this amendment is designed to correct, is to specify quite directly and explicitly some of the, as it were, civil libertarian considerations which ought to be present in the Minister’s mind before issuing warrants of the draconian effect that these warrants over search and seizure powers, inspection of the mails and the installation of listening devices actually represent. The clauses of the Bill dealing with the Minister’s power and responsibilities in this respect do not spell out any requirement at all that the Minister pay regard to the competing considerations of civil liberties, or that the citizen not be unnecessarily subjected to harassment by these surveillance and investigatory techniques. The Bill is entirely silent on that question. It may be that a Minister ofthe day would pay attention to those considerations, but the Bill does not require him to do so, and we say that the Bill ought to contain a requirement to that effect. What the Bill does in respect of each of these warrants is to impose certain criteria of a different kind about which the Minister has to be satisfied. For example, clause 24 ( 1 ) relating to the issue of search warrants states:
Where, upon receipt by the Minister of a request by the Director-General Tor the issue of a warrant under this section, the Minister is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that there are in any premises any records without access to which by the Organization the collection of intelligence by the Organization in accordance with this Act in respect of a matter that is important in relation to security would bc seriously impaired, the Minister may, by warrant under his hand, authorise the Organization to do such of the following acts-
Various acts are then set out. The Bill, as it stands at the moment, requires the Minister to direct his mind specifically to certain facts such as whether there are on premises records of the kind in which the Organization has an interest and whether there are reasonable grounds supporting the assertions put to him by the DirectorGeneral. That is as far as the Bill goes. It specifies certain things about which the Minister should be satisfied on reasonable grounds but it stops there. That is important to bear in mind for two reasons: One is the mere fact that the Bill states that the Minister should take these considerations, but no others into account. That might be construed by the Minister of the day as a statutory direction that he take only these considerations into account and not concern himself with other considerations of principle or civil liberty. It is the expressio unius principle if the AttorneyGeneral is familiar with that concept. That is one thing to bear in mind about the operation of this clause as it stands. It is important that that set of directions as to what he should take into account be balanced by the other directions which we say he should take into account.
The second and final thing to notice about the operation of this clause is that as it stands at the moment it already imposes significantly onerous burdens upon the Attorney of the day. He is not sitting in his office, as he may prefer to do, acting as a rubber stamp approving the requests for warrants pushed to him by the Director-General of the day. He is given the function of addressing his mind to whether there are reasonable grounds for the Organization’s belief in the existence of these records and their necessity to be obtained for intelligence purposes. One would have thought that any responsible Attorney would respond to that statutory obligation by treating the responsibility vested in him by that language as a very serious one, giving it detailed and proper consideration and making an informed decision only if he feels properly informed on that basis because of that obligation.
What I am trying to say in a nutshell is that the Bill, as it stands at the moment, imposes onerous obligations on a Minister who would be acting in breach of the responsibilities cast upon him by the Bill if he ignored the requirements that he pay attention to these considerations. Surely it is only just, proper, correct and sensible that in all the circumstances the Bill should take the small additional step, which the Minister has said that in practice he will take anyway, and satisfy himself about the civil liberties implications of the step in question. We say that the Bill should take that extra step and require the Minister to pay attention to additional considerations which could very easily form part of the material in short compass that is put before him by the Organisation. He should accept the requirement in the way the Bill is drawn that he also pay attention to these considerations. That is not an excessively onerous burden. If he is not prepared to accept it, he should relinquish his portfolio.
– I rise to speak on this clause in view of the remarks by the Attorney-General (Senator
Durack) in reply to Senator Mason. Although the Opposition is not opposing all the clauses of the Bill, I would not like the Minister to think that we agree with them. Personally, I do not. Whilst not agreeing with them, I agree that they are part of the Bill and that we have to put up with them. We have to make them as practicable as possible while protecting civil liberties. The Minister said that the Opposition does not trust anyone. Surely we are not building legislation on the trust that we place in officials. Legislation must be passed for the purpose of directing officials. It should not be drafted on the basis of trust. By saying that we want the officials directed, we do not mean that we mistrust them. Some officials may justify such mistrust but legislation should be drafted on the basis of what the Parliament desires officials to do, whether it trusts them or mistrusts them. I do not think that sufficient importance has been attached to the powers that the amendment seeks to grant within reasonable limits. Possibly, it would be wrong to insert a new clause 23A after clause 23 which states:
The authority of the Organization under a warrant issued under this Division shall be exercised on behalf of the Organization only by the Director-General . . .
It would seem more appropriate to me for the amendment to be inserted at the beginning or end of the Division. It is intended to affect the activities of the Minister in the issuing of a warrant, not only in relation to clause 23 but also in relation to the whole of the Division. The Minister, of course, can issue a warrant for the Organisation to act. Clause 24(1) (a) concerns the authorisation of the Organisation to enter premises. A policeman goes to a person’s home- he would go to many homes during the performance of his duties- and says: ‘We have had a complaint about one of your children. Can we see his room?’ The average citizen would say: Yes, come in’. The information the policeman may want is either obtainable or it is not obtainable. The Government now wants to confront the householder with a warrant when it may not be necessary to issue a warrant. That is our fear about this position. Clause 24 ( 1 ) (b) states:
This amounts to the raiding of offices. It is just possible that many times on approaching the occupier, he would supply the documents that the Security Organisation wanted. But we are now to insist on the organisation seeking a warrant when it could obtain the information it requires by lawful means. Clause 24 ( 1 ) (c) states:
Copies could well be supplied by the holder of the records. Clause 24 ( 1 ) (d) states:
Of course, the officer could seriously disadvantage the operation of the occupier of the premises which he has raided by taking his records and leaving him without the necessary evidence to defend his reasons for having them. Perhaps some records could not be obtained without a warrant issued for the purpose of seizing them. But the amendment proposes that the Minister has to be satisfied that they cannot be obtained by other means. Is this too much to ask? At least let us try to move lawfully without the threat of a warrant. Clause 25 (3) states:
Where, upon receipt by the Minister of a request by the Director-General for the issue of a warrant under this section authorizing the use of a listening device in relation to a particular person, the Minister is satisfied thalia) that person is engaged in, or is reasonably suspected by the Director-General of being engaged in, or of being likely to engage in, activities prejudicial to security; and
the use by the Organization of a listening device to listen to or record words spoken by or to that person-
Again the provision does not refer to a person who is engaged in activities prejudicial to security. The clause relates to a person who in the opinion of the Director-General is likely to be engaged in these activities, in which case a warrant may be issued to authorise the use of a listening device. Clause 25(4) reads:
Where . . . the Minister is satisfied that-
those premises are used, likely to be used or frequented by a person engaged in, or reasonably suspected by the Director-General of being engaged in or of being likely to engage in, activities prejudicial to security-
If I am reasonably suspected by the DirectorGeneral of being engaged in or of being likely to engage in these sorts of activities and I frequent certain premises or I am likely to frequent them, under this clause the Minister may issue a warrant to authorise the use of a listening device. The premises may be a hotel bar next to the Trades Hall. The listening device would provide not only information from my conversation but also the domestic talk on work, companionship and information on trade union activity related by everyone who assembles in a corner of the bar. The premises may be a meeting place for unionists. I may not be present but because I am likely to be there a warrant can be issued for the use of a listening device to hear everything that is said by every conscientious member attending that meeting even though their activities are considered not to be detrimental to security. The information that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation may be anxious to find out could possibly be given by myself upon a request, and that is all the Opposition’s amendment seeks. We say that if the information cannot be obtained by other lawful methods, a warrant may be issued.
I think that ASIO should make every attempt by other lawful methods to get the information it requires. If ASIO has to have the information, it should apply for a warrant when there is no alternative to breaking in, taking people’s files, listening in to conversations and the putting of listening devices in public places through which ASIO hears not only the voice of the person under investigation but also every other voice that comes within the speaking range of the concealed microphone. All that the Opposition’s amendment seeks to do is to ensure that the Minister does not issue a warrant until he is satisfied that all other lawful methods have proved insufficient. This clause will give him power to issue a warrant to obtain information which could be obtained by means other than through the issue of a warrant to enable the forcible entry to premises, the seizing of documents, the inspection of files and the taking of records from premises. He want this power so that he can use it in circumstances in which the information could be obtained by other methods. If this is linked with the non-disclosure of security personnel it will be seen that there is a desire to keep secret under the protection of a warrant the identity of the person who is seeking the security information from the files or the premises. I can see no justification for the Minister not to accept this amendment.
– The reply of the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) to the consideration of this matter is a quite disturbing response to what I consider to be valid objections which the Opposition has put forward for his consideration. It is true that it has been a fairly lengthy and, in the Government’s view, obviously tedious debate. But it has been a very desirable debate. One aspect about the debate that ought to be referred to is that every time the Committee has met to discuss important clauses of the legislation Government senators have been absent. One or two notable exceptions are Senator Missen, Senator Puplick and perhaps, occasionally, the
Whip or the Deputy Whip. The feature of the debate has been the complete failure of Government Ministers to participate in the debate.
– Even Missen and Puplick have run for cover.
– Even the two mock heroes are missing, although I must admit that Senator Missen is absent because of illness. That has been a feature of the debate. We are involved in an exercise in which the tyranny of the majority will be imposed regardless of the arguments that the Opposition puts up, regardless of the public comment in the newspapers and in other areas of concern within the Australian community. Even though other areas of this legislation do in fact tie the Minister very intimately into the process of the issue of warrants, when it comes to this very clause of the legislation which widens the power to issue warrants the Minister stands pat. He is not prepared in any way, shape or form to be flexible or to reach a compromise despite the other clauses of the legislation which place him in a position in which he occupies a supervisory role. Why is this? Why is it that on this question, in respect of which there have been flagrant breaches in the past, the Minister is refusing to give any serious consideration to our point of view? After all, what we are saying is that a warrant may be issued when other lawful methods of investigation have proved insufficient. It is only in areas of extraordinary development in a situation that may be related to security that the Minister would, in accordance with the Opposition’s proposed new clause 23a, have some supervisory role to exercise on behalf of the Director-General. The Minister in fact will be acting as a custodian of human rights and civil liberties. He will be protecting the community and he will be protecting the individual by being satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that all other steps have been taken to collect this sort of information, before he authorises the use of a listening device or takes these extraordinary steps that are provided for in clause 24. All the established procedures upon which our country’s rights have been enshrined- I refer to existing rights to enter premises, to search them, to inspect them, to remove documents, to break and enter, virtuallyare going to be -
– Legal burglary.
– Legal burglary. That is a good description. Such breaches have occurred in the past. Yet the legislation says that in the performance of his functions the DirectorGeneral is subject to the general directions of the
Minister. It is true there are qualifications; the Minister cannot override the opinion of the Director-General. That is a pretty wide jurisdiction that the legislation gives to the DirectorGeneral. Under clause 24, the Minister has a certain obligation and right to act to exercise discretion. The Opposition’s proposed new clause 23A provides that the Minister has to be satisfied that all other lawful methods of investigation have proved insufficient and that there is no other course of action available to the Director-General, and at that point the Minister shall be the one to be consulted. The Minister does not agree with our amendment. In defending that point of view, he has the audacity to attack the integrity of Opposition speakers and to suggest that we are not concerned about the rights of individuals or communities or the security of the country despite the fact that we have gone to extraordinary steps in trying to play a positive role in this discussion. I would say that our record in this matter is considerably better than that of Government senators. One would have thought that those who claim to represent the Liberal point of view in its real sense in our community would share the Opposition’s concern, that the Attorney-General would share our concern and would not want to be in the position of passing the buck to the Director-General or being just a rubber stamp. We are aware that this has happened in the past.
We know there have been flagrant breaches in the way in which ASIO has operated and that the biggest part of its endeavours have been against one section of the Australian community. A colonel from Vietnam has been granted asylum in Australia and is involved in terror tactics against legitimate activities in raising funds in Sydney to assist the people of Vietnam. 1 wonder whether the Director-General has been watching the activities of that particular gentleman, or are we still concerned with what Bobby Gould is doing or what the Socialist Left Alliance or some other organisation is doing? I ask this question because of the way in which ASIO has operated in the past. The Opposition knows these things. We remember how certain people in ASIO sought to sell or give information for the purpose of publication through the agency of the former Leader of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, Mr Coleman. We recognise that the Government is seeking to close off that escape hatch, that leakage of information, but the fact is that it has happened in the past. We make no bones of the fact that we are very suspicious about many aspects of this Bill which does not place ASIO in a position of public accountability to this Parliament.
Rather than the Attorney-General making critical comments about the motivation of the Opposition and about the contribution of the Australian Democrats to this debate, I believe he should have looked more closely at what we are trying to do and should accept this responsibility. I The does not accept it then let him make way for somebody else, because in the pursuance of clauses 23, 24 and 25, the Government is breaking a considerable amount of new ground in the whole area of democratic rights in this country. If this Bill is passed in this place and in the House of Representatives it will establish for all time the right of a security organisation and its officers to break and enter premises and to take documents- as Senator Cavanagh said- without even a mere request. This can be done simply because the Director-General or one of his officers believes that someone may be involved in domestic subversion. People in the past have put a very wide definition on domestic subversion. I believe there would be people in Queensland who would regard the activities of Senator Bonner if he opposed certain pieces of legislation in his own State–
– Not these days though, would they?
– Yes, they would. There are people in the community and in the security organisation who would say that Senator Bonner, when engaging in what I would call legitimate political activity, was engaged in domestic subversion in opposing Government legislation, maybe even his own government’s legislations. The Opposition wants to establish safeguards beyond all reasonable doubt in respect of domestic surveillance, and yet the Attorney-General has the temerity to suggest that we are, in his words, wasting time, that we are not involved in a conscious effort to establish every possible safeguard. One of the ways to establish the safeguards is for the Minister to accept clause 23a.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Clause 24 agreed to.
Clause 25 (Use of listening devices).
– I move:
The effect of this amendment is to substitute the expression ‘90 days’ for the time period of 6 months which presently operates in clause 25 in respect of listening devices. It will be appreciated that this is an amendment of relatively limited effect. The Opposition has been prepared to accept the notion that in appropriate circumstances the installation of listening devices is one of the weapons that might properly be employed in securing the security of the nation. I must confess that it is an approach that the Opposition is becoming steadily less inclined to accept as the evening wears on and the Attorney-General’s and the Government’s recalcitrance becomes more and more apparent in respect of what we have been insisting throughout this debate are necessary and proper safeguards which must govern the exercise of these extremely wideranging powers.
Nonetheless, we do pursue the particularly moderate amendment that we have tabled. The effect of it is to bring the time period in respect of listening devices back into line with that which is specified in the Bill itself in respect of the interception of postal articles, the warrants for which are limited to 90 days’ duration by virtue of the operation of clause 26 (4) of the Bill. I foreshadow now that it is our intention to move an amendment to the appropriate provisions of the Telecommunications (Interception) Bill and to limit there the period in respect of which telephone taps can be applied, again back from 6 months to 90 days. The arguments in support of this amendment are essentially those which the Opposition has already articulated in respect of the previous amendment before us, namely, the proposed new clause 23A.
In essence the central argument is that the powers in question, and in particular, of course, the powers to install a listening device, are draconic ones of potentially extremely farreaching application. In speaking in support of clause 23a I indicated what our state of knowledge is about the likely number of persons and conversations that might be expected to be picked up and recorded if clauses like this are to become law and listening devices are to be installed and telephones tapped as a routine investigative device by the security services. We are not talking simply of dozens of people or even scores of people but are talking about each year thousands of people and scores of thousands of different conversations being intercepted and recorded by the security service, with all the implications that that state of affairs has for the condition of privacy and the condition of civil liberty in this country. I think the points have been made adequately under previous clauses without the necessity to repeat them here.
Might I add again, repeating the kind of argument that Senator Tate outlined so effectively tonight, that our insistence upon amendments of this kind becomes the more acute the more the Government retreats from an acceptance of the other safeguard mechanisms that we have been proposing throughout. Our worry about the misapplication of the listening device warrant power becomes so much more acute by virtue of the rejection which the Government has just made of our proposed new clause 23a which would at least have had the effect of ensuring that listening devices were not installed until other less extreme investigative measures had been employed and found wanting or impracticable. The Government’s unwillingness to accept any threshold requirement of this kind means that measures such as listening device warrants will not become investigative measures of last resort as the Opposition would wish but routine measures of first resort. That consideration makes it so much more important that within the text of the description in the Bill of these powers themselves there be some greater degree of safeguard governing their exercise than appears in the Bill at the moment.
As I have indicated the amendment that we seek in respect of clause 25 is a relatively moderate one. We are not insisting that listening devices not be installed at all. We are not insisting that they be installed only for periods of one week, 48 hours or 24 hours. We acknowledge that the logistical difficulties associated with the use of these devices necessitates reasonably that they have some period of operation if they are perhaps to be effective at all in securing the legitimate ends for which they might be employed. But we take the view that a period of 90 days or three months- a period which the Government has itself employed in respect of certain other classes of special powers, in particular, the power relating to the interception of postal articles- as the initial maximum period is a period which the Government ought to be prepared to accept as a proper limitation on the perhaps casual, cavalier or unthinking exercise of these powers.
All that this amendment would do would be to force a reappraisal of the necessity, the efficacy or the desirability of the agency employing the technique in question when a period of three months had expired. We do not seek to make it impossible for a warrant to be renewed for a further period after the initial 90 days. We appreciate that there may be circumstances in which the Minister, on reasonable grounds on the material that is put before him by the Director-General, can be satisfied that there is a basis for such an extension. All we argue for is the incorporation of a provision, in this case an amendment, which guarantees that the ministerial mind shall be focused upon the arguments for and against the issue and continuance of the issuing of the particular kind of warrant and that the warrants shall not routinely become applicable for periods as long as six months, which one rather suspects is the case at the moment under the existing telephone tapping legislation.
There are, of course, many who may think that an amendment of this kind does not go far enough in respect of a clause as enormously wide reaching as clause 25 is in respect of listening devices. I can well understand that reaction. I can particularly understand that reaction in the light of what is fast becoming apparent as an exhaustion of any willingness on the part of the Minister or on the part of the Government to take seriously the Opposition’s amendments which are tabled and remain to be debated. It has become apparent already from the Minister’s attitude in his contribution tonight that the Government is no longer prepared to even maintain the pretence of a bipartisan approach, if one was ever possible, to this legislation. 1 fully endorse the earlier remarks of Senator Mason in this respect.
As Senator Button and others have indicated in the course of this debate, throughout the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation debate, as long and grinding as it may have been, the Opposition has adopted a moderate, positive, responsible attitude to this legislation. It would have been very easy and perhaps would have satisfied expectations in certain quarters of the community had we simply retreated to histrionics and to a general rejection of this legislation and all its works. We have not adopted that attitude at any stage. We have taken the legislation as being a necessary evil and have directed all our amendments to the area of improving that legislation and surrounding it and permeating it with the kind of safeguards which would make it, whilst still workable and serving its purpose, nonetheless legislation which is not fraught with the possibility of misuse in the way which was so obviously the case with the previous legislation.
If the Government is to persist and the Minister is to persist with the kind of attitude he demonstrated earlier tonight, the Opposition can hardly be blamed- I hope this will not be the case; it is certainly not the case in any of the amendments which remain to be considered- if it retreats from the constructive position it has adopted so far to a position of negative intransigence in the face of the Government’s attitude. Bearing those considerations in mind, whatever the Minister’s previous disposition may have been when he came into the chamber tonight about accepting the Opposition’s amendments, might I urge him to consider seriously and carefully once more the Opposition’s amendments and, in particular, the amendment to clause 25 which is before him now.
– I support the amendment, which proposes a reduction in the six months at present provided for in the Bill as the specified period for which a warrant may remain in force. But I would not like any remarks of mine to be taken as indicating that I agree with a warrant authorising the use of listening devices remaining in force for even the 90 days proposed in the amendment. Therefore I will not touch on that matter at all. I would seek from the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) some information on sub-clause (4) clause 25. It states:
Where, upon receipt by the Minister of a request by the Director-General Tor the issue of a warrant under this section authorising the use of a listening device in relation to particular premises, the Minister is satisfied that-
those premises are used, likely to be used -
I place particular emphasis on the fact that the Minister does not of necessity have to be satisfied that they are used; he may only have to be satisfied that they are likely to be used- or frequented by a person engaged in, or reasonably suspected by the Director-General of being engaged in or of being likely to engage in, activities prejudicial to security; and
This relates to premises likely to be used by a person likely to be engaged in activities prejudicial to security, so it has a wide range. A suspected person may not be engaged in and may never be likely to engage in such activities. He may not frequent or be likely to frequent such premises. The sub-clause goes on:
Again the word ‘likely’ is used. The sub-clause continues: the Minister may, by warrant under his hand, authorise the Organisation, subject to any conditions or restrictions that arc specified in the warrant, to use a listening device for the purpose of listening to or recording words spoken by or to any person - it is wide ranging- while the person is in those premises and such a warrant may authorise the Organisation to enter those premises for the purpose of installing, maintaining, using or recovering a listening device.
I have already given two instances of the possibility of a person engaged in legitimate activity coming under suspicion. I add now that suspected premises could be a person’s home. However it is more likely that the place to be bugged is a hotel bar or, if a member of a particular union is under surveillance, the place where union meetings take place. It could be the union office because a member may attend there. The listening device is of value and can be used only while the person is on those premises. How does the Organisation know when a person will be on the premises? Under this clause it must listen for perhaps six months, and if the amendment is carried it must listen for perhaps 90 days, because a person may attend the premises on one of the days of that month, or for an hour in the period of six months. A listening device will operate for a period of six months, when it is not known whether the person is on the premises, listening to every conversation in the hope that the person will put through a call. This clause gives too wide a power to the Minister, or anyone else, to issue a warrant simply in order to get a snippet of conversation in the brief period during which the person is on the premises.
– The particular matter dealt with in clause 25, as well as the matter dealt with in the Opposition amendment, is the whole issue of the use of listening devices, and the question whether the warrant specified in sub-clause 6 of clause 25 should extend for a period not exceeding six months as it proposed in the legislation or for a period not exceeding 90 days, as is proposed in the Opposition amendment. The first thing to which I wish to address myself is the question of the use of listening devices. In the Law Reform Commission report on criminal investigation the question of listening devices is dealt with at some length, and in paragraph 213 the Commission states:
The present federal law -
That is essentially the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act- has been criticised on a number of grounds. First, under the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act, surveillance for the purpose of national security is not subject to any judicial control. The risk of abuse may bc increased by the very wide definition ofthe security of the Commonwealth’ in s. 3 of that Act.
The extent to which the concept ofthe security of the Commonwealth and what constitutes a security risk, acts of terrorism or subversion, is more precisely defined in this piece of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation legislation seems to go a long way towards meeting the criticisms levelled there. The report continues:
Secondly, the use of listening devices other than those related to the interception of telephonic communications is not covered.
Because this piece of legislation relates not only to telephonic communications but also to listening devices in general, and we know from that term that listening devices may include any number from the very large range of sophisticated electronic apparatus that is available, the second criticism of the Law Reform Commission is dealt with to a very large extent. The Commission continues in paragraph 2 1 3 of the report:
Thirdly, the Act is arguably too restrictive. No provision is made for telephonic surveillance by police even in circumstances which may meet the requirements, of particularity of description and the like, prescribed for the lawful search and seizure of physical objects. Those requirements might conceivably be met in some cases of monitoring without the consent of either party to a conversation, and would be met in many cases where monitoring is conducted with the consent of one party.
The report of the Law Reform Commission picks up the important element that the restrictive operation of these things may need to be looked at. For instance, in paragraph 219 the Commission states:
So far as monitoring without consent is concerned the main arguments in favour of the law allowing at least some such eavesdropping are as follows. First, it is essential if law enforcement is to bc effective against the increasing sophistication and complexity of crime today, particularly in the context of national and internal security, kidnapping, serious vice offences, narcotics trafficking, gambling, and ‘organised crime’ generally. The relevant activities of such criminals themselves almost invariably take place in secret. This position was expressed forcefully in the UK Report of the Privy Counsellors Appointed to Inquire into the Interception of Communications. The second argument is the negative one that there is an insignificant distinction between, on the one hand, eavesdropping by means of listening devices and, on the other hand, observation by means of police informers, or police officers observing a suspect with the aid of binoculars, (and perhaps lip-reading), or listening from an adjacent place of secrecy, all of which have never been prohibited. To the extent that listening devices may involve a greater risk in invasion of privacy, adequate protection may be afforded by a requirement akin to that of securing a search warrant.
The warrant provided for in this clause seems to me one which is very much in line with what the Senate has previously determined should be the terms and condition of warrants throughout the rest of this legislation. The proposal in clause 25 (6) regarding the length of the warrant is taken from the existing provisions of the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act. Section 6 (4) of that Act states:
A warrant under this section shall specify the period for which it is to remain in force, being a period that docs not exceed six months, but may be revoked by the AttorneyGeneral at any time before the expiration of the period so specified.
I point out to those who are concerned to make argument about this being some sort of new intrusion under the ASIO Bill that has not previously been provided that that is not the case. As to those who during the period when they had control of the executive government of this country did nothing to provide amendments to the telephonic communications interception legislation, if they are suddenly so concerned about this matter they should be answering the question of why, when they were in government, they did not move in this manner.
– It would have been a lot of use, wouldn’t it, when you would not pass half of our legislation?
-I understand Senator Gietzelt ‘s interjection. At some earlier stage he was moved to make a comment about who was or who was not in this chamber, or whether or not they had run for cover. I suppose that that is the level at which the Opposition has sought to conduct a large part of this debate. As far as the general problem of the use of listening devices is concerned, the method by which these have been referred to in this legislation, the extent to which they have been specified, and the requirements placed upon the use of these devices, including the application of the use of a warrant, which is the subject of the amendment by the Opposition, once again I find myself in a position of being able to accept that the situation which the Government brings before us in terms of this legislation is one which is justified given the particular problems with which this legislation seeks to deal and one which is justified on the basis of the– (Quorum formed.)
The sensitivity of members of the Opposition to attacks made upon the hypocrisy with which they have approached the whole of this ASIO Bill, and this clause in particular, is not surprising when one considers the record of the previous Labor Administration in dealing with these matters or when one considers the way in which the Australian Labor Party has approached the ASIO Bill with a quite facile presumption that no bipartisan attitude can be demonstrated except by the facile acceptance of every Opposition amendment regardless of its merits. I was referring to the whole question of the use of listening devices, and I refer once again to the report of the Law Reform Commission on Criminal Investigation, paragraph 224. The report states:
First, we see no distinction in principle between telephone tapping and other forms of surveillance involving the use of electronic listening devices. Secondly, we. think that the police ought not to be denied all the advantages of modern technology in fighting crime which itself uses it.
Therefore, I think that a number of the remarks made by speakers on the Opposition benches about the use of listening devices or the attempts to write down from six months to 90 days the period of the warrant do not bear very careful analysis. There are many instances- I think many of us are aware of them- that in the long and tedious process of putting together a case, a record and a file, which may be of necessity–
– You mean a dossier?
– I do not hesitate to use the word ‘dossier’. I do not find it a frightening and terrifying word. I would have suspected that and would not have been surprised if, given the report of Mr Acting Justice White or anybody else, every member of this Parliament had some sort of dossier kept on them. It certainly does not cause me to lose any sleep at night to know that somebody may be undertaking that, whether it is the Parliamentary Library or ASIO.
– Or the newspaper libraries.
-Indeed, as Senator Hamer says, even the newspaper libraries. The argument which has been put forward regarding the Opposition’s amendment is not a convincing one. The fact is that clause 25 (6) picks up an existing provision in section 64 of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act. No evidence has been presented of any grave misuse of that section which has been used from time to time. That makes me quite convinced that the Opposition amendment is not worth supporting.
– 1 would like to reply to Senator Puplick ‘s contention. He attempted to bolster his otherwise threadbare argument by claiming to point to the duration of warrants under legislation which he said was within the power ofthe previous Labor Government to amend. Firstly, the answer to that is that such an amendment would probably not have succeeded. It would not have been given passage by this chamber, a chamber which was controlled in those days by a party which, by tonight’s performance, has demonstrated that it sees nothing wrong in the duration of warrants authorising the search of an Australian citizen’s property, the interception of his mail, or the tapping of his telephone, for a period of six months. So the claim that the Labor Party in coming into this chamber tonight is hypocritical, given its attitude to similar clauses in legislation within its control, is without foundation. We would not have got such an amendment through this chamber. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, given a greater insight into the nature of the Opposition’s concern with this legislation, we, unlike the Government, learn from independent judicial review.
Just as this party learned from the independent judicial review of Mr Justice Fox and the other commissioners that its previous attitude towards the exportation of uranium was illfounded, so we have learned from the Hope report that our previous trust in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was equally unfounded. So the Opposition is not acting hypocritically, but I believe with the integrity that comes from reflecting on its past errors, even though they were only errors of omission or errors of being too trusting. As a result of that learning which demonstrates, I believe, our integrity, we come into this chamber and put forward reasonable amendments, in this case saying that where an Australian citizen is to be put under surveillance, his property searched, his mail intercepted, his telephone tapped, the authority should last for no longer than 3 months rather than six months which is proposed in this Bill.
– The Government is not prepared to accept the amendment of the Opposition in this respect. Let us get the record straight, after some of the remarks made by Senator Tate, in particular. We are dealing with a Division giving special powers to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in relation to searching premises and using listening devices, intercepting and inspecting mail, based upon warrants that have been given by the Minister after application to the Director-General. The Opposition is not opposing those clauses as such. The Opposition accepts those activities as proper activities of or powers for an organisation, and I think it is as well to remember that. I commend the Opposition for its good sense in taking that attitude, but what I find a bit strange is that the Opposition wants to reduce the period in relation to listening devices from the six months maximum duration which the warrant can cover to 90 days. Apparently it is quite all right to have a listening device installed for 90 days, but there is something wrong with going beyond that.
The unrealistic attitude of the Opposition can be demonstrated by the fact that the warrant can be renewed. If it is for 90 days or if it is for six months, if there are grounds made out, it can be renewed. So I find this distinction that members of the Opposition are drawing a very strange one indeed. It is a sop to those members. It is obvious that there are a number of members ofthe Opposition who would love the Opposition to be totally opposing this legislation from go to whoa. Some of those members do not accept the notion of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation at all. That has become quite clear as this debate has dragged on and on and on with a repetition of the attitudes of some members of the Opposition being stated over and over again. The fact is that the maximum period of six months for the application of a warrant for a listening device has been adopted from the period in the Telecommunications (Interception) Act. That is the maximum period of a warrant under that Act which has been in existence for many years. The reason is that the telephone interception, as indeed is the listening device interception, is for the purposes of surveillance, the nature of which requires surveillance over a substantial period. The object of using a listening device is similar to that of using telephone interception. It seems sensible that the period should be the same for each.
I appreciate that the Opposition has moved an amendment to limit the period of the warrant to a maximum of 90 days in regard to telephone interception also. No doubt, we will be dealing with that matter later. But the fact is that the period has always been six months. It has worked satisfactorily. What was the reason for wanting to restrict the period to 90 days? As I have said, the Opposition is accepting in principle the fact that these warrants and powers should be available and exercised and that they ought to be exercised for reasonable periods. Based on the experience in relation to telephone warrants, the Government sees absolutely no reason why the maximum period should be reduced from six months to 90 days.
-It is a source of great regret to me and I am sure to other Opposition senators that in the course of this Committee debate on the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill, the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Durack) has taken it upon himself, presumably because of frustration and tiredness, to misrepresent completely the position of the Opposition in relation to this clause and other clauses of the Bill which we have debated. I remind the Attorney-General again that this amendment is moved in the context of a number of amendments moved and suggestions made by the Opposition which are designed to try to improve the civil liberties provisions of this legislation. At no time has any spokesman for the Australian Labor Party actually stated what the Attorney-General just accused Opposition senators of stating, that is, that we were so totally opposed to the Bill that we would do anything to obstruct its passage, including amending particular clauses.
It is quite clear that the Opposition’s position in this matter is, in a sense, a historical one. We were responsible for the setting up of the Hope Royal Commission. In general terms, we accepted its conclusions. We have said to the Government again and again that in the context of experience there is ample room for the utmost safeguards to be provided to individual subjects. Senator Durack says that the Government has put a six months time limit on this provision and that the Opposition wants a 90 day time limit instead. One might ask him why the Government imposes a six months time limit. As Senator Evans indicated by way of interjection, why cannot the warrant run on altogether? Of course, the purpose of imposing a time limit in the AttorneyGeneral’s mind, as in our minds, is that in dealing with this dangerous area from the point of view of the liberty of the subject, a person like the Attorney-General should be called upon to apply his mind to these important considerations from time to time. If he has to do that every 90 days instead of every six months, that is very good because in a sense it is a limitation on the capacity of an onerous situation to continue.
The Attorney-General said that the power has existed for some time in the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act. He said that nothing happened, unfortunately, as a consequence. How do we know that that is true, in view of what the Government has stated in the course of these proceedings and in view of what the Government’s whole attitude to this legislation seems to be? I want to make it quite clear from the Opposition’s point of view that we will not debate this issue on the basis of all sorts of allegations which swim into the AttorneyGeneral ‘s mind about our attitude to this matter. Our position is quite clear and quite consistent. The more one hears the Attorney-General speak, the more one feels that it would be desirable for him to apply his mind to these issues more frequently than every six months. We feel that he should apply his mind to the provision that we are now debating after a period of 90 days. It is for that reason that Senator Evans has moved this amendment. It is for that reason that we on the Opposition side support it. It is consistent with everything else that we have done in relation to this Bill.
– I want to speak briefly about the comments made by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack). We are concerned because the Committee, at the behest of the Attorney-General, has refused to consider some of the more reasonable amendments that were dealt with in clause 5 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill. Clause 25 (3) (a) states: that person is engaged in, or is reasonably suspected by the Director-General of being engaged in, or of being likely to engage in, activities prejudicial to security:
That brings us back to the definitions in Part I of the Bill. The definitions of security are set out in the early part of this Bill and, of course, we would not object to activities being monitored and the application of devices in connection with terrorism, sabotage or the other matters. Subversion has been dealt with in clause 5 ( 1 ) (a), (b) and (c). This is an area in which there is a wide divergence of opinion. The Opposition is entitled to say that the Government’s approach to the definition of subversion differs markedly from that of the Opposition, and the views that have been expressed in many sections of the media and by many civil liberties organisations. In fact, we have been categorised by sections of the media as being somewhat inadequate in fulfilling our responsibilities in matters covered in this Bill. It has been suggested that the Australian Labor Party has not been doing its homework. That is not borne out by any objective analysis ofthe debate on this Bill and the amendments that we have sought to put before the Committee. Every time we try to do that, the one or two senators on the Government side of the chamber who are interested in this debate suggest that we are hypocrites. I think that Senator Puplick used the word ‘hypocritical’. The Attorney-General suggested that we are playing some sort of a double game. In fact, the amendments that we seek to move are designed overall to protect the rights of the individual.
On that issue, the Labor Party surrenders its position to no other party in this country. It is concerned about the rights of the individual. That has been part of our franchise since we were formed as an industrial movement more than a century ago and as a political movement in 1 890. We have been concerned with the rights of the individual and have been in the forefront of issues concerning the right to vote, freedom of expression and the right of assembly. The Australian Labor Party Government which held office between 1972 and 1975 was concerned about a Bill of rights. It ill-behoves Senator Puplick to suggest that we should have done something about these amendments to the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act when, in fact, we were obstructed every single day of those three years by a hostile Senate which was using every device and every devious means at its disposal to undermine the Government. This Government has had three years in which to introduce its Bill of rights. It has failed to do so. We are concerned about the matters to which Senator Cavanagh quite correctly referred when we were dealing with, I think, clause 24 of the Bill. He drew the Committee’s attention to the kinds of incidents which affect the rights of people. It may well be that a person in acting in a way which this Government defines as coming within the definitions of subversion. But it may well be that a dozen other people in an area are not involved in any unlawful activities, even using the definitions to be applied by this Government. Their conversations, activities and opinions can also be noted.
We have no idea where a listening device will be placed. It could be placed in the bedroom or loungeroom of a home and the domestic outpourings of a family unit would become the subject of some scrutiny by the Director-General and/or his agents. The collection of information about an individual can embrace a wide number of people. Because we are concerned with that expansion, the Opposition seeks to have the period limited to 90 days. Our motivation was immediately questioned by the Minister. He thinks that we are playing some sort of game that is undermining the framework and structure of the Bill.
We certainly would not wish to see the sort of situation develop to which Senator Cavanagh referred, that is, a listening device being placed at the two pubs near the Trades Hall in Sydney to record the internal conversations of members of an executive of a particular union in order to get at one union official who it is felt should come under the net because he is involved in subversion. We concede that the argument that the net should be thrown wide enough to consider the activities of that particular person is plausible. We think that the use of such devices should be curtailed so that the rights of all people, whether they are part of an organisation or family or are present at a meeting place, are protected. A listening device may be placed in a public hall in which people may talk about the right to life, against abortion, about aid to Vietnam, about peace and war issues or about aid for education. People may talk about a whole variety of public issues. Because we believe that one person frequents a place of assembly should we be entitled to collect information on all the people involved?
Quite frankly, I do not think that the amendment goes far enough. I object to the Minister’s questioning our concern about the net that is thrown around in some circumstances. We want to restrict the period to 90 days in order to protect half the people who might be involved when a device is used or a telephonic communication is intercepted by officers acting at the behest of the Director-General. The Minister asked what was the difference between a six month period and a 90 day period. The fact is that the Minister will take the view that he has to be convinced on the second occasion that the inquiry is warranted, that the use of the device is warranted and that the period of application of the device ought to be doubled from 90 days to six months. After all, if the warrant is issued for a further six months, it almost becomes an accepted practice and a means by which information is collected. It seems to me that it is worth looking at the 90 day period to see whether it is too long. The Opposition has settled for the 90 day period. It gives just a little more accountability to those who make application for the use of such devices. Again, it comes back to the Minister. If he is carrying out his responsibilities correctly, he will want to know what information has been collected in the first instance and whether it has warranted intrusion into the private affairs of people and borne fruit. Therefore, there is another check upon the activities of the Organisation itself.
We make no apologies. The amendment is not frivolous. It recognises that this Government is hell bent on passing the legislation, that it has a perverted sense of what subversion means and that the party which forms the government has been associated with anti-democratic practices for a considerable number of years. It is in recognition of those sorts of circumstances that we believe that some curtailment should be placed upon the devices that are used and that the Minister should play a greater role in supervising the use of the devices when an application is made to him by the Director-General or an officer appointed by him. After all, clause 25 deals with a whole number of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, a whole number of qualifications and a whole number of activities which were not contained in the previous legislation. In those circumstances, the Minister ought to accept the bona fides of the Opposition ‘s amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 26 and 27- by leave-taken together, and agreed to.
– I move:
The amendment seeks to bring the provision into line with the provisions of the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act. This provision was adapted from that legislation. Unfortunately in the process the strict adaptation was not made. This was purely an oversight. It is important that the words be inserted. It is for that reason that I propose the amendment.
For the information of the Committee, this clause of the Bill provides for the issue of warrants in emergencies. It has been adapted from a similar provision in the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act which has been in existence since 1960. It enables the Director General, in an emergency, to issue a warrant which will remain in force for a period not exceeding 48 hours but which may be revoked by the Minister before the expiration of that period. It is designed to deal with a situation in which it may not be possible for the DirectorGeneral to contact the Minister or where, in the circumstances, it has not been possible for the Minister to issue the warrant in the ordinary way.
One of the major protections of the clause is that which appears in sub-clause (l)(b) whereby the Director-General does not have this power if, to his knowledge, the Minister has refused to issue a substantially similar warrant within the preceding three months. But the object of the clause is that it would apply whether or not the Minister has received the application from the Director-General for the issue of the warrant, provided that the DirectorGeneral has in fact forwarded the application to the Minister. That is why the words ‘ forwarded or’ should be inserted in the legislation. As I have said, they have existed in the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act since 1960. It is certainly only through oversight that they have not been included in this clause.
– I seek some enlightenment from the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) on this matter. Leaving aside the amendment for the time being, the clause, as it stands at present, reads in part:
the Director-General has made a request to the Minister for the issue of a warrant under section 25;
the Minister has not, to the knowledge of the Director-General, issued, or refused to issue, a warrant as a result of the request-
I read that as meaning that the Minister may refuse to issue a warrant but only after receiving a request- and has not, within the preceding period of 3 months, refused to issue a substantially similar warrant;
So obviously before the Director-General himself can issue a warrant, the Minister must have received a prior request and, in response to that request, refused to issue a warrant. With the Government’s amendment we will have the situation where the Director-General has forwarded to or made a request of the Minister for the issue of a warrant. I do not see how under sub-clause (l)(b) the Minister can act on a request forwarded to him but not received. Can the Minister explain how that operates?
- Senator Cavanagh has not given weight to the words in sub-clause ( 1 ) (b). In fact he did not even quote them. The relevant words are, ‘to the knowledge of the Director-General’. If the Director-General has knowledge that the Minister has issued a warrant or has refused to issue a warrant, he cannot exercise these emergency powers. That is what this sub-clause provides.
– I think that makes the matter worse. If the Director-General has forwarded a request to the Minister, who at that stage has not received the request, how can the Director-General know that the Minister has refused to issue the warrant as a result of the request? There has to be a request. The refusal has to be as a result of that request. But the Director-General has no knowledge that the Minister has refused to issue a warrant as a result of the request when the request has only just been forwarded. At no stage does the Director-General have knowledge that the Minister has refused to issue a warrant as a result of a request. I think that the amendment, if it is insisted upon, will necessitate some rewriting of sub-clause ( 1 ) (b).
Amendment agreed to.
– I move this further amendment to clause 28:
Page 13. clause 28. sub-clause ( I ), line 27. leave out ‘the Director-General may’, insert ‘the Minister may orally authorise the Director-General to ‘.
The effect of this amendment, which is a significant one, is clearly to remove the decisionmaking power in respect of the issue of emergency warrants from the Director-General and place it clearly and squarely, here, as elsewhere, with the Minister.
There are two considerations which one needs to tackle in dealing with this clause and the proposed Opposition amendment. One is a consideration of principle, the other is a consideration of practicality. On the question of principle, the Opposition takes the view that here in the context of emergency warrants, as elsewhere, the requirement must be one of accountability by the Minister himself. The concept, even for a short time- 48 hours- of a mere official, unaccountable to the Parliament, not an official of judicial stature, having the power to himself, without reference, to, or authority from, anyone else, to issue warrants of the kind in issue under this Division, is a prospect which is alarming and one to which this Senate ought to give no countenance whatsoever, unless perhaps it is persuaded that overwhelming considerations of practicality demand a deviation from this central principle of ministerial accountability which the Government has adopted and which, generally speaking, the Opposition has accepted.
– Wouldn’t your amendment be impossible considering the Minister’s amendment inserting the words ‘forwarded or’?
– With respect, Senator Cavanagh, I do not think so. I think it is possible for the clause to operate as it has been drafted and indeed as it is proposed to be amended, because at least as I read it all that those preliminary clauses are, one of which has just been amended by the Government, is a series of preconditions which have to be satisfied in one way or another before a warrant can be issued by the Minister or the Director-General, as the case may be. The first pre-condition is that there has been a request generated, if we can use a neutral word, by the Director-General, whether or not that request actually has been received by the Minister. The second pre-condition that has to be satisfied- this is sub-clause (l)(b)- is that the Minister has not, to the knowledge of the Director-General, at any time in the previous three months issued or refused to issue a warrant as a result of that particular request. The third pre-condition is that the Director-General himself, exercising presumably these emergency powers, has not, within the preceding period of three months, issued a substantially similar warrant. They are all pre-conditions which have to be satisfied, as the clause now stands, before the Director-General himself can proceed to issue an emergency warrant.
The effect of the Opposition amendment is not now to change those pre-conditions but rather to change the personality or the identity of the person whose decision it actually is. What we are saying is that the authorisation for the issue of a warrant, even in emergency circumstances, must come directly from the Minister rather than be a function which can be exercised by the Director-General.
What about the question of practicality which I have no doubt will be argued by the AttorneyGeneral in response to this suggestion? What about the supposed demands of urgency which are built into the very operation of this clause and which, it may be suggested by the Government, are such as to make it far too cumbersome for even the oral authorisation by the Minister to be a pre-condition of the exercise of this power? In answer to that proposition which we will no doubt hear from the Minister, 1 make the following points: Firstly, we are not talking here or anywhere else in the Bill about the detection or prevention of criminal offences by anyone. The kind of circumstance which is likely to spring to the mind of a casual reader as justifying the issue of an emergency warrant may be the notification of the presence of a bomb in premises or another circumstance which justifies an urgent reaction by the organisation in question. But we are not dealing here with the detection or prevention of criminal offences; we are simply dealing with the gathering of intelligence. The requirements of urgency that are generally associated with the gathering of intelligence, in my submission at least, are likely to be very much narrower in practice than those associated with the requirements of urgency if we are actually seeking to prevent something taking place which is criminal or physically dangerous to the health or life of the populace. There is ample power elsewhere in the statute book and in the common law for the police agencies to react in the case of bomb scares and so on. Those considerations do not bear upon the operation of this Bill at all, certainly not on this particular clause.
The second point to make about the argument of practicality is that there are already a number of time consuming constraints on the exercise of the power in question here by the DirectorGeneral. By spelling out a few moments ago the pre-conditions which have to be satisfied before this clause can operate, I indicated what those constraints are. They are not something which develops out of the blue and which demand a reaction by the Director-General without any foreknowledge or forewarning or the possibility of any prior preparation by the Director-General or the organisation to deal with the situation thus arising out of the blue. It cannot be that sort of situation to which this clause is directed. The whole make-up of the clause, as it stands at the moment, pre-supposes that a course of events has taken place before the warrant is issued. A formal request- one presumes that it is in writing or at least the product of some preparation- has to have been generated or initiated already by the Director-General before this clause can operate and before the Director-General can have the power to issue a warrant physically off his own bat. An application has to be made to the Minister. That is the subject matter of clause 28(1) (a). A cumbersome, onerous, physical pre-condition is already built into the clause.
The second example of these constraints already being embodied in the Bill is the requirement in clause 28 that a warrant actually be issued physically by the Director-General before the powers can be exercised. Someone at least has to take the time and trouble to prepare and endorse the piece of paper that constitutes the warrant. Realistically speaking, a variety of conditions already has to be satisfied before the power can be exercised. Bearing those considerations in mind detracts from any argument that here we are talking about a sequence of events which arise out of the blue and have to be reacted to within a matter of minutes if the exercise of the power in question is to have any utility. That cannot be the situation to which this clause is directed. As it is drafted, it is a very cumbersome procedure. All we are trying to do in respect of the existing cumbersome procedure for emergency warrants is to ensure that authority from or at least actual contact with the Minister is not bypassed.
When warrants are required in an emergency there ought to be, here as elsewhere, a requirement that the Minister be actually contacted, albeit by telephone or some other mechanism of that kind, and that he be empowered in circumstances of emergency to authorise orally the Director-General to issue the warrant rather than, as is required in non-emergency situations, the Minister having physically to issue the warrant himself. We appreciate that situations may arise in which physically obtaining a warrant from the Minister may create difficulties because of time factors, but we do not see that there are insuperable difficulties in at least requiring as a further pre-condition of the issuing of emergency warrants that oral authority be actually obtained from the Minister. I do not believe and the Opposition does not believe that in this day and age contact with the Minister is impossible or even very difficult to arrange. If it means that the Minister whenever he is out of the country has to nominate some other Minister to act in his stead and be available as an avenue of contact in situations of potential emergency, so be it. That is a familiar way of organising ministerial affairs anyway. Acting Ministers are so appointed. There will always be within the country some individual capable of responding to emegency requests under this clause.
If it is argued that even that condition imposes acute difficulties in practice because the Minister may have gone fishing or something ofthe kind, we say that again the condition of modern technology is hardly such as to make that an insuperable burden. We see no particular difficulty in the Minister’s movements being able to be readily tracked most of the time so that he is physically readily contactable. If it means that when he goes out in the bay fishing or does whatever he does in his very considerable spare time in the administration of his portfolio he has to carry with him a radio telephone or something of that kind, so be it. That is the kind of constraint which we regard as a minor practical price to pay for the maintenance of this quite crucial principle to which I now return: When we are exercising powers of this sweeping, Draconic and potentially privacy-invading kind- we have spoken about them at length before- we have to be sure that if they are not to be exercised on the authority of a judge, which many people regard as the desirable way of doing things, at least they are exercised by an elected Minister of the Crown who is directly and personally accountable to the Parliament. It is for those reasons that we urge that the Government accept this amendment and modify these emergency powers accordingly.
– I must say that on this matter I share a very large part ofthe concern that Senator Evans has expressed about investing an official, including the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, with powers to undertake the issuing of a warrant in emergency circumstances for a period not in excess of 48 hours. My problem is that I really do not see that the amendment that Senator Evans has moved in terms of oral communication really gets to the heart of the problem and solves the difficulty. Obviously if a situation were ever to arise- and it must be drawn as a hypothetical situation- in which a warrant is issued and some dispute arises as to whether in fact the oral authorisation was provided by a Minister of State, be he the Attorney-General a person who is acting as Attorney-General or the nominee of the Attorney-General on some occasion when he is absent from the country, I think it would be a most difficult situation to demonstrate whether or not such oral directions had in fact been issued by the Minister unless one were to go to the ludicrous extremes of expecting the DirectorGeneral or the Minister to maintain some sort of tape recording of conversations that may or may not have passed when the oral authorisation was given.
I think it is important to realise that, as with clause 25, a large part of clause 28 is taken from the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act, and in particular section 7. In the last paragraph of section 7 ( 1 ) it can be seen that under that Act the Director-General of Security has this power by warrant under his hand to authorise the interception of communications passing over any telephone line that forms part of the service or connects the service to a telephone exchange. Under section 7 (2) of that Act the warrant shall remain in force for not more than 48 hours. Mr Justice Hope in Volume I of the Fourth Report of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, in dealing with this whole matter of interception, made a number of comments to which I would like to refer. In paragraph 141, referring to the telephonic communications legislation, he said:
The number of warrants issued since the enactment ofthe legislation has been quite modest.
In paragraph 1 43 he said:
Accordingly, although I consider that use of listening devices by ASIO should be controlled, I do not recommend any amendment of the Telephonic Communications (Interception ) Act for this purpose.
Again talking about listening devices, in paragraph 147 he said:
Their use by ASIO should be prohibited without warrant by the Minister, or in urgent circumstances by the DG of Security.
He concluded that paragraph by saying: . . but at the same time to ensure that their use is properly controlled and supervised, and that the Minister has the ultimate responsibility.
Certainly Mr Justice Hope nowhere gives us any indication of what he regards as urgent circumstances. Presumably therefore one is put back on to the second test that Senator Evans put before us this evening, that is, that the test is one of practicality and not one involving any great matter of principle whereby this power should be vested in the hands of the Director-General. As 1 said at the opening of my remarks, I do not like at all the provision for the Director-General to have this extraordinary power even though the warrant remains in force for the limited period of 48 hours. 1 do not believe, however, that oral communications- in the precise terms of the Opposition’s amendment, ‘the Minister may orally authorise the Director-General to do certain things’- really effectively deals with that problem. It seems to me that practically it creates far more problems than it is likely to solve. I am left in the position of neither liking the Government’s clause nor the Opposition’s amendment and therefore would simply not wish to bring about a situation which I think in fact is marginally worse in terms of the provision of the oral authorisation that Senator Evans has put before us.
I do believe that it is a very serious matter to vest in a public servant whose tenure of office is guaranteed for a fairly significant period, barring the most unusual circumstances, that sort of power over individual citizens. I think that it is equally unfortunate that in an attempt to advance his case Senator Evans should so weaken his position, and so make it that much more difficult for members on this side of the chamber to find any sympathy with his position, by taking every conceivable opportunity to sling off at the Attorney-General personally. If one is talking about a genuine attempt at bipartisanship, equally that ought te be recognised.
– Stop being so sanctimonious.
-Or to sling off at me. In those circumstances, the Opposition’s amendment, because I believe that potentially it creates more problems than it is likely to solve, is not one that would have my support, however, the power that the clause currently vests in the DirectorGeneral is a power which, within the system of parliamentary democracy that we know in many ways is an unwise one to so vest.
-Tempted as I may be to take this opportunity to sling off once more at Senator Puplick, let me nonetheless exercise some restraint in that respect and simply deal with his argument. His argument seemed to be that the Opposition’s amendment was creating more difficulties than it was solving, and the particular difficulty that seemed to occupy Senator Puplick ‘s mind is, as he put it, the difficulty of testing, should it ever come in issue after the event, whether or not an oral authorisation was in fact given by the Minister in question. As to that, let me reply in this way. It is not difficult to devise machinery to foreclose the possibility of there being serious argument of that kind. Such machinery in fact has been devised and was recommended by the Law Reform Commission in its 1975 criminal investigation report in relation to the authorisation of search warrants by telephone applications to a magistrate and telephone authority from that magistrate. The machinery that is built into the Law Reform Commission recommendationindeed embodied in the draft Criminal Investigation Bill attached to it- is for the warrant or other appropriate documentation so issued to be endorsed or certified by the magistrate after the event when the piece of paper comes to him, such certification stating that the oral authorisation was given on the day and the hour in question. Applying that kind of machinery to the present situation, it would equally be possible to devise and incorporate in the legislation by way of amendment some machinery whereby the Minister certified after the event- and very shortly after the event- that the oral authorisation had in fact been made. One would think that that kind of machinery would deal entirely with the kind of worries that were pressing upon Senator Puplick.
The Opposition considered when drafting its amendment whether such elaborate certification machinery in fact should be incorporated into this clause. We decided that, on balance, it was probably unnecessary. The basis upon which we made that decision was essentially that it can be assumed, one hopes, that neither the Minister nor the Director-General will be temped actually to lie about an issue as to the date or time or in fact whether an oral authorisation was given. On balance we take the view that whatever misjudgments Ministers or Directors-General of the day might be capable of, which need to be guarded against by other provisions in this legislation, on the whole we do not really think that they are the kind of office holders who will ever be in a position of directly lying on a matter as blatant, as obvious and as crucial as this. Bearing in mind the kind of office bearers we are talking about and the kind of general responsibilities that they have, it seemed to us unnecessary :o go to the lengths which nonetheless I have suggested are possible. If Senator Puplick is not disposed to share my confidence in the unlikeliness of Ministers and Directors-General lying, he might at least be prepared to accept some appropriately drafted machinery of the kind that I have mentioned. In either event, I put it to him that his objection is ill-founded or at least is capable of being answered.
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Chairman having reported accordingly-
– In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
-I wish to reply to a speech made in this chamber last Tuesday by Senator Primmer. The purpose of Senator Primmer’s speech was blatantly obvious. lt was to make allegations and innuendos under privilege in the hope that some ofthe mud would stick to the Victorian Liberal Government and thus improve the Australian Labor Party’s electoral prospects last Saturday.
– Something did.
– We will come to that. 1 have delayed answering Senator Primmer until now because the more that is said about such a smear the more publicity it gets, which is just what its author wants. I am delighted that such smear tactics, which are of a piece with much of the Labor tactics during the Victorian election campaign, have failed. Voters are much wiser than the Labor Party realises. Senator Primmer’s speech might be described as a primer of how to make a political smear under privilege; it is a mixture of true and false statements, wrong deductions and dishonest innuendos. Of course it was made just before an election. Perhaps truth does always overtake falsehood, but it takes a little time. I should declare at the outset that I am a director of the Statewide Building Society, which is effectively a non-profit organisation directed to providing finance for private home builders at as low a cost as possible.
Let us turn to Senator Primer’s speech. He said that a Geoffrey Lee Patterson had been arrested and charged with obtaining financial advantage by deception. This is true, but Senator Primmer omitted to mention that Patterson is not and has never been an employee ofthe Statewide Building Society. Senator Primmer also said that a Mr Niall’s activities in the Statewide Building Society had been investigated by the Fraud Squad and that a report was referred to the AttorneyGeneral recommending that charges be laid. Senator Primmer went on to allege that the Victorian State Government had delayed laying charges against Niall until after 5 May because of possible embarrassment to the Liberal Party.
Let us disentangle the grain of truth from the tissue of falsehood in these statements. It is true that a Mr Niall was discharged by the management of the Statewide Building Society for taking secret commissions. It is true, I understand, that his activities have been investigated by the Fraud Squad, with the co-operation of the management of Statewide Building Society, lt is not true that the Fraud Squad has made a report to the Victorian Attorney-General recomending that charges be laid against Niall. No such report has been made, and the Fraud Squad does not need the Attorney-General’s approval to lay charges of fraud. It is not true that the Victorian Government has delayed laying charges against Niall. Not only did it not do so, it had no conceivable motive for doing so.
To bolster a ridiculously weak case, Senator Primmer tried to smear by innuendo. He pointed out that one partner in the Statewide Building Society’s auditors was a Liberal member of the Legislative Council. He did not mention these facts: The Liberal member was in no way involved in the audit. Senator Primmer quoted the auditors report for the year ended 30 June 1978. He did not mention that this was not the year of the alleged fraud. The fraud was not a fraud on the Statewide Building Society, and there is no way it could have appeared in the Society’s accounts, or could be detected by any external audit. Such is the fantastically flimsy nature of Senator Primmer’s charges. The introduction of my name, by an obvious pre-arrangement with Senator Button, I treat with the contempt it deserves. It was an obvious attempt to smear the Premier of Victoria by an association of names. The Board of the Statewide Building Society acted with promptness and integrity, and as soon as the activities of its employee became known he was immediately discharged.
This whole farrago did, I suppose, achieve its desired object- a headline ‘Victorian Government denies cover up’. Of course it did. There was no cover-up. It may have advantaged the Labor Party in the election. I do not know. But I do know it is typical of the sort of behaviour that has brought the Labor Party into lasting contempt.
– I was not anticipating that Senator Hamer’s contribution to the debate would be so small. Following the debate that continued in this chamber today and which has been going on for some time on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Bill I would like to raise a matter which to me constitutes a gross infringement of human rights by a government department. In the past, whenever I have risen on the adjournment, I have tended to apologise for the fact that I am delaying members of the Senate because I am aware that we spend up to 15 hours a day in this place and we have our other constituency work with which to deal. But I do not use the adjournment lightly and I am not using it lightly now.
I am using it because of a matter that has been brought to the attention of at least all members on this side of the chamber. I cannot guarantee that it came to the members on the other side of the House. It refers to the Department of Social Security in Queensland. It concerns a letter we have all received from Mrs Valma Miller of 89 Goldfinch Street, Inala. It was written on 9 April 1979. I will make particular mention of that date at a later stage, but I want to read the letter. I think it is very important. It makes some very serious allegations against members of the Department of Social Security. Mrs Miller’s letter reads:
To Members of the Senate, Attention Members.
Obviously Mrs Miller is unaware that there are some women in the Parliament-
I wish to bring to your notice my position with the Social Security Department. Since January this year my widow’s pension I was receiving from the department, has been stopped.
I remind honourable senators that this letter was written in April and she is talking about her pension being stopped in January. Mrs Miller’s letter continues:
I am a divorced person with two children to support, the department has cut off the pension because some person (who is known to me) reported to the department that a male person was seen at my home. I have been told by Social Security that I cannot receive anything in this nature again. Since losing the pension my children and I have been living on the hand-outs of charily organisations, such as groceries and so forth, of which I have been very grateful to receive.
There must be something that can be done for my family and I beg of you out of humanity and compassion to bring this matter to the senate and have the Social Security act reviewed and to approach the Minister for Social Security Senator Margaret Guilfoyle to show some compassion for my children ‘s sake.
Honourable senators will note that she mentions only her children. She is not concerned with herself. Her letter continues:
A field Officer from Social Security (so he claimed but would show no identification when asked) came to my home and just walked in, I was very frightened as I was alone. He told mc he was investigating the complaint and proceeded to search my rooms. He said he was looking for male items of clothing but there were no such articles to be found, he was very rude in his manner and I would like to know what rights a woman has against this sort of activity or is it correct for an officer of this type to walk into another’s home without a warrant.
I have had visits from friends but not to stay. Surely pensioners are allowed to receive visitors. I have never at any time received money from anyone other than my Social Security cheque and I beg of you to see if you can help me to get my Widow pension restored, for my children ‘s sake.
I was very concerned about that letter. Unfortunately, it arrived during the three-week recess that the Parliament had over the Easter and the Anzac Day period. I became so concerned that I sent a telegram to Mrs Miller early last week. I asked her to contact my office in Perth and to give us the full details. This she has done. But the letter itself raises a number of important points. I want to refer firstly to where Mrs Miller says:
I have been told by Social Security that 1 cannot receive anything in this nature again.
I now have to ask: Who in the Department of Social Security would make such a broad sweeping statement, not knowing what the future holds for Mrs Miller and not knowing what her change in circumstances may be? What audacity it is for a member of a Department, presumably a responsible member of a Department, to suggest that she would never receive anything of that nature again.
The second point in the letter asks for the Social Services Act to be reviewed. I would not argue with that. There would be some suggestion on my part that the Act needs reviewing. 1 suggest that in Mrs Miller’s case it is not the Act that needs to be reviewed; it is the provision in the Act that controls the officers of the Department of Social Security that needs to be looked at very closely to see how that section is being administered by the various departments.
The third point I want to raise is connected with what Mrs Miller states in her letter:
A field Officer from Social Security (so he claimed but would show no identification when asked ) came to my home and just walked in.
Apparently working on the assumption that people who receive social security benefits suddenly become third-class citizens, this man took it upon himself to just walk in. Mr President, I suggest that you would not allow anybody to just walk into your home. I would not allow anyone to just walk into my home. It is unfortunate that people who receive social security benefits feel threatened by the sheer authority of people who can say: ‘I am a field officer from the Department of Social Security’. These people do not know their rights. Mrs Miller goes on in her letter to state:
I was very frightened as I was alone.
Of course she was very frightened. We have only to read a newspaper in any capital city today to know why she would be frightened. People working in a sensitive area like social security should be aware that a woman by herself would be frightened. I would probably feel the same way except I doubt very much that I would feel threatened by this authoritarian attitude adopted by a member of the Department. Perhaps it is because 1 am not in receipt of a pension from the Department of Social Security that I would not feel so threatened. I feel that field officers tend to take their duties rather heavily in this situation. I suggest to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) that if the field officers employed by her Department do not have the necessary sensitivity to work in that area they should not be working in that capacity. Mrs Miller goes on to say:
He told me he was investigating the complaint and proceeded to search my rooms.
By whose authority did he search her rooms? He did not have a search warrant. He was not a member ofthe police force who would require a search warrant. But once again, because she is in receipt of a social security benefit, he feels that he is entitled to search her rooms. She states further:
He said he was looking for male items of clothing-
I suppose that if she had had a grown-up son he could have found some items of male clothing. As it is, she has two young sons but I presume that he was looking for adult male items of clothing. We have all had complaints before about the Department of Social Security bedsniffers. Those complaints have been raised in the Senate and in the other place. I think that this goes a little further and a little lower than that. I do not like it one bit.
Following my telegram to Mrs Miller she telephoned my office. In a moment I will relate my secretary’s notes of the conversation. The next thing that bothers me about Mrs Miller’s letter is that she states:
I have had visits from friends but not to stay; surely pensioners are allowed to receive visitors.
Of course they are allowed to see visitors. They are allowed to have people stay overnight. They just cannot be supported by other people. All honourable senators know this. It is the people who are in receipt of those benefits who do not know their rights. Once again, we come back to the responsibility of the Department of Social Security. 1 now refer to the notes of the conversation with Mrs Valma Miller of 89 Goldfinch St, Inala, Queensland on Thursday 3 May 1 979 - Thursday of last week- with my secretary at my Perth office. This note is in my secretary’s words, not in mine. The note states:
Mrs Miller has two sons aged 8 and 10 years. She is paying off her home at the rate of$23 per week.
On Tuesday 6 December 1978 a man about 5 ‘3 “tall -
That is the only way that Mrs Miller can describe him- called at Mrs Miller’s home and said that he was a field officer from the Department of Social Security. He refused to produce any identification and said that he had the authority to search Mrs Miller’s home.
He said he needed a table to write on. They were in the lounge and Mrs Miller said that he could use the occasional table. The un-named man said that was not big enough and proceeded to walk from room to room and finally decided to use the kitchen table.
He then told Mrs Miller that because she had a de facto relationship with a man she could be fined $1000 or sent to gaol for six months. Mrs Miller was terrified and said that she did not have a man friend although in fact she did have a male friend who visited here from time to time but with whom she had never had a de facto relationship nor had she ever had such a relationship with any man.
That night Mrs Miller contacted her parents and on their advice went to the Social Security Office next day and saw a social worker and explained about her male friend.
Shortly afterwards the field officer and another man came to the house again and both . . . refused to identify themselves or to produce any authority for being on the premises.
The un-named man who had been to the house previously said that Mrs Miller had no right to go and see the social worker. He said that they had definite proof that a man was a substantial resident’ of the home. Mrs Miller invited unnamed man No. 2 to go through the house and check to sec if he could find anything to give the impression that a man lived there but he declined.
Mrs Miller received her last Social Security cheque on 17.1.79.
As a result of seeing a leaflet somewhere . . . she appealed against the decision. Mrs Miller was not advised by the Department to appeal.
I thought we had spelt out quite clearly the responsibility of the Department to advise people who had their social security benefits stopped that they were to be advised that they had the right of appeal. The note goes on to state:
She was advised that she had lost the appeal on 9.3.79 hut she had never been interviewed about it and had not appeared before the Tribunal- she had simply ‘filled in a form ‘.
Presumably it was a form stating that she wanted to appeal. I continue to read from the note:
When Mrs Miller was trying to have her benefit re-instated she was told numerous stories about the where-abouts of her file which never seemed to be available when it was needed-
I am sure all honourable senators have gone through that situation with their respective branches of the Department of Social Security. The note further states: and at one time she was told that ‘the field officer had gone on holiday and taken the file with him.’
That was the wording that she has given me that was repeated to her by a member of the Department of Social Security. The note states:
Mrs Miller and her sons survived on charity from various sources including her parents and food parcels from ‘Life Line’.
At one time Mrs Miller rang Haydn Sargent on talk back radio and told him about the field officer but he was unable to help her.
This was quite understandable. Included in the letter that she sent there is a copy of an article from the Sunday Sun of 25 March 1979 which obviously refers to Mrs Miller’s situation. Once again I refer to the note given to my secretary.
Immediately after this, Mrs Miller went to the Department of Social Security and tried to see the Director. The man at the counter said that the Director ‘doesn’t want to see you kind of people’.
Later the file was traced to the Social Security office at Inala and the man at the counter said . . . that he understood that Mrs Miller’s ‘circumstances had changed’. Mrs Miller asked what he meant and he said that she had misled the Department about having a man living with her.
Mrs Miller was given a Special Benefit application.
She said that the man was ‘ very nasty ‘.
I stated that I would refer to the date of Mrs Miller’s letter and I will do that now. On 12 April, three days after Mrs Miller sent a batch of letters to almost every member of the Opposition in the Senate- one has to query whether someone did not know that that letter had been sent, the special benefit was paid very quickly- she received a cheque for $136. On 26 April 1979, she received a further cheque for the same amount. Her social security payment in the form of a widow’s pension was $144 a fortnight. Nothing has been done to pay Mrs Miller any sum at all for the period from 17 January 1979 to 12 April 1979. Mrs Miller has told her man friend that he is not to come to the house again. Even when her parents call, Mrs Miller is so nervous that she says to her father: ‘For heaven’s sake, Dad, sit down in case someone sees that I have a man in my house ‘.
These notes raise a number of very important questions. One has to ask: At what level in the Public Service are field officers who, on the basis of a rumour or on a neighbour’s suspicion that there is a man contributing to the running of a household, would go on inspections of the homes of people who are in receipt of social security benefits? Are those field officers instructed that they not only have to carry but also have to produce identification at all times? If they are not, why are they not so instructed? Why would a field officer return within a very short space of time with a witness from the Department and inform Mrs Miller that she had no right to see the social worker at the Department. Of course she has a right to go to see the social worker. Of course she has a right to go to the Department. Of course she has a right to see the Director. In this instance she was informed- and I quote the words used- that the Director ‘doesn’t want to see you kind of people’. I have to ask whether the Director knows that this is the kind of information that is being handed out over the counter. If he does, I suggest that he has lost touch not only with the people whom he is supposed to serve but also with what is going out of his Department. He certainly will not have the confidence of the people whom he is supposed to serve. If he does not know and if he allows people to make these statements on his behalf, that is an indication that he does not even have the confidence of the people who work for him, and who, if they can determine whether a person will receive his or her pension, presumably work in fairly important positions.
As members of Parliament, we are public servants. At some time or another we all have to see people whom we may not want to see. We may have to see people whom we cannot assist. Perhaps this activity could be said to be a time consuming or public relations exercise. I suggest that the majority of us would accept those responsibilities in the way that they are given. We do have a responsibility towards our constituents. They do have a right to see us. If we are there in our office, we will see them.
The notes made by my secretary suggest a number of other points. In the first place, the man told Mrs Miller that, .because she had a de facto relationship with a man, she could be fined $1,000 or sent to gaol for six months. I cannot find that in the social security legislation. If she receives money under false pretences, she can be sent to gaol or be fined $ 1 ,000. Because she has a de facto relationship with a man, I cannot see why she should be sent to gaol or fined $ 1,000.
The notes say that Mrs Miller was terrified. I have already explained that of course she was terrified. She was terrified by the mere fact that the field officer came and said that he was from the Department on which she was dependent. The second man came along, together with the first, to say that Mrs Miller had no right to go to see the social worker. I ask the Minister why Mrs Miller has not the right, or why one of her officers should say that she did not have a right to go to see a social worker? Why did he state that she did not have the right to see the Director if the Director was able to see her? Why did the field officer say that they had definite proof that a man was a substantial resident of the home? She had already gone back to the Department and admitted that she had lied or had told a mistruth. She told him because he was threatening her. That is the only reason she told him that she did not have a male friend. It was only because she was worried that she went to the Department and told it that she had a male friend who visited her at her home. He did not stay at the home. He contributed nothing and she had not had a de facto relationship with him or anyone else.
Mrs Miller was not advised by the Department to appeal. One has to question what the people in this wretched office in Inala are doing. Are they spending their time running around bedsniffing, or are they doing the job for which they are employed, that is, to serve the people who need them? She was not advised by the Department that she could appeal. She found out for herself that she could do so. Nobody interviewed her about the matter. She did not appear before the Tribunal but was simply told that she had lost the appeal on 9 March. She was not told the grounds for losing the appeal and she was not told that she could receive any benefit. At one time she was told that ‘the field officer had gone on holiday and had taken the file with him’. I would suggest that he must have been a very conscientious field officer.
– What is he doing taking papers out of the office?
– Getting overtime.
– I was going to suggest that perhaps he was working overtime. Perhaps he was on one of those paid holidays. Here is a woman with two dependent children. She receives a legitimate widow’s pension. But she has to receive food parcels from Life Line because of the actions and threats of one man. These threats were made to her. He stated that she could be fined $ 1 ,000. Fancy a person on the social security benefit even thinking about a $1,000 fine or imprisonment for six months! Of course Mrs Miller felt threatened. What was going to happen to her children if she was sent to gaol for six months? She certainly did not know any better. The field officer suddenly appears at her doorstep, invites himself into her home, refuses to show any identification and then thinks that she does not feel threatened.
Dealing further with these notes, I point out that the man at the counter said that the Director doesn’t want to see you kind of people’. The Director might not want to see them, but I think that the Senate has a right to know whether he actually does see that kind of person at any time. If he does not, why does he not? That is part of his responsibility. We have a right to know whether the field officer has been identified to the Minister for Social Security and whether disciplinary action has been taken against him and his cohort who came along as a witness at a later stage. We have a right to question when this intimidation of recipients of social security benefits will cease. In this instance, we have a right to ask when and if Mrs Miller will receive the benefits to which she was entitled between 1 7 January and 12 April.
There are a number of other things that this particular problem raises in my mind, and I am sure are raised in the minds of a number of other honourable senators, particularly on this side of the chamber. I suppose we could say that we are all conscious that this is not an isolated instance. We all know of separate cases where officers of the Department of Social Security have done certain things that may not be in the interests of human rights or civil rights. I suppose we should be grateful, or I should be grateful, that Mrs Miller had the common sense to write to members of the Parliament. The question that is raised in my mind is what about those people out there who live in poverty and misery because they feel threatened by the Department of Social Security in general and do not know that they can go to a member of Parliament. The Minister for Social Security has a role now to give us a reply on Mrs Miller’s circumstances and any other matters that we raise from time to time in this place.
- Senator Coleman has presented a case on which a representation was made to her. I will call for a report from the Department of Social Security on that matter. Whilst I do not know whether Mrs Miller is happy about having her case heard in public in this way, I would be constrained by the confidentiality of my Act about releasing information publicly about an individual case. I would certainly be prepared to provide Senator Coleman with details of the report that I receive. It would be understood, from what was said, that some very serious allegations have been made against members of my departmental staff. I would need to have those matters investigated. I would also assure the Senate that the role of field officers is part of the administrative process of the Department. It is an established practice as part of the routine of testing eligibility, and this is something that has been an established part of the administration of the Department through change of government. It is not a new process to use people as field officers in this testing process. However, where allegations are made, such as the ones that have been given by Senator Coleman, they need to be investigated. But even if they are sustained, they are not the usual practice of the Department. They are certainly not within the guidelines for the activities of field officers.
It would be understood also that there are eligibility requirements for pensions and benefits under the Social Services Act. It is the responsibility of the Department to see that those who conform with the eligibility requirements of the Act have their pensions and benefits paid to them. It is also the responsibility of the Department to see that those who are not eligible do not receive them. That is a normal aspect of the accountability requirements of the public servants who are administering the Social Services Act. As far as appeals are concerned, there is the appeal process through the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. I note that there was access to the Appeals Tribunal and that the appeal was not upheld by that Tribunal. However, all these matters are able to be investigated and reported upon to me. I will seek a report on the individual case that has been brought forward.
Although Senator Coleman has suggested that the Senate has a right to hear a report on these matters, as I say, within the confidentiality of my Act, now that the person has been publicly identified, I would feel somewhat constrained about the other side of the story becoming public knowledge- if we wish to put it that way- as the report is presented to me. However, I would certainly make available to Senator Coleman whatever report is made available to me and see what action is required by my Department in this case. I feel that at this stage, having no prior knowledge of the individual case that was to be presented, I am unable to make further comment, but I do give the Senate my assurance that I will seek an early report on the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 1 1.5 p.m.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:
– The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Ministerial Meetings with Business Consultants (Question No. 1 185)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Ministerial Meetings with Business Consultants (Question No. 1186)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question: ( I ), (2), (3) and (4). The members of my personal staff and I are contacted from time to time by various representatives of public relations firms and lobbyists. The specific information requested by the honourable senator concerns matters which are confidential to those individuals or organisations who make representations to myself or my staff, lt would be quite inappropriate for me to disclose details of any meetings with public relations firms or lobbyists, or, for that matter, any member of the public.
Ministerial Meetings with Business Consultants (Question No. 1196)
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
– The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Ministerial Meeting with Business Consultants (Question No. 1203)
asked the Minister for Special Trade Representations, upon notice, on 21 February 1979:
– The Minister for Special Trade Representations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No special arrangements are made within my office to record approaches by professional agencies. As these agencies arc not accorded any special treatment, there has been no reason to implement such arrangements.
Departmental Approaches by Lobbyists (Question No. 1212)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
What procedures exist within the Minister’s Department to accord approaches made to staff by lobbyists.
– The Minister for Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No formal procedure exists in my Department for recording of approaches made by lobbyists. As no special treatment is accorded to these agencies there is no reason why there should be any special arrangements.
Departmental Approaches by Lobbyists (Question No. 1213)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
What procedures exist within the Minister’s Department to record approaches made to staff by lobbyists.
– The Minister for Transport has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
As part of its normal day to day operations the Department of Transport has many approaches from businessmen and organisations representing business and industry groups.
Normal procedures followed by my Department are for a record of conversation to be taken where appropriate and placed on the relevant file. In significant cases, the terms of the approach are brought to the attention of senior officers and in some cases, brought to my attention. No special procedures exist to record specifically whether the approach is made by a lobbyist.
Departmental Approaches by Lobbyists (Question No. 1223)
asked the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, upon notice, on 21 February 1979:
What procedures exist within the Minister’s Department to record approaches made to staff by lobbyists.
– The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No special arrangements are made to record approaches by professional agencies and as such agencies are not accorded any special treatment, there is no reason why there should be such special arrangements.
Departmental Approaches by Lobbyists (Question 1225)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:
What procedures exist within the Minister’s Department to record approaches made to stall by lobbyists.
– The Minister for National Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No special treatment is accorded professional agencies or lobbyists and, therefore, no special arrangements are considered necessary to record their approaches to staff in my Department.
Departmental Approaches by Lobbyists (Question No. 1227)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
What procedures exist within the Minister’s Department to record approaches made to sta/by lobbyists.
– The Minister for Post and Telecommunications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No formal procedures exist within the Postal and Telecommunications Department for recording approaches made to staff by lobbyists.
Representations by individuals or interested groups would normally be recorded on Departmental files dealing with the subject matter ofthe representations.
Mr Greg Stephens (Question No. 1240)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and
Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 21 February 1 979:
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I am informed that-
1 ) There was some speculation in Sydney about the identity ofthe boxer in question.
Inquiries by my Department give no cause to doubt that he was Gregory Scott Stephens who was born in the United States of America on 1 January 1953.
The entry of Gregory Stephens was sponsored by Stadiums Ltd.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1979:
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The latest available figures to December 1978 on the numbers of visas issued to successful applicants, the number of applicants refused visitor entry to Australia, and the countries in which those applications were made, since the beginning of February, 1978, areas follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations, upon notice, on 20 February 1979:
What role has the Minister’s department played in investigating the accidental death of two employees on the drilling rig ship, Esso Endeavour, off the Victorian coast.
– The Minister for Industrial Relations has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Science and the Environment the following question, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1 979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1 979:
In how many cases and in what circumstances have pensioners and beneficiaries, not involved in the alleged New South Wales frauds, been requested to bring a police record of interview with them to determine eligibility for pension or benefit.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
My department is not aware of any such cases.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 2 1 February 1 979:
How many (a) age pensioners; (b) invalid pensioners; (c) widow pensioners; (d) supporting parents; and (e) sickness beneficiaries, had their pensions or benefits cancelled in the year ending 3 1 December, 1 978, before an investigation had been made into their circumstances.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
No pensions or benefits arc cancelled without an investigation into the circumstances. In some cases payments may bc suspended pending investigation where advice is received that continued eligibility is in doubt.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The text of the resolution was communicated to my Department on 19 February by the Chief Accountant of the Board.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:
Does the Prime Minister understand that Senators for Queensland are parliamentary representatives for the Torres Strait area; if so, why was a Senator for Queensland not included in the party which attended discussions in the Torres Strait region concerning the Torres Strait Treaty during the week ending 4 November 1978, as indicated by the Prime Minister’s reply to Senate Question No. 1 1 10 (Hansard, 27 February 1979, page 32 1 ).
– The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The parliamentary representative of the residents of the Torres Strait area is the member for Leichhardt, Mr David Thomson, who attended the discussions on the Torres Strait Treaty that took place during the week ending 4 November 1978. Senators from Queensland are representatives of the people of Queensland as a whole, which of course includes the residents of the Torres Strait area. In the light of Mr Thomson’s attendance there appeared to be no reason to include all Queensland Senators in the party attending the discussions.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 1 March 1 979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
It is not proposed to authorise the considerable expenditure of man hours that would be required to answer the question.
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 7 March 1979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
I ) and (2) The following table provides details of those projects, including their location, which have been approved for funding in 1978-79.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 8 March 1979:
I ) What was the Aboriginal infant mortality rate in the following financial years: (a) 1971-72; (b) 1972-73; (c) 1973-74; (d) 1974-75; (e) 1975-76; (f) 1977-78.
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Aboriginal infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births (iii)- 1971 - 109.0; 1972-77.7: 1973-89.5; 1974-62.0; 1975-52.3; 1976-55.5; 1977-67.8. <2)(a)(b)(c)-
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 21 March 1979:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Mr J. C. F. Wharton, B.Sc, Chairman, Director, Fisheries and Wildlife Division, Victorian Ministry of Conservation.
Mr N. M. Haysom B.Sc, Director, Queensland Fisheries Service.
Mr I. Kirkegaard, B.Sc, Assistant Director, (Fisheries), South Australian Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Mr D. D. Lynch, B.Sc, Commissioner, Tasmania Inland Fisheries Commission.
Mr R. McKay, B.A., Curator of Fishes, Queensland Museum.
In addition observers from the Departments of Business and Consumer Affairs, Capital Territory Health and the National Parks and Wildlife Service attend meetings of the Committee.
Aquarium Fish Imports (Question No. 1140)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry:
– The Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Resources, upon notice, on 2 1 March 1 979:
What was the cost of establishing the following organisations in Saudi Arabia: (a) a Bureau of Meteorology; and ( b ) a Flying Doctor Service.
– The Minister for Trade and Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The projects referred to by the honourable senator are still in the development stage. Implementation of the projects will be a decision of the Saudi Arabian Authorities following consideration of feasibility reports. Both projects will be financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and. in the form currently being considered, will provide opportunities for Australian consultants, contractors and equipment suppliers to seek to be involved commercially.
The development of the Saudi Meteorological Service, a project to provide Saudi Arabia with a modern nation-wide meteorological system, together with the associated construction and equipment requirements has an estimated overall cost of $ 166m.
The proposed Flying Doctor Service would provide Saudi Arabia with an aerial medical service similar to Australia ‘s. The project is of smaller scale than the meteorological project and a cost estimate is not yet available.
Should Australia become involved in the commercial implementation of these projects, it is likely that inputs from government organisations, including the Bureau of Meteorology and the Department of Health, will be required. The provision of government expertise would be on an agreed basis which would not involve any cost to the Australian Government.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 21 March, 1979:
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 27 March 1979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 27 March 1979:
Has the Minister communicated her regret to Mr Horafios, a victim of the raids by Commonwealth Police on the Greek community for her denial of his assertion that, although not charged with any offence, he had been photographed with the word ‘Greece’, which assertion was brought to the Minister’s notice in Parliament on 3 May, 1978.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
In answer to questions without notice asked by the honourable senator on 20 and 22 February, 1979, 1 advised that on 3 May 1978, I had read from a Commonwealth Police brief which stated that the word ‘Greek’ did not appear on a placard held by anyone photographed in the abovementioncd circumstances. I also stated that I had subsequently been advised that in five cases a placard bearing the date of birth with the word ‘Greece’ following it were used when Police were taking photographs. I also advised that the Government was of the view that this should not have happened and that action was being taken to ensure that it would not happen again.
Overseas Visit by Director-General of Social Services (Question No. 1484)
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 27 March 1979:
What was the daily itinerary for the Director-General of the Department of Social Security during his overseas trip between 15 January, 1979, and 5 February, 1979. (see answer to Senate Question No. 1301, Hansard 20 March, 1979, page 794).
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
I am advised that the daily itinerary of the DirectorGeneral of the Department of Social Security during his overseas visit was as follows: 1 5- 18 January, 1979-Washington 19 January, 1979-NewYork 20-21 January, 1 979-USA-Canada 22-23 January, 1979-Ottawa 24-25 January, 1979-London 26 January, 1979-Rome 27-28 January, 1979-Geneva 29 January, 1979-Rome 30-31 January, 1979-Belgrade 1-3 February, 1979-Athens.
The Director-General left Australia on the evening of Friday 12 January and returned on the morning of Tuesday 6 February. In accordance with the normal practice, rest days were taken en route.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 28 April 1 979:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 27 March 1979:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows: ( ) Some Bowral residents have expressed such a concern.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 4 April 1979:
I ) Did the Australian Wheat Board suspend first advance payments on growers’ warrants between 21 January and 3 February 1979 or thereabouts; if so;
1 ) Yes. The Australian Wheat Board suspended first advance payments on 23 January 1979 and recommenced on 2 February 1979.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 4 May 1 979:
Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament
– On 7 November 1978 (Hansard, pages 1701-2), Senator Button asked the Attorney-General a question, without notice, concerning the introduction in the various State Parliaments of measures for disclosure of pecuniary interests of Members of Parliament, and the attitude of the Commonwealth Government to this matter. The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Commonwealth Government has not prevaricated over this issue. As I indicated in a press statement on 16 December 1977, I do not regard the Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Pecuniary Interests as putting forward adequate solutions.
In February 1978 the Government appointed an Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest, chaired by Sir Nigel Bowen. It has wide-ranging terms of reference, canvassing such matters as whether a statement of principles can be drawn up on the nature of private interests, pecuniary or otherwise, which could conflict with the public duty of any or all persons holding positions of public trust in relation to the Commonwealth; whether principles can be defined to promote the avoidance of such conflicts; whether a register under judicial or other supervision should be maintained. The phrase ‘persons holding positions of public trust’ includes Ministers, Senators, Members and their staffs, members ofthe Australia Public Service, and such other persons as the Committee thinks ought to be included.
The Government looks forward to receiving Sir Nigel Bowen ‘s report and will be giving it very close attention.
I understand that the only substantive legislation enacted by State Governments on the matter of pecuniary interests is the Victorian Members of Parliament (Register of Interests Act, which did not become law until 19 Decernber 1 978.
I am also informed that the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory adopted a Resolution on 2 August 1978 relating to the disclosure of Members’ pecuniary interests. Pursuant to this Resolution, a Register of Members’ pecuniary interests is now in effect in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
I have arranged for copies of the Victorian Act, the relevant Extract from the Minutes of Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, and the Bowen Inquiry’s terms of reference to bc provided to the honourable senator.
Tertiary Education: Participation Rates
– On 7 March (Hansard, page 547) and 8 March (Hansard, page 622) Senator Button asked me two questions, without notice, concerning tertiary education participation rates and the provision of middle level courses in Queensland. I have sought advice from the Tertiary Education Commission on these matters and am now able to provide the following answers to the honourable senator’s questions:
The table below shows actual participation rates from 1975 to 1978 for universities, colleges of advanced education and, where available, technical and further education institutions:
Participation in tertiary education is conditioned by a large number of factors including: the agc structure of the population of individual States the numbers completing the final years of secondary school and their interest in proceeding to tertiary education the cultural, geographic and industrial composition of States the historic development of education in the States, particularly the share of resources that States have been prepared to devote to education, and the relative emphasis that has been given to individual sectors.
It will be noted from the table that the participation rates in Queensland and Tasmania arc below the national average. The reasons are a combination of the factors set out above, but probably the most significant is the lack of concentration of the population in major urban areas. Participation rates in Queensland are increasing but at a rate slightly less than the national average: most of the increase is occurring in the advanced education sector. Participation rates in Tasmania are increasing at slightly more than the national average with the increases confined to the advanced education and TAFE sectors.
While current policy is to hold intakes of university students at the 1976 level, and intakes of advanced education students at the 1977 level, there do not appear to bc significant numbers of qualified students seeking admission to universities or colleges who are unable to gain entry, lt is true that in certain disciplines (for example, medicine, social work, physiotherapy) there is keen competition for places, but students who wish to undertake studies at university or advanced education level appear able to obtain places, although not necessarily in the faculty or institution of their first choice. There is also evidence that some institutions are having difficulty in achieving their planned enrolment figures and are admitting students with low levels of school achievement. In general, therefore, it can be said that the demand for places in universities or colleges of advanced education is being met.
Participation in TAFE vocational courses (Streams 1-4) is continuing to grow in all States except Queensland. It is to be noted that the general financial responsibility for TAFE rests with the States and that there is no restriction on the level of intakes as far as the Commonwealth is concerned.
The shift in technician and para-professional courses in Queensland from the TAFE to the advanced education sector appears to be the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Queensland Government. In the first instance, any review of the policy, and its implications for educational opportunity, is a matter for Queensland Government authorities.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 May 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1979/19790508_senate_31_s81/>.