31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
-I present the following petition from 10 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned oppose the proposed boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and we therefore pray that the Government take no action to prevent Australian athletes from competing.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 23 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That we the undersigned oppose the proposed boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and we therefore pray that the Government take no action to prevent Australian athletes from competing.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
– I present the following petition from 67 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That in order to: facilitate the development of the north of Australia provide an all-weather rapid land transport system from north to south and vice versa facilitate better defence of Northern Australia provide improved transport for primary and mining products to southern markets boost tourism.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Urge that the Federal Government give favourable consideration to proceeding forthwith with the completion of the construction of the North/South railway from Alice Springs to Darwin as a matter of priority.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I present the following petition from 1 1 5 citizens of Australia:
To the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens respectfully showeth:
That there is an urgent need to ensure that the living standard of pensioners will not decline, as indeed the present level of cash benefits in real terms requires upward adjustment beyond indexation related to the movement of the Consumer Price Index. By this and other means your petitioners urge that action be taken to:
Adjust all pensions and benefits quarterly to the Consumer Price Index, including the ‘fixed ‘ 70 ‘s rate.
Raise all pensions and benefits to at least 30 per cent of the Average Weekly Earnings.
Taxation relief for pensioners and others on low incomes by:
The present static threshold of $75 per week for taxation purposes be increased to $ 100 per week.
A substantial reduction in indirect taxation on consumer goods.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
Lead Concentrates in Motor Spirit
– I present four petitions from 5, 20, 34 and 43 citizens of Australia, respectively, as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the lead content levels in Australian motor spirit have been proven to have detrimental health effects on our child population.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Take legislative action to reduce and ultimately remove lead concentrates from motor spirit in Australia.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petitions received and first petition read.
– I present the following petition from 32 citizens of Australia:
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
Initiate necessary action for a referendum to be held to amend the Constitution to provide for Citizen’s Initiative, on the following conditions:
If a specified percentage of the voters (for example 2 per cent) sign a petition asking that a referendum be held on a certain question, then the Federal Government would be obliged to hold that referendum, and the result would become law.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
The Acting Clerk- Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens respectfully showeth:
That there is an urgent need to ensure that the living standard of pensioners will not decline, as indeed the present level of cash benefits in real terms requires upward adjustment beyond indexation related to the movement of the Consumer Price Index. By this and other means your petitioners urge that action be taken to:
Taxation relief for pensioners and others on low incomes by:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle (2 petitions).
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 National Women’s Advisory Council has not been democratically elected by the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is not respresentative of the women of Australia;
That the National Women’s Advisory Council is a discriminatory and sexist imposition on Australian women as Australian men do not have a National Men’s Advisory Council imposed on them.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the National Women’s Advisory Council be abolished to ensure that Australian women have equal opportunity with Australian men of having issues of concern to them considered, debated and voted on by their Parliamentary representative without intervention and interference by an unrepresentative ‘Advisory Council ‘.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Senator Hamer. Petition received.
-Is the Minister for Social Security aware that some 200 labourers, who have been dismissed from the Loy Yang power station project in Victoria, have been refused unemployment benefits? If so, can she tell me why, and for how long will they be refused unemployment benefits?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEI am aware of Senator Grimes’ interest in this matter, and I understand that it is also of general interest. I am awaiting a reply with up to date information from my Department. Perhaps later in Question Time I will be in a position to respond to Senator Grimes. I will indicate that to him at the time, and perhaps you will permit his question to be redirected to me, Mr President.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Is Professor Low accurately reported as saying that the Australian National University is not required by the provisions of the Australian National University Act 1 979 to authorise a reduction of services and amenities fees for students who do not wish to have part of the fees they have paid appropriated for the use of sociopolitical organisations? Will the draft statute prepared by the ANU for consideration by its Council in May reflect the intentions expressed by Senator Carrick, the then Minister for Education, during the debate on the amending Act in November last year? If it does not, will the Government frame further legislative amendments to ensure that its requirements are observed?
-I am advised that the Council of the Australian National University has not yet adopted a statute as required by the 1979 amendments to the ANU Act, specifying the categories of amenities and services that may be funded from compulsory student fees. A draft of the statute is expected to be considered by the Council at its meeting on 9 May. Executive Council approval for the statute would be required. The Vice-Chancellor of the ANU was reported in a recent article appearing in the National Times as saying that the University was not required under the 1 979 Act to make a distinction between members and non-members of the Students’ Association in respect of the levels of fees by charging a lower level of fees to non-members.
Certainly it is the intention of the Government that there should be an entirely voluntary membership by students of socio-political organisations. Certainly, it is the objective of the Government that a student who indicates his or her intention not to join the Association should pay a lesser fee. If, indeed, owing to some legal technicality the present legislation is found to be defective, the Government will, without any doubt, make alterations to ensure that the intention of the Government as expressed in the second reading speech and. indeed, as conveyed to all universities is brought about.
– Has the Leader of the Government in the Senate seen reports that the President of the United States of America stated that the next step against Iran would include the mining of Iranian waters and also that a public opinion poll showed that Americans, by a majority of two to one, favour military action against Iran? Would he therefore agree that the situation in Iran poses the greatest threat to world peace since the Second World War?
– I have seen a number of statements which are reported to have come from President Carter, including statements that strong action will be taken. If, indeed, the present sanctions imposed by America and being discussed for imposition by a wide range of nations do not have their effect, I think the whole world must, in fact, share with great sympathy the anguish of not only the President of the United States of America but also the American people at the terrible dilemma that has confronted the American people because of the intransigent attitude of Iran with regard to the hostages. I have said and repeated in this place that the Iranian situation is one of deep peril. We have also said in relation to the invasion of Afghanistan that we share in supporting the terms of the United Nations resolution that it is a major threat to world peace. The situations in Afghanistan and Iran together combine certainly to make the major threat to world peace since World War II.
-I preface my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by saying briefly that no doubt the Minister is aware that the effect of high interest rates in the United States of America has been a rise in interest rates in Australia. Does the Minister agree, though, that interest rates in Australia will not rise to nearly the same extent as they have in the United States?
– There is no doubt at all that interest rates in the United States of America and, indeed, in the United Kingdom have brought pressure to bear on other countries and upon Australia. Equally there is no doubt that Australian inflation and interest rates have been happily restrained and have not moved in concert with those of the United Kingdom or
America. One always hesitates to comment on interest rates but I can say that the Government will pursue its economic policies with constant vigour. I have no doubt at all that Australia’s relationship in terms of trade, inflation and interest rates with the outside world will remain a favourable one and one, indeed, that is more favourable than it has been for many years.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs. Is it a fact that the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia proposes to recruit 1,000 skilled tradesmen from Europe? If so, will the Government consider the implementation of a formula requiring metal trades employers to institute one additional apprenticeship for every skilled worker imported? Additionally, will the Government provide that continued residence for such imported workers will be subject to review after a period of three years?
– It is a fact that we have a paradox in that, whilst we have a significant level of unemployment, we have also a very considerable scarcity of skilled labour. Indeed, in recent years, there has been a great attempt, largely through the training provided at technical and further education institutions, and now through the transition from school to work program, to rectify that position by training local young Australians. Very considerable discussions have gone on between industry, the trade unions and governments, State and Federal, to see whether we can find ways of improving apprenticeship plans that will yield a sufficiency of tradesmen. Let me make it abundantly clear that what the Australian Government would want to do would be to produce more and more skilled workers from the ranks of the people coming through the schools today. I believe it is true that the metal trades employers will find it necessary to go abroad if the employment market in Australia is not sufficient. Senator Mason has raised two other questions on specifics. It is not within my competence as the representative Minister to answer them, but I will refer them to the specific Minister and seek his response.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What does the Government know of the integrity of the research which has been carried out by Professor Ton That Tung of the VietnamEast German Friendship Hospital in Hanoi and which purports to establish a link between the use of herbicides and genetic defects? Is it true that Professor Ton That Tung is the only person to produce hard evidence, or even circumstantial evidence, of such a genetic linkage? Although the professor’s research may be sound, does it not bear all the hallmarks of an act of KGB disinformation to distract attention from communist aggression in Kampuchea and Afghanistan? Does it not bear an ominous resemblance to the false accusations of germ warfare which were levelled against the United States of America and which were peddled by the KGB during the communist invasion of Korea?
– I have not seen the claim made by the North Vietnamese gentleman concerned. However, I will seek it out and study it. I will direct it to the attention of my colleague in another place and endeavour to get a response on it. As to the argument in Australia as to whether any herbicides have had any effect on anybody, civilians or servicemen, the Commonwealth Government intends to pursue, by comprehensive inquiry, a study to try to determine the facts, and will do so. But at this moment I suppose one must of necessity put under suspicion evidence which may come from that source. Nevertheless, all sources of evidence need to be examined.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and follows the question which has just been asked. What is the Government’s attitude towards the cases of those persons in Australia who have taken ill recently, who were involved in Vietnam and who claim to have been involved in the use of herbicides, particularly where the medical advice to them is that they are in fact seriously ill? What temporary or immediate measures of support will the Government give those persons because- certainly in some cases- there are dependants involved?
– The question would be more properly directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, but as I am on my feet I will answer it. I think it is a proper question. I do not have the specific answer to it, but I will seek it and let Senator Wriedt know.
-Has the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry any information on the potato developed in Peru which reportedly traps its diseases in sticky hairs on its leaves? Can he advise the stage of development which has been achieved, and whether there yet appears to be any applicability to Australian, including Tasmanian conditions, particularly relating to irrigation potential, processing qualities and average yields?
– Surely, Mr President, you should direct that that question be placed on the Notice Paper.
– I call the Minister.
– I do not have any precise information regarding the Peruvian prickly potato. I am aware that, if such a potato exists, it may well be of great significance to the industry not only in Peru but also in Australia, including Tasmania- that important part of Australiaand wherever else potatoes may be grown. I will refer the honourable senator’s question to the appropriate Minister and department arid see what knowledge is available on the applicability of this potato in our circumstances.
-I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It follows a question asked by my colleague, Senator Wriedt. For what period after Vietnam veterans have been admitted to hospital with serious illnesses- perhaps I am directing the question to the wrong Minister.
– I will get an indication from my colleague,. the Minister for Social Security, as to whether she would like to answer the question.
-For what period after Vietnam veterans have been admitted to hospital suffering from these symptoms of serious illness has the Department of Veterans’ Affairs taken an interest in each of those cases and arranged for a representative of the Department to visit those patients in hospital?
I have not any precise information on the matter. I am aware of the continuing interest of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in those who seek its assistance in regard to pensions or treatment. I will refer the matter to the Minister and see whether I can get information for Senator Button.
– I ask a supplementary question. It is supplementary in the sense that perhaps the original question was not quite clear. I asked: For what period have such visits been made in relation to matters of medical diagnosis as distinct from pension entitlement and things of that kind?
Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLEAgain, I will need to refer the question to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs for precise information.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. It follows the question asked by Senator Hamer of Senator Carrick and related to specific evidence which had been attributed by a Vietnamese scientist, Professor Ton That Tung, to exposure to herbicides. My interest concerns the substance of the scientist’s findings. I ask the Minister whether there is any way in which we can have made available to the Senate some assessment of the work of the scientist and of its standing and value, as this is a matter of immediate interest to Australian veterans.
I have some information from the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in regard to this matter. He understands that Professor Ton That Tung is a Vietnamese scientist of international repute who has been engaged for some years in studying the effects on the Vietnamese people of various herbicides used during hostilities. The Minister is unaware of evidence which could substantiate a questioning of his scientific integrity. I understand that Professor Ton That Tung visited the United States of America during 1 979. On 9 May 1 979 he addressed a small seminar convened by the American Confederation of Scientists in Washington. That meeting was reported in Science, volume 204, 25 May 1979, page 817. Amongst other things, he reported cases of chromosome breaks among Vietnamese who inhabited sprayed areas. Concerning a link between the use of herbicides and genetic defects and other diseases, he is reported as saying:
He is reported as saying that he hoped to mount a large scale survey to see whether the reported increase in liver cancer is real. The report by the Comptroller General of the United States of America entitled ‘Health Effects on Exposure to Herbicide Orange in South Vietnam Should be Resolved’, dated 6 April 1979, at page 23, in relation to a study sponsored in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health, states:
Studies proposed in the United States and in Australia are designed, in part, to test the hypotheses that there may be a link between the use of herbicides in Vietnam and genetic defects.
Perhaps another point could be made in response to Senator Hamer’s question. That is that in this particular area, whether we are talking about the use of chemical agents such as herbicides or about chemical or biological warfare, false accusations are hard to disprove. Evidence categorically confirming or denying particular allegations in many cases is simply unobtainable. I draw attention to the study which the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has undertaken to have conducted in Australia. I think we all hope that that study will provide information not only for the veterans of this country but also perhaps for others. I would certainly commend that study and the breadth and depth of it to see whether further information can be added to what already is being obtained elsewhere.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I draw to her attention the fact that last night on the Australian Broadcasting Commission radio program PM the Minister for Foreign Affairs said that his main concern for the East German dancer who is being granted political asylum in Australia was for her safety should she return to East Germany. Is the Minister aware of the case of Nooray Aziz, an Iraqi who has been in Australia for some time and who is facing deportation to Iraq even though he says he is a deserter from the Iraqi Army and believes that he will face execution if returned to that country? As Miss Giersch is being given asylum presumably on the grounds to which I have referred, that is her personal safety, can the Minister indicate whether Mr Aziz’s case will be reviewed and whether he will be afforded the same consideration on the same grounds?
The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs signed an order that Mr Aziz be deported from Australia on 1 January of this year. Mr Aziz applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review of that decision but the Tribunal decided that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the application. Mr Aziz has appealed to the Federal Court of Australia against the Tribunal ‘s decision. I understand that he is currently held in the Villawood detention centre. I am advised that Mr Aziz may be applying to the Committee on the Determination of Refugee Status for refugee status. If such an application is made it will be considered in the normal way. I do not have any other information that I can give at this time, but apparently the Minister expects that Mr Aziz may apply to that Committee and that representation for refugee status will be considered by the Committee.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Government been made aware of criticism by the Chairman of the Murgon Shire Council in Queensland, Councillor Roberts, that the formula for assessing whether an area is drought affected is unrealistic in that it is based on the needs of livestock rather than agriculture? In view of the Commonwealth’s commitments to drought relief, will the Government seek the co-operation of the Queensland Government to ensure that the requirements for drought declaration account for the needs of all primary producers?
– I am not aware of the actual statement to which the honourable senator refers, but certainly the Government is most concerned, as indeed all Australians should be, about the consequences of the drought that is so widespread in Australia today. Clearly it is as significant to the agricultural area as it is to the livestock area. I will note the point raised by the honourable senator and have a full answer provided for him.
– My question to the Minister for National Development and Energy relates to the Government’s policy on conserving motor fuels. The Minister will recall my letter to him on 14 January this year concerning funding for the development at the Flinders University in South Australia of the electric car as distinct from the electric van and his reply to me on 20 February to the effect that the National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Council was not prepared to recommend support for a more comprehensive demonstration until the technology under development had been properly tested and performance results showed that the vehicle had commercial potential. How can it be expected that these requirements will be met when sufficient funds are not allocated to enable the necessary work to be carried out? Why is it that NERDDC advertises for applications for three-year grants and then makes grants for only a one-year period?
– The National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Council was established so that the Government would have an objective body comprising experts in a wide range of fields who could give advice to it on research grants and outline priorities for funds. The Government has accepted that advice. Decisions about funding for the electric van and the lack of funding for the electric car are made on technical and scientific evaluation by NERDDC. Considerable study is taking place not only in South Australia but also at the University of New South Wales and in Queensland. NERDDC believes that it is the best way to disburse funds to bring about appropriate research. As would be expected, considerable research is going on throughout the whole world on electric vehicles at this moment. My Department and the Government are in close contact with the nature of that work.
I believe that there is some informal understanding with one or two of the automotive companies that within three or four years they will be producing electric vehicles. The very great need is for the massive resources of the automotive industries to be directed towards this problem. So, one should not simply look at just one undertaking such as that in Adelaide, however valuable it may be, and judge it as such. Massive research and developmental work are going on. NERDDC believes that it should make its grants year by year according to the progress made and what it foresees as the demands in subsequent years.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. I asked the Minister why NERDDC advertises for applications for threeyear grants and then makes the grants only on a 12-monthly basis.
-I thought I had alluded to that aspect in my answer. People make applications for three-year grants but grants are made yearly. NERDDC has in its mind the progress made, the need for further funds, the quantum of those funds and the quality of the research that has been made.
-Will the Minister representing the Minister for Health say what the Government proposes to do to clear up doubts existing in people’s minds with respect to the health of those who worked at Maralinga in
South Australia? Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to the statement made on the radio program AM this morning by an officer of the Royal Air Force who was in charge of atomic tests at Maralinga? Is the Minister aware that the officer stated that he worked as close as anybody to the hazards associated with these tests and that in his opinion the possibility of adverse effects on the health of the workers in that area was very remote? Can the Minister say whether it is possible for a medical determination to be made as to whether cancer has been caused by radiation or some other factor?
I was aware that some comments on the matter had been made recently, but I have no information on the matter from the Minister for Health. I will need to refer Senator Jessop ‘s question to the Minister for Health to obtain information.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Australian Government taken any steps since the end of November 1979 to assist the victims of war and disruption in Kampuchea, or has the Fraser Government used the focusing of world attention on Afghanistan as an excuse for evading our national and humanitarian responsibilities to the people of warravaged South East Asia?
– In recent months quite a number of statements have been made in this Senate regarding the Commonwealth Government’s contribution towards alleviating the problems of the civilians in Kampuchea and of the refugees who have moved across the Thai border. If Senator Ryan so desires, I will obtain copies of those statements and let her have them. Considerable sums of money have been directed towards various forms of food and medical relief. That information can be made available to Senator Ryan. I will get it for her.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I preface it by drawing the Minister’s attention to a report in the media today that the Managing Director of Tasmania’s biggest private employer of labour, Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd, has accused a minority group of politicians of seeking to abolish the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. Is it not a fact that the Government established that scheme to put
Tasmania on an equal footing with other States, in keeping with the stated objective of the Federal Constitution to guarantee equality among the States? Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government has no intention of altering the fundamental objective of our freight equalisation scheme?
– I have not seen the report referred to by the honourable senator in her question, but I can assure her that, as she has indicated to the Senate, there is no substance in fact to the report. The freight equalisation scheme was introduced to put the citizens of Tasmania in the same position as people elsewhere in Australia. There is no proposal before the Government for that subsidy scheme to be altered.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As the use of chemical agents, such as the herbicide or defoliant agent orange, became a new and horrendous factor in warfare during what the late Arthur Calwell described as the filthy, unwinnable Vietnam war but has not specifically been banned by the international agreements made by many major countries against the use of poison gas and chemical warfare, will the Leader of the Government in the Senate initiate the necessary procedures for Australia to press for the inclusion of the use of herbicides in the list of prohibited methods of warfare?
-I think that the first thing one must do is to identify the nature of the herbicides and, taking each herbicide individually, identify its toxic effects. We do not know enough about that at the moment. I have stressed that the Government is keen to make absolutely sure that we do find out precisely what are the effects. I have little doubt that, if it is proved that certain of the defoliants are seriously toxic to human life, they will be examined to see whether they can be categorised in the ordinary categories of chemical warfare. I think that the first thing to do is to identify the nature of the herbicides and see what are their effects. I will pass the matter to the relevant Minister.
-I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to an article in column one on page one of today’s Australian. I also refer to my recent questions to the Minister concerning the impact of television on children’s learning. Is it a fact that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications has announced a study of one of the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on the impact of television on the development of learning behaviour of children? Is this inquiry to be the sole response of the Government to the Senate Committee ‘s report? If so, when will the Chairman and members of the Committee receive a copy of the statement in light of the fact that the Minister has already answered a question on notice about this in the other place? Will the Minister renew a plea to his colleague for a better treatment of Senate committee reports? Finally, if the inquiry proceeds, will the researchers conducting the inquiry also study material received only the other day by the Committee in its inquiry into literacy and numeracy which confirms its findings of two years ago?
-I do not think it is quite true to say that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, Mr Staley, has announced a study. Rather, he was asked a specific question on notice about a matter of fact and he responded to that question. My advice is that the Minister advised that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal was preparing a study of the effects of television on the capacity of children to learn. The answer given by Mr Staley does not stand in the place of the Government ‘s response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts which Senator Davidson raised with me again recently. I think I indicated at that time that Mr Staley had told me that the response was in the course of preparation and he was hopeful that it would be given to the Parliament soon. The answer was given to the question in the normal course and does not stand in the place of any formal Government response.
asked what the researchers will take into account. If the Senate Committee has new information available, it would be useful if that information could be drawn to the attention of the Minister who could pass it on to the Tribunal to ensure that the researchers do not overlook it. I am not familiar with the material to which the honourable senator has referred. I do not know whether it would be generally or publicly available and whether the researchers in their own efforts would come across it. Therefore, it would be useful if that could be done. The matter of children and television is raised frequently in this place. The Government is aware of the close interest of Senator Davidson and other honourable senators in getting a response to the report which was put down. I will again remind my colleague of that interest.
– My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has the Australian Government ratified the Geneva protocol of 1925 which prohibits chemical warfare? Did it do so on the understanding that riot control agents and anti-plant agents were not covered by the terms of the protocol?
– I am not precisely sure of the nature of the answer to that question. I will seek the answer from my colleague in another place.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. It concerns the export of live sheep for slaughter. How important financially is this trade to Australia? Rumours of losses during shipment are distressing to many people. Do we have evidence of those losses? How may they be avoided in the future? In the interests of Australian meat workers it would be better to kill sheep prior to export. Can this be done, so maintaining employment for Australians while, at the same time, retaining a similar price structure to the producer?
– The export of live sheep has been a very important part of primary industry in this country, particularly over recent years. Over the last seven years or so, we have received the financial return on the export of some 24 million sheep. In the last completed year about 5.2 million sheep were exported for a return in the vicinity of $ 1 24m. The trade has had a widespread effect on the price structure of the whole Australian flock. It has not been confined just to those sheep which were suitable for export and which met the requirements of that market. It has had a favourable reaction across the whole Australian flock. The honourable senator referred to the very recent disastrous loss by fire on a ship in Australian waters. Certainly there would be total regret for that sort of incident; but I understand that it is a fact that losses in this form of transport and this market over a period of years is something less than 3 per cent, whereas losses from natural causes in the industry are in the vicinity of 8 per cent. Naturally the tragedy of loss by fire on a ship during transport is a loss that relates to fire precautions and other matters which are constantly under review, as anyone who has been involved with a ship would know.
Other matters that are relevant to the transport of livestock relate to conditions in the pens on the ship, the feeding circumstances and hygiene in general. High standards are required. So far as increasing the market for carcass meat is concerned, as the taste for that type of meat is developed in areas that at this stage do not require it, for various reasons, so will the carcass trade from Australia increase.
– I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs to yesterday’s decision to grant political asylum to the East German ballerina Miss Heidi Giersch. Is it the case that no one has been granted political asylum in Australia since the Petrovs in 1954, and that during that time many hundreds of applications for political asylum have been rejected but at the same time thousands of people have been admitted to Australia with refugee status? Given that the reason offered for yesterday’s decision- namely, that the person had reason to fear persecution if forced to return- is exactly the same as the reason invariably given for grants of refugee status, are we entitled to conclude that the only basis for yesterday’s decision to grant political asylum rather than refugee status was the Government’s desire, for current political purposes, to recreate and to relive the atmosphere of the Cold War?
– The very action of the East Berlin girl tells the story. There is no need for the Government to do so. I am not aware whether there has or has not been a granting of political asylum since Petrov. I will seek that information.
– There were two Czechoslovakian seamen in 1974-75.
- Senator Young reminds me that there may well have been others. I will seek that information and I will also seek information regarding refugees. It is quite clear that the Government has allowed refugees to come ashore, but I cannot for the life of me see why one would be concerned about this matter. The real test is whether this young woman is genuinely under peril concerning her future. If she is, then in ordinary humanitarian ways the Australian people have a duty. I think the average Australian would support that.
My advice is that there are no internationally agreed criteria for states to grant political asylum. The granting of asylum is entirely at the discretion of the state concerned. Attempts have been made to codify provisions relating to asylum in an international convention, but these attempts so far have not succeeded. The granting of refugee status is governed by the convention relating to the status of refugees, and its accompanying protocol, to which Australia is a party. Under the terms of the convention Australia is obligated to grant refugee status to anyone in Australia who is no longer willing or able to avail himself of the protection of his own country because he has a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of religion, race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
– I wish to ask a supplementary question. In seeking further information from the Minister, will Senator Carrick also establish and advise us whether the decision to grant political asylum was one that was recommended by the departmental officers?
-I will draw that question to the attention of the Minister.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Like Senator Davidson’s question today, my question refers to the effects of television on children’s capacity to learn and their attitude to learning. I note the statement yesterday by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal is preparing a study on this matter. Is it true that television is used increasingly in Australian schools as a supposed education aid? Is it also true that, whilst some television programs are effective, the majority have come to be regarded as entertainment by children and teachers alike? Is there a serious lack of classroom introduction and follow-up to televised material? Will the Australian Government, through the Schools Commission or otherwise, conduct a parallel study on the educational effectiveness of the use of television in schools, that is, parallel to the ABT study and to the inquiry into this matter from the broadcasting point of view by the Australian Broadcasting Commission Committee of Review?
-In responding to Senator Teague, I first of all draw his attention to the excellent Senate committee report on the effect of television on children. In my former capacity, as Minister for Education, this was an issue which weighed heavily upon me. Of course, there was increasing pressure in education establishments for audio-visual aids, and there is great controversy throughout the world as to their true value, whether as a supplement or as direct teaching aids. I think there is a general understanding throughout the world that people watching television see much more than they hear, and that the visual is so much stronger than the auditory that there is a delimitation of its educational value and therefore one can get an imbalance of message.
– This is a lot of waffle.
– The matters I am stating, which Senator Button says are a lot of twaddle, are based upon expert findings. As usual, Senator Button finds himself the only person in step in the regiment. Senator Teague also asked that the Schools Commission be requested to conduct an inquiry. I will direct that portion of his question to the Schools Commission and seek its study of it.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and follows the question asked by Senator Evans. As a result of the answer the Minister gave, I am now curious as to who is in step in the Government regiment. In that answer he said, in respect of the case of the East German girl, that the real test is the safety of the person in the event of her return to her country, and that Australia has a humanitarian duty to recognise that, where there is a well-founded fear on the part of that person for her safety in the event of her return. I think most people would agree with those principles. Earlier in Question Time Senator Guilfoyle, on behalf of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, answered a question from me, and I now ask: Why was the answer given to me not able to spell out precisely those principles that Senator Carrick has spelt out? If it is Government policy, why is it that Mr Aziz, about whom I asked the question earlier today, has not been treated according to exactly the same principles as Senator Carrick has just enunciated?
– In response to a request from a Labor senator, I sought the principles so that they would be available for Question Time. I direct Senator Wriedt ‘s attention to that. I equipped myself with this statement so that I would be able to respond to a Labor senator. The statement I read out is the statement of principles that the Department of Foreign Affairs gave to me. I am not able to say whether the gentleman to whom Senator Wriedt refers comes into this category. I will seek the information and let him know.
– I ask a supplementary question. Can the Minister assure the Senate that the principles he spelt out in the answer he gave to Senator Evans represent Government policy in making these determinations on whether political asylum will be granted?
– The advice I have received from the Department of Foreign Affairs is the advice I have given to the Senate. It is the advice that comes from the Department and no doubt it has the endorsement of the Minister concerned.
-Has the Minister for National Development and Energy seen a Press statement by the New South Wales Energy Minister attacking the Federal Government for ignoring Australia’s natural gas needs and stating that a natural gas pipeline grid is essential to meet energy demands which, one presumes, is a reference to the demands of New South Wales? Is it a fact that New South Wales and particularly the Australian Gas Light Co. have not been able to meet their contractual commitments for gas from the Cooper Basin gas producers in South Australia?
– I saw the statement referred to by Senator Young. I found it curious for a number of reasons, including the one that Senator Young has indicated. I found it curious because the State Government concerned must have known that one of the significant undertakings by this Government is its proposal to link the Cootamundra- Young-Wagga Wagga pipeline to Albury and, therefore, to link the Cooper Basin and Bass Strait. Therefore, in fact, the very matter to which he was referring- the establishment of a link between the two basins- is a matter which at this moment is before the governments concerned. It was a statement that ought not to have been made.
Essentially, the fact of the matter is as Senator Young has indicated, namely, that over the years the amount for which the Australian Gas Light Co. has contracted from the Cooper Basin has been significantly more than its capacity for use. It has had an excess capacity. For example, in 1976-77 it used only 45 per cent; in the next year it used 45 per cent; in the next year after that it used 52 per cent; and in the following year it used 72 per cent. The degree to which gas may be used in country districts in New South Wales will depend, of course, upon the price prevailing. Whether there ought to be rationalisation or equalisation of price throughout a State is a matter for the State government concerned. I draw attention only to the fact that the Victorian State Government has a policy which recognises, in fact, the needs of country people and makes provision in that regard.
-My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Questions asked by Senator Wriedt and Senator Evans have probably pre-empted most of my question. I seek clarification of the ministerial responsibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrew Peacock, and the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Ian Macphee, in relation to the two categories of people seeking permanent residence in Australia. By way of explanation I say that when Senator Wriedt asked his first question it was indicated that the case of an Iraqi who was under threat of possible political persecution if he returned to Iraq would be considered by the Determination of Refugee Status Committee which is a responsibility of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. The point that I think Senator Carrick would appreciate is that there is a representative of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on that Committee, along with our own departmental heads. In effect, the conclusion I am drawing is that if a person is running away from persecution of what I would call totalitarianism of the Right he is more likely to face a different formula in Australia than if he is running away from totalitarianism of the Left. The point is that the speed with which political asylum is granted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the case of a person who believes he has been oppressed by a left wing government seems to be quicker that the speed with which the Iraqi case which Senator Wriedt was talking about is being dealt with. This is the area of demarcation that I want clarified.
– The Government will pursue its attitude both to political asylum and to refugee asylum without fear or favour as to whether a person holds certain views or whether the government concerned is of the extreme Right or the extreme Left. I am not able to comment upon the case of the gentleman concerned, but I undertook to obtain the information for Senator Wriedt, and I will do so also on behalf of Senator Mulvihill.
– I ask a supplementary question. If both Ministers look at the consideration of the estimates for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs after the last Budget they will note that the departmental officers were a bit blurred in their responses. Senator Guilfoyle was there. Obviously there is some uncertainty. That is what I am driving at.
– I draw the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the gallery of a distinguished gentleman who, for many years, served this Parliament magnificently, namely, Sir Reginald Wright. We are delighted to have him in the precincts of the House and we welcome him most heartily.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Science and the Environment. As from last week, the Kakadu National Park plan of management has become a public document. Paragraph 60 of that document refers to co-operation with Northern Territory authorities. Can the Minister expound further along the lines of Federal and Territory responsibility in this area? What firm lines of liaison and co-operation have been agreed upon between the two governments? What is the future of the town of Jabiru in regard to its management and development of and association, if any, with the Kakadu National Park?
– In the preparation of the plan of management for the Kakadu National Park there was considerable liaison between the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth authority- the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. There were detailed discussions between officers of those two groups as the plan was being developed and the completed final draft was provided to the Northern Territory body before it was published so that it had an opportunity to comment before that time. The staff of those two bodies, as a result of the agreement between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, are working together on a day-to-day basis in the management of the park, and the detailed conditions of employment of Northern Territory officers in the park were agreed between the respective Territory and Commonwealth Public Service boards. So there has been co-operation at that level as well.
Both governments agreed to the establishment of an advisory committee with representatives of the Commonwealth, the Territory and the Northern Land Council to facilitate co-operation and co-ordination in the park, and Senator Kilgariff would be aware of the close interest of the Northern Land Council, representing the
Aboriginal owners, and the Territory Government, representing all the citizens of the Northern Territory. As far as Jabiru is concerned, provision is made in the plan for its future development, consistent with agreed government policies. The responsibility for the construction and development of the town rests with the Jabiru Town Development Authority. The town plan, as given in the management plan, has been developed jointly by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Town Development Authority.
The plan of management emphasises the need for recreation facilities for the residents of Jabiru, who will, of course, be living in the middle of the park. As a consequence of an amendment made last year to the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, town construction work has been undertaken under a licence arrangement. The working arrangements developed between the two organisations have ensured that no delays have occurred in the scheduled development of the town. Each licence for construction activity is approved by the Northern Land Council after it has been considered by it. There is close and continuing contact between the Director of the Commonwealth Service and the relevant Northern Territory authorities with regard to the preparation and implementation of the plan of management. This is seen by the Commonwealth as essential. The progress achieved so far is encouraging and, we believe, will ensure that high standards are met with respect to both the development of the park and the development of Jabiru.
-Will the Leader of the Government in the Senate inform the Senate of the price Esso-BHP received for the export of its liquefied petroleum gas to Japan? If he cannot disclose the price, will he tell us why?
– My understanding is that the price received was $252, but I would need to check that. As I understand it, that was the price that the Prices Justification Tribunal accepted as the export parity price. If that is not true I will have it checked.
Senator Puplick having addressed a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs-
– The question is out of order.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. Given the fact that the AuditorGeneral has declared, and the Acting Chairman of the Australian Dairy Corporation has confirmed, that Mr Tony Webster and his family illegally received air fares from Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd, when the Minister stated in reply to a question in the House of Representatives last Thursday that ‘the honourable member for Melbourne Ports . . would like to do a Michael Finnane on the Webster case, just as the Labor Party did on Ian Sinclair’, what was the Minister implying?
-The Government is extremely concerned that there should be no prejudgment in matters relating to Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd. On the Minister’s direction, intensive investigations are being undertaken of the matters surrounding that company. When those investigations are complete, as the Minister has said, a full statement will be made to the Parliament or released to the Press.
– I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister ask the Minister for Primary Industry what he was implying when he juxtaposed Mr Sinclair and Mr Webster?
-It is not for me to decipher what the Minister may or may not have been implying.
– I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Education to a report in the Courier-Mail of 22 April 1980 in which it is mentioned that fewer applications for secondary allowances have been received in Queensland this year than were received last year. As applications received after 2 May will not allow the applicant to receive assistance for the first term, I ask whether the Department of Education could undertake an extensive advertising campaign to advise those eligible for benefits to submit applications.
– I will direct that question to the attention of the Minister for Education.
– I have a number of supplementary answers. I was asked by Senator Melzer today a question in relation to the use of poisonous gas. I am advised that on 22 January 1930 Australia deposited the Instrument of Accession to the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the prohibition of use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases and of bacteriological methods of warfare. If there is further information that Senator Melzer may wish, I would be happy to get it.
– I have a supplementary answer to the question that Senator Wriedt asked me yesterday on Iran. He asked about contacts between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America concerning economic sanctions involving Iran. During the past week a number of confidential exchanges have taken place in Canberra, Washington and elsewhere at the highest levels about the situation in Iran and the measures that might be adopted to help secure the safe release of American hostages.
As the honourable senator would expect and as a matter of normal diplomatic practice, the United States as well as other countries, have been briefed on the measures adopted by Australia as these have been announced. At the same time our representatives in Washington are keeping in close contact with members of the United States Administration. These continuing confidential exchanges have been constructive and helpful to both sides and have been completely in accordance with the traditions of the alliance with the United States. The Australian Government has deplored the action of Iran in taking the hostages. It shares the concern of the United States. It is the Australian Government that has responsibility for deciding on an appropriate Australian response to the difficult and evolving situation.
– I have a combined answer to two questions, one by Senator Evans and the other by Senator Button, on what is regarded as the Bowen Committee report. On 1 9 March Senator Evans asked the AttorneyGeneral a question without notice on the report of the Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest. On 25 March Senator Button asked me a question without notice on the same matter and yesterday I undertook to get a reply to Senator Button’s question.
When the report of the Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest was tabled the Government indicated that it had accepted the recommendations in regard to Ministers, Defence Force personnel, officers of the
Parliamentary departments, public servants and statutory office holders and their staff. At that time, the Government undertook that proposals relating to Parliamentary procedures and members of Parliament would be debated before any decisions affecting them were made. Yesterday in response to a question without notice from the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith the Prime Minister said that important matters were involved in respect of members of the Parliament and in the Government’s view the matter should be fully debated in the Parliament as well as in the respective party rooms. He said that process should be put in train before the end of these sittings.
With regard to action to date the Prime Minister has written to all Ministers establishing revised arrangements for declaration of interest and reiterating their responsibility to avoid conflicts between private interest and public duty. The Public Service Board issued Public Service Board Circular No. 1986 of 14 March of this year setting out guidelines concerning the code of conduct and other recommendations of the report relating to public servants. Action is in train to implement the revised arrangements in relation to ministerial staff, Defence Force personnel, officers of the parliamentary departments and statutory office holders and their staff. As the Attorney-General said in response to a question from Senator Evans on 19 March:
With regard to the judiciary, the Bowen Committee did not recommend any extension of existing rules in regard to members of the judiciary.
-On 20 February Senator Keeffe asked me a question without notice concerning the cost of the Prime Minister’s then recent overseas visit. I undertook to get information on the costs of that visit and comparative costs of previous visits. I have a large number of pieces of paper in reply. I seek leave to have them incorporated in Hansard.
- Mr President, I have a question on this matter. I take it that the information on previous visits goes back to previous governments and there will be a disparity in the cost. The information will not be real and the Minister is incorporating false information in Hansard.
– Order! I put the question: Is leave granted?
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I drew attention to the fact that I undertook to get information on the costs of that visit and comparative costs of previous visits. That was the undertaking I gave.
– That information is not true. The costs are now debited to departments and the Minister is giving crook information.
The document read as follows-
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE AND
MINISTER REPRESENTING THE PRIME MINISTER
Ministerial Overseas Travel (Question No. W/N)
On 20 February, (Hansard, page 92) Senator Keeffe asked me a question without notice concerning the cost of the Prime Minister’s then recent overseas visit. I undertook to get information on the costs of that visit and comparative costs of previous visits. lt is apparent that some Senators’ and Members ‘ interest in overseas travel seems to concentrate entirely on costs rather than on what that travel achieves and its importance to Australia.
This Government has always been conscious of the need for restraint in regard to overseas travel in the interests of economy. Our record of restraint is fully illustrated in material which officials from four departments involved in administration of travel (Finance, Administrative Services, Defence and Prime Minister and Cabinet) have over recent weeks drawn together.
The material gives a detailed breakdown of each RAAF and commercial overseas flight undertaken by Ministers from 1 973 to 1979 and the expenditure in respect of these flights brought to account in Australia as at 31 December 1979.
I am advised this material represents the most meaningful, consistent statement of expenditure on Ministerial overseas travel. It includes expenditure on:
RAAF flying time aircraft chaner and scheduled fares travelling allowance, meals and accommodation paid to or on behalf of Ministers, their spouses and their personal staff excess baggage charges paid to airlines for Ministers and their personal staff direct administrative expenditure incurred such as hire cars, machines and interpreters, and communications official hospitality and gifts
Recoveries from non-Commonwealth employee travellers, such as journalists, are offset for commercial flights. For RAAF flights the recoveries have not been offset except in the case of the two B707 flights in 1979.
Certain qualifications, because of the nature of the expenditure and the accounting involved, have been drawn to my attention. In particular
. consistent with previous practice, Ministerial travel to NZ and PNG has been excluded.
because travel accounts may not be presented until many months after the travel is concluded there may be need for subsequent adjustments as outstanding amounts are brought to account. Expenditure in the most recent year is obviously the most susceptible to change. I am advised that for 1979 the Department of Administrative Services currently estimates that the amounts oustanding as at 1 January 1980 were of the order of $60,000 for commercial flights and $350,000 for RAAF flights.
the procedures used to derive expenditure are generally consistent with those used previously. In a reply which I gave to an earlier question by Senator Wriedt (Hansard, 2 May 1979, pages 1608-9) I said notional fares for officials accompanying both Prime Ministers Whitlam and Fraser on RAAF or charter flights had been offset. I indicated that a similar adjustment for officials accompanying other Ministers was not made because the information was not available. To enable a more consistent approach to expenditure on all Ministers’ travel, the adjustment in respect of officials accompanying Prime Ministers has not been made in the material recently prepared. I am advised that details of all officials accompanying Ministers overseas since 1973 are not available and the Prime Minister is not prepared to authorise the considerable expenditure of time and money that would be required to obtain the information, particularly as it is doubtful that all the necessary information could be obtained. However, as indicated in my reply to Senator Wriedt 258 people, including Departmental officials, accompanied Mr Whitlam on the overseas visits he undertook during his 3 years in office, whereas 1 70 people, including Departmental officials, accompanied Mr Fraser on the visits he undertook during his first 3 years in office.
In the past, expenditure on commercial and RAAF flights has been combined. However, officials now have pointed out that as the costs and accounting for RAAF, and commercial flights differ, it is more appropriate to show expenditure on each separately.
In 3 years Mr Whitlam ‘s Government undertook commercial flights totalling $4.23m at December 1979 values compared with $2.44m for the first three years of the current Government. Expenditure on RAAF flights for the same period was $ 1.02m for Mr Whitlam’s Government and $0. 1 9m for this Government.
If, as has been done in the past despite the different basis of the two types of flight, RAAF and commercial flight expenditures are added together, Mr Whitlam’s Government undertook flights totalling $5. 3m compared with $2.6m for the first 3 years of the current Government. Mr Whitlam’s own overseas travel totalled $2.8m compared with $ 1.1m for Mr Fraser ‘sown travel over 3 years.
This Government’s record of restraint is more than evident.
In addition the number of visits undertaken by this Government is less. In 3 years Mr Whitlam’s Government undertook 130 Ministerial overseas visits. In the following 3 years this Government undertook 1 12.
With regard to the Prime Minister’s January overseas visit, the total cost is currently estimated to be of the order of $260,000. This is a preliminary figure as accounts for overseas travel can take many months to finalise.
Mr President, for the information of honourable Senators, I seek leave to have the 4 tables showing expenditure brought to account in Australia as at December 1979 for Ministerial overseas travel between 1973 and 1979, plus the accompanying explanatory notes (which include details of the qualifications I have outlined) incorporated in Hansard.
DIRECT EXPENDITURE ON MINISTERIAL OVERSEAS TRAVEL
Details of Amounts Presented
Direct expenditure incurred for overseas travel by Ministers (excluding travel to Papua New Guinea and New Zealand) from January 1973 to December 1979 based on amounts brought to account in Australia as at 3 1 December 1979, includes:
RAAF flying time; aircraft charter and scheduled fares; travelling allowance, meals and accommodation paid to or on behalf of Ministers, their spouses and their personal staff; excess baggage charges paid to airlines for Ministers and their personal staff; direct administrative expenditure incurred such as hire of cars, machines and interpreters, and communications; official hospitality and gifts;
Recoveries from non-Commonwealth employee travellers such as journalists are offset for commercial flights. For RAAF flights the recoveries have not been offset except in the case of the two B707 flights in 1 979.
Determination of direct expenditure on RAAF flights is based on the charge for the flying time as at ‘then year prices ‘ or December 1 979 as indicated;
Expenditures other than those made directly on RAAF flights have been adjusted using CPI movements to December 1979 as indicated;
RAAF charges based on flying time cannot be compared directly to commercial charges due to differences in their derivation;
The nature of the expenditure and accounting is such that considerable delays can occur in bringing to account all items involved. For any given year, and in particular 1979, there may be expenditure outstanding.
For consistency, numbers of visits and expenditure on visits is shown as if they had occurred in the month in which the visit commenced. This has not always been the case in the past and the present figures may not always accord with the year in which they were previously shown.
Details of Attachments
Table 1- Commercial Flights 1973-79- Expenditure on Overseas Travel for Ministers (listing each visit).
Table 2- RAAF Flights 1973-79-Expenditure on Overseas Travel for Ministers (listing each visit).
Table 3- Summary of Expenditure on Overseas Travel for Ministers 1973-79 (Annual Totals).
Table 4- Summary of Expenditure on Overseas Travel for Prime Ministers 1973-79 (Annual Totals).
– Could we have the material tabled as well so that we can have access to it immediately?
– I am perfectly happy to do that.
Earlier today Senator Grimes asked me a question which I was not able to answer. I now have information from the Department of Social Security with regard to the eligibility of persons who have been dismissed or stood down from the Loy Yang power station project in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. I have been informed that some 600 workers are involved or affected by the industrial dispute at the project. I am also informed that the dispute directly involves members of the Builders Laborers Federation who are not agreeing to work in accordance with the terms of their award.
In this situation the unemployed members of the BLF are not eligible for unemployment benefit. I understand, however, that workers who are members of unions other than the BLF are unemployed as a result of the industrial action being taken. Such members would, subject to other conditions of eligibility, be entitled to receive unemployment benefit. At this stage some 220 claims for unemployment benefit have been lodged of which 106 have been refused because the claimant’s unemployment is due to industrial action by him or by members of the union of which he is a member. Such workers will remain ineligible for unemployment benefit as long as the industrial action continues. As I indicated earlier, however, unemployed workers who are members of unions other than the BLF in the Latrobe Valley could be tested to receive unemployment benefit.
-Yesterday Senator Colston asked me a question about possible telephone concessions for employees of the Australian Telecommunications Commission. I gave an answer according to my recollection. I am now in a position to confirm that my recollection on that occasion was correct.
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 Carrick) read a first time.
I seek leave for the second reading speech to be incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted?
– Does the Bill originate in this House?
– It is a money Bill and as such must originate in another place.
-Is leave granted?
– I note that it is not a money Bill in the strict sense. Nevertheless we grant leave for the second reading speech to be incorporated.
The speech read as follows-
The world is facing an energy crisis and unless positive action is taken by the Government to encourage the rational use of our natural energy resources, Australia may experience shortages and hardship. For this reason the Government has formulated a policy of encouraging the use of liquefied petroleum gas as a means of reducing our dependence on imported oil, particularly in areas where LPG has premium value, such as for automotive use or for use as a petrochemical feedstock. The Government expects that existing Bass Strait producers of LPG as well as potential producers in the Cooper Basin and North West Shelf will supply the domestic market as a first priority.
It is essential, however, that we avoid patterns of usage of LPG where there is a ready availability of long term alternative fuels such as natural gas or electricity.
To these ends the Government’s policy provides for assistance to achieve the national objectives which already have been outlined. There will be a reduction in the price of propane and butane to a common maximum price of $205 per tonne other than for petrochemical and nontraditional industrial uses. This means that the price of propane will be reduced by about 20 per cent and the price of butane will be reduced by about 30 per cent. The new price will provide approximately a 50 per cent price differential between LPG and motor spirit in the Melbourne reference market and will be a major incentive towards the usage of LPG in motor vehicles, especially in the case of fleet owners.
The Government will be encouraging conversion out of LPG by commercial and industrial enterprises by extending to such users the previously announced taxation concessions and allowances which will apply to the conversion and replacement of oil-fired equipment. The use of LPG by householders, non-profit residential type institutions and schools will be subsidised for three years to allow them time to adjust to the rising prices of LPG and, where possible, to convert from LPG to more readily available alternative fuels such as natural gas or electricity. In introducing this scheme the Government has been particularly mindful of the interests of householders and similar consumers who now use LPG in country districts. It is expected that any hardship being suffered by those consumers, following recent increases in the wholesale price of LPG, will be alleviated by the introduction of this subsidy. The purpose of this Bill is now to provide for the subsidy. The subsidy will operate from 28 March 1980.
The Bill provides for grants to be made to the States to enable the States to pay, to registered distributors of LPG, a subsidy of $80 per tonne on LPG sold to those consumers. The subsidy will also be paid to registered distributors of reticulated gas at the rate of $80 per tonne on LPG and naphtha purchased by them for use in the production of the gas subsequently sold to those consumers. Payment of the subsidy to the registered distributors will be conditional in all cases upon the benefit of the subsidy being passed on to the consumers. The subsidy will not be payable to commercial or industrial users who nevertheless will benefit from the price reductions that I referred to earlier and the tax concessions to be extended to those users to encourage them to switch from LPG. It is estimated that the cost of the subsidy scheme will be about $60m over the three-year period. Arrangements are being made to enable the State Governments to introduce the necessary legislation so that early payments may commence.
In my view there will be little difficulty involved in the administration of this scheme. The legislation to be introduced by State and Territory Governments will contain heavy penalties for any breaches of the law. These penalties will include a maximum penalty of $2,000 or imprisonment for 12 months if a person is found guilty of knowingly obtaining or attempting to obtain payment under the legislation that is not payable. Commonwealth officers approved by my colleague, the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, will be vested with extensive powers in relation to the administration of the scheme. These powers will be similar to those given to such officers under Commonwealth bounty legislation. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Georges) adjourned.
(No. 3) 1980
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Motion (by Senator Carrick) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a first time.
– I think that this is the second Bill that is before the Senate at the moment for the same purpose. The first Bill authorised the increase in crude oil excise up to 1 July last year. The Bill now before us permits a further increase up to 1 January this year. So we have pieces of legislation simultaneously before the Senate which refer to matters six months apart. This is typical of the way in which this Government is running the Senate and the Parliament. No wonder the country is in a mess when the Government cannot even organise the Parliament. It cannot even plan from one week to the next its sitting days. It decided yesterday that the Senate would sit next Monday. At least half the members of the Opposition front bench have firm appointments for Monday. The Government decided only yesterday that we would sit on that day. I repeat that it is no wonder that the country is in a mess when the Government is so clearly inept at running the Parliament.
It is worth noting that when Malcolm Fraser became Prime Minister in 1975 the retail price of super grade petrol was 1 3c a litre. In most places it is now 34c a litre. This represents an increase of 150 per cent in a couple of years. Of that increase, 70 per cent is due to increased taxes imposed on Australian crude oil by the Fraser Government. At present a barrel of Australian produced crude oil as supplied to Australian refiners sells at nearly $25 a barrel. That $25 is distributed in the following way. On average the actual cost of production is just under $2. The price paid to Australian producers is just over $6 a barrel and the balance of nearly $19 a barrel is taken in government taxation. The increases in the crude oil levy since the Government introduced its parity pricing policy are equal to an increase in personal income tax of 27 per cent for an average weekly earner using one tankful of petrol a week.
The Government is currently collecting revenue at the rate of $3 billion in a full year from the crude oil excise levy. In addition, it is imposing the highest level of personal income taxation that has ever been imposed by an Australian government in peace time. So Mr Fraser who promised to end the great tax rip-off now presides over the highest level of personal income tax ever imposed by an Australian Government in peace time. In addition he has instituted a massive additional tax rip-off in the form of the crude oil levy, the petrol tax, which is currently producing revenue at the rate of a further $3 billion a year. I repeat that $3 billion a year translated into its actual effect on an average weekly wage earner using one tankful of petrol a week is equal to a 27 per cent increase in personal income tax. Effectively, the average weekly wage earner as well as paying the highest level of personal income tax ever imposed by an Australian government is, through this hidden petrol tax, paying an additional 27 per cent.
The so-called world parity pricing policy is of course directly responsible for the fact that inflation is again in double figures and rising. Interest rates and the long term bond rate are at an all time record level. Malcolm Fraser presides over the highest levels of taxation ever imposed on Australia in peace time. He also presides over the highest government interest rates ever recorded. Inflation is back in double figures and is rising. How does all that measure up with the Prime Minister’s assertion prior to the 1977 election that inflation would be down to 5 per cent by the middle of 1 978? How does it measure up with his assertion that interest rates are falling; that interest rates will fall by 2 per cent during the next 12 months; that the level of unemployment will fall from February and will go on falling? Malcolm Fraser said all those things in 1977. All those solemn undertakings which he gave to the Australian electorate now demonstrably have been repudiated. The major reason for that repudiation is the Government’s petrol taxing policy.
The other matter I wish to raise in this first reading debate is Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd and the cover-up organised by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Nixon) about the Auditor-General’s investigations of malfeasance in Asia Dairy Industries. This is a matter which has been raised in the Parliament before. The Auditor-General submitted at least two reports to the Minister for Primary Industry on or before 13 November last year. The Minister for Primary Industry consistently has declined to table those reports. Initially he dodged questions about the matter. Ultimately, he bluntly refused to table them. He has given varying and in some instances mutually exclusive exuses for not tabling the reports.
The latest incident which I wish to relate occurred in the House of Representatives last Thursday, 17 April. The Minister had announced that Asia Dairy Industries not only would have its corporate life extended indefinitely but also would have its trading power substantially widened. I must say that is an extraordinary decision for the Minister to make when his previous excuse for not tabling the reports was that investigations into the financial affairs of ADI had not yet been completed. In fact, that was the substance of a question asked of Mr Nixon by the honourable member for Grey, Mr Wallis, last Thursday. Mr Wallis asked, among other things:
How does he justify extending the operations of Asia Dairy Industries while this cloud lingers over its previous activities.
In reply, Mr Nixon said:
I am advised by the Auditor-General that it is not appropriate- indeed it would be a precedent- until the investigation is completed, for that correspondence to be tabled in the Parliament.
Mr Nixon said that the AuditorGeneral had told him that it would be inappropriate for that report to be tabled. On Monday of this week Mr A. A. Taylor, the First Assistant Auditor-General of the Auditor-General ‘s Office, was questioned before Senate Estimates Committee A. I shall quote parts of the transcript of the proceedings. Senator McLaren asked:
When the Auditor-General was asked to investigate the financial irregularities in Asia Dairy Industries, did he expect that the report would be tabled in the Parliament.
Mr Taylor replied:
My understanding is that he agreed only to report to the Minister.
Of course, there is a precedent for that. Certain Auditor-General’s reports- those relating to the Government’s own accounts- must be tabled in the Parliament. With other Auditor-General’s reports a Minister has a discretion as to whether a report should be tabled in the Parliament. The report to which I am referring falls within that category. It is discretionary whether the report is tabled. I then questioned Mr Taylor. (Quorum formed). Before a quorum was called, I was pointing out that last Thursday Mr Nixon used as an excuse for not tabling the Auditor-General’s reports on malfeasance in Asia Dairy Industries the claim that the Auditor-General had advised him not to table the reports. The matter was taken up with the First Assistant AuditorGeneral of the Auditor-General’s Office in Estimates Committee A hearings last Monday. It had been established that the tabling of the report in question was not mandatory, as it is in respect of some Auditor-General ‘s reports. Such a report may or may not be tabled at the discretion of the relevant Minister. The latest excuse given by the Minister for not tabling the reports is that the Auditor-General advised him not to do so. I asked Mr Taylor:
In the circumstances, it is optional whether the Minister tables such reports? Does the Auditor-General give advice to the Minister on whether reports should or should not be tabled.
Mr Taylor replied:
As far as I am aware, the Auditor-General merely reports to the Minister and it is at the Minister’s discretion whether or not he tables it.
I then asked this more specific question of Mr Taylor:
You are not aware of any case where the Auditor-General recommended to the Minister that a report should not be tabled?
I ask honourable senators to remember that Mr Nixon had asserted that the Auditor-General had so advised him. Mr Taylor replied:
I am not aware of any such case.
On Monday evening, six feet from where I am standing now, the First Assistant AuditorGeneral of the Auditor-General’s Office repudiated that statement which the Minister for Primary Industry made in Parliament. The questioning continued:
Are you aware that the Minister for Primary Industry stated last Thursday that he had been advised by the Auditor-General not to table the report on Asia Dairy Industries.
Mr Taylor replied: 1 did read Hansard. I am not aware that such advice was given by the Auditor-General.
For the second time the First Assistant AuditorGeneral of the Auditor-General’s Office repudiated a statement made by the Minister for Primary Industry in the House of Representatives. Some time later in the Estimates Committee hearings I again question Mr Taylor and asked:
If the Auditor-General had given advice to a Minister that a report should not he tabled, would you expect to be aware of thai advice?
Mr Taylor replied:
I think so, but there is no guarantee that I would be.
Some people might say that that provides some scope for Mr Nixon to manoeuvre. But Mr
Taylor had read Hansard. Is it conceivable that Mr Taylor, having read Hansard and having seen that the Minister had made the assertion he did make, would not have checked around the Auditor-General’s Office about the matter? The questioning continued:
Can you think of any reason why the Minister would have said that he had been given such advice and you were not aware of it?
Mr Taylor replied:
No, I am afraid I cannot answer that question. If he has been given such advice by somebody in the AuditorGeneral’s Office, I may not be aware of it, and therefore I cannot answer the question.
Some might argue that that gives Mr Nixon some scope to manoeuvre. I then asked:
Would it be possible for the Committee to be told who gave that advice to the Minister?
Mr Taylor replied:
I think, firstly, that the question presupposes that such advice was given.
That shows clearly that Mr Taylor has what is, under the circumstances, a very healthy scepticism about whether any such advice was given. I asked:
Whether such advice was given and, if so, by whom?
Mr Taylor replied:
I cannot answer that question now. If you want that specific question answered, I am afraid I will have to report back from the Office.
Having perused the record, there can be no doubt that Hansard shows that the Minister for Primary Industry was deliberately misleading the Parliament when he told the House last Thursday that the Auditor-General had advised him not to table the report.
- Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. The honourable senator said that the Minister was deliberately misleading the Parliament. I believe that it is unacceptable to say that in this chamber.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Senator Walsh knows the Standing Orders and the procedures in this place. I suggest that he curb his language.
– I am well aware that the test of acceptability in this chamber is not the truth but the Standing Orders. I will defer to the Standing Orders and rephrase my remark. There is no doubt, as the Hansard record shows, that Mr Nixon made an assertion in the Parliament last Thursday which was not true. There was a time in the pre-Fraser era when Ministers who were shown to have made statements misleading the House resigned from the Ministry. That was when we had reasonable standards of ministerial conduct and when previous Prime Ministers had reasonable discipline over Ministers. When it could be shown that Ministers had made statements which misled the House they were expected to resign. That, of course, no longer applies. That was in the pre-Fraser era. In the post-Fraser era- I should say the Fraser era as we will not enter the post-Fraser era until next year- it does not matter what a Minister says in Parliament. Mr Nixon or any other Minister when he is in a tight spot can say whatever comes into his head knowing very well that the Prime Minister will let him get away with it.
Mr Fraser promised us propriety in government. Let us look at the record. Before the election was even held, one of his Ministers, Mr Garland, was engaged in electoral activities which caused him to be sent to court and forced him to resign. The next year Mr Ellicott resigned on what he said was a point of principle. He rejoined the Ministry the next year without having that so-called point of principle resolved. Just before the 1977 election Mr Lynch ‘s involvement in land racketeering activities outside Melbourne became public knowledge.
– Order ! Senator Walsh, you cannot accuse a member of parliament of racketeering. You will withdraw.
– I withdraw the word racketeering’. Mr Lynch was engaged in business activities with his good friend, Peter Leake, who had inside knowledge about the rezoning of land on the Mornington Peninsula. Mr Lynch and Mr Leake in partnership bought that land before the knowledge that it would be rezoned became public. They sold it later at a very substantial profit.
- Mr President, I take a point of order.
-That is a fact; the record shows it.
– Order ! I call Senator Baume on a point of order.
- Mr President, Standing Order 418 specifically states that all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on members shall be considered highly disorderly. I submit that Senator Walsh, as has been his constant practice in this place, is once again attempting to disobey the Standing Orders.
– The statement which Senator Walsh made transgresses the Standing Orders.
– I withdraw. I note for the record that the Prime Minister’s view of these revelations when they became public was that he could not go into an election campaign with Mr Lynch on his team. He forced him to resign. Honourable senators who object to the way I phrase my remarks can draw their own conclusions about that. Immediately after the election Senator Sheil was forced to resign. Then Mr Robinson was stood down because of electoral fiddling. Subsequently Mr Robinson resigned because he could not stand the Prime Minister.
– Order! The words ‘electoral fiddling’ are a definite reflection on the Minister. Senator Walsh will withdraw them.
– I withdraw. Mr Robinson was under suspicion of electoral fiddling. He then resigned because he could not stand for Prime Minister. Then Senator Withers was sacked by the Prime Minister because the Prime Minister said that he had committed an impropriety. That is not my opinion; that was the Prime Minister’s statement. Finally, the former Minister for Primary Industry resigned at the end of last year, about eight months after he should have done so. Given that record, we should not be surprised that a Minister who gave misleading information to the House in answer to a question last Thursday has not only not resigned but also has not even been called upon by the Prime Minister to account for his actions and to explain why he gave misleading information to the House.
– Order! Senator Walsh, you cannot charge any person with misleading the House. You will withdraw that remark as well and cease your denigration of people in a way which is not in accordance with the proper debating practices in this place.
– I will withdraw the reference to misleading.
- Mr President, I take a point of order. Senator Walsh can withdraw as much as he likes but his remarks are still broadcast. I think that is very serious.
-! have asked Senator Walsh to withdraw.
– The Hansard record shows that Mr Nixon stated in the House of Representatives last Thursday that the Auditor-General had advised him not to table the reports. The First Assistant Auditor-General of the AuditorGeneral ‘s Office said in the Estimates Committee last Monday night that no such advice had been given. People may draw their own conclusions but the facts stand on their merit. I received today from Mr Pyle, the Acting Chairman of the Australian Dairy Corporation, a letter which quoted a report which appeared in yesterday’s issue of the Melbourne Age. It stated:
The Opposition spokesman on primary industry. Senator Walsh, said in Parliament recently that the auditor-general had found that illegal payments had been made by ADI for some air fares of its former chairman Mr Tony Webster.
Mr Pyle wrote to me:
If you are correctly reported in these articles I wish to make very clear, Senator, that I have never confirmed illegal payments being made to anyone. What I said during an interview for the ABC’s Country Hour on 1st April 1980 was . . .
Mr Pyle then quoted a portion of what he said. I will refer to that in a moment but I want to put the matter in context. An Australian Broadcasting Commission narrator said:
That is, me- claimed knowledge that the Auditor-General had declared as illegal, payments made by ADI for personal airfares for Mr Webster and his family. John Henwood asked Mr Pyle if he was concerned at the effect of Senator Walsh’s statement.
Mr Pyle replied:
Surely the most tragic thing that anybody can do is condemn a man when he has no opportunity to reply to those accusations.
John Henwood then said:
Though has anybody denied that the monies were spent as mentioned by Senator Walsh?
Mr Pyle replied:
Oh, in relation to the trip to New Zealand and the fact that his daughter came home from Geneva, no, they’re facts.
I will not quote further. I am quite willing to table the transcript. In a reply by letter to Mr Pyle I shall say that no interpretation of that interview when read in context is possible other than that he was confirming that payments for air fares for Mr Webster and his family were made illegally by Asia Dairy Industries. Even in the letter he wrote to me yesterday Mr Pyle made no assertions and did not deny that the air fares had been illegally paid. What he disputed was the interpretation that I had placed upon his interview with the ABC.
As I have said consistently since this matter was first raised, if any of the facts concerning this investigation are in dispute or in doubt, the way to resolve the doubts and the disputes is to have the reports tabled in the Parliament. We have been saying that since last October. I invite Mr Pyle or anyone else who believes that less than complete justice has been done to anyone concerned with this issue to add his pressure to that which the Opposition has been applying for six months to have the reports tabled as they should have been tabled six months ago. I want to make one last point, which concerns Mr Nixon’s answer to Mr Wallis last Thursday. In addition to Mr Nixon’s saying that the Auditor-General had advised him that it would not be appropriate to table the report- the Auditor-General ‘s First Assistant Auditor-General denied here last Monday that such advice had been given- he also said that the investigation into Asia Dairy Industries was continuing. He had made similar statements and the clear implication in every case was that the Auditor-General’s investigations were continuing. As a result of that Mr Nixon was forced to make an explanation at the end of Question Time last Monday in the House. He said:
In answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) on Thursday, 17 April 1 980 in connection with the audit inspection of Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd, I indicated that I was awaiting completion of an inquiry by the Auditor-General. The position is that the Auditor-General has completed his inquiries and has submitted his reports. Further inquiries are in train following discussions with Crown law officers and are being undertaken by the Australian Dairy Corporation. At my request the Corporation is investigating the appropriateness of certain past expenditure which was commented on by the Auditor-General in his reports.
This was a voluntary climb down by Mr Nixon; an admission that what he had said in the statements he had been making for some time and as recently as last Thursday, that the AuditorGeneral ‘s investigations were not complete, was not the case. That still leaves hanging in the air his unqualified assertion that the AuditorGeneral had advised him that it would be inappropriate to table the reports although the Auditor-General’s First Assistant AuditorGeneral, on Monday evening, six feet from where I now stand, said that no such advice had been given. Having had grave facts of this nature revealed to the Parliament I dare say that when I have finished the Government will move that the next business be proceeded with or that the debate on this first reading be adjourned. It is not good enough for the Government to continue to dodge this issue. I know that Senator Scott is only the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I know he is very careful and I have observed that he does not say anything in the Senate about this issue that is not written down for him by the Minister for Primary Industry. However, he represents that Minister and he cannot entirely dodge his responsibility to respond to the facts that I am revealing, including above all the fact that the Minister for Primary Industry last Thursday unequivocally stated that the Auditor-General had advised him not to take certain action and that that assertion was denied by the Auditor-General’s First Assistant
Auditor-General on Monday evening at an Estimates committee meeting.
Motion (by Senator Peter Baume) put:
That the debate be now adjourned.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Sir Condor Laucke )
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Scott) proposed:
That the resumption of the debate be made an Order of the Day for the next day of sitting.
-I oppose the motion that debate on the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1980 be made an Order of the Day for the next day of sitting. I appeal to the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Senator Scott) to make it an Order of the Day for a later hour this day. I want to point out a few pertinent facts concerning how back benchers, especially of the opposition party, are being deprived of their rights as politicians. At present the Senate has no Grievance Day. We have a night for General Business but now, towards the end of the session, it has been taken away.
– Nobody comes to it, unfortunately.
-The honourable senator who comes is the honourable senator who has something to say. It is on behalf of the right of back benchers to have a say in this chamber, to which they are elected, that I make my appeal. They should have a right. Without that right the only opportunity left to back benchers is on the first reading of a money Bill. That opportunity has presented itself this afternoon, and there are at least half a dozen back bench senators who have particular grievances which we think, for the good of the nation, should be ventilated. It was the Opposition’s intention to debate those grievances on the only opportunity we have to present them in the forum of the Parliament. That opportunity is now to be taken away from us and we do not know when it will come again. What would have been said today will be said on some future occasion unless the Government, with its use of numbers, applies the gag. The Government is not saving the time of the Parliament, but the opportunity for questions of vital importance to be broadcast and for back benchers to air their grievances is to be taken away. I therefore appeal to the Government to consider bringing the matter on at a later hour this day. This will facilitate proceedings and stop the opposition the Government is creating by this motion, which takes away the rights of back benchers.
– I wish to move an amendment to the motion moved by the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Senator Scott) that the debate be adjourned to the next day of sitting. I wish to move an amendment that the debate be adjourned to a later hour this day, and I will state my reasons for proposing it. I wish to raise today a matter which is of vital importance to local government in South Australia. No doubt many Government senators from South Australia have received similar correspondence to that which I have had complaining that the Government is not making enough funds available for roads in South Australia. This complaint is a valid one, and it is associated with the first reading of the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1980, which the Senate is now debating. I have had reams of correspondence from local government instrumentalities throughout South Australia asking me to take up the matter with the Government, to see whether it can see sense and make further allocations to local government from the massive rip-off in taxes and excise it is obtaining from the increased price of petrol. I quote from a letter I received from Mr Hullick, the SecretaryGeneral of the Local Government Association of South Australia Incorporated. After the Senate adjourns and I return to South Australia I have to report back to these people on the attitude the Government will take to their plea. Mr Hullick, and even my local council at Murray Bridge, which sent a letter to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and sent me a copy, complained that they were not receiving sufficient funds from the Federal Government to carry out road construction programs. We all know in South Australia that during the reign of the State Labor Government we were continually criticised -
– I take a point of order. I would like your guidance, Mr President, as to how wide we can range when debating a motion for the resumption of a debate.
– Order! Honourable senators cannot go beyond the immediacy of the motion before the Chair and the reasons why support is being sought for the amendment. Honourable senators should not debate the whole matter.
- Mr President, I am endeavouring -
– Order! I ask the honourable senator to restrict his remarks to the motion before the Chair and not to debate the whole question. The reasons why he is putting his amendment are the only points relevant to the motion before the Chair.
– I rise on a point of order. Senator McLaren proposes to move as an amendment to the motion that the debate be adjourned to the next day of sitting that the debate be adjourned to a later hour this day. His reason for doing this is the extreme importance of the matter he is bringing up and the great urgency of roads funding in South Australia. I believe that as part of his debate he should be able to demonstrate to us the extreme urgency of his case. He is doing so with great skill and cogency, and I believe that he should not be stopped.
– Order! I have ruled on the question. I call Senator McLaren.
– I was endeavouring to be as concise as possible in outlining the urgency of this piece of legislation being adjourned to a later hour this day. It would then be brought back on and we could endeavour to get some answer from the Government as to whether it will comply with the requests that have been made both to the Government and to all Government senators from South Australia. If the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), or even the Government Whip, who seems to run this place, could give me an assurance now that they will agree to the Bill coming on later today, I would be prepared to sit down. If the Minister will not give me that satisfaction, I am afraid that I will have to go on and explain to the Senate the urgency of this Bill being debated today. The local Government people in South Australia are waiting on me to get an answer from the Government as to whether it will give them the extra funds they are seeking. That is the reason why I am putting the proposition here today.
– I rise on a point of order. I reinforce what Senator Baume said earlier and remind the Senate, through you, Mr President, that there is an item on the agenda, the Local Government (Personal Income Tax Sharing) Amendment Bill, which will give honourable senators who are interested in this subject ample opportunity later in the day to debate it.
– Order! I have ruled on the point of order raised and the matter is dismissed.
– It is quite obvious that the Government senators from South Australia do not want the matter to be raised. I am speaking to the point of order now, Mr President.
– Order! The point of order has been ruled on. Return to debating your amendment.
– I am speaking to the remarks made by Senator Jessop.
– I rise on a point of order. A reflection has been made on Government senators from South Australia that we do not wish to see sufficient money given to the development of roads in South Australia. That is not true. It is only a procedural motion that is before the Senate, and that is what the debate is about.
– Order ! Personal reflections on honourable senators are the subject of Standing Order 4 18.
- Senator Jessop has endeavoured to stifle my debate by saying that there is a matter on the Notice Paper which will come on later today, but we have found in the Senate in recent times that matters are suddenly taken oft” the Notice Paper without any consultation with the Opposition. What guarantee do we have that this local government legislation will come before the Senate this day? There is no guarantee at all. If the Minister for Aboriginal
Affairs, who is at the table, is prepared to give an undertaking that this matter will come before the Senate and that I will be given an opportunity to put my point of view, then I will accept it. But if he is not prepared to do that, I proceed with my amendment that this matter should be adjourned to a later hour this day so that South Australian senators on the Labor side are given the opportunity to put a case for local government in South Australia to be given further road funding, which this Government is not prepared to do. As the Local Government Association of South Australia Incorporated points out in its correspondence, funding has dropped to the extent of about 22% per cent in the last five years, since this Government has been in office. That is the point we want to put in this Senate. They are also complaining about the petrol tax. They want a greater share of the petrol tax than they are getting. These matters are of vital importance not only to local government bodies, but also to every person who drives a motor car in South Australia. If the Government wants to suppress argument on this matter, it will have to answer to its constituents when the first opportunity is given through the ballot box. I therefore move:
Leave out ‘the next day of sitting’, insert ‘a later hour of the day’.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment. I wish to speak to the amendment in order to frustrate the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), who was about to move the gag. I take it that that was his intention. I seemed to see in his look that it was his intention to move the gag and so suppress the initiative taken by Senator McLaren. I support the amendment, but for different reasons from those put by Senator McLaren. I know that it is important for him to outline to the Senate the views of South Australian constituents, especially in relation to the massive rip-off imposed by the Government by oil parity pricing. Senator McLaren should have been given the opportunity to outline and expand that argument. My reason for speaking now is different in that I wish to speak also in support of the matter raised by Senator Walsh in the first reading debate on the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 3). This is a very serious matter.
– You cannot revive a debate. You cannot speak on a matter which is being debated.
-I did not know that the matter was being debated. The debate on that matter was adjourned. In any case, let me show how urgent it is for me to make some statement on certain questions I asked of the representative from the Auditor-General’s Office who appeared before Estimates Committee A. An apparent desire on the pan of the Government to suppress an Auditor-General’s report emerged from that Estimates Committee. This places the AuditorGeneral in a very difficult position. It could be said that in some way the Auditor-General complied with a Government desire to suppress a report. This is a very serious situation and I make a serious allegation. I believe it is urgent that the matter should be debated today. I think it is quite incorrect if it is not. It seems to me that the Auditor-General carried out an investigation and it appears that there was some misappropriation of funds. That report has not been made available to this Parliament. I want to ask the question: Why was not the Auditor-General ‘s report made available to this Parliament? Is it a cover-up on the part of the Government and has the Government involved the Auditor-General in that cover-up? This is a serious matter and I think it ought to be debated today. It could have been debated in the first reading debate. I had intended to make a contribution to the matter. I would have expected that the Government would have answered in some way or would have made some explanation concerning the matter.
For those reasons I think it is important that the amendment moved by Senator McLaren is carried by the Senate. I have nothing further to say except to suggest to the Government that when it brings a first reading debate before the chamber on a broadcast day it must surely anticipate a debate on the first reading. Senator McLaren and Senator Cavanagh have indicated just how necessary it is for honourable senators to have the opportunity to place before the Senate important matters which have been brought to their attention by constituents. Having brought the first reading stage forward on broadcast day, why does the Government, by this move of adjourning the debate, seek to frustrate the Opposition? The Opposition, in an atmosphere of complete co-operation, did not bring forward a matter of public importance for debate today. In fact, in so doing, we gave the Government and the Senate an opportunity to have a further two hours debate on other matters.
Also, it must be realised that the Senate, by meeting on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesay, has deprived itself of General Business night. In spite of what Senator Missen has said, it is surprising how many honourable senators can speak on a Thursday night in the time allotted for General Business. It is surprising how often an honourable senator can get into trouble during those debates, as I have discovered. Nevertheless, I re-emphasise that in those two ways the Senate has available five hours of debating time which it would not ordinarily have had. It is unreasonable, therefore, for it to stifle a first reading debate. It must be said that it does so only because it does not wish the Opposition to have freedom of expression on important matters. The important matter which I wish to raise concerns the Auditor-General.
– I tried to get the call before to indicate in response to the request from Senator McLaren that the Government is anxious to deal with the business which is listed on the Notice Paper and which is shown on the Senate Order of Business as being the business which the Government hoped to complete today. That is the only limitation on the Government’s preparedness to accept the amendment which has been put forward by Senator McLaren. I wanted to indicate to him very clearly, so that there would be no misunderstanding, that the Government would be prepared to accept his amendment but on the basis that the Government would bring the matter back before the Senate for debate only if the Business of the Day shown on the Notice Paper were first concluded. I want that limitation to be understood because I do not want Senator McLaren to be complaining to me at 1 1 o’clock that the acceptance of the amendment misled him.
The Government proposes to proceed with matters which it wants to have dealt with. As we have before us an amendment which suggests that some precedence should be given to the first reading debate, I would just like to indicate quickly to the Senate that the Government believes that today’s program should be dealt with today. The Aboriginal Development Commission is aimed to commence operation on 1 July and it must therefore get parliamentary attention. Of course, it still has to be considered by the other place after it is dealt with by the Senate. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill, debate on which was adjourned last week, brought forth criticism from the Australian Labor Party because of the adjournment, notwithstanding that the adjournment was moved on the basis that it was available for the Labor Party if it wished to have the adjournment. We were prepared to proceed with that debate last week if that was its wish.
These are matters which I think are relevant to the Government’s view that it is proper that the Senate should devote some time and attention to the Government’s business. We have already had an indication in the speeches made by honourable senators in the moving and seconding of this amendment that there are a number of general issues which they wish to have debated. Quite obviously, if the issues were given a full debate very little time would be left for these important items of Government Business. I think there has been a great deal of debate in the Senate recently of a private member nature. It is reasonable that the Senate should now devote a little time to the legislative program. I am therefore indicating that the Government will not oppose the amendment. In fact, we will support it but on the clear understanding that the Government will then expect to proceed with the business listed on the Notice Paper. In the happy event that we complete that business within the allotted time we will resume the debate which Senator McLaren and other Labor Party senators are so anxious to resume.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
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 Scott) read a first time.
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
Honourable senators will recall that on the 6 November 1979 the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and my colleague, Senator Carrick, Leader of the Government in the Senate, made a ministerial statement on the interim report of the Australian Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drugs. The principal recommendation contained in the interim report, which was adopted by the
Government, recommended that the Narcotics Bureau be disbanded, and apart from the responsibility of enforcing Commonwealth law at the Customs barrier remaining with the Bureau of Customs, responsibility for Federal drug enforcement elsewhere be transferred to the Australian Federal Police. Following from this decision it was necessary to transfer, in the first instance, the Public Service officers of the Narcotics Bureau to the Office of the Australian Federal Police, Department of Administrative Services. Those officers were directed to work under the direction of the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. It was envisaged that when the Commissioner had established the appropriate organisation, those former Narcotics Bureau staff whom the Commissioner considered were qualified and suitable for appointment as police officers would be appointed as police officers of the Australian Federal Police. In the meantime those officers were appointed as special members of the Australian Federal Police.
It is important to remind honourable senators of what has already been said in the ministerial statement of 6 November 1979, that those former Narcotics Bureau staff who are not considered qualified or suitable for appointment as police officers and are better suited to Public Service employment will remain in Public Service Act positions and retain their normal Public Service rights to transfer and promotion to other Public Service positions. The Australian Federal Police Act 1 979 as it presently stands, however, provides for a legal preference for a period of at least five years, for former members of the former Australian Capital Territory and Commonwealth Police Forces who were appointed to the Australian Federal Police. The legal preference is for any appointment to a rank in the AFP ahead of any person joining from outside the AFP, particularly to the component performing general police functions. Although the legal preference is a qualified one, the problems associated with overcoming its effects, without legislative amendment, in connection with these Public Service narcotics officers, some of whom would need to be appointed to higher ranks, were insurmountable. Such amendments apply only to this small special group of entrants to police ranks. Thus the preference for the members from the former two Police Forces is preserved generally.
The purpose of this Bill, therefore, enables the Government decision to be implemented by empowering the appointment as full members of the AFP of those former Narcotics Bureau staff who are selected by the Commissioner as qualified and suitable for appointment as police officers. The Bill also sets out the principles the Commissioner has to have regard to in determining the rank to which such selected officers are to be appointed. By amending section 68 of the Act, the Bill also provides for certificates of evidence in relation to the appointment of former narcotics officers. Such certificates specify the necessary steps and dates of action required to be taken for such appointments. This will facilitate for the courts proof of their appointment as for other appointments in the AFP. I have arranged for an explanatory memorandum and notes on clauses to be distributed to all honourable senators. I commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Gietzelt) 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 Scott) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.
The speech read as follows-
The purpose of this Bill is to make amendments to existing Commonwealth legislation consequential to the enactment of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979, and the Australian Federal Police (Consequential Amendments) Act 1979. The Australian Federal Police (Consequential Amendments) Act 1979 made, among other things, detailed amendments to existing legislation to provide for ‘Australian Federal Police’ to replace references to the Commonwealth Police Force and the Australian Capital Territory Police Force. This further Consequential Amendments Bill provides for definition of constable’ and ‘member of the Australian Federal Police’ to include ‘special member of the Australian Federal Police ‘. This is to put beyond any legal doubt the question of the legal powers of ‘special members’, who are appointed by the Commissioner under section 27 of the Australian Federal Police Act 1979. This particularly relates to the definitions of ‘constable’ in numerous statutes of the Commonwealth, as for example in the Crimes Act 1914 and the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971. 1 commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Gietzelt) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Chaney) proposed:
That, unless otherwise ordered, the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Monday, 28 April 1980, at half-past two p.m.
That the sessional order relating to the adjournment of” the Senate have effect at 1 1 p.m. on that day.
– The Senate was given notice of this motion only yesterday. It involves a change to the sittings of the Senate which were agreed upon under a previous motion. As honourable senators know, the intention was to sit next week for three days- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Yesterday, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) indicated that he wanted the Senate to sit this coming Monday also. We on this side of the chamber believe that such short notice about the Senate sitting an additional day is really not acceptable. All honourable senators know that, after the program of sittings is drawn up we make certain arrangements in our electorates and enter into various other commitments for those days when the Parliament is not sitting.
Commitments are made by, I suppose, all of us here to various organisations in regard to invitations to speak and so on. They are commitments that all of us are loathe to break. In this case we on this side of the chamber are being asked by the Government to break many commitments. The Government, of course, can speak for itself. The Opposition ‘s concern is that, by the passage of this motion and therefore the sitting of the Senate on Monday, we are being asked to sit on a day for which many of us have other commitments. No matter what signals were given a week ago, the point is that the Opposition was not really aware until yesterday that the Government would require honourable senators to be sitting on Monday. I put it to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney, that it is not reasonable for the Government to propose motions like this at such short notice and expect honourable senators to make alternative arrangements in their various States.
For that reason, we of the Opposition oppose the motion, although the Government, having the numbers, will ensure the motion goes through. The Government should realise that by using these tactics it is in fact inviting problems in the workings of the chamber which otherwise need not arise. After all, I think it is common knowledge that the Government wants honourable senators to be put out of this place prior to the Queen’s visit in about a month’s time, but that is no reason why we should not be in a position to come back into this chamber after that date to complete the legislation before us. I believe that there is no justification for this change being made. For that reason the Opposition is opposing the motion.
– I wish to add some comments to what Senator Wriedt has said. The point of this motion is to attempt to limit as little as possible the rights of individual senators. The chamber will have to acknowledge that if we do not extend the time of sitting to get through the program, it may be necessary to limit more than is necessary the amount of time available for each debate. The Government has to meet two objectives. It has to meet the requirements of the Parliament- that is, the requirements of individual senators to exercise their rights in various ways- and at the same time it has to meet the need to get through its legislative program.
Very simply, the Government has made extensive opportunities available in the Senate for individual senators to exercise their rights, and has continued to do so, but there has been very little progress so far with the legislative program. The Senate is different from many other chambers in this country. There are parliaments in the States, such as the parliament in my State, which do not hesitate to use the gag and guillotine to get through their program in the shortest possible time. The New South Wales Parliament adjourned recently for four months. In this place we do not follow that kind of practice.
The Senate has yet to receive from the House of Representatives a large amount of Government business and there is a large amount of business still remaining on our Notice Paper. There are few sitting days remaining, and very little progress has been made on Bills so far this session. We have actually had 24 sitting days this session, including today, and we have passed only 25 Bills. More than that number of Bills remain to be passed in the days indicated by Senator Wriedt. The Government has also been extremely attentive to the rights of honourable senators in that part of the program which relates to their business.
A comparison of this autumn sitting with last year’s autumn sitting is quite instructive. During the autumn sitting of 1979 there were 31 sitting days, during which the Senate devoted a considerable amount of attention to Senate business. The Senate spent more than 22 hours on urgency motions or matters of public importance. It spent more than 13 hours on first reading debates. Debates on money Bills, which in this chamber are equivalent to grievance debates- open to any subject- took up almost 1 1 hours. Fifteen hours were spent on General Business and more than 11 hours were spent on adjournment debates. That was in 1979.
During the 24 sitting days we have already had 14 matters of public importance or urgency motions discussed. There have already been seven first reading debates for honourable senators to discuss anything they wish. On 16 occasions the adjournment debate has been used, and properly so, by honourable senators to raise their own matters, and General Business has been discussed on six evenings given to that purpose. I suggest to honourable senators that the alternatives we face are to extend the sitting days in a way indicated by Senator Carrick last week when he said that it may be necessary or to take other means to get through the program. My own preference is that we should attend the Parliament and that we should extend the sitting times, if necessary. I believe that this is a reasonable proposition. I suggest that our prime duty is to the Parliament. Senator Carrick did give notice of this motion and the motion is a quite reasonable one to put to this chamber.
– I think that Senator Baume missed the point. What Senator Wriedt was saying was that there should be a firm indication of the sitting days. Some indication was given last week that the Senate would have to sit extra days. Nevertheless, it was not until yesterday that Notice of Motion was given that the Senate would be sitting on Monday. The argument that the Opposition is putting is that, in the circumstances, the sitting of the Senate on Monday does not give sufficient time to change the very firm commitments that have been made. I approached the Government asking that a firm intention should be given that we would be sitting on certain days. There is not sufficient information to indicate whether we may have to sit extra days. I think it is necessary for the Government to say that certain days shall be set aside as extra sitting days.
I also put it to the Government that rather than sit on Monday, causing quite a deal of inconvenience to officers and to honourable senators, perhaps we could sit next Friday. Apparently the Government has not seen fit to accept that proposition. But at least it should be considered. If the Government is not prepared to accept that on this occasion the Opposition is in some difficulty in regard to commitments of honourable senators away from Parliament. I can point out that at least 1 1 honourable senators on this side of the chamber have very important commitments on the Monday. I can also indicate that at least three of our executive members on this side have very firm commitments on Monday which it will be difficult to break. In those circumstances I think it is unreasonable that the Government should refuse to accept the proposition that we should not sit on Monday but if necessary make up the time on Friday. Surely we can put down a firm program that we will sit on particular days. If we find that we do not need to sit on those days, perhaps the Senate can rise a day earlier than we intended. I think that is a reasonable approach.
Could I say also that we always face the problem in the Senate that the House of Representatives does not fulfil a sufficient part of its program to keep us occupied on legislation in the first three or four weeks of sitting. Therefore we debate general matters and I trust we take the opportunity to debate them well. But we always face the problem that the House of Representatives suddenly accelerates its program in order to get its own affairs in order and we are faced with an overload of Bills in the last two or three sitting days. On every occasion we have been able to meet that problem. We have complained about it. We have indicated that there may be an endeavour on the part of departments to submit legislation late so that it will be ill-considered in this place and pass through the Parliament without proper consideration. What the Leader of the Opposition has put is reasonable. I hope it is not accepted as unreasonable that we will oppose and divide on the motion that the Senate sit next Monday. I ask the Government to set its program in order and come down with a firm proposition on extra sitting days, not on short notice but with plenty of notice.
That is all I wish to say on the matter. It is reaching the point of irritation on this side, and irritation leads to frustration. The Opposition has a variety of means of frustrating the Government if it so desires. I hope that the Minister in charge of the Senate at the moment, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), who was the
Government Whip not very long ago, can understand the difficulties which we face on this side and will accept the proposition that we should not sit on Monday and that arrangements be made on a firm basis for subsequent sitting days.
– in reply- I have listened to the matters raised by both the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) and the Opposition Whip. 1 do appreciate the difficulties which face all honourable senators, including honourable senators on this side of the House and, indeed, Ministers of the Government. The indication which was given -
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. Is the Minister now speaking closing the debate?
– Yes. It was the Minister who introduced the motion, and he is now speaking to it.
– I wish to speak.
– Two or three of us over here rose to speak in the debate. We wanted to speak to this motion, and now we are to be denied that opportunity.
-I had the choice of either moving the gag to conclude this or rising to speak. 1 did not wish to show discourtesy to the Opposition by not replying. I suppose in one sense it is six of one and half a dozen of the other–
– But you are going to silence us one way or the other.
-I have indicated that I wish this matter to be brought to the vote so that we may spend less time discussing how little time we have and how difficult it is to find more time to discuss legislation. I have no intention of making any further comments, other than to say that I have listened to the comments of the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Whip.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m. ( Quorum formed).
-Before the sitting was suspended at 1 p.m. I was responding to some of the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt) and the Opposition Whip. The simple point which I want to make before sitting down is that, as Senator Carrick indicated on 15 April, it is the Government’s wish to achieve its program in an orderly way. Senator Carrick indicated three days, including next Monday, as days on which additional sittings might be necessary. In response to the plea for some certainty I can only say to the Opposition that it should regard the other dates indicated- namely 16 May and 23 May- as days on which there will be sittings unless there is such progress that such sittings would be unnecessary. In terms of arrangements being made, those two dates should be regarded as sitting days. As I indicated earlier, the Government is anxious to proceed with the program which is set for the day and accordingly I wish to make no further comment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Dabate resumed from 17 April, on motion by Senator Chaney:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-On behalf of the Australian Labor Party I desire to move an amendment to the second reading of the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill 1980. 1 move:
At end of motion add, , ‘ but the Senate is of the opinion:
That, while not opposing the integration of the lands fund, loans fund and grants in aid (enterprises program), the Parliament must have access to the submissions which led to the integration of such programs;
That the appointment of the members of the Commission should be selected by the Minister acting on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and the various land councils; and
That the Government should assure the Senate of its commitment to maintain and increase its financial assistance to the Commission ‘,
Once again we have a Bill before us which is a product of some panic, confusion, compromise and desperation. For example in 1978 the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Viner, announced that legislation would be prepared for consideration of the Parliament. It took almost a year for the current Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) to decide to bring down legislation. In the latter part of 1 979 he announced that such legislation would be placed for the consideration of the Parliament. With a great deal of fanfare and dramatics the responsibility for that matter was subsequently given to Senator Bonner. If honourable senators look at the claims made on that occasion by honourable senators who were concerned they will see that there was a degree of consultation. But we suddenly find that such consultation was nothing but a mirage and a fantasy, for the Bill we now have in front of us contains no less than 40 amendments. This is in spite of the fact that some 18 months had passed since the proposal was first suggested by the Government.
Where was the breakdown in the first preparation of this legislation and what were the reasons for the proposals? When we look at that breakdown we see that there is more and more evidence- as we found in respect of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill which will be discussed later in the day- of inadequate consultation. Senator Bonner said that the amendments were the product of consultation with bodies such as the Council for Aboriginal Development. But this body was consulted the first time round. Are we entitled to draw the conclusion that the second set of comments are different from those which were in the initial consultation or are we entitled to say that the first consultation was nothing more than a sideshow or a flourish, which really was not borne out in the subsequent consideration? It is clear that there is some reason for this breakdown in consultation and for this lack of communication between the Government, the Minister, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Aboriginal communities. The Government has the submissions which it refers to in the debate. They include both sets of commissions, separate sets of commissions, commissions which state that there were 1 1 submissions from the Aboriginals, oral submissions and submissions from the six State governments.
It is true that the Government has the advantage and the advice and that it has drawn certain conclusions as a result of these submissions, but nowhere are those submissions available to the Parliament. Yet we have other members of the Government talking about freedom of information. The truth of the matter is that the Parliament is not getting this information. Perhaps we are getting the product of the information but that is for the Senate to determine. However, nowhere are those submissions available for the consideration of the Parliament. This is another example of the Executive style of government which we find repugnant and which I am sure the Parliament ought to regard as repugnant and completely unsatisfactory. If there were consultation in the first instance and if communication had been going back and forth to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs surely we would not be in the position where we have a substantial rewrite of this legislation, which is what we have at the moment.
When we talk about these submissions we can only draw the conclusion that the Government has accepted some of them, rejected some or maybe rejected the greater part of them. Consultation is an example of the fraudulent way in which this Government operates. It brings into relief the way that the Opposition and the Australian people have of, time and again, expressing no confidence in the Government or of showing no acceptance of its sincerity in these and other matters. After all, this Government’s policy, in its Liberal Party philosophy, is about selfmanagement. Yet the very tenets of this legislation still deny that basic factor. It goes some way along the road but it does not implement the Government’s policy considerations. Selfmanagement means just that. It means the ability of communities to run their own affairs. What are we to do in respect of the appointment of members of the Aboriginal Development Commission? How does the Government propose they should be chosen? Those members will still be chosen by the Governor-General and the Minister. In that sense this area still smacks of the mistakes that have been made by governments in the past- I emphasise ‘governments in the past’- and of a degree of paternalism which has been characteristic of the way in which they have operated in regard to Aborigines. Previous governments have not recognised the evolution and the changes which have taken place in the Aboriginal communities which now choose to determine their own affairs. Governments have not recognised the fundamental principles of self-determination that we have spoken about in this place from time to time.
The Minister will have absolute control over all of the appointments to the Aboriginal Development Commission. There is no mechanism to remove the risk that the Commission may be unrepresentative of tribal, urban and rural Aborigines and of the States and the various regions and unresponsive to the needs of the people involved. As we know, the great weakness in this representative type of democracy is that we are not yet able to appreciate fully what is meant by participatory democracy as distinct from representative democracy. A person appointed under this legislation may lack the confidence of the Aborigines and of the National Aboriginal Conference. Political pressure of one sort or another could, correctly or incorrectly, be alleged as the basis for the appointment by a Minister. The relevant Minister may have a proper understanding and approach to the way in which appointments can be made. The Opposition is challenging the principle.
As we know, there have been changes in ministerial appointments, and there always will be.
We cannot therefore accept that because there may be confidence in one Minister the confidence will be applicable to another. If a person is to be appointed from Queensland, for example, will we be assured that the Minister will not be subjected to some pressure from the Queensland Government of the kind that is synonymous with the Queensland Premier or the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal and Island Affairs? Honourable senators opposite have referred several times to the way in which they have been characterised by the Queensland Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. We know of the great conflict even between this Government and the Queensland Government about these matters. We leave ourselves open to the charge that some pressure can be applied inadequately, incorrectly and improperly. What happens about the appointment of an Aboriginal who belongs to a political party? Will the holding of a political or ideological viewpoint in the Federal sphere different from that which may obtain in the State involved be sufficient to disqualify the person from appointment? What sort of representatives will we have? Nothing in the Bill defines the fundamental issue about who shall represent the Aborigines in these matters.
Whilst 1 concede that the Government and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs have agreed to a more general application of Aboriginal representation on the new authority, the Bill nevertheless still stops far short of the ultimate objectives. Can a Minister be wrongly influenced? I am not talking necessarily of the existing Minister. We are talking of principles. Could a Minister be wrongly influenced because a prospective appointee is or is not a member of the NAC, a public servant or an executive member of a particular Aboriginal organisation? Will a person be chosen on the basis of his or her known preferences on certain priorities? What happens if a person is actively involved in anti-mining activities? Will he be disqualified from appointment because he holds a certain view and pursues his democratic rights in opposing certain Government policies from time to time?
What would happen in the case of a person with prior criminal convictions? Senator Bonner will agree with me that it is very easy to get a criminal conviction in Queensland. I can also say that with respect to my own State. Many Aborigines in the States of the Commonwealth have criminal convictions because of the prejudice of the State police forces. Will such a conviction be used by some Minister as a reason for a person’s not being appointed? Will preference be given to persons with tertiary or secondary educational qualifications? Surely these important matters ought to be decided. The basis of a decision could differ very greatly from Minister to Minister as well as from government to government. The decision of course could be very different from that reached by the NAC or other Aboriginal organisations.
Ministers and governments are not infallible, so the legislation should contain sufficient safeguards to prevent personal judgments. Clause 13 subclause 3 enables a Minister to make an appointment for up to five years, and all commissioners are eligible for re-appointment. What will happen if Aboriginals lose confidence in the Commission or the commissioners in the meantime? What safeguards have we to handle that problem which, of course, we must consider when taking into account the evolution of thinking that has taken place even in the last five years in Aboriginal communities? Surely not one Government senator would disagree- certainly no honourable senator on my side of the House disagrees- that there has been a great change in the attitudes of Aboriginal communities. The communities have become articulate and want to be involved in matters that affect their general welfare. Some Aborigines would argue that the NAC is a very responsible organisation but others would say that the organisation is not yet fully representative. This occurs because of the way in which the whole movement for Aboriginal rights has developed in this country. The need to take these matters into consideration is the reason why we have moved the amendment.
Clause 16 provides for the Minister to appoint a person to a vacancy which may arise on the Commission. Such appointees can lose their position at any time and be subjected to terms and conditions of their appointment which may unreasonably restrict them in the performance of their duties. We know of the problem that exists in our own Parliamentary Library. We are all aware that the view of the Chief Librarian is that certain members of the Library should have a secondary position in respect of their responsibilities as citizens of their country because they work in the national Parliament. The Librarian has stated in his report that he does not believe that certain objectivity criteria have been carried into effect. I know many of us here, both on the Government and Opposition side, would thoroughly reject this view expressed by a head of a department. It is an indication of the thin line that operates between the rights of a person to have views, to be involved and to be active and his being put in a negative employment position.
The NAC is the only nationally elected organisation of Aborigines. We concede that it has a grass roots knowledge of the needs and aspirations of its constituents. It is for that reason that we say that this organisation should have the vital role in the management and direction of the Commission’s fund and policies. That really is putting into effect the principles of selfmanagement to which I understand the two major political parties in Australia subscribe. In the past moneys have been made available for land acquisition, for housing loans and business enterprises. The Commission will be required to decide how future funds will be spent and how priorities will be drawn up. There is no requirement on the Commission to maintain the level of expenditure in any given area. It could refuse to fund land acquisitions for present farming purposes or urban housing. We believe that the potential for conflict over priorities in the allocation of funds is incontestable. Unless the NAC has a role in this process it is possible that at least seven Aborigines will be a law unto themselves. They will be subject to the charge of being unrepresentative and not responsible to other Aborigines. That is the weakness that the Opposition sees in the current proposal before the Senate. That is an area I want to look at in more detail.
One of the bodies which the ADC will replace is the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, which was set up by the Whitlam Government in 1974 as an independent statutory authority- it is therefore responsible to the Parliament and not directly responsible to the Minister- for the purchase of land in the States and alienated land in the Territories. Spending by that body has been hampered under the Fraser Government- the Budget Papers show that that cannot be contradicted- not only through lack of funds but also because of the Queensland Premier’s refusal to transfer pastoral leases, delays by the Federal Government because of obvious areas of conflict which exist between the desires of the Minister, the Department and maybe even the Government, in view of the maverick position adopted by the Queensland and Western Australian governments.
Every year the new allocation of funds gets smaller, whilst the amount carried over from the previous year, unspent, grows larger. In 1978-79 the appropriation was 27 per cent lower than that for the previous year. In the first Fraser Budget the funds which initially were allocated by the Whitlam Government were cut. In the second Fraser Budget, that for 1976-77, no additional funds were made available to the Commission. The funds carried over from the previous year at that stage were frozen by ministerial directive.
Let us look at some of the events which have occurred. Unfortunately, the Glenore Station incident, when the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs intervened in a purchase, is one of many such incidents. I am referring principally to the previous Minister for Aboriginal Affairs when I recite these events. Questions in relation to the preferential treatment given to the Mount Isa Mines company concerning the MacArthur River section of the Borroloola land claim in the Northern Territory remain unanswered. In Western Australia, the ALFC is hampered by hostility from the Western Australian Lands Department. It must surely be recognised that there are areas of conflict between what the States see as their responsibilities and our desire as a national Parliament to fulfil completely our obligations towards the Aborigines.
The Commission’s tender for Laurell Downs Station on behalf of the Junjuwah community was unsuccessful, even though that community’s purchase offer was $5,000 higher than the next highest bid received. The injustice is seen to be even greater when one considers that the community wished to use the small piece of land as a training centre for pastoral and agricultural work. The land passed instead to a neighbouring pastoral station, Quanbun Downs. That is discrimination at its worst. It is something which we do not see being resolved by trying to reach a concensus with that State, which adopts an obstinate and discriminatory attitude. Then there was the request for an area of land adjoining the Lambadina community’s reserve. That request still has not been granted, even though the land formerly held temporary reserve status and the community vastly improved it by sinking bores and so on.
In recent years the Federal Government has tended to restrict purchases by one means or another and then to penalise financially the Commission for not spending all its funds by the time the next Budget rolls around. Moneys allocated to the Commission are now down by 79.5 per cent in real terms on the allocation in the last Labor Budget for 1975-76. That flows from the Government’s absurd philosophical and ideological belief that the only way in which the economy can be made to work properly is to cut back on public sector spending. The whole philosophy of this Government, as it is expressed in every other speech made by Ministers, whether it be in the Parliament or in all the speechifying that goes on when addressing various organisations throughout Australia and on television, is based on the view that everything will be all right if we just cut back on public sector spending. Cutting back on public sector spending when it affects Aborigines is very regressive and against the best interests of resolving the problems concerning the land rights of and land use by Aborigines. I think that the situation is summed up in a letter which the Western Australian Premier wrote to the Kimberley Land Council in which he stated:
The Aboriginal people, whether as a race or as tribes or as individuals, do not have by reason of their aboriginality any legal claim to the territorial land of Western Australia. Nor have the Aboriginal people any moral claim of the exclusive right to their possession of the lands of this State.
That view has not been repudiated by the Federal Government or the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Obviously that is an expression of the view held by the Liberal Party in that State. That that party supports this Government is apparent from its electoral procedures- the way in which it plays a decisive role in preselection ballots and the internal procedures of a political party of this Government. The past two Federal Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs have come from the ranks of that State party. I am sure that the view expressed by the Western Australian Premier is not the view of the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, but I am absolutely certain that it is the view of this Government that if it had to make a decision between mining development and protecting the rights of Aborigines the Aborigines would run a bad last on every occasion. Every time such decisions are to be made by governments such as the Court Government, the Queensland Government and, according to the views that so often are expressed by the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) the Federal Government, that is what will happen. We have seen this oft expressed view reach its zenith in the problems which exist at Noonkanbah in Western Australia. If the Western Australian Government continues with its present course of action, confrontation and bloodshed will result from the determining of matters concerning the rights of Aborigines in that region.
What has to be said about this legislation is that it is clear that the ALFC has never had the independence that the Whitlam Government intended it to have; that the entire Fraser Government has been determined to keep the funds of the ALFC under the control of the Minister; and this Bill will make legal what has been happening surreptitiously over the years. This
Bill will legitimise the way in which the process has been allowed to deteriorate over the last four or five years. The Chairman of the ALFC has accused the Department of Aboriginal Affairs of pessimism about the future of the Commission and of either ‘incompetence or deliberate admin.sitrative delay’ in business affecting the ALFC. He described the directions issued by the Minister as administratively unworkable and added: ‘I think that they may also be illegal ‘. So we are not enjoying that nice, smooth working relationship that second reading speeches and other comments made by Government members have led us to believe exists. Whilst the Commission was established by the Labor Government as an independent body, it is now required to inform the Minister of all its intentions and its reasons for those intentions. The Commission has to convince the Minister that its reasons arc sound or it will not receive the money required. The Commission has never been given a chance under the Fraser Government. I and my party believe that this Bill will improve very little the fundamental premise we outlined when we established the Commission in 1974.
The other body to be brought into the Aboriginal Development Commission is the Aboriginal Loans Commission. Suffice it to say that the waiting time for loans from that body is seven or eight years. The Government has changed some of the more patronising clauses and for that we are grateful. But the basic overbearing nature of the Bill remains. I am sure that in this debate my colleagues will reveal the Government’s sleight of hand for what it is. The Government and the Minister claim that this Bill constitutes a step forward in Aboriginal self-control, selfdetermination and self-sufficiency in their affairs. The Bill in its present form does precious little in that respect. The Bill gives the Minister sweeping powers in relation to the membership, funding, operations, functions, decision-making and policy of the Commission. The Minister will be telling the Commission what to do and how to do it. No matter how well intentioned the Minister may be, the Bill rejects the fundamental principles that I thought we stood for in the Parliament- those of self-determination and self-management. The Bill is nothing but a compromise. It will have our support because it seeks to take a short step along the ultimate road which must be recognised finally by the national Parliament, that is, the road to full selfdetermination and self-management of the affairs of Aboriginal communities in Australia.
The amendment we have moved requires the Government to make available to us submissions from the Aboriginal communities and the views of the State parliaments. We would like to see in writing what was said by the six State governments. After all, the Senate is the States House. We are entitled to know how the State governments view this Bill and whether the Federal Government has bowed to their pressure or stood up to it. Until we hear otherwise we are entitled to doubt the sincerity of the Government in this matter. We again draw to the attention of the Senate the need to appoint members ofthe Commission on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and various land councils. We believe also that we ought to have some indication by the Minister of the Government’s financial commitment which, alter all, will be the lifeblood of the Aboriginal Development Commission. Unless it has adequate funds it will not be able to fulfil even the limited functions which this Bill seeks to encompass.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
– I have pleasure in supporting the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill 1980. The proposal to establish the Commission was originally announced by the former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Viner, a year and a half ago. It is clearly set forth in the Bill that was tabled by the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) last November. This led to the substantial public discussion that ensued during the summer. This discussion resulted in the amended Bill which is now before the Senate. I see this Bill as a significant step towards a greater maturity and more adequate machinery for the Aboriginal people of Australia in their selfdetermination and self-management in the important areas of li nance and land.
This development had a most significant beginning in the referendum in the mid-1960s which many of us actively supported and which was assented to by an enormous majority. That referendum gave the Commonwealth constitutional power to give financial assistance directly to Aboriginal communities. Subsequently, the Department of Aboriginal A Hai rs was established. In 1974 two commissions were set up which will bc replaced by the more sophisticated and responsible Aboriginal Development Commission established by this Bill. The enterprises of the two earlier commissions, the Aboriginal Loans Commission and the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, were very considerably under the control of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. We have now taken a further step in this decade of progress in Aboriginal affairs in the amalgamation of those two commissions. The new Commission will be entirely composed of Aboriginal persons acting in the most accountable and responsible way for the best developments in making available land and finance to the Aboriginal communities of Australia.
Also by way of introduction, I underline the two principle reasons why, for some considerable time, there must be positive discrimination in special assistance to help Aboriginal communities. Firstly, it is beyond all dispute that the Aboriginal minority suffers some of the lowest standards of housing and health and has less ability to gain employment than any group in Australia. It is not sufficient just to bewail that fact. Those in the community in a position to act should make available to the Aboriginal people the means to redress that imbalance, that position of weakness. This Bill, in the crucial areas of enabling access to land and finance, gives very real and positive expression to the assistance that is needed by this important minority group, our brothers and sisters in the Aboriginal communities.
The second reason has been referred to by the Government parties in earlier policy statements which mention the dispossession and dispersal in the land, livelihood, community relations and culture of earlier generations of Aboriginals. An appropriate responsible expression must be made to come to terms with this dispossession and dispersal and to make amends, not only in this Bill but also in the continuing advantages and assistance that are given through taxpayers ‘ money by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and in other ways, not least by good personal relationships and encouragement by all Australians to Aboriginal persons. It is a sorry aspect of the early and middle stages of Australia’s history that there was such intolerance and ignorance on the part of most settling Australians. No limitations were placed on the infectious diseases that devastated the health of Aboriginal communities. Our settling forefathers did not give a fair consideration to the established Aboriginal communities in Australia. Very squarely and straightforwardly the Liberal and National Country parties are seeking to recognise this dispossession and dispersal. It is not only on account of the great need of the Aboriginal community but also on account of the necessity to redress past action that such a Bill is part of a pattern of positive discrimination to assist Aboriginals. (Quorum formed).
The principal aim of the Bill is to make available land and finance to Aboriginal communities. More specifically, it is the function of the Aboriginal Development Commission to assist communities and groups of Aboriginals to acquire land; to assist Aboriginals to engage in business enterprises and to assist Aboriginals to obtain finance for housing and for other personal needs, and to provide such finance. Then, with real enlightenment, there are two other not insignificant functions, namely to provide for the training of Aboriginals in matters related to the functions of the Commission, that is, to make sure that there is a body of Aboriginal persons who can understand these matters. (Quorum formed). I regret that only five Labor senators who are interested in this Bill are in the chamber. Nineteen Labor senators are not present, and are not showing a direct interest in the Bill.
- Mr Deputy President, I wish to raise a point of order. When I first called the quorum two minutes ago more Labor senators were in the chamber than Government senators. As soon as the quorum was called the Government senators left the chamber and that is why I had to call the second quorum.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There is no point of order.
- Senator McLaren is only trying to put into words a cover for the fact that there is a minority of Labor senators in this chamber, and that Government members are here supporting the Bill.
- Mr Deputy President, I wish to raise a point of order. When the honourable senator resumed his speech he immediately diverted totally from the Bill, onto a political slanging match. Mr Deputy President, I draw that to your attention.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There is no point of order.
– I take a further point of order. From the remarks made by the honourable senator in his speech I take it that he reflected on some honourable senators who are not here, no matter to which Party they belonged. I think it was a reflection made while the Senate is being broadcast involving members of this chamber who are not here at the present time.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There is no point of order.
- Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to Standing Order 438 and suggest that calling quorums fits into the category described in part (a) which concerns a senator persistently and wilfully obstructing the business of the Senate. I suggest that the honourable senator concerned ought to observe that Standing Order.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There is no point of order.
– I also raise a point of order, Mr Deputy President. I ask you to rule whether the Senate can conduct its business if there are not 22 senators in the place? That refers to the matter raised by Senator Jessop. Can I be rightfully accused of obstructing the business of the Senate when there is not a quorum under the Standing Orders?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Senator McLaren, there is no point of order. You know the Standing Orders. I suggest that honourable senators get down to the business before the Chair. I call Senator Teague.
– It is within the competence of honourable senators in the chamber to try to gain the maximum support from the public for this excellent Bill. The initiative of the Government in assisting the Aboriginal communities as expressed by this Bill is so transparent and is such an achievement that I regret that there are these procedural, carping approaches by honourable senators opposite who sit here in very few numbers with nothing substantial to say against this very substantial and significant Bill.
I wish to commend Senator Chaney for the way in which he has conducted the development of this Bill through the most enlightened process of acting upon Liberal principles in seeing a problem and identifying the way in which it can be solved. This is a Bill which gives to the Aboriginal people of Australia a more mature, responsible and accountable approach in their selfmanagement and self-determination. There has been no substantial criticism voiced against the process by which this Bill has been developed by Senator Chaney. I may come back to that process later. The Government’s policies with regard to Aboriginal communities in Australia are based fairly and squarely on Aboriginal community self-determination and self-management. Clearly this is a substantial step in that direction, away from the situation which exists at present where these land and loan functions reside to a great extent in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. It is not sufficient that we take education initiatives to make sure that Aboriginal people have the opportunity to gain skills and to be in a position to apply for jobs, if there is still a lack in enabling them to have the capital to become involved in those jobs or to have the land to which they can apply themselves.
Before the disturbance by procedural points I was noting the aims of the Commission. I noted that one of the principal functions of the Bill is to assist Aboriginals to engage in business enterprises. It is difficult for anyone in Australia to start from scratch in a new, free enterprise small business activity. Given the disabilities that I have acknowledged at the outset, special steps such as are available from this Commission are required to help Aboriginal persons to engage in business enterprises. In the early part of the 1970s there was a response to the needs of the Aboriginal people by way of direct funding to upgrade health and housing facilities in particular. Surely we must get beyond that stage and provide the means for responsible and accountable action in the whole area of business enterprises and self-starting Aboriginal initiatives. That is what this Commission will go on to do.
I want to commend the Government and in particular the Minister on the procedure that he has adopted in presenting this Bill to the Parliament. It was introduced by him and laid before the Parliament in November of last year, with a clear call throughout the summer for submissions from any interested party about the wording in the first draft of the Bill. All significant Aboriginal bodies responded and six State governments responded by making suggestions about how that draft Bill could be improved. This was exactly the kind of response that the Australian Government was seeking, so that this could be done properly even if there were a delay of three or four months. As a result of this response from the public there have been 40 amendments to the original Bill of November of last year.
These amendments have been made principally in the following directions: Firstly, a reduction in the role of the Minister in favour of an expanded role for the Commission; secondly, the setting up of an all-Aboriginal Commission; and thirdly, the creation of powers and responsibilities greater than those contained in the original Bill. People who made submissions in those three directions have been listened to, and an appropriate and very substantial number of amendments have been made in those directions. Not least in considering those submissions and in making assessments of the original Bill has been the Government members’ back bench committee, which is now part of a well-established pattern of committees that work in this Parliament and act to review legislation, together with the Minister, and try to refine the best possible legislation to achieve the functions the Government parties seek.
I wish to commend Phillip Ruddock, a member of another place, who chairs that committee, and the secretary of the Committee, Neville Bonner, a senator for Queensland. They have been involved through the summer in looking carefully at those submissions and together with Government senators in conversation with the Minister, in refining the Bill to he properly expressive of the evidence and arguments substantially put to us. I believe that this is an example of the very best way the Parliament can function. (Quorum formed). I wish to commend the Government members back bench committee system whereby parliamentarians can help to filter the submissions coming from the public and interested bodies- in this case Aboriginal orgainisations- by giving advice to the Minister. This process has led to a very commendable Bill in the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill that is now before us.
I wish to refer finally to the remarks made by Senator Gietzelt in which he said that the Australian Labor Party was supporting the Bill. Nevertheless, in a fuzzy kind of way he seemed to make some criticism of Commission members not being elected but rather being appointed, as is the case with other statutory commissions, by the Governor-General on the advice of the Government. In this Bill we see a substantial shift of responsibilities from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to a 10-member Commission that consists entirely of Aboriginals. In this process of more responsibility and accountability being given to an entirely Aboriginal body, I think it is appropriate that the Minister, who is responsible to this Parliament, the Government, which commands a majority in the other place and has been elected by the people of Australia, has the responsibility and discretion of recommending the members of the Commission. This does not say that the Minister is unable to receive advice and suggestions from members of the community, not least from the National Aboriginal Conference, as to who the members of the Commission should be. I put to Senator Gietzelt and others who have made these fuzzy criticisms that it is appropriate in an area such as this, where there is an autonomous Aboriginal commission, that there be this kind of link to all the people of Australia by way of the Minister in this Parliament, who represents not only the Aboriginal community but also all Australians. This degree of power residing in the Minister, I believe, is an important check in the dialogue between the rights of all the people of Australia, as represented in this Parliament, and the particular needs of the Aboriginal community.
In conclusion I can only voice the comments made by the National Aboriginal Conference in the light of the amendments in this Bill before us today. The Conference stated:
National Aboriginal Conference Executive applauds the Government’s initiative in implementing the Aboriginal Development Commission and is optimistic about its future and the benefits that will accrue to Aboriginals throughout Australia.
I too join with the National Aboriginal Conference, the Minister, Senator Bonner and all Government members in commending this Bill to the Senate, without any compromise or restraint.
– I rise to make a brief contribution in support of the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Gietzelt. Firstly, I wish to make one or two comments about what Senator Teague has just said. I believe it is most unfortunate that Senator Teague feels that the Opposition has nothing to contribute. I shall try to say something significant and perhaps even match the contribution he made. I always try to make a contribution; I think most of us who stand up do. I do not think it adds anything to make that sort of attack on individuals, particularly before they have been heard.
In the course of his speech Senator Teague said that no objections had been made to the Bill. Obviously, one would not want to see many objections made to this Bill, since so many were made to the last one. Many objections were made to the original Bill, and in the course of my remarks I will draw attention to them and commend the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) for taking notice of those criticisms and for changing his Bill. Let us face it, it is a little silly to say that there were no objections to the Bill when we had to have a new Bill and a second second reading speech. This is hardly introducing a Bill which has had no objections. I think it is a pity that Senator Teague on this occasion introduced a partisan approach. Surely this is one area where we have tried, over the years, to have a non-partisan approach, and I think to some extent that has been achieved. I can assure Senator Teague that honourable senators on this side of the chamber have no less sympathy, no less appreciation, and no less understanding of the problems of the Aboriginal people than have government senators. We will make what contribution we can to make sure that some of those problems are overcome.
Senator Teague commended the back bench committee concept and its contribution to Bills. I agree with him entirely. We ought to see more of this practice introduced into the chamber, with the back bench group making a contribution. Let me assure the honourable senator, in case he does not know, that the Australian Labor Party also has back bench committees, and on this one, if not on others- I can only speak of this one because it is one with which I am closely associated- we would also have been quite happy to look at the objections that were raised and in our way might have made a contribution to the improvement of the Bill.
The reintroduction of this Bill comes as a very welcome breath of fresh air in the Government’s attitude, the Government’s approach. Right at the start of my contribution, let me commend the Minister for the technique he has used in introducing the Bill. Finding that there were certain objections to it, he tabled it for 18 months, invited comment and criticism, and then- this is the most important part because it does not always happen- he acted upon that criticism. On many occasions Bills have been laid on this table and on the table in the other place, and the Government of the day has said that it has invited criticism and comment, but at the end of that time the Bill has gone forth unsullied. It is good to see, in the case of our present Minister, the first manifestation of the ideas propounded by him when he was a back bencher. Who knows, we may even live to see the day when he will accept a significant amendment from the Opposition.
The device of introducing a Bill and then discussing it, while certainly not new, is not common and may well point the way for an important development in procedures. Perhaps our committee on parliamentary reform will suggest further advances to the way in which the people involved in legislation- in this case the Aboriginal people- will be able to make a contribution and have their views incorporated. I suppose if one looked back at the British system one would talk of this as being some sort of extension of the Green Paper concept. The purists, I suppose, would say that the initial Bill should have been better and then there would not have been the need for so much alteration. I accept that proposition from the purists. But I do not think it is an important factor. The important factor is that the Bill has come forward. Some comments have been made about it and some of these comments were incorporated.
Not all of them were incorporated. This point has been made clear by a number of speakers. As the Opposition had available to it a few of the papers, certainly not all of them- basically those from the Aboriginal communities and organisations- we were able to say: ‘Well, you have accepted those. Why did you not accept these?’ My approach in this debate will be to list a few of those matters raised by external organisations as criticisms and as suggestions which were not accepted by the Minister. I ask him to comment on those matters at the end of the debate. I will certainly not deal with all of the objections that did not cause a reaction. No doubt my colleagues will raise these matters either in this debate or at the Committee stage.
Let us look firstly at clause 3. This is the only clause I will read. I assume that the others will be known well enough. The only reason I will read this one is that it is fairly short and we need to see in context the phrase that I wish to comment on. Clause 3 states:
The purpose of this Act is to further the economic and social development of the Aboriginal race of Australia and people who are descendants of indigenous inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands and, in particular, (as a recognition of the past dispossession and dispersal of such people) to enable a Capital Account with the object of promoting their development, self-management and self-sufficiency.
The phrase to which I refer in that clause is the phrase in parentheses which states:
This is the first law, as far as I know, which has recognised this past dispossession and dispersal of the Aboriginal people. The Bill is historic because of this and it is welcome because of this. But it is welcome only if it does not purport to be the final settlement of the trials suffered by the Aboriginal people since the white man first came. I am afraid that clause 3, as it stands at present, does not allay this fear I have. In fact, to the contrary, it almost suggests in some way that there is a final settlement. It gives the impression that the Government has no intention of proceeding towards a treaty of commitment. The first question that I put to the Minister is: What is the Government’s intention towards the treaty of commitment? The previous speaker in this debate referred to the need for this treaty although he did not actually use the phrase ‘treaty of commitment’. The Minister will be aware that the Aboriginal Legal Service made a suggestion. It suggested that clause 3 should be replaced to state that:
The purpose of this Act is to assist in the economic and social development of Aboriginals and for this purpose to establish the Aboriginal Entitlement Capital Account with the object of assisting in the promotion of Aboriginal development, self management and self sufficiency.
This Act is a preliminary recognition of the past dispossession and dispersal of Aboriginal people and in no way purports to pre-empt the negotiations for a Treaty of Commitment between the Australian Government and the Aboriginal people.
If the Government supports the concept of a treaty of commitment- and certainly many of its members do because they have said so publiclylet us have this statement made as part of the debate. I turn now to clause 8, sub-clause (f). Clause 8 (f) suggests that the Commission is to take over the work of the Council for Aboriginal Development. I do not think there is any need for me to go through the details of the Council’s work. If one wanted to summarise them they could be summed up in a few words by saying that it is to be the formal Aboriginal advisory body to the Minister. It can be summed up as broadly as that. It is the body which is to advise the Minister. What will the role of the Council be if the role of the Commission is to advise the Government? We know that the National Aboriginal Congress is part of the Council for Aboriginal Development and that it has influence on the Council through its members. Do we see this provision as taking away from the Council for Aboriginal Development some of the role and influence of the NAC? Is this a further diminution of the role of the NAC? I will say more about this matter later.
Clause 8 (g) refers to such other functions as the Minister might pass in writing to the Commission. Clause 10 refers to functions conferred by the State or Territory. I am not worried about the powers that can be conferred; that obviously is a legal situation. I am concerned about the functions conferred by a State and other functions given to the Commission by the Minister. I ask: Will the Commission have the power to decline these functions? If the Minister says to the Commission, ‘I give you this function’, must it carry it out? An obvious problem concerning staff and funds exists here. There is another obvious and sensitive area where the Commission might not want to have the function which the State or Territory buck-passes to it.
We can take this matter one stage further and ask: What are the functions concerned with the furtherance of the economic and social development of Aboriginals? At first sight, the list appears almost endless. Surely the Minister does not see the Commission as developing into some monolithic organisation taking over all functions related to the furtherance of the economic and social development of Aboriginals.
– If he sees it as this I suggest to him quite clearly that this structure is not appropriate. I am pleased to hear a comment from the other side of the chamber that the Minister does not believe that this is so. I hope that he will come forward and say so.
– No; I said that it may take over more functions.
– I see. Let us have from the Minister a clear statement because it is not clear in the Bill at present what functions he will be able to give and what functions a State or Territory will be able to give. I see also another problem in that it would be difficult to appoint sufficient giants- we would have to call them that- to encompass the range of activities which this Commission of ten people would have to worry about. I cannot think of any white organisation in Australia which would have this wide range of activities thrust upon it.
I refer briefly to clause 1 1 which relates to such general directions as are given by the Minister. This provision was initially of great concern and the NAC was worried. It seems to me that subclauses (2) and (3) are commendable attempts to meet the criticism raised by the NAC. They seem to me to do so. It may seem strange for me to do so, but I ask the Minister to assure me that they will meet all objections raised by the NAC. I move now to clause 13 relating to membership. Once again I commend the amendments to the original draft. To me the problem still remains of the Government making appointments. I am concerned and I am not convinced by the arguments put forward by Senator Teague that this is a good idea. I know it can happen. The government of the day which has this funny thing called a mandate assumes all sorts of mantles of infallibility. I am worried; I think the original criticism put forward still applies.
The Government will have absolute control over all appointments to the Commission. There is no mechanism to remove the risk that the Commission may be unrepresentative of tribal, urban and rural Aboriginals and of the States and various regions and unresponsive to their needs. People who are appointed may lack the confidence of the NAC. Political pressure of one sort or another could correctly or incorrectly be alleged as the basis of the Minister’s appointments. If a person is to be appointed from Queensland, will the Minister be taking into account the views of the Queensland Government? Will it make any difference to the government of the day if an Aboriginal is a member of a political party? Could a Minister be wrongly influenced by the fact that a prospective appointee is or is not a member of the NAC, a public servant or an executive member of any particular Aboriginal organisation? Will a person be chosen because of his or her known preferences or certain priorities over others? Will a person with prior criminal convictions be excluded? Will preference be given to persons with tertiary or secondary qualifications? The basis of a Minister’s decision-making could be very different from that of the NAC or any other Aboriginal organisation.
Why has the role of the NAC been downgraded? Why is it not possible for this body to make the appointments? It would seem to be the obvious body to make the appointments; if not the appointments, the recommendations for appointment. A suggestion has been made, as we know, that the appointments should be made after nominations by the NAC. That seems to be a worthwhile procedure. The NAC is the group about which the Minister has had so many complimentary things to say, and rightly so. He has seen it as a body which could represent the views of the Australian Aboriginal people. Either he relies on this group or he does not. The Minister might care to indicate, when he speaks, why he has chosen to go beyong the NAC and why he has chosen to keep the decision in his own hands. Let us hope that we are not going to see rewards for the faithful or jobs for the boys, which are not unknown in government circles, whether it be this Government or other governments. Let us hope that we are not going to see the paternalistic approach ofl think this bloke would be better’. Surely neither is acceptable in this situation.
The same criticism applies to clause 14, which refers to leave. Why can the Commission not grant leave? Why must it be the Minister who does this? Surely, if it is only a matter of remuneration, only a small matter of looking after the bureaucratic procedures, we could do this. It seems to be a small point, but it is one more indication of something less than complete faith in the ability of the organisation to conduct its own affairs. Let me extend that proposition to clause 1 6, which talks about acting appointments. I take just one example. Why not allow a resignation to be processed by members of the Commission and delivered by them to the person who appointed them- in other words, the GovernorGeneral? Why is it that the Minister has to be the one who handles the resignation? There is no problem in this regard. It would give more status to the Commission and it would give a much greater feeling of independence.
I move to clause 17, which refers to the suspension of a member for misbehaviour or physical or mental incapacity. I will not deal with any of the factors involved in it, but I will refer to the procedures for suspension. Why cannot the suspension of a member be at the request of the Commission? We assume, since no detail has been given, that the Minister will recommend to the Governor-General that a certain person be suspended. Why will he do that? I wonder what definition of misbehaviour the Minister will use if he wants to get rid of someone. We know what the Queensland Premier would do if he had the responsibility. Honourable senators will recall that the trachoma program was wrecked completely because the Premier did not happen to like an Aboriginal who was involved in it. I know that there is the safeguard of parliamentary scrutiny. I accept this proposition and I commend it. Once again, I feel that the action should be initiated by the Commission. This would avoid any suggestion of political pressure. As to the effect of clause 20 on the treaty of commitment, I quote a section of the submission put forward by the Aboriginal Legal Service. It states:
It is in this area especially that it appears that the Government may be pre-empting a Treaty of Commitment. This suggestion is given weight by the Second Reading speech of Senator Bonner … in which he suggested that the Aboriginal Entitlement Capital Account was being established and vested in the Commission in accordance with the Joint Parties Policy Statement of 1975 which ‘recognises the problems arising from the past dispossession and dispersal of the Aboriginal people and the community’s resulting responsibility’.
Senator Bonner went on to suggest that the establishment of the Capital Account ‘will be the first explicit statutory recognition of the broad and wide concern of the Australian community to effect a just settlement’. He then went on to quote the unanimous resolution of the Senate of 20th February 1975 acknowledging the prior ownership of Aboriginal people and then concluded that the Government draws attention to the fact that land rights, land purchases and other accumulating assets to which I referred earlier are real measures of compensation . . . lt would be highly desirable at the absolute minimum to incorporate a reference to the Treaty in the Bill to attempt to ensure that the Bill did not pre-empt the Treaty of Commitment. Such a reference could be incorporated into the preamble of the Bill.
Furthermore, it is totally unrealistic to suggest that the Commission when established will not play a major role in relation to the implementation of the Treaty of Commitment once agreed to. It is obvious that the Government is setting up a long-term ongoing structure to administer Aboriginal funds and therefore it is vital that the structure set up is appropriate to and meets with the approval of Aboriginal people.
I refer now to clause 34, which relates to the appointment of staff. I feel that the criticisms made previously still apply. The criticisms include the statement that when a Minister gives directions to the newly-formed Commission to employ or use public servants formerly engaged by the Depanment of Aboriginal Affairs, the Commission may be limited severely in its choice of staff. It is possible that the Commission could become, in effect, the same Department of Aboriginal Affairs, under a different name, but without the Minister and the Government having the direct responsibility for its actions. Presumably, if the Minister gives directions to the Commission it can be expected that those public servants whose services ‘are made available to the Commission’ will comply with the same even if there is some doubt as to whether the Minister has power to give these directions. The Minister will retain effective control over such public servants. Their future careers within the Public Service will obviously be important to them. The Commission cannot be a totally independent organisation unless it can control its staff.
Clause 40 of the Bill refers to the need to place the report before the NAC before it comes to the Parliament. I commend that. Clause 40 (6) requires the comments of the NAC, having been made, to be placed before Parliament. The NAC wanted to be able to change the report, but I can certainly see the propriety of the Commission making its own report. Once again I commend the Government for having the comments on the report tabled with it. I make the point, though, that we will assume that sufficient time will be given to the NAC to make appropriate comments. That is essential if we are not to have a situation in which there is just a token showing of the report.
The Bill as presented is an improvement on the one issued previously. I commend the Minister for his approach in inviting comment and, more importantly, acting on it. Surely all Australians, particularly those with interest in Aboriginal affairs, will appreciate the action that has been taken. This is one area in which there is a good deal of agreement on both sides of the chamber. I hope to see the approach which the Minister adopted on this occasion introduced at other times with other Bills and become almost a standard procedure. It will help to overcome some of the more cumbersome methods which we have inherited. I look forward to hearing the Minister, at the conclusion of this debate, provide the explanations which we have sought during the presentation of our amendment.
– I support the legislation relating to the Aboriginal Development Commission. As has been indicated, this is probably the most important piece of legislation ever relating to the Aboriginal people of Australia. Perhaps it could be placed side by side with the Aboriginal land rights legislation. When one looks at it, one can see that it is probably the most important act to take place over the last few decades. I think it is indicative of the calibre of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) that this Bill is before us today. I believe that the process he has followed over the last year has brought about a Bill that has been subject to proper consultation and has given Aboriginal people throughout Australia the opportunity to look at it and to comment on it.
I now turn to the method by which it was introduced. I think it is important to note that this legislation was introduced a few weeks ago by an Australian Aborigine, Senator Bonner. I believe that this gesture by the Minister must surely bring satisfaction to the Aboriginal people. I think I should also say this: Senator Bonner, in his own right, has proved himself to be the person who should introduce this legislation on behalf of the Minister. He is an Aboriginal and since he has been a Queensland senator he has done many things on behalf of the Aboriginal people. He has become very well known throughout Australia. I know that in the Northern Territory, where I come from, no matter where he goes, whether it is Papunya or Yirrkala or any other isolated settlement, he is well known, respected and liked. I feel sure that when the Aboriginal people in those areas see what has been done in this Bill, they will regard it as a milestone.
As I have said, it is an important piece of legislation. I wish to reflect on what has happened in the last few months and to recall to mind the fact that the Bill was introduced into the Senate by Senator Bonner on behalf of the Minister and then was circulated throughout Australia. Some 1,500 copies of the Bill, together with explanatory notes, were distributed far and wide, to city dwellers and to the people out in the isolated areas. They have all received copies so that they could comment on it.
From the comments received, one can see that there have been numerous submissions made orally at meetings with the task force which was set up. Eleven formal written submissions outlining the views and proposals of various Aboriginal organisations have been received, and overall many amendments were proposed. It is most interesting to see that at the time the original piece of legislation was introduced, the Government had gone quite a long way in meeting the requests of the Aboriginal people by setting up this Aboriginal Development Commission. But despite that, when the Government and the Minister considered the amendments that had been proposed- (Quorum formed). Now that a quorum has been formed, I note that there are only three members of the Opposition present in the chamber. The previous speakers have left the chamber. After considering the proposals and amendments received from these various Aboriginal organisations throughout Australia, the Government then took further steps. It is to be commended for what it has done. The Aboriginal people, the organisations and the people throughout Australia who felt that further steps should be taken put forward proposals and in practically all cases they have been accepted. The action that has been taken by the Government since the original Bill was introduced- that is, heeding the requests of these submissions that have been forwarded- has brought about a reduction of the role of the Minister in favour of an expanded role for the Commission. I believe this was very reasonable. The Minister has heeded the request, and what he has actually done- ( Quorum formed). This situation reminds me of a rhyme which starts off with ten bottles hanging on the wall and the number being reduced one by one. Before the quorum was called there were three members of the Opposition in the chamber. Now there are two. Perhaps after the next quorum is called there will be only one.
The Minister has reduced his responsibility. He has handed more powers to the Commission and to the people concerned. I draw the attention of Senator Gietzelt to the fact that Senator Bonner in his second reading speech said that the Commission had seven Aboriginals on it. Now the Commission comprises 10 Aboriginals. It is comprised completely of Aboriginals. As I have indicated, in the second version of the Bill the powers of responsibility are greater than those contained in the original Bill. The responsibilities and functions of the Commission are very encompassing. The Bill states:
The functions of the Commission are . . . subject to and in accordance with this Act . . .
to assist communities and groups of Aboriginals to acquire land;
to assist Aboriginals to engage in business enterprises;
to assist Aboriginals to obtain finance for housing and for other personal needs, and to provide such finance:
to assist in the training of Aboriginals in relation to matters related to the functions of the Commission:
to administer and control the Capital Account;
to give advice and make recommendations to the Minister with respect to the furtherance of the economic and social development of Aboriginals: and
such other functions in connection with the furtherance of the economic and social development of
Aboriginals as the Minister determines by notice in writing given to the Commission.
One also realises that the Minister has retained very few powers other than an overdirection of the Commission. Any direction that he gives will be tabled in both Houses of Parliament within I think some 15 days of the advice being given. If this advice and direction is ever given it is also to be included in the report. There has been some comment on the make-up of the Commission. First of all we have seen that it is now an all Aboriginal commission. One must also realise that the matters which the members of the Opposition have brought up regarding resignation, acting appointments, removal, termination, et cetera, are just the usual processes that apply to any members who are appointed to a commission.
I point out once again the means of appointment of Aboriginal people to this Commission. It has been said that the National Aboriginal Conference will have no say in the matter of appointments. I would think that the NAC, as the national Aboriginal body in Australia, would have plenty to do with the appointments to this Commission. It would be only natural because already the Minister and the Government encourage the NAC and rely on it for advice in many matters. Because the NAC is regarded as the number one Aboriginal body in Australia, naturally the Government and the Minister would look to the NAC for recommendations for the membership of the Commission. As well as consulting the NAC one would expect that the net would be thrown much wider because Australia is a big place. Aboriginal people live throughout Australia, whether in cities or, as I have said, country towns or isolated areas. The net should, as far as possible, be thrown much wider to enable a reasonable representation of these people no matter where they come from. I do not think that it will be an easy task but the fact that Aboriginals tend to be appointed is good. With the assistance of the NAC and other Aboriginal organisations, we will see the setting up of a suitable board to take over these vast responsibilities- and they are vast.
There is a further amendment to the Bill which provides that the Commission can be given other functions. I do not disagree with that but in my mind I see the Commission, as it develops, taking over more and more functions as it becomes more specialised and experienced. This is something I have supported and advocated over the years. I see this Commission perhaps growing like the commissions that we see in the United States of America which handle Indian matters.
If we go that far possibly there would be practically no Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs. That is only my thinking. But I see the functions of this Commission developing to such a degree that it could be almost wholly responsible for matters relating to Aboriginals in Australia.
There have been many comments in relation to the Bill and to the functions of the Commission. I would like to refer briefly to clause 45 of the Bill which relates to committees. Because I come from the Northern Territory I, particularly, and others have been very wary of representation. Having felt the heavy hand of centralism over the years- it is only in the last year or two that we have been unfettered and given responsible self-government- we are very strong on regional representation and authority. I see no reason why this principle should not apply also within the Aboriginal Commission. Throughout Australia there is a need for a person or persons representing Aboriginals, to gather information and so on in order to assist the Commission. I think that is very desirable. I believe that one has to be wary. In the setting up of these committees I would expect that the Commission would, when considering remuneration and allowances, and in these days of heavy administrative costs, take due regard of the fact that the costs of the operation of committees are not such that they will whittle away the funds of the Commission to a large degree. Over the years a lot of the funds that have been allocated for Aboriginal affairs have been ill spent although this would not have been done deliberately. I suppose it was done through inexperience. The money has not really got down to where it has been required at the grass roots level with Aboriginal affairs, whether it has been for medical needs, education, housing or what have you. In the setting up of the committees- which I support- I hope that the administrative costs will not be so heavy that they will be detrimental to the wants of the Aboriginal people at the grass roots level.
I am most interested in the Aboriginal Development Commission, a fact which I think is very obvious. In the Bill we see that the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission will no longer exist. I believe that is a correct decision. The two organisations have been set up in the interim period to do certain things. I think they have done their best but their time is limited and the time has come for their replacement. Their replacement by the Development Commission is a further step forward. When one looks at the operations of the Aboriginal Loans Commission one will observe some of the problems that it has experienced. It has been rather upsetting for applicants, who have gone before the Aboriginal Loans Commission, and who have found that, for one reason or another, they cannot be considered for a loan. I would expect that under this new organisation, the Aboriginal Development Commission, these people who have not been catered for before can be catered for now.
I see some situations which I regard as rather unusual. I refer to the operations of the store at Bathurst Island and the Nguiu Council. They built up a most progressive business, training Aboriginal people. That is probably one of the highlights of the success of Aboriginal business organisations. Unfortunately not all businesses have been like it. In their expertise, desire and indeed because of health requirements for a new store, they were unable to receive a loan from the Aboriginal Loan Commission despite the fact that I think they could contribute some $ 100,000 as a deposit on such a loan.
I do not wish to take the matter any further. I am only indicating that I expect that we will not have the experiences under the organisation that is being established through this legislation as have occurred before. ( Quorum formed). Being a private enterprise person I believe that the Aboriginal Development Commission can be of tremendous assistance in supporting Aboriginal businesses in the future. It can bring about employment and very many things that will be of considerable benefit to Aborigines. I look forward to development once again in certain areas now that this Commission will have powers, responsibility and finance. In this context I am not referring to the cities. I am not a city person. I am from the Northern Territory, from one of the isolated areas. I was going to say that I am from the sticks. I see the Aborigines being encouraged back into gardening, fishing and farming enterprises. (Quorum formed). Fishing, gardening and farming can bring good health and much employment to the people.
In closing my remarks I will spend some minutes speaking on Aboriginal stores in the Northern Territory. This is big business. Many of the stores have a million dollar a year turnover. Many of the people involved have had little experience in running stores. Because of our unwise actions of some little while ago in giving Aborigines self-determination and leaving them to themselves without expertise and guidance a lot of the stores are in trouble. I look to the Development Commission to assist and support these stores. Many have suffered tremendous monetary losses either through inefficient management or through the people responsible for running the stores actually removing the money and touching’ the Aboriginal people.
I attended a meeting in Katherine some three or four weeks ago in which Aboriginal leaders and their store managers gathered with representatives of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. These people were looking for some method of overcoming the problems I have mentioned. I look forward to the Commission’s being able to assist in overcoming the problems. I hope that as so much money is involved and as the stores affect so many Aboriginal people this organisation will have an umbrella type of function with regional bases of which the community stores will become part. I hope that the Commission will see that leaders work very closely with store managers or associations. All stores involved must liaise closely and frequently with the Commission so that any problems can be quickly identified and appropriate action taken. I hope that a simple and standardised bookkeeping and accounting system will be incorporated and that advice will be given on commodity mark-ups, store layouts and comprehensive training programs for Aboriginal people so that they can eventually take over the stores. I hope that the stores are given the opportunity of receiving the assistance of the Commission in the recruitment of non-Aboriginal managers. I support the Bill and look forward with interest to its enactment. I commend the Government and the Minister for the introduction of these most important measures and once again I congratulate Senator Bonner for the part he played.
– I support the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Gietzelt. I will quote perhaps the two most relevant paragraphs of it. The first paragraph reads:
That, while not opposing the integration of the lands fund, loans fund and grants in aid (enterprises program), the Parliament must have access to the submissions which led to integration of such programs;
In the next paragraph the Opposition spells out more clearly its views and states that the appointment of the members to the Commission should be made by the Minister acting on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and the various land councils; the other important paragraph reads:
That the Government should assure the Senate of its commitment to maintain and increase its financial assistance to the Commission.
I will now quote from the Australian Labor Party’s policy on Aboriginal affairs to tidy up the matter and then refer to some of the statements that have been made by Government senators during the course of the debate. The Labor Party has said quite clearly in the preamble to the policy that will apply when it becomes the government later this year that:
For many thousands of years prior to the coming of white people to Australia, Aborigines and Islanders were the sole inhabitants of this continent. Discipline was embodied in the tribal structure. Each member had expectations and limitations within this discipline. There was total awareness of being in harmony with the land and ‘dreaming’.
With the coming of white people, traditional land was stolen, spiritual links shattered, the tribal economy broken, ritual life was disrupted and in many places ceased. In many cases Aborigines and Islanders were murdered and tribes separated. Leadership and kinship structures and culture were often devastated and many Aborigines and Islanders became dependent on white people. Strong remaining ties with family and clan were no match for collective feelings of defeat and dispossession.
Aboriginality no longer meant pride, substance and belonging, it no longer meant a life-long exploration of the joys of the spirit. It came to mean constant denigration and contempt, grinding poverty, fear, helplessness and apathy. All the concepts of the Aboriginal personality were slowly undermined so that Aborigines and Islanders could only relate to white commercial society with shame and embarrassment. In 1967 -
Senator Teague made a comment about ‘back in the middle 1960s’; he was vague about some of his dates- the merits of the Aboriginal struggle finally reached the conscience of most white people when the Australian Parliament was vested with responsibility for Aboriginal affairs. The election of a Labor Government in 1972 saw the establishment of a Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the appointment of a Minister who had responsibility to attempt to restore land to the Australian indigenes and provide compensation for damage inflicted. Labor will continue to help in recognising and strengthening traditional and contemporary culture and provide for self-determination
I make that commitment on behalf of my party. Whilst on this occasion there has been consultation, it has not been as wide as it should have been. People in some of the remoter areas of Australia in which I have been did not even know that this Bill was floating around the sticks, to use Senator Kilgariff’s words.
– Which areas are they?
– I am not going to detail it all now.
– I just want to know which areas.
– With Senator Teague ‘s limited knowledge of Aboriginal affairs, he must be in a very serious situation. He would not understand this. So at this point I will not waste valuable time in trying to enlighten someone who cannot be enlightened anyway. I wish to make a couple of comments on some of the statements made by Senator Teague when speaking on this Bill. He claimed that much information had come from all sources. I assume he meant that that information had come to the Government committee on Aboriginal affairs. He claimed too that six States had made submissions to the committee. I suggest that the Government has been suppressing some of that information. If it is available it should have been tabled. Members of the Opposition should have had an opportunity to look at it too. Some journalists state that sources indicate that both Western Australia and Queensland strongly oppose the Bill. They say that the money in the Commission could not be used for purchasing land.
– If that is not so, those sorts of rumours ought to be killed. They have been floating around in both States for some time. The Minister is seeking to interject by shaking his head, which indicates apparently that the sources cannot be substantiated. But that sort of story ought to be killed. There has been too much secrecy in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. I remind the Minister that he has taken more than three weeks even to find out how much money is left in kitty. It will be the usual old story: By 30 June there will be a tabulation of moneys unspent by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs or moneys not extracted from the Treasury and millions of dollars will still be lying around. Why? It will be because the Aborigines could not spend the money. Of course, in the meantime kids are dying, people are without jobs and people are without homes. But it will be the same old story. They will not be able to change that disreputable- I am sorry, I should not use that word- gentleman who runs the State of Queensland, who is in a lot of trouble with his party at the moment -
– I am being terribly charitable. The same sort of thing will happen there: Money will be returned or it will be assessed that money cannot be spent. Why are these matters kept secret? I hope that the Government, in the last few months of its life, will not use the proposed Aboriginal Development Commission as an umbrella, as an excuse, for again withdrawing funds from Aboriginal affairs. I have a great suspicion that that is one of the reasons why it is being set up. The principle behind the establishment of the Commission is excellent. But I say to the Government: Do not let happen to this organisation what has happened to other organisations; do not let it be used as an umbrella to hide Government mis-spending or non-spending.
Senator Teague was very lavish with his congratulations. I thought it was a Christmas party. He was handing them around to everybody. Senator Kilgariff made the next contribution in the debate and said that the Government relies on the National Aboriginal Conference and encourages it. This Government, when it came to power, took away a lot of the strengths of the NAC, or the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee, as it used to be. For a long period the NACC was virtually a rubber stamp. Thank God many of the people who were members of it were people of substance and were able to come back and criticise the Government on many of its actions or lack of actions. I would say that the Government deliberately reorganised the administrative boundaries of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs for the NAC and without taking into account at all the needs of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Under the old system at least some of the boundaries coincided with the boundaries of the traditional tribal areas. It gave the traditional people a much greater say than does the present boundary distribution. Again, later this year or very early next year the Labor Party will be able to implement this section of its policy:
Develop and make effective the NAC as advising body to the Government and extend its powers as a policy making and organising authority amongst Aboriginal and Islander communities.
Ensure a new constitution for the NAC with a structure and procedures acceptable to Aboriginal and Islander communities.
Support the policy of self-determination and make an annual allowance to the NAC to enable it to operate its own activities.
Many Aborigines are still disturbed by many clauses of this Bill. I have no doubt that there will be lengthy debate when it reaches the Committee stage. Whilst the Bill has been around for a long time, the proposed amendments it contains have been drafted in a hurry and have many loose edges. When the idea of introducing this legislation was first mooted, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs put out, in elementary English, a document entitled: ‘The Aboriginal Development Commission Bill . . . what you should know ‘. As a preface it stated:
This Bill will affect Aboriginal people throughout Australia. As some Aboriginals have a limited knowledge of English a simplified explanation of what the Bill is about has been prepared. This is not a legally binding document.
I will quote some of the statements made in the document. I challenge the Minister to indicate, when he replies to matters raised in this debate, how he proposes to do some of the things outlined in this document explaining the Bill, which has been distributed at least to some Aboriginal communities. It states:
The Government in Canberra wants to set up the Aboriginal Development Commission.
A law to do this has been drawn up.
These words will tell you about that law.
The Government wants you to read this book so that you can tell it what you think about the law before it is passed.
The English used in the document is so simple that it is incorrect. I assume it means that they should tell the Government and not the book what they think about the law. The document continues:
The Government knows many Aboriginal people lost their land and often were not treated fairly in the past.
This new law says the Aboriginal Development Commission will make things better for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.
It will help Aboriginals get land.
It will help Aboriginals buy houses or start businesses.
If the necessary funds will not be made available under the Bill as it stands, the Commission will not be able to buy any houses or land. In paragraph (c) of our amendment we place considerable emphasis on financial assistance for the Commission. The waiting period now for a loan for an Aboriginal family to buy a house is something like eight years. The Government cannot find the money now that is necessary to provide housing throughout the length and breadth of this country. This legislation will not help Aborigines to get land either. For a whole year the Government did not fund the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission; the Government kept the money away from the Commission. That happened, in spite of what Mr Ellicott said. That happened long before the term of the present Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I ask him not to shake his head so much; it does not become him, neither is it nearly as constructive as a reply from him later would be. The document continues:
Up until now these things have been done by the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission.
This new law means there will be no Land Fund Commission or Loans Commission any more.
Unless the Government is prepared to come out and say quite clearly that it intends to fund this proposed new organisation sufficiently to allow it to be economically viable as far as the Aborigines are concerned, the whole Bill is just a lot of hot air. The document continues:
The National Aboriginal Conference, which is the elected national conference of Aboriginal people, and the Council for Aboriginal Development, who are the Minister’s Aboriginal advisers, were asked what they thought about it.
They said it was a good idea.
As we said earlier, we are not criticising the idea. But we ask: How much of the consultation was token and how much of it was a meaningful discussion with the Aboriginal people? Again, I quote from the policy of the Australian Labor Party. It states:
Consult with the Aboriginal and Island people and communities, and have regard to their views and implement only those programmes approved of and accepted by them and in particular ensure that-
such consultation is real rather than token, by taking account of the way in which such people and communities choose to reach decisions;
in all relevant Government departments adequate staff levels are maintained and procedures to comply with this policy; and
where funds are paid to, or administered by, state and territory governments, those governments comply with this policy.
What did the six governments, particularly Western Australia and Queensland, say? Will they comply with the new legislation or did they say that they will not comply with it? I refer to the letter that was signed by an Aborigine, Paddy Dalton and 15 other people. I will not read the whole document. I will refer to the relevant paragraphs. The letter contains a complaint and a warning. It states:
Secondly, Aboriginal members of this Commission can be easily dismissed for misbehaviour, what does this misbehaviour clause mean. This should be changed to limit any Minister’s power in this regard. Not only can this Minister sack anyone, he will instruct them how to do their job.
I know that some modifications have been made but I believe that they have not gone far enough. The letter continued:
This should not be allowed, the Minister’s power in this instance should be reduced. Most unsatisfactory is the way the Monies Account is to be set up. The Government has not given any guarantee as to the amount of money to be granted. This should change and the Government should increase the funding to Aboriginal communities to help them become self-sufficient. It is also noted that under this Bill that unless the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs gives his special permission, funds cannot be given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Legal Services, our Medical Services, or the Aboriginal Housing Co/op, if they are not incorporated under the Government law of 1 976. This also should be changed so that any Aboriginal organisation can receive grants from the Aboriginal Development Commission. These laws mentioned in this Bill are unsatisfactory to Our People and should, therefore be changed to suit, the majority of our people.
As I said, the letter was signed by Paddy Dalton and some of his friends. It highlights the things I have been trying to emphasise since I commenced my speech and the necessity for the Government to come clean and tell us how it proposes to run and fund the Commission. It is possible that the Government will have enough money left over between now and 30 June to make a transfer. That will probably set up the Commission and fund it for the first quarter. A further criticism comes from an Aboriginal group. It stated:
Thus, the Government will have absolute control over all appointments to the Commission. There is no mechanism to remove the risk that the Commission may be unrepresentative to tribal, urban and rural Aborigines and of the States and various regions, and unresponsive to their needs.
That is another matter that has not been set out clearly in either the second reading speech or in the actual drafting of the Bill. Perhaps the Minister may note that comment and explain how the appointments to the Commission will be dealt with. The Aboriginal group continued:
Persons who may be appointed may lack the confidence of the NAC. Political pressure of one sort or another could, correctly or incorrectly, be alleged as the basis of a Minister’s appointment(s). If a person is to be appointed from Queensland, will the Minister be taking into account the views of the Queensland Government?
That is a very pertinent question. I hope that the Minister will note it and reply to it. The Aboriginal group continued:
Will it make any difference to the Government of the day if an Aboriginal is a member of a political party? Could a Minister be wrongly influenced by the fact that a prospective appointee is, or is not, a member of the NAC, a public servant, or an executive member of any particular Aboriginal organisation? Will a person be chosen because of his or her known preferences or certain priorities over others? Will a person with prior criminal convictions be excluded? Will preference be given to persons with tertiary or secondary qualifications? The basis of a Minister’s decision making could be very different from that of the NAC, or other Aboriginal organisations.
The reference to academic qualifications is also relevant. Some people came from traditional areas. If they had to subscribe to the same type of examinations or tests, they would probably all gain honours degrees in various disciplines. It depends on the manner in which people are taught and the things that they learn academically, as we do in so-called Western society, or on whether people learn in the traditional way that many Aborigines still practise today. I recall being associated with a multiracial meeting. A highly placed academic, after listening to an Aborigine deliver his views on a particular subject, said that if he were marking his papers he would give him an honours pass for every examination for which he sat even though, according to our custom, he could not read or write.
I issue a final warning: If the Government attempts to use the Commission to take away from the Aborigines some of the things which they have been able to get from various other organisations, obviously very severe criticism will come from many sections of the community, not only from those who will be affected by the Commission but also from Aboriginal organisations which will protest loudly and vehemently. I do not know what the Government did with the second draft of the Bill but I gather that it has not had any sort of distribution and that there has been no further comment from Aborigines. The three points in the Australian Labor Party’s policy on Aboriginal affairs which I quoted were drawn up with the assistance of traditional Aborigines as well as Aborigines living in the various centres of Australia. Full consultation was carried out and agreement was reached with them before our policy was actually drafted and published.
– Did you distribute a plain English version of the draft statement?
-We do not bother with baby English like the Government does. One of the best things to do for Aboriginals in the traditional areas is to allow one of their own people to interpret for them. That is much more effective than using the system the Government uses. But people working for the Government are not prepared to go into the traditional areas or even into many of the urban areas and seek the opinions of people. The Committee responsible for drafting the Labor Party’s policy did just that. Having delivered that blast at the honourable senator on my left- I am not talking about his politics- I repeat that I support the amendment moved on behalf of the Opposition by Senator Gietzelt. I hope that the points raised by various speakers on this side of the chamber will be taken into consideration before this Bill passes into law.
– My contribution will be brief. That is not to be interpreted as a reflection on the importance of the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill but purely as the result of the state of my health which is deteriorating minute by minute. I want to associate the Australian Democrats with this Bill and to compliment the Government, in particular the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney), on what I think is a magnificent piece of legislature which they have developed with the ultimate patience, compassion and consultation with the Aboriginal communities and many other people in bringing the Bill before the Senate. I also introduce a personal note into the debate. I think it was an act of absolute graciousness that the Minister allowed my distinguished friend, Senator Bonner, to deliver the second reading speech. I do not know whether anyone has mentioned that previously but I think it was a very nice gesture and I appreciated it.
I will give briefly the history of this Bill. In November last year the original Bill was brought down. It was left to lie on the table to allow public comment and discussion during the summer parliamentary recess. One wishes that sort of procedure was adopted on the many Bills of an important nature which are brought before the Parliament. One thousand five hundred copies of the Bill with explanatory notes were distributed to Aboriginal individuals and communities and other interested bodies throughout Australia under cover of a letter from the Minister. There was a genuine desire for consultation. The wisdom of the Minister’s course was illustrated by the number of objections, criticisms and suggested improvements that came from all over Australia.
I believe that everything contained in this Bill is good. However, an even bigger plus than the good things contained in it is the manner in which the Minister and his Department have shown the Aboriginal communities that they are prepared to discuss these matters, to listen to Aboriginal objections and to accept reasonable amendments. That sort of action will bring a sense of mattering to the Aboriginal people who hitherto, over so many years- with good reason- have felt ignored. Many Aboriginal organisations, including the National Aboriginal Conference, the Council for Aboriginal Development, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Co-operative Ltd made detailed submissions on the Bill. In general terms they favourer a reduction in the role of the Minister, an expanded role for the all Aboriginal Commission and the creation of powers and responsibilities greater than those contained in the original Bill. Again, it is to the Government’s ultimate credit and to the Minister’s credit that after careful examination of those representations the Government adopted more than 40 amendments. I commend the Government for that.
The main functions of the Aboriginal Development Commission are to acquire land for Aboriginal communities and groups, lend money to Aboriginals for housing and personal purposes, lend and grant money to Aboriginals for business enterprises and to give advice and make recommendations to the Minister with respect to the furtherance of the economic and social development of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. For these reasons I support the Bill. I would like someone in the centre of Australian politics to complement the contributions made from both sides of the chamber. There have been contributions and criticisms from the Australian Labor Party which do have merit. The debate has not degenerated into a party political point-scoring contest and I commend all honourable senators who have taken pan. I regret that the Australian Democrats cannot support the amendments moved by Senator Gietzelt, whilst sympathising with the spirit behind them. Amendment (a) states:
That, while not opposing the integration of the lands fund, loans fund and grants in aid (enterprises program), the Parliament must have access to the submissions which led to the integration of such programs.
I understand that a great number of those submissions already have been made available to members of the Labor Party who wished to have them. I do not know that Senator Gietzelt, Senator Robertson or Senator Keeffe in their speeches unduly complained that important, massive documents have been withheld from them. They made the point that there were certain matters of which they were not informed but I think the thrust of their complaint was one of principle rather than detail. In any of these matters some documents and submissions must remain confidential to protect the person making those submissions. Paragraph (B) of the amendment states:
That the appointment of the members of the Commission should be selected by the Minister acting on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and various land councils;
The wording of that amendment is a bit hairy. The way in which I interpret what I think Senator Gietzelt means is that the Minister could not make an appointment to the Commission unless it agreed with the recommendations or the advice given by the National Aboriginal Conference and the various Aboriginal land councils. That would restrict the Minister’s power to being a mere cypher for any recommendation put up to him.
– That is its intention.
-I am sure that the Bill does not go quite that far. It makes him confirm. As I understand it, already the Bill imposes a responsibility on the Minister to confer, to hear advice and then to act. Senator Gietzelt ‘s amendment would compel the Minister to accept all the advice from the National Aboriginal Conference and the land councils.
– There is Aboriginal control.
– Yes. Senator Cavanagh has been a distinguished Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Let us not play games. If Senator Cavanagh were in government at the moment there is no way that he, as a Minister, would accept that amendment. With great respect, I suggest that he knows that. Senator Bonner, in his second reading speech, stated:
The Government believes that the Minister cannot meet his responsibilities as required by the Administrative Arrangements Order, which will confer responsibility on him for this measure once it is enacted, without the power of general direction.
– If the NAC nominated a panel it would be much better than that of the Department. That is the only other process.
– Yes, but I am just saying that in the administration of government under our system a Minister must have regard to the Administrative Arrangements Order. If the power to appoint people who have the authority to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money is taken away from the Minister, that will fly right in the face of the Administrative Order. I understand that the Bill, as it is, forces the Minister to consider, to consult, and to weigh the advice and recommendations. In our system of control of public funds, that is all that we can hope for. Part (C) of the amendment reads:
That the Government should assure the Senate of its commitment to maintain and increase its financial assistance to the Commission.
I support the thrust of that amendment but I think Senator Gietzelt moved it tongue in cheek because no government could possibly give a pre-Budget commitment on any matter. We have to consider the Minister’s integrity, his past performance and the spirit of this Bill to realise that he would be the one pushing very strongly in Cabinet for an increased commitment to the Aboriginal Development Commission. I do not believe that such a provision has been written into a Bill, or been passed by this Senate, and no responsible government would do it. In conclusion, on behalf of the Australian Democrats, I strongly commend the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Government for this progressive, enlightening and generous legislation.
– I thank all honourable senators for their contribution to the debate on the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill 1980. The debate has ranged over a lot of ground and different points of view have been adopted. In the main I think that those honourable senators who participated in the debate have acknowledged a number of very positive features which I think would be welcomed by everyone in this place. The Bill has a number of historic features which are worthy of comment. Commissions have been established before to do things for Aboriginal people, but this is the first time that we have sought to establish an all Aboriginal commission. It is the first time that a departmental function has been handed over to a commission in the way that is now proposed with the enterprise function of the Depanment of Aboriginal Affairs. It is the first time that the elected body which represents Aboriginals nationally - the National Aboriginal Conference- has received statutory recognition and it is the first time that in any statute we have had recognition of the dispossession and dispersal of the Aboriginal people and the problems which have flowed from that. All honourable senators should take some pleasure in that because all honourable senators who were here some years ago voted for the motion that Senator Bonner moved in this place seeking that recognition. Therefore, I believe that we should welcome this legislation which follows the resolution supported by all pans of this chamber.
In those circumstances I think we all welcomed the fact that the Bill was put forward on behalf of the Government by the only Aboriginal member of this Federal Parliament, Senator Bonner. I thank him for his support, advice and guidance which he has given with respect to this measure, as with other matters involving the affairs of Aboriginals. The other aspects of this legislation which seems generally to have been welcomed is the wide consultation which has taken place. I hope that that is the first step in a process that will serve the Australian community well in other fields. For the various reasons that have been expressed by other honourable senators I welcome also those aspects of this Bill which contribute something of value not only to Aboriginals but also to the Parliament and to the general community. I should also like to thank a number of honourable senators from both sides of the chamber who made some kind remarks about me in the course of the debate. Having said that, I wish to mention the many people who participated in putting this legislation together. I think my first acknowledgments should go to the many Aboriginals who have participated; to the Council for Aboriginal Development, a body of ten Aboriginal people; and to the principal private advisers, if you like, to the Government in Aboriginal affairs, who put in a lot of work both before and after the legislation was brought down. As in many other areas, I acknowledge the great contribution they have made and the very considerable assistance they have provided.
The National Aboriginal Conference, which is the elected public voice of the Aboriginal people, contributed in a substantial way. I acknowledge the assistance given by individual members of the NAC, and also by members of the subcommittee established by the executive of the NAC, which did a lot of detailed work on the Bill. In one sense, it is a pity to name any individuals, but I will name the members of that subcommittee. They are Mr Hagan, chairman of the NAC; Mrs Lois O ‘Donoghue, ex-chairman and now deputy chairman of the NAC; Mr Lyall Munro Senior; Reverend Jacobs; and Mr Peter Minyipirriwuy, who is from the Northern Territory. Those people formed a sub-committee which did a lot of additional work, and I acknowledge their contribution. I also acknowledge the lengthy and valuable submissions of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the New South Wales Aboriginal Legal Service Ltd, and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Cooperative Ltd. I acknowledge the work of a number of individuals who made contributions: Mr Paddy Dalton from Victoria; Ms Nessie Skuta, who is a member of the NAC from Victoria, and who also made a submission; Mr Les Ridgeway from New South Wales; Mr Monty Gordon from Western Australia; and Mr Jim Berg. I realise that in naming people I am running the risk of omitting others who have made a significant contribution. I have to encompass them by saying that there were literally hundreds of Aboriginals who attended the meetings of the task force throughout Australia, and to all of those people I acknowledge a debt.
I also acknowledge the contributions of the five State Premiers and the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, who replied to the letter of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Finally in this list of acknowledgements, I wish to acknowledge the work of the group of officers, some of whom are on my left today, who formed the task force from my Department. They did far more than I think has ever before been asked of public servants in the way of direct consultations of this sort. They travelled throughout Australia, as well as doing intensive work in Canberra, to ensure that the Government had access to the advice which was so willingly offered. I acknowledge the contribution of Mr Dominic Kelly, Mr Bob Campbell, Mr Vic Jones, Mr Brian Dixon, Mrs Penny Henman, Ms Pat Turner, Mrs Bet: Saltor, and others who have recently joined the task force. Over the last few days there has been some criticism in this place of public servants from various Departments. Perhaps it is fitting that the particularly loyal and devoted work of these officers should be acknowledge during this debate. I am sorry to spend some time on what I suppose are essentially merely matters of acknowledgement and thanks, but because of the peculiar features of this legislation I think it is fitting that there should be public recognition of what has been a very wide contribution.
I wish now to turn to the contributions which were made to the debate by honourable senators and to make some attempt to deal with the points that were raised. I welcome the generally bipartisan spirit with which the debate was conducted. I thank my colleagues from this side of the chamber, Senator Teague and Senator Kilgariff, for their almost unalloyed support for the measure. I also acknowledge the particularly gracious contribution of Senator Robertson, who made a plea for a bipartisan approach which certainly reflected my attitude and I believe that of many other honourable senators, to Aboriginal affairs. I assure the honourable senator that I will bear those comments in mind. Senator Gietzelt led the debate for the Opposition and introduced an amendment which, in one sense, I think, underlines the relatively small amount of disagreement that exists with respect to this measure. I suppose it would be nice if, in the spirit of bipartisanship, we could pick up the amendment, but I do not believe that that is justified in the present case. I will try to explain why that is so in the view of the Government. Paragraph (a) of the proposed amendment suggests that Parliament must have access to the submissions which led to the integration of the programs of the existing Aboriginal Land Fund Commission and the Aboriginal Loans Commission, and the grants in aid of my Department. I think it needs to be understood that the idea for integration came from the Government. It is something which arose from the Government’s commitment, made as long ago as 1975, when it was in Opposition, that it would establish a permanent capital fund for the benefit of Aboriginal people. When Mr Viner, the then Minister, announced the proposal to form this body in October 1978, he made it clear in the statement he made in the House of Representatives on 26 October that we intended to carry out that preelection undertaking and to use it to bring together these existing bodies to provide a single body to perform the various functions, a body which could administer the permanent capital fund we had undertaken to set up. If there were documents or submissions which led to the integration of the programs, I suppose they were really Cabinet submissions and would not normally be available.
I suspect, from what Senator Gietzelt said in his contribution to the debate, that he had in mind more the submissions which related to the Bill. Certainly that was my understanding of his comments. The first I knew of any request for access to submissions was today when the honourable senator made his speech. On making inquiries I discovered that one of his colleagues, I think Senator Robertson, had made a request of my office and was provided with some of those submissions, and I think that was acknowledged in Senator Robertson’s remarks. I have been taken somewhat by surprise by the request. As I have said, I was not aware of any such request being made. My only reluctance to disclose everything that has been put to me is due to the fact that I did not seek some of the information on the basis that it would be published. I am a little concerned and I will need a little time to consider whether I would be putting any of the people making submissions in a false position if I went along with that request. So I do ask for a little time. The submissions are unlikely now to be of any assistance to the Senate in its consideration of the Bill, but it may be relevant to consideration in the other place.
The second point dealt with in the proposed amendment is: that the members of the Commission should be selected by the Minister on the advice of the National Aboriginal Conference and the various land councils. Senator Chipp in his contribution mentioned the reservation he had, and it is a reservation I share. But I think I can be of some assistance to the Senate by pointing out that the National Aboriginal Conference made a series of recommendations about the selection criteria and procedures for the Commission. It told me that it believed that the Commission should’ consist of mature, responsible Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders who have appropriate experience and expertise. It suggested representation for each State, the Northern Territory, and the Torres Strait Islands, with two representatives from traditional areas. Under the heading ‘Selection’ it recommended that the National Aboriginal Conference executive should scrutinise the Minister’s nominees short list and make final recommendations concerning the appointment of the Commission. I gave careful consideration to that advice, along with the other advice received.
In response to that suggestion and prior to the introduction of the reprint of the Bill, I wrote on 1 5 April to the Chairman of the NAC. I said that I agreed with the advice in the submission that the National Aboriginal Conference, as the representative body of the Aboriginal people, is the appropriate body to provide me with recommendations concerning the matter. I asked that NAC co-ordinate an approach to each State and Territory branch of the NAC, seeking the nomination of four Aboriginals from each State or Territory who are considered to be suitable persons for appointment to the Board of the Commission. I then said that if I could have a list by not later than 19 May, I would consider it and discuss the short list of nominees with the national executive during its scheduled meeting the following week, prior to any decision being made. I went on to point out the sort of balancing matters which need to be taken into account to which honourable senators drew attention during the debate. I suggest it might be helpful to the Senate if I had this letter incorporated in Hansard so that it can be seen that the NAC is, indeed, to be closely involved in the selection of the members of the Commission. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the letter of 1 5 April to Mr Hagan.
The letter read as follows-
DAA 6335 DMJC:PH
15 April 1980
Dear Mr Hagan,
I am writing in response to the National Aboriginal Conference’s request to participate in the selection process for nominations to the Board of the proposed Aboriginal Development Commission.
I agree with the advice in your recent submission on the Bill that the National Aboriginal Conference as the representative body of the Aboriginal people is the appropriate body to provide me with recommendations concerning this important matter. Before providing me with your recommendations, I think it desirable that you now co-ordinate an approach to each State/Territory Branch seeking the nomination of four Aboriginals from each State or Territory who are considered to be suitable persons for appointment to the Board of the Commission.
Once you have received nominations from the Branches I would appreciate if you would provide me with a copy of a list comprising all of the names put forward, preferably not later than 19 May. I shall then consider the list and shall bc happy to discuss my short list of nominees with the National Executive during their scheduled meeting in the following week prior to the Government ‘s making any decision.
We all will need to be mindful of the requirement for a balanced composition of members on the Board. Such matters as individual experience and ability, State or Regional background, sex, age, tribal or urban background etc. will be among the relevant considerations to be taken into account. Other matters including membership of existing Aboriginal organisations will need to be considered, but I should like to make it clear that nominations of persons of demonstrated ability and relevant expertise are required notwithstanding that they may be members of Aboriginal organisations including the National Aboriginal Conference.
I look forward to receiving your early advice on this matter.
Mr James Hagan,
National Aboriginal Conference,
P.O. Box 259,
Woden, ACT 2606
-The third matter with respect to which the Opposition has expressed concern in its amendment is the maintenance and increase of financial assistance to the Commission. Once again, it will shorten my contribution to the debate if I refer to the point which Senator Chipp quite accurately made about the difficulties in making pre-Budget commitments with respect to the amounts of money that might be available. However, I can give the Senate some guidance on the Government’s attitude to this matter by pointing out that in the finances which have been approved for the supply period of five months there is a provision of $5. 5m for the Commission which means that for that period those moneys are available to the Commission. They really represent a constant amount of expenditure over that period. That provision does not take into account the need for a contribution to the Capital Fund which will have to be determined in the Budget.
Looking at actual items contained in that $5. 5m, besides an allowance for salaries and administration of some $850,000, there is a figure for enterprise grants of $8 1 7,000 which represents a reduction in the amount of money made available last year. That reduction is related to the increase in cattle prices and the reduced flow of money to cattle enterprises which is evisaged during that period. In relation to housing and personal loans there is a constant amount of $3. 5m. In regard to fees for services, there is a small item of $8,000 as against $17,000. For land acquisitions $300,000 as against $100,000 has been provided. That shows a substantial increase in that area. With respect to training there is a new item because of the bringing in of new trainees and the figure is $25,000. I think that indicates a concern on the part of the Government to maintain a constant level of operations at least up to the point of the Budget. I can add nothing more other than to say that in the Budget we will have to provide not only for a continuance of operations but also provisions for the Capital Fund.
I know that there is probably genuine concern on the part of the Opposition about the funds available. That concern was mirrored by Senator Gietzelt ‘s concern about reductions in funds to the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission. I can draw his attention only to the fact that last year we departed from the practice of simply topping up the moneys provided to the Land Fund Commission to $ lm on the basis that I told the Land Fund Commission that I wanted it to buy when it thought it was appropriate and not merely to deplete its funds. I undertook to make Sim available to the Land Fund Commission last year. The previous year an amount of $0.543m was provided which brought the Fund’s accounts back up to $ lm. The reason why it had not spent its money is detailed in the annual report of the Land Fund Commission which complained about some of the difficulties involved in consulting with my Department and with the Minister as it had been directed. It also complained about difficulties because the Land Fund Commission needed access to the enterprise fund. Subsequently, by arrangement with the Commission, $800,000 was made available to it this financial year. In other words, the amount of funds available increased. The $200,000 making up the $lm was made available in the form of access to enterprise funds so that properties could be bought on a walk-in walk-out basis.
For all but those who are closely following the operation of the Land Fund Commission my last few comments will not mean very much. I commend honourable senators’ attention to the report of the Land Fund Commission which was tabled earlier this year and which expresses the Commission’s satisfaction with the changes of rules which have been introduced. I think they give some indication of the positive attitude of the Government to this area of activity. I have dealt with the matters which were specifically raised by the Opposition in its amendment. I hope that it can be understood by the Senate why the Government does not propose therefore to accept the amendment.
I will touch on as many of the specific points made by honourable senators as is possible in the time which remains available for me. A reference was made to the fact that there are no special rights for Aboriginals in Western Australia. That reference was made by Senator Gietzelt who expressed concern at some recent statements made by representatives of the Western Australian State Government. In that context I think it is useful to remind the Senate that in Western Australia 20,464,395 hectares are reserved by the State for Aboriginal use and benefit. Of course, that is in addition to the 10 properties, I think it is, which have been purchased for Aboriginal use and benefit by the Land Fund Commission. Therefore, there is, in fact a clear acceptance in the policies of Western Australia- notwithstanding an attachment to the one-land one-people concept and one law applying to all- of the need for special programs. This is reflected in the policy documents issued by the Western Australian State Premier for the February 1 980 election campaign which state, in express terms, that special programs for Aboriginals are required to meet the special needs of Aboriginals. The land figures stand as a rather stark reminder of the special provisions which are available.
Senator Gietzelt also alleged that this Government always puts the Aboriginals second to mining. I will not canvass that matter at length except to say that I reject the suggestion. I remind the Senate and Senator Gietzelt of the Mereenie situation where, for some years, the Government has been publicly urged to change the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act to do away with the need to negotiate with the Central Land Council and the Aboriginal people it represents. Those representations have not been acceded to. It would now be known to all honourable senators and particularly to Senator Gietzelt that an agreement has been initialled between the Central Land Council and the exploration companies involved. I think that agreement stands as an example of this Government’s concern to see the land rights Act work and to see the Aboriginal people benefit from it in the way we envisaged they would benefit when the Act was passed.
With respect to the independence of the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, which was emphasised by Senator Gietzelt, I again simply refer him to the last annual report which I think is reassuring in that regard. With respect to the sweeping powers about which he is concerned and to which Senator Robertson particularly addressed himself, I say that some nice matters of judgment are involved. The Government is not necessarily absolutely right and cannot be certain that it has drawn the line in exactly the right position. In fact, we have very greatly reduced the amount of Government control over the activities of the Commission. We have done so to an extent that there is a risk, in Senator Robertson ‘s view, that the Commission will have too many burdens and that perhaps it will be at risk because it will be given functions and so on beyond its capacity. Again I accept that that is a valid area of concern.
We have tried to adopt an approach which shows a proper caution about people walking before they can run but which also perhaps resembles the motto of the Special Air Services: He who dares wins’. There is an element of risk in Aboriginal self-management. I think it is a risk which both the previous Government and this Government have seen as a worthwhile risk. The Aboriginal Development Commission represents something of an adventure in that it is a step which is based on a belief that Aboriginal people, if given responsibility, will respond to it and benefit from it. I will not have time to respond in detail to the points raised by Senator Robertson. I say to him that the Government has simply tried to make the best possible judgment it can on where to draw that difficult line. The stepping back which we have done is an act of faith. To the extent that we have not stepped back far enough, I believe that can be rectified and remedied by this Government- I hope by this Government- in the future as the Commission learns to walk and then, very quickly, begins to run.
I suggest to those members of the Opposition who are concerned that they look at the limitations of ministerial power in this Bill as compared to the Bills that the Opposition when in Government put through the Parliament in 1 974 and 1975. I think they will see that we are progressing in the way that one would expect towards withdrawing the ministerial authority. I do not suggest that the Bills that were passed in 1974 were wrong for their time. I suggest that, as one would expect, we are moving in a direction of increasing Aboriginal control rather than ministerial control.
As to the concern which was expressed by Senator Robertson and which reflects some Aboriginal concern about whether this Bill is seen as cutting off the options of what is called a treaty of commitment or, as the NAC has dubbed it, the makarrata, it is in no sense the intention of the Government that this Bill should prejudge that issue. I suppose there is a single word in the actual drafting of clause 3 which ought to put to rest the concern of Senator Robertson and, I think, the New South Wales Legal Service. The Act is not expressed to be the final settlement at all; it is merely expressed in clause 3, in the words in parenthesis, as a recognition. It is a recognition of the past dispossession and dispersal of such people. It is not seen as being something which is pre-emptive, complete and final. It is seen as a very valuable step.
The honourable senator asked me to define the Government’s approach to the treaty of commitment, and I shall say a couple of things about that matter. First of all, the concern which is felt by some Australians that the concept of a treaty involves the recognition, in some way, of two nations is a concern that the Government would wish to put to rest. The Government’s approach to the treaty or the makarrata, which is the expression that I prefer since it is that which the Aboriginals have adopted, is this: We are not looking at two nations; we are looking at how the Australian nation properly deals with the situation of its Aboriginal people. If we can arrive at arrangements between the national government and the Aboriginal people of Australia which are consensual in nature and which represent the views of the Aboriginal citizens of this country as to what is appropriate, I believe we will have advanced. I think that it is in that spirit that the Prime Minister has made it clear that he is happy for the National Aboriginal Conference to be out and about, as it is at the moment, obtaining the views of Aboriginals, and that when it has gone through that process he and the Government will be happy to talk with it about what it has discovered in regard to what the Aboriginal people really want and expect.
In that regard, I am heartened by the fact that the relevant State Ministers who met together at the Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council meeting in Hobart quite recently expressed an interest in meeting with the NAC at an appropriate time to discuss the whole concept, so that we have not seen it as cutting off options. We are looking at a situation in which we want to work with Aboriginal people to find acceptable solutions to Aboriginal problems. The only caveat I would put on the matter is that those who see makarrata or the treaty as a magic wand which will solve every problem, be it constitutional, legal or social, are doomed to disappointment. I believe that to hold out to the Aboriginal people that any single thing, be it a treaty, a makarrata or this Commission, represents a solution to every problem that faces the Aboriginal people is cruel because that is not so.
– What is the literal meaning of that word?
– ‘Makarrata’ means a reconciliation after a fight, and that is why I think it is a good word. In any event, I cannot devote more time to that point. The critical point to make in response to the remarks of Senator Robertson is this: The Government has acquiesced in a course of conduct by the NAC. Currently, NAC members are travelling round Australia, talking with Aboriginal people throughout the country, and we expect, over the next year or more, to be engaged in discussions with the NAC on the development of this idea. He also expressed concern about the Council for Aboriginal Development. I recently assured the Council for Aboriginal Development, after discussions with it, that the future of the Council is something which ought to be discussed with the Council itself after the Development Commission is in operation. I make it clear that the Council for Aboriginal Development has been an extremely valuable aid to the Government. It has given sound advice and it has taken care with its advice. I certainly do not wish to lose the advantage that that has given us.
A series of other matters was raised and, in a general sense, I think I have covered them. With respect to the security of members of the Commission, I think that anyone with a practical working knowledge of politics would know that to sack people who are on an independent statutory commission is not easy. When there is a provision, as there is in this Bill, that any action to remove any member will be subject to parliamentary action, there is a solid safeguard. Quite frankly, I believe that no Aboriginal commissioner has anything to fear from even a malevolent government, given the responsibility which I think is vested in these two chambers and which people take very seriously. There are not many examples of people employed by statutory authorities losing their jobs in this country, even without that protection. With it, it would take the clearest possible misbehaviour. I do not think that there would be any trouble with definition before a government could act.
– The query was about who would make the decision about those who would leave.
– It would be a decision made by the Government, and the Government would face the fact that it would have to go before both chambers and make its decision stick. I think that is a very solid fetter on any sort of irresponsible action by a government.
Senator Kilgariff raised a number of matters, and I very quickly assure him that the Loans Commission has given further consideration to the Bathurst Island situation. I acknowledge Senator Kilgariff ‘s very devoted work in trying to help in the field he mentioned of providing better and more secure management for the business enterprises which are run by Aboriginals in various communities. I acknowledge the work he has done on the Finke River Hotel, as one of the two white directors of that Aboriginal-owned establishment. But the point which he has raised poses very substantial questions which will need consideration by the Government as to how Aboriginal land can be developed, used as security, and so on. I can only say to the Senate that those matters are under consideration. I thank the Senate for its consideration of the Bill. I think I have run out of time. I thank all concerned for their constructive contribution to this measure.
– I express my thanks to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) and the Government for extending to me the privilege of introducing this very innovative and, I believe, historic piece of legislation. I do so not so much on my own behalf as on behalf of the race of which I am a proud member. I believe it is further evidence of recognition by the Government of the Aboriginal people that an Aborigine has been chosen to do this job for it. This piece of legislation is the beginning of a new era in Aboriginal affairs. I and many of the Aboriginal people throughout this nation have been saying for so long: ‘Put back into Aboriginal hands the responsibility for Aboriginal affairs’. The Government has done so in this Bill.
The Minister touched on a matter that I raised in this chamber in 1975 when I moved a motion relating to compensation for dispossession. If honourable senators were to read my speech on moving that motion they would find that I was asking for what is happening here now, that is, for the setting up of an Aboriginal body and putting into Aboriginal hands the responsibility not only for policies and determining what Aboriginal people want, but also the responsibility for the expenditure of funds. They would have, as I was suggesting, the responsibility for working out the priorities as to where the money should be spent and assisting their own people rather than having big brother telling them what to do. I believe the Government should be congratulated for introducing this Bill and finally placing into Aboriginal hands the responsibility for Aboriginal affairs.
I thank all honourable senators for their contribution to the debate. The debate has been basically a bipartisan one. In this instance, as in other instances, I think we would do well to have that type of debate on matters which are so important to people. That is what I believe we are all about in this chamber. We are here to represent people and what we are doing is for people. In this case the Bill pertains to a particular section of our community.
Again, I thank all honourable senators for their contributions. I particularly thank those people who have worked so hard- the Minister’s staff, officers of the Department and all the other people involved- to bring this Bill before the chamber for finalisation. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, I seek some clarification with regard to a few clauses of the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill. In the main I support the Bill and I commend the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) on his reply at the second reading stage. I think it is a step forward. But it concerns me whether the reasons for the expressions used in some clauses are correct. I refer firstly to clause 3 of the Bill. This is a matter on which you commented, Mr Temporary Chairman, when you spoke on the Bill. I am concerned with why the purpose of this Bill is to further the economic and social development- those are the pertinent words of clause 3 which concern me:
There is a distinction drawn in the wording between the two peoples. We find this again in clause 4 (2), which states:
References in this Act to Aboriginals shall be read as references to members of the Aboriginal race of Australia and to persons who are descendants of indigenous inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands.
I take it that no constitutional question may arise in relation to this legislation. I can understand that the desire to use the expression ‘the Aboriginal race of Australia’ was to comply with the requirements of the Constitution. But in the same way as we make loan funds available to farmers or to other sections of the community, I think we should be able to make them available to another section of the community. If there is a difference with regard to Aboriginals, I am wondering how this clause applies to the descendants of Aboriginals. There has not been a legal interpretation of the expression ‘a person of the Aboriginal race’. It is questionable whether that definition would apply to a part Aboriginal. Whether it will apply to a part Aboriginal and whether this Commission will have power by the use of those words to lend money to a part Aboriginal is something about which I am concerned. The use of the words ‘descendants of indigenous inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands’ suggests that the person could be a part descendant of an indigenous person of the Torres Strait Islands. One would have to establish some descendancy from Torres Strait Islanders. The Bill seems to distinguish between Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginals.
While I am on my feet and have the time, I refer also to clause 4 which deals with interpretation. The last definition in the clause refers to a spouse and reads: spouse’, in relation to an Aboriginal, includes a person who, although not legally married to the Aboriginal, is living with the Aboriginal as the Aboriginal’s spouse on a permanent and bona fide domestic basis.
In European terms we would understand this clause to cover a de facto wife. This is something that I support. When we take the words although not legally married’ we seem to suggest that another relationship is illegal and has some bad connotations because it is not a legal relationship. The tradition of the ‘promised bride’ still applies for tribal Aborigines in some areas. I would not like to see us not accept this as a legal relationship. It is as legal as anything we have in white man’s law. When this happens among tribal Aboriginals, I can see no value in the use of the words ‘legally married ‘. If that sentence is intended to include a person who is actually not married to an Aboriginal but who is living with an Aboriginal, I cannot see why that word ‘legally’ is used. The use of such a word in the language seems to hold some discriminatory or bad connotation. Clause 8 (g) of the Bill reads: such other functions in connection with the furtherance o, the economic and social development of Aboriginals as the Minister determines by notice in writing given to the Commission-
Clause 10 forms part of the Commission’s power. It states:
It is hereby declared to be the intention of the Parliament that, except as otherwise directed by the Minister, the Commission shall have such functions and powers as are expressly conferred on it by a law of a State or of an internal Territory that are additional to those conferred by this Act.
That is the question that you raised earlier, Mr Temporary Chairman, when you were speaking on this matter. You questioned whether there is a compulsion on the Commission to act on the request of the Minister, the State or Territory administration. I refer also to clause 1 1 ( 1 ) entitled ‘Directions by Minister’ which reads:
The Commission shall perform its functions and exercise its powers in accordance with such general directions as are given to it by the Minister in writing.
Clause 11(3) and (4) reads:
Commission to be held sacred by Aboriginals or by a particular community or group of Aboriginals
My point is that although there is provision in other clauses of the Bill, there is no provision in this clause for the Parliament to disallow the Minister’s direction. I cannot see the value of laying it before the Parliament if it is only for the sake of information. I do not care whether or not it curtails the powers of the Minister. There is no power for the Parliament to act.
Clause 1 7 of the Bill relates to termination of appointment and the suspension of officers. Despite what the Minister says in relation to this aspect of the Bill, I am dubious about laying before the Parliament the grounds for the suspension of a particular person on the Commission. This suspension must be justified. Clause 17 (2) of the Bill reads:
The Minister shall cause a statement of the ground of the suspension to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 7 sitting days of that House after the suspension.
I think the suspension can be for misbehaviour, illness or being unfit for the job. The possibility is that someone who we have known and respected as an Aboriginal may have a mental collapse. I have some doubts about whether this should be advertised to the extent of bringing it before the Parliament. It is unusual. I do not know of any provisions in any other Act in which a dismissal is brought before the Parliament in this way for the Parliament to decide the question. But the Minister, as the person responsible, on gaining knowledge of the dismissal must at all times justify it. We have recently seen the matter involving two members from the Parliamentary Library. That case was never brought before the Senate. This argument is an extension of that situation. If there is justification for the reasons for the dismissal of an individual being made public, then so be it. But the Senate then has the power to disallow the dismissal. Clause 1 7 (3) of the Bill states:
Where such a statement has been laid before a House of the Parliament, that House may, within 1 5 sitting days of that House after the day on which the statement has been laid before it, by resolution, declare that the member ought to be restored to office and, if each House so passes such a resolution, the Governor-General shall terminate the suspension.
Clause 17 (4) of the Bill states:
If, at the expiration of 15 sitting days of a House of the Parliament after the day on which the statement has been laid before that House, that House has not passed such a resolution, the Governor-General may terminate the appointment of the member.
This is a matter which I have raised before. I believe there must be some compulsion on the Senate to decide the matter. Due to the numerical strength of Government members supporting their Minister, the matter may be kept off the Notice Paper for 1 5 sitting days. That has happened before. If the matter we are discussing is not brought before the Senate within 15 sitting days clause 17(3) and 17(4) of the Bill may apply. Everything is back to front to what we have been used to. Now if the matter of the dismissal of a person is not brought before the Senate within 15 sitting days, the GovernorGeneral may terminate the appointment of the member. Therefore the dismissal is justified despite the fact that the Senate has not considered it. The Senate could not consider the matter because the preponderance of Government members will mean that it will not be brought on for discussion. That is a different matter to its being laid before the Senate and someone giving a notice of motion to disagree with the Minister’s actions in relation to the dismissal. But it is another question to have the matter brought on for consideration. The Bill stipulates that if the matter is not considered within 15 days something will be done. If a Notice of Motion is not brought on disagreeing with the Minister’s attitude it is not the fault of the honourable senator who moved the motion. Then the Minister is salvaged from a wrongful act that he may have done. I bring these points forward for clarification. Where I see that any alteration is necessary I mention that because I think it is for improvement of the Bill.
– A number of points have been raised by Senator Cavanagh relating to various clauses. Addressing myself to the points raised about clause 3 of the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill, I confess that there were a number of drafts to that clause because it does give rise to some difficulties, some of which are constitutional as Senator Cavanagh mentioned. In the end the formal words ‘determined on’ were adopted because that is in accord with the constitutional provisions with respect to the reference to people of the Aboriginal race of Australia. The different description which is then given to Torres Strait Islanders relates to the fact that it is perhaps arguable that the Torres Strait Islanders belong to a separate race. In other words the race to which the Torres Strait Islanders belong may extend well beyond the Torres Strait. It is not an argument that I would wish to enter into too closely, but they may well be regarded as being of the same race which is not part of the Australian people.
If we use the same form of words it might be argued by some people, who are not Torres
Strait Islanders as we understand them, that they are entitled to the benefit of the Aboriginal Development Commission Act. From the point of view of drafting I agree it is a little strange that one uses these different forms of description, but that is the reason why it has been done. With respect to any inference which is to be drawn that one accepts that the descendants of Torres Strait Islanders are to be accepted whereas the descendants of Aboriginals are not, I can only assure the Committee that the Government’s view of this legislation is- as it is in relation to similar words which have been used in other Acts- that it will apply to Aboriginal people whether they are full-blood Aboriginal or part Aboriginal.
– Yes, but that has never been challenged.
– It has not been challenged. But I can assure the honourable senator and the Committee that the Government would propose to apply the same administrative definition as is applied under similar legislation, which is that an Aboriginal is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and who is accepted as such by the community with which he or she is associated. I cannot guarantee that there will not be some legal challenge with respect to this clause or to any clause in any Act. I can only say in response to that that if there were a challenge which upset the Government’s interpretation then obviously the Government would have to move to amend the law. On the advice which we have the position is all right and we can continue to administer the law in the way Senator Cavanagh did when he was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and in the way in which we have continued to do so since this Government came to office.
With respect to the other definition of a spouse, about which Senator Cavanagh expressed concern, I inform him that it is the same definition as was put in the Aboriginal Loans Commission Act 1 974. Whilst I see the argument that Senator Cavanagh raised I do not believe that it carries any inference. The Committee would be aware that in many types of legislation- one of the earliest types was workers compensation legislation- provision was made for the position of the de facto spouse. Senator Cavanagh made it clear in his remarks that he agrees, I think as a matter of social policy, that such provision should be made. All we have done here is pick up the quite normal provision which ensures that somebody who is living in a de facto relationship gets the protection which would be afforded a spouse. I understand that there is no argument on the point of policy.
I have drawn the Committee’s attention to the fact that we have followed precisely the form of words contained in the Aboriginal Loans Commission Act which, as far as I know, has never given offence to anybody or given rise to any wrong inference. I suppose it could have been expressed that a person who has not gone through a ceremony of marriage is not married in a legal sense. The Committee would be aware that many Aboriginal people, particularly in the more remote pans of Australia, do not marry in a legal sense. They d6 not go through a formal ceremony of marriage under the Marriage Act. Therefore, it is essential that there be this provision which picks up those who, as a matter of the legal procedures laid down in the Marriage Act, are not married. I do not think that there is very much of a problem about that.
Senator Cavanagh was concerned about clauses 8 and 10. 1 confirm that the Minister does have the power, under those sections, to confer additional functions on the Aboriginal Development Commission. The Government has determined that the Minister should have that power and that he should be entitled to stop a State Parliament from conferring additional functions on the Commission. But it is not open to the Commission to refuse those functions. I am alive to the sorts of concerns that were expressed by Senator Robertson. Obviously one would not force feed the Commission and put it in a position where it could not cope with what it had to do. I do not think that any government would do that. The safeguard is there for the Minister to keep an eye on the Commission and to make sure that it is not overloaded. I think that is a reasonable provision.
Insofar as the power of clause 1 1 is concerned, the matters which have been raised by the honourable senator are in one of those areas of judgment which I referred to in reply. The Governnment takes the view that the fact that Parliament has a role in this does stand as a very strong safeguard for any individual who might be out of favour with government. As I said in my reply to the second reading stage of the Bill, it is unusual for statutory appointments to be put at risk even if the appointments are terminable without reference to Parliament. The Government sees clause 1 7 as offering a very substantial protection for the individuals on the commission.
I will have another look at clause 11. I am reminded by one of my advisers of the point made by Senator Cavanagh. There is no provision to permit Parliament to disallow a direction. Once again the discipline which is imposed on the Government is that it is exposed to the public gaze. I think that is a substantial protection. It means that the Government is operating not in secrecy until the next annual report but in the knowledge that it will have to expose to the Parliament and hence to the public any direction which has been given. It is not the view of the Government that the Parliament should have the power to disallow such a direction.
– I thank the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) for his reply. His explanations, with the exception of that relating to clause 17, satisfy me. The Minister seemed to mix up clauses 1 1 and 17. I do not know that, with the confusion, he fully replied as he intended to the points I made on clause 1 7.
– It is the same point that I raised in the medical benefits question, Senator.
– I raise another question. If the direction is not considered within 1 5 sitting days, why is the Minister’s action upheld? Surely the decision should be disallowed. The Government is responsible for having the matter discussed. Opportunities can be made available for discussion. Unless a move is made to upset the decision of the Minister the appointment of the member stands. I think in the circumstances the appointment operates until the GovernorGeneral terminates it. Opportunity should be given to discuss these matters before Parliament. I think that the Government should be obliged to ensure that members have an opportunity to move a motion for disallowance. It appears that if the matter is not discussed the Minister’s action is upheld even though the member who has indicated he wishes to debate the matter has not had the opportunity to move a motion. I think it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the matter is discussed within 1 5 sitting days of the member’s giving notice of a motion. If the Government ensures, through its numbers, that the matter is not discussed the Minister’s decision is vetoed and the appointee remains.
– I have a query on clause 5 which provides for the repeal of the Aboriginal Loans Commission Act 1 974. As the Aboriginal Loans Commission legislation will be repealed, what will happen to the Commission’s business interests? I note that the Aboriginal Loans Commission has a 5 1 per cent interest in the BaruweTrading Co. What will happen to such business enterprises now that the Aboriginal Loans Commission will no longer function.
– I will deal with Senator Kilgariff’s point first. It is covered by clause 5 1 of the Bill which provides expressly that on repeal of the Aboriginal Loans Commission Act and the Aboriginal Land Fund Act the rights, property and assets that immediately before that date were vested in the original commissions will be vested in the Aboriginal Development Commission as will the debts, liabilities and obligations of the original commissions. Any arrangement or contract to which the original commissions were party will continue in force. The arrangement has effect as if the Development Commission were substituted for the original commissions. The matter is covered in the transitional provisions of the Bill. The new Commission will stand in the place of the Loans Commission in respect of such obligations and rights.
With respect to the point raised by Senator Cavanagh- I am sorry there was some confusion in the course of my earlier response- the legislation as drafted and as the honourable senator stated does not compulsorily put the matter before the chamber for determination. It is true that it is a matter which we have discussed and on which I have accepted some amendments to other legislation to bring it into line with Senator Cavanagh ‘s point. The Government has adopted this formula knowing that if a majority of members and senators are concerned they can bring the matter before the chamber for consideration. The Government thinks that that is a reasonable provision in the circumstances. There may well be a situation where it is in the interests of the party concerned not to bring the matter forward to a vote. The honourable senator adverted to the fact that embarassing circumstances could be involved in which it might be thought that in the best interest of all concerned the matter should not be dealt with.
– There might also be embarrassment to the Minister if there was.
-That is true. I have said that in a number of areas I do not believe there are absolutely right or absolutely wrong answers. There are disadvantages in either course which might be followed. Some of the disadvantages have been brought out by the honourable senator’s own comments about circumstances where one might be doubtful in having a public airing of the reason someone has been dismissed. That has no sinister overtones, but has to do just with human misfortune and perhaps the judgment that it is sometimes not desirable to do anything. It is a matter of judgment. The Government has made its judgment and would like to stand by it.
There are a number of precedents for the provisions which we have put into this Bill. For example, the Australian Electoral Office Act of 1973 contains a provision for the suspension of officers from office for misbehaviour or physical or mental incapacity. That is a very similar sort of provision. Once again it is a matter of some delicacy. After all, one is always concerned about the risk of political interference in electoral matters. The sensitivity is of a different sort, but it is a genuine sensitivity. The Australian Electoral Office Act provides:
If, at the expiration of fifteen sitting days of a House of the Parliament after the day on which the statement has been laid before that House, that House has not passed such a resolution, the Governor-General may remove the Officer from office.
We could continue talking about circumstances. For example, such a provision would be appropriate in the case of mental incapacity or something of that sort. If there was a case involving injustice I have sufficient faith in the Parliament to believe that that would become a matter which no government could bury once it had put a statement before Parliament. Whilst I cannot say that there is no risk the risk would be very small and one which we ought to be able to bear.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Bonner) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 2 April, on motion by Senator Chaney:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill, which the Senate is now considering, is another example of how matters affecting Aborigines are assuming importance in this chamber. If we look back in time we will see that in recent years the Parliament has spent a considerable amount of time talking about foreign affairs and trade union matters. I think it is relevant to point to the fact that, at least in this chamber, we are now concerning ourselves more with matters affecting Aborigines. Those matters are being drawn to the attention of the Senate much more frequently. That is good. I think that the debates on those matters have shown that we are narrowing the gap created by differences which once existed not only in the Parliament but also within the Australian community. Nevertheless, as far as the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill is concerned, I move on behalf of the Opposition the following amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time:
Leave out all words after ‘that’, insert ‘the Bill be withdrawn to allow for consultation with a majority of the relevant Aboriginal communities, and re-drafted to guarantee the rights of Aborigines to be fully consulted on and informed of the effects of mining and drilling on traditional lands as a prime requirement for the validity of mining agreements relating to Aboriginal land conferred under this Act’.
Two weeks ago a dispute between Aboriginal land owners and the Western Australian Government was very keenly debated in this chamber. In that debate I drew attention to the fact that the overriding concern of the Court Government, the Western Australian Government, was to pander to the interests of the multinational mining companies. In that case it was the interests of the Amax organisation. Whilst it is true that a stalemate has been reached in that case, we still are in a very difficult situation.
Today we are debating a matter which deals with such apparently mundane matters as roads and access to those roads, but I suggest to the Senate that the central issue is much the same as it was in the debate of two weeks ago to which I referred, namely, the question of whose interests come first with this Government. Are they the interests of the Aboriginal communities which have been hounded for the past 200 years or so or are they the interests of the mining companies which are in search of a quick buck? Whilst it can be argued that roads are a relatively unimportant issue, inasmuch as they relate to land rights they are germane to the whole problem concerning Aborigines. To that extent, I appreciate the endeavours of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) to reconcile the irreconcilables which obviously exist.
I find particularly repugnant the fact that in certain sections of this Government there are persons who are carrying and defending the mining companies’ case. I find that unacceptable because clearly it involves a conflict of interest. The Opposition is not privy- neither is the Senate for that matter- to what is said in Cabinet discussions. Naturally we subject all Bills dealing with Aboriginal rights to a fair amount of scrutiny, looking for evidence of motivation similar to that which is very apparent in the attitudes adopted by some State governments. Whilst we are not privy to details of Cabinet discussions, we can assume that an intense struggle concerning ideas is taking place within the Liberal Party and within the Cabinet itself. That is not a view which is expressed just by the Australian Labor Party. I give one example of that. I refer honourable senators to the paper of the Department of National Development and Energy entitled Practical difficulties with respect to petroleum titles’. Referring to that paper, the Australian Financial Review of ‘8 April this year stated:
The paper . . . views the whole issue almost entirely from the point of view of the explorers with little or no consideration of Aboriginal rights.
So we are entitled to say that we are in pretty good company when the party I represent views with some concern any legislation the Government introduces which seeks to place on the Parliament the responsibility of being the arbiter in respect of these conflicts of interest. The paper prepared by the Department of National Development and Energy outlines the fact that the companies concerned were particularly interested in section 43 of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act. Lo and behold, that is one of the very sections which this Bill seeks to amend.
We are entitled to be suspicious, particularly when we recall what the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) have said when outlining their overall ideological beliefs. After all, what is Fraserism about? It is about reducing living standards; it is about giving greater power to the corporate sector; it is about unlimited growth; it is about development, development, development. There is no question that conflict does surround development in the areas in question in the Northern Territory and in certain parts of northern Queensland and Western Australia. Government honourable senators can shake their heads until they fall off, but the fact is that there are areas of conflict. If those honourable senators do not understand that, they do not know what the whole political game in this country is about.
I believe that this Bill is an attempt by the Government to ingratiate itself with the mining companies. What are the details of this tummy tickling which obviously takes place every time legislation concerning Aborigines is brought before the Parliament? That is not to say that the Minister and his Department are not fighting a strong battle to meet their obligations and responsibilities towards Aborigines. We want the Minister and his Department to understand that in this place, in this House of review, they have the unqualified support of the Opposition and, I hope, of the Australian Democrats and of all decent, thinking people. We ask the Minister and his Department to stand up to that development at any cost concept which is so much a part of the majority view of the Cabinet of the Fraser Government.
We have before us proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act which seek to limit the right of traditional owners and members of affected communities to challenge agreements with mining companies entered into by a land council on the grounds that that council failed to fulfil adequately the requirements of section 48 of the Act. What does that Act provide? It provides:
A Land Council shall not give a consent . . . unless the Land Council is satisfied that-
the traditional Aboriginal owners (if any) of the land to which the . . . application relates understand the nature and purpose of the proposed grant or application . . . and, as a group, consent to it;
any Aboriginal community or group that may be affected . . . has been consulted and has had adequate opportunity to express its view to the Land Council;
In view of the fact that a week ago Senator Chaney had to come into this House and withdraw certain sections of his second reading speech on this Bill because that consultation had not taken place, it is very clear that there has been a breakdown in communication and wrong advice has been given. I do not want to enter into a debate on that at this time; I merely say that I can appreciate the inability of the Land Council properly to communicate with and advise the original land owners- the tribal land owners; the communities- on what that Act seeks to achieve. After all, we find tremendous confusion even in this place about what is meant by the mining of uranium and the exploitation of our natural resources, and the way in which the democratic processes operate. One has only to consider the confusion in this place to appreciate the great difficulties that Aboriginal communities have in this respect.
I do not expect the Northern Land Council or, for that matter, any land council to be able to convey properly to those whom it represents all the facets of a new development, the problems associated with it or the problems associated with a mining venture. We cannot even do that in our white Anglo-Saxon culture. Therefore, it is obvious that there are great difficulties in this area of communication. That, of course, is why the Opposition has moved its amendment. It is clear that there has been a breakdown in communication and a failure by the Land Council to carry out its obligations in respect of the Act. I make no criticism of the Land Council. This is a new area of understanding and responsibility. It cannot be expected to convey properly all the responsibilities which the Act places upon it. It is quite obvious insofar as the Minister had to rephrase his second reading speech that there were some problems. The Bill was not properly understood.
When I say that there has been a lack of consultation, I am not being overly critical. I am pointing to the objective conditions and the fact that we have problems in this area. Those problems could be associated with the inadequacy of expression by the Land Council or they could have arisen because the Land Council is not provided with sufficient resources to express properly to the traditional land owners all the facets of a proposed development. Having spent many years in local government, I know that many European residents in our white communities do not understand the way in which the three arms of government operate. In no way do I want my remarks to be construed as a criticism of either the Aboriginal communities or the Land Council itself.
The Government has indicated that this proposal derives from action taken by a number of Oenpelli Aborigines seeking to prevent Queensland Mines Ltd using a road which the company had been given the right to use in an agreement concluded by the Northern Land Council. I am informed that the intention to grant such a right was not effectively communicated by the Northern Land Council to the traditional owners and that, therefore, the requirements of section 48 of the Act had not in fact been met. Whether or not I have been properly informed about this matter, the circumstances clearly demonstrate the possibility of the Land Council’s being unable to meet the requirements. When the affected communities subsequently became aware of what the agreement really meant in their day to day lives, naturally they acted in the way they did. To legislate as this proposal seeks to do to deprive them of legal remedies in such a situation would be to add injustice to injustice.
The traditional owners claim that they were not consulted before the Northern Land Council agreed, late in 1978, to allow Queensland Mines to use the road. The chairman of the Oenpelli Council said that the traditional owners had been voicing their objection to such traffic since 1970 when the company arrived in Arnhem Land. They were concerned about the damage heavy vehicles were causing to their environment. On 17 August 1979 the traditional owners asked the Northern Land Council to revoke all permits to use the road to the mine but the Land Council only forbade the issue of new permits. That has caused an area of conflict already. The two Aboriginal clans involved then issued a writ against Queensland Mines seeking an injunction to restrain that company and its agents from using the road and claiming damages against the company for such use. The date of the hearing was set for February 1 980.
When the case was due to be heard on 1 1 February it was adjourned sine die when the lawyers for Queensland Mines argued that Senator Chaney’s announced intention to change the law could make the hearing unnecessary. The judge, Mr Justice Muirhead, said that he would ignore such an intention but the lawyers for the two Aboriginal clans did not oppose the adjournment as Senator Chaney- I hope I am quoting them correctly- ‘had rendered this case a pointless exercise … a complete waste of judicial time’. This is another example of the Government’s acting in one way which seems to place it in a different position from that of the Aborigines.
Perhaps more is a stake than these amendments to the Act. The fact that they are backdated to 1977 seems to indicate that this may be so. The Minister may comment on this point. The Government is closing another door to Aborigines trying to change the unfair and oppressive Ranger contract. The traditional land owners were never consulted about the agreement. Now the Government is trying to block any action which they may want to take against the agreement on the grounds of not having been consulted. In the amending Bill introduced into the Senate on 2 April- I referred earlier to Senator Chaney’s original second reading speech on the Bill- proposed new section 27 (4) provides that the Minister shall not approve contracts entered into by the Land Council for amounts exceeding $50,000 unless he is satisfied that the Land Council has complied with its duty of having regard to the interests of and consultation with the traditional owners and other concerned Aboriginals and that the traditional owners understand and consent to the proposed action and other affected Aborigines have been consulted and have had adequate opportunity to express their views. The Minister is not required to ensure that the Land Council has fulfilled its duties of consulting and obtaining the consent of traditional owners in relation to any other agreements.
We seem to have moved a fair way towards a bipartisan position in respect of the previous legislation but the Government should bear in mind that Opposition senators can form judgments on these matters only as they see them. We do not have a department to advise us. We do not have the resources. Consequently, we want to be completely assured that all the processes have been carried out, that the Aborigines’ rights are completely protected and that legislation which we debate in this chamber and subsequently vote upon is legislation that we can look back on and say that we acted in the best interests of protecting those for whom obligations and responsibilities lie upon us.
The failure of the Land Council to fulfil its duty of consultation is, by amendments to proposed sections 43, 44 and 48, expressly excluded as a reason for invalidating an agreement. Proposed new section 46A specifies that agreements made under sections 43, 44, 45 and 46 may include provisions relating to entry permits which may be issued and revoked only in accordance with the relevant agreement. This proposed new section is aimed at precluding a situation arising such as that which I have described in relation to Oenpelli, where traditional owners attempted to withdraw entry permits agreed to on their behalf by the Land Council. The Oenpelli community is an active group. It has to be conceded that they are not people who are being passive and who do not understand what they are all about. They are a group of Aborigines who believe that they are acting in the best interests of their community. They petitioned the Federal Parliament to reject the proposed amendments which would have given the land councils the right to bind traditional owners to agreements to which they may not have consented or been consulted about.
Criticisms of the amendments also have been made by the Chairman of the Northern Land Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who has accused the Federal Government of taking the guts out of the Land Rights Act. He is reported as saying that claims that Aborigines were making a great amount of money were wrong. He is reported to have said:
We are not getting anything from the mining while the companies are getting everything they want- development, roads, unlimited access- over our land.
What money we have got we had to fight all the way for it. The Minister did nothing except support the miners while we did all the consultations.
Money is nothing without land. For the Aboriginal people to have anything we must have our land.
What can we think after being refused registration of title to our land while the mining companies get access to it from the Territory and Federal Governments?
As reported in the Northern Territory News of 29 February last, Mr Yunupingu and Mr Silas Maralngurra, Chairman of the Gunbalanya Council, Oenpelli, sent a joint telex to Senator Chaney which stated:
Your action is unacceptable, not only to us, but to all Aboriginal people in the NT on whose land miners have interest.
It is clear that we are in a point of conflict. It is clear that the Government is engaging in some actions without adequate consultation with the relevant communities and without heeding Aboriginal representations. In my view the great threat to Aboriginal culture has not always been deliberate attacks by conservative govenments, but the devastating impact of white culture. A typical example of this occurred last week when Senator Chaney had to withdraw the Bill from debate and ask for an adjournment of it for one week because he was misled. I cannot comment on whether he was misled by his advisors or where the errors took place, but there is a case for saying that Parliament was misled when it was told that Aboriginal communities had been consulted when, in fact, they had not. I give credit to Senator Chaney for rectifying that error when it came to his attention but it is becoming clear that this lack of consultation is not an aberration or a product of a few slack advisers. It is a product of the whole approach of the Government. That approach is basically elitist and oppressive.
If we are really concerned about the principles of self-management and self-determination then we must not let the communities be steam-rolled by certain governments and certain mining companies. Surely we are entitled to understand our responsibilities; surely we are entitled to be suspicious of an amendment to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act which seeks to remove the one protection that we had for the rights of Aborigines. All I can say is that we cannot stand by and see the steady erosion of Aboriginal rights and the steady corruption of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. The Government cannot pretend that it fails to understand its responsibilities. The Minister cannot fail to understand the underlying philosophy and objective of this Government, or the conflict between the mining companies and the rights of Aborigines. The Minister is in a bind; he is an area of irreconcible contradictions. The Minister has the support not only of the Opposition but also, I am sure, of a great number of his colleagues to stand up to the development concept which is paramount in the majority view of the Cabinet.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I had indicated the difficulty in which the Opposition as well as the Government found themselves in understanding and comprehending completely the views that Aboriginal communities have expressed on the problems they see in this legislation. If it is true that the Government has received further communication from the communities in the Northern Territory in respect of this legislation and the conflict that exists between the communities and the Northern Land Council, then I think it can be appreciated how much more difficult it is for the Opposition to understand the complexities of the breakdown in communication that obviously exists here. I think this highlights the need for the legislation to take into account the inability of the communities to comprehend the very difficult and complex legislation that operates in respect of land rights generally in Australia.
As I understand it, the Government has been advised that there is probably more support for the legislation than had been expressed hitherto. However, I think it has to be said that in these circumstances the Parliament is confronted with a real dilemma. If there is a lack of understanding and comprehension of the problems associated with legislation dealing with the rights of Aboriginals as they relate to land rights, recognising as we do that they regard the land as their home- a much different interpretation from the one we find in European civilization and culture- then that is all the more reason why we have to proceed very slowly. There has to be a complete acceptance of the role we will play as a Parliament in preparing the legislation to deal with these complex matters. On the basis of information I have received, I can say only that there is clearly a degree of misunderstanding, confusion and concern about the way in which we in this Parliament prepare our legislation.
In those circumstances, I think that we ought to be taking steps that are not hurried, steps that are not being taken because they are part of the timetable of a government. We ought not to be put in a position where we create even greater difficulties for the Aboriginals in understanding our culture, our laws, our customs. It is for that reason that the Opposition has moved the amendment, which seeks to consult even further with the Aboriginals no matter how tedious, how difficult or how tiresome it may be. Surely, when we are trying to eradicate over 200 years of mistreatment of our indigenous people, we ought not to be put in a position where we have to meet a timetable, a whim of a government. In seeking the solution to a problem that we know exists, none of those factors ought to operate in a way that would create even greater difficulties for the communities in understanding their rights and obligations, and in the disputes that obviously occur from time to time in their relationships with the land councils.
In those circumstances, I believe that the amendment the Opposition has moved is very relevant, very pertinent, to the sort of situation in which we now find ourselves. The amendment has not been moved with a view to scoring off the Government, to defeating the Government, but with a view to conveying to these people that there is sympathy for the views they hold and for the problem as they see it, that there is an understanding in Canberra of the very complex problems they face as they seek to accept the way in which European culture and laws and customs are applied to their situation. For those reasons, I hope that some consideration is given to the views of the Opposition and some support for the amendment I have moved.
-Is the amendment moved by Senator Gietzelt seconded?
– Four years ago this Parliament established Aboriginal land rights legislation. The early stages of that debate in the Parliament began under the former Government, but it was concluded with the momentum and initiative of the present Government. The land rights legislation setting up the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council had the bipartisan support of the great majority of members on both sides of the Parliament in both Houses. Since that time, with four years of experience, problems have arisen which necessitate some amendments being made to the legislation. They are minor amendments, in the broadest context of the legislation, but they are not unprecedented. In recent years there have been several amendments, three passed by the Parliament in 1978 and another in 1979. Now we are considering this seven-page Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill which seeks to amend the substantive legislation.
This amending Bill does not challenge the principle that the opportunity be given to Aboriginal communities to identify themselves with land, for their traditional lands to be owned by them and, under the Act, to be controlled substantially by them. These principles are not challenged at all by this amending legislation. The Bill has three purposes and is designed to meet three problems. The first concerns the Crown ownership of minerals in land under Aboriginal ownership. The second is to put into legislative form a solution agreed between the Aboriginal Land councils, the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth Government to a problem that had arisen with regard to public roads traversing Aboriginal land. The third purpose of the Bill is to overcome a problem by making stable and binding the agreements that are concluded, as provided in the principal legislation, between a land council and any mining company. The insecurity that has developed around some of the agreements that have been made had led to this necessary amendment.
The first two purposes were outlined by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) when he presented the Bill. They are not controversial issues. As I have said, the matter concerning public roads is the outcome of an agreed solution by the parties concerned. I understand that parallel legislation will be introduced in the Northern Territory legislature to implement this legislation. The matter that has attracted the attention of the first Opposition speaker tonight and the one about which I wish to speak for a little while relates to agreements concluded between Aboriginal land councils and mining companies. Section 23 of the principal Act sets out very fully the specific functions of the land council, the representative nature of the council, the need for the council to protect the interests of traditional Aboriginal owners, to consult with those traditional Aboriginal owners in making decisions, to negotiate on behalf of the traditional owners, and so on.
The last of the functions set out in the legislation concerns any agreement that the Land Council may enter into with a miner or a mining company. This is a very relevant and practical function because, as is known to all Australians interested in the land councils, this has been one of the principal matters receiving public attention. There has been the establishment of uranium, chrysoprase and other mines on Aboriginal land. There has even been oil drilling. This legislation provides for the traditional owners, through the Land Council which is representative of them, to negotiate with those best able to exploit the minerals that are to be found in the land without disturbing the community relations of the Aboriginal people or without trespassing upon sacred sites that can be defined and discussed. When all of the discussion has taken place and all negotiations have been concluded, a formal agreement is struck between the Land Council and the mining company. The legislation provides that the Land Council has obligations to the traditional owners in determining that agreement. They are very demanding responsibilities for the Land Council. Section 23 (3) of the principal legislation states:
In carrying out its functions with respect to any Aboriginal Land in its area, a Land Council shall have regard to the interests of, and shall consult with, the traditional Aboriginal owners (if any) of the land and any other Aboriginals interested in the land and, in particular, shall not take any action, including, but not limited to, the giving of consent or the withholding of consent, in any matter in connection with land held by a Land Trust, unless the Land Council is satisfied -
It must be satisfied that two questions are answered. The Council, must be satisfied that: the traditional Aboriginal owners . . . understand the nature and purpose of the proposed action and, as a group, consent to it;
The second point on which the Land Council must be satisfied is that: any Aboriginal community or group that may be affected by the proposed action has been consulted and has had adequate opportunity to express its view to the Land Council.
It is very right and proper that the Council should properly represent the traditional owners in the area under the responsibility of the Land Council. However, in the consultation at some point the Land Council should feel that it has achieved a sense of agreement. (Quorum formed). The Bill amending the legislation that is before the -
- Mr President, I take a point of order. I refer you to Standing Order 406 which appears on page 53 of the Senate Standing Orders and which states quite clearly and unequivocally that no senator shall read his speech. I have been worried about the honourable senator who has been addressing the chamber. It is obvious that the speech has been written for him and he appears to be reading his speech. I draw your attention again to Standing Order 406.
– I am well aware of Standing Order 406. I have been listening closely to Senator Teague and observing his speech. He is not reading his speech.
- Mr President, I am sorry that I am not reading my speech because I would be more fluent. I assure you and the Senate that I have about 100 words on this sheet of paper before me which are my notes to guide me in what I have to say this evening in speaking in the debate on this Bill.
- Senator, would you describe handwriting as being notes too?
-No, I think my handwriting would be very difficult to read- even for me. In fact, these notes with regard to this Bill were written by me on the call list circulated by the Whip. The principal legislation setting out the functions of the Land Council and, in particular, section 23 (3), is in no way diminished by the amendment that is before us. Rather in the consultation whereby the Land Council is consulting with the traditional owners and representing them in formulating an agreement with a mining company, the Council must be sure that the traditional owners understand and consent to the agreement. It must be sure that all those Aboriginal groups that have an interest or may be affected by the agreement have been properly consulted and have had an opportunity to express their views to the Land Council.
In this democratic process and almost familial fellowship context of a community being consulted by the representatives in the Land Council a certain point will be reached when an agreement is formulated. Purists would easily see that there could still be one traditional ownerperhaps two- who somehow was absent from the formulation of the agreement. Such is the demand for the Land Council to be representative, to consult and to make sure that the traditional owners understand, that surely, whatever the best endeavours of the Land Council, one or two people may, subsequent to the agreement being made, remain with a claim that they did not understand, or they did not have a full opportunity to express a point of view or were not totally consulted. If that difficulty arises it may then lead to an appeal system and someone may challenge this provision relating to the functions of the Land Council. They may say that the agreement should be made null and void because the functions of the Land Council have not been, to the last scintilla, to the last point of perfection, totally followed by the Land Council in the formulation of the agreement. Therefore, some point has to be found when the agreement is struck and is binding between the two parties or else mining and other development ventures on Aboriginal land would not be able to continue viably because the development group, the mining group, could not be assured that the ground would not be taken away from them. Indeed, the Land Council might not be able to be confident that the agreement it has undertaken would not be challenged by some legal appeal.
This is the problem that has arisen in the four or five years since the passing of this legislation. The solution to this problem, as proposed by this Bill, is that the agreement that is struck will be binding and not subject to appeal. But the provision is contained in this amending legislation that the Minister must consent to the agreement and must assure himself, with all of the necessary information from traditional owners and the land councils, that the functions set out in section 23 (3) have been rightfully carried out and fulfilled. In the time between the agreement being struck and the Minister giving that approval, there will be an opportunity for any aggrieved traditional owner or any other person who feels that he was not fully consulted or does not fully understand the agreement to make an appeal to the Minister. So the Minister becomes the avenue of appeal in the days and weeks between the agreement being struck and the Minister giving that approval.
If the Minister is not satisfied that this full consultation process has been developed to the right stage, he can refrain from giving that approval. I believe that this is a reasonable safeguard for the process whereby two parties come to an agreement. It is sensible legislation and it is a practical way of solving the problem that has arisen in these years. If an alternative process of the right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or the like were to be built in by another amendment that we are not considering tonight it would not work. (Quorum formed). If there were an alternative means of appeal because the land council had not been properly representative or had not consulted the traditional owners, an avenue for consideration might be an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or to a court, whether it be the Supreme Court of a State or a local court, and again there would be a long, drawn-out legalistic battle between the sides that effectively would take away the authority of the land council itself, which, after all, is a body elected by the traditional owners and which is able to have the closest dialogue and consultation with the traditional owners. There is nothing in this solution to the problem which has arisen and which is being addressed by this amendment that denies the full powers of the land council to consult with traditional owners, to help them to understand all the issues involved, to make sure that their views are heard and to make sure that the agreement that is struck is indeed representative of all the views of the traditional owners.
It is only in the event that a land council abuses its democratic responsibilities to consult, to educate and to lead to understanding that there is the channel of appeal to the Minister not to approve, as is now provided for in the principal legislation under clause 27(3), where there is a requirement that such agreements be approved by the Minister. It is only in that event that an appeal can be successful in delaying the agreement until the Minister is satisfied that all the traditional owners have been properly consulted and have agreed to the contract.
I believe that this Bill can be fully commended to the Senate. It is a reasonable solution to this problem of achieving binding, stable contracts and of ensuring that the authority of the land council is maintained. It does not compromise the full powers of the land council, and it does not take away the insistence in the Act on the fullest consultation possible with the traditional owners. The Minister is accountable to this Parliament and is therefore in a very good position to be the avenue of appeal. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
– Normally, I begin my participation in a debate by quoting the relevant sections of the Bill, the amendments and so on, but on this occasion I am going to break slightly from tradition by passing some remarks on Senator Teague ‘s contribution to the debate. I am sorry that I drew the attention of the Chair to Standing Order 406, which states that a senator may not read his speech. Perhaps it would have been much better if somebody had in fact acquainted Senator Teague with the real facts of the matter and set them out for him so that he could have read his speech and -
– Are you reading yours, then?
-No. I do not have to read mine. Members of the National Country Party have to read their speeches, but there are no honourable senators on this side of the House who need to read a speech unless they are quoting from tables or something else. I am sorry, I made a mistake: The honourable senator from the Northern Territory has left the Country Party and is now a member of the Liberal Party.
-No. I am still a financial member of the Country-Liberal Party.
-He has corrected himself. He is a member of the Country-Liberal Party. It is good to know that he belongs to a party. It is unfortunate that Senator Teague gave a most misleading speech tonight. I am sure he did it through ignorance and not for any other reason. To go back to 1 966 as the start for land rights is historically incorrect because the matter goes back much further than that. That ought to be put on record. I propose to correct the matter for him.
– That is what the legislation does.
– That was what the Liberal Party did, was it not? It prevented the Australian Labor Party from introducing land rights much earlier. As a matter of fact, there was a case of collusion between a character who is now the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Fraser, and a bloke named Kerr who has been expelled from Australia because of his actions in 1975. They got together and decided that the Aboriginals did not need land rights. It was all part of the deal that went on at that time. So in 1 976 we had a much more watered-down version, which I will go into in more detail in a few moments. I understand that not as many people read Hansard as read the Bible, but there are a few dedicated people in the community who are influenced by Hansard. In spite of what the polls say, there is a large number of people, particularly in remote country areas, who listen to the broadcast of parliamentary session. Some people listen because they are seeking knowledge, others because they think it is a good circus.
The Bill seeks to amend the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976. The amendment moved by Senator Gietzelt is selfexplanatory. I will quote it again because there are a number of points in it to which I wish to refer. It states:
Leave out all words after ‘that’, insert ‘the Bill be withdrawn to allow for consultation with a majority of the relevant Aboriginal communities’ and re-drafted to guarantee the right of Aborigines to be fully consulted on and informed of the effects of mining and drilling on traditional lands as a prime requirement for the validity of mining agreements relating to Aboriginal land conferred under this Act.
The situation in Western Australia in relation to the Noonkanbah dispute has brought this story home to Australians generally very much over the last few weeks. It has received fairly wide publicity. The media in recent weeks has been very good in publicising many of these problems. We have got away from the old sensationalism and there is some very good factual reporting. The Noonkanbah incident, of course, is one of those that was fairly well reported. The Minister, when delivering his second reading speech, said:
This Bill has two main purposes; Firstly, to facilitate the registration of titles to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory and, secondly, to provide for the security of agreements entered into between a land council and a miner.
The Bill is a sham. The second reading speech is a sham. It should never have been worded in that way. The real purpose of this Bill is to look after the miners. It is another example of this Government backing off from the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in craven fear.
– It is not nonsense at all. If Senator Kilgariff wants to keep a closed mind on those matters, he can do so. He is one of the best advocates of uranium mining in the Northern Territory. He is one of the best advocates of preventing Aborigines from getting free title to their land in the Northern Territory. He is one of the best advocates of ensuring that blacks are kept in their place according to his tenets. If the honourable senator wants to interject, he must accept what comes back to him. What I am saying about Senator Kilgariff is the truth. That is the policy of his Liberal Country Party or his Country Liberal Party or whatever he calls it.
The majority leader of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, from the date of his election to that position, has consistently denied Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory those things to which they are entitled. The Government that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs represents caves in every time. It caves in to Sir Charles Court and it caves in to Mr BjelkePetersen. It is not game to stand up to them, and the excuse it uses is, ‘let us play it low key. Let us not have confrontation. We will achieve more this way’. We have debated this matter in this place from 30 December 1975 to 23 April 1980 and we have achieved nothing.
The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 has had pieces removed from it to satisfy the anti-black government of the Northern Territory. For God’s sake, when will we stop? When will we stop going backwards? Let me read further from the second reading speech. The Minister continues:
The amendment proposed by this Bill seek to give effect to an agreed solution formulated by the Aboriginal land councils, the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth which will enable deeds of grant, which had been issued to Aboriginal land trusts in relation to land described in Schedule 1 of the Act, to be registered by the Northern Territory Registrar-General prior to the identification of roads over which the public has a right of way. Although registration of the deeds of grant is not essential for their taking effect, the Aboriginal land councils have applied to have the deeds registered and it is this Government s wish that registration be effected as soon as possible.
Let us dwell on that for one moment. The Minister used the expression ‘with agreement by the Aboriginal Land Councils’. But it was not until recently that he came into this chamber and said that he had made an incorrect statement, that in fact the land councils had not agreed to it at all. For the information of the Minister- perhaps he does not have all his correspondence passed on to him- telegrams were sent to him before he actually presented this Bill in this House. They were in his possession. Either he does not get his correspondence or it falls off the back of a bus, as do a few other things that I had to mention last year. There is a much bigger and more concise document which I propose to quote in this chamber before this session concludes. This document has been absolutely suppressed. It has not been published and it has not been distributed. It too has come off the back of a bus.
– Whom are you accusing of suppressing anything?
– I beg your pardon?
– You talk about something being suppressed. By whom?
– I suggest that, if Senator Baume wants to make an interjection, he takes his foot out of his mouth and project his voice. After listening to his interjection twice, I still cannot understand him. It is probably quite inane anyway. But this sort of thing is happening all the time. Why should Aboriginal affairs be treated as the most junior ministry in the Government and be given less attention by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser)?
– It is not treated as the most junior ministry.
– The honourable senator is very well informed. I suggest that he read up his first primer. If it is not the most junior ministry, it is treated as the most junior ministry. It is the very first area that one can take money away from. As I said to the Minister earlier today, it takes him more than three weeks to find out where the money goes. Apparently the bookkeeping system of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Queensland Government is so incomplete that it does not know where millions of dollars have gone until after 30 June. It is almost the same position as applies in regard to the chemist. We keep on paying out the money but we do not know why it went there. The next paragraph of the second reading speech states:
The amendments provide for the execution and issue of new deeds of grants which will be deemed to take effect from the date of issue of the original deeds. The deeds of grant will be expressed to exclude, in general terms, roads over which the public has a right of way and any issue as to which roads fall within that description will be resolved after the deeds have been registered. The Bill provides a procedure whereby the Northern Territory Government and a land council can agree upon which roads are roads over which the public has a right of way.
Within the precincts of the city of Darwin certain land rights have been bestowed upon Aboriginal people who have waited for a long time while their land was whittled away. One of the provisos was that it would be done with the express agreement of this Government. The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly said that a main road would go through that land which belonged to the Aborigines before it was handed over. If that road did not go through that land, it would not be handed over. So immediately our Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) and our Prime Minister go down on their knees to the great Paul Everingham and say, ‘Yes, sir, whatever you may say will be right’. That is the way the Government caves in all the time.
Let us go back to something that Senator Teague tried to tell us earlier. Because he is very young, and started off his political career very much later in his life, his memory does not go back beyond 1976. The alteration to the Constitution was carried by popular vote in this country in 1967. The recommendations and the statements to the Government by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs set out quite clearly that this Government has the total authority to make laws in respect of Aboriginal people. But the Government has backed off and backed off. It has backed off at Aurukun, Mornington Island and Yarrabah. It has backed off at Kowanyama, it has backed off in Palm Island and it has backed off in the Northern Territory by watering down its legislation in order to kowtow to the people who want to supply the money in the area through the transnational mining organisations. The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly is a prisoner of the transnational mining organisations, and do not tell me that it is not. In the same way, Sir Charles Court is their prisoner, as is Mr Bjelke-Petersen. However, he has been a bit smarter than most people because he owns part of the companies.
It was in 1967 that the forerunner of this Government, with exactly the same sort of political thinking, absolutely refused to make social security payments to Aborigines under the Act in Western Australia, under the Territory legislation and under the Act as it existed at that time in Queensland. The only way they could get social service payments was to prove that they in fact had been released from the protection of the Act. I remember in 1968 an old man in the Northern Territory had to prove that he was well over 70 years of age. He lost an arm in a clash with a horse and he could get neither an invalid nor an age pension for about 12 months. A number of us worked on the situation and we finally convinced the Government of the day that he was entitled to a social security payment.
I can remember people on Palm Island going hungry in 1968. I made representations to the then Minister for Social Services to see whether they could get a social security payment, an age pension, child endowment, or anything. We could not get anything for those people because they had not been recognised at that stage. The Government did not want to recognise them as it had set up the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and it was not prepared to set up a department because people in Queensland, in the Federal Government and in other parts of Australia objected to it. This happened, even though the amendments to the 1967 Act provided that Aborigines would be counted as people and no longer ignored. Prior to 1 967 we had an annual statistical count of pigs, dogs, horses, cattle and sheep but not Aborigines. After the 1967 referendum, which altered the Constitution, what did the Government do then? It still had counts of sheep, pigs, horses and cattle and it still did not count Aborigines. It still did not recognise them as people. It did not give them the rights to which they were entitled at that time. It was not until a change of Government in December 1972 that for the first time in this country Aborigines were treated as people.
The first real start in the recognition of Aboriginals was the appointment of Mr Justice Woodward to the Land Rights Commission which was to ascertain how best land rights could be given to Aborigines. It was not until 1975 that the Government had legislation prepared and was ready to go ahead with it. But it was stymied, as I said a while ago, by the FraserKerr combination which decided that the land rights Bill would not go through and it was therefore blocked. We then went through a shillyshallying period. This legislation merely takes away from the little bit that the Government gave them. I do not care how the Government dresses up this legislation, but for God’s sake take it back to the people and let there be a proper consideration of it. The Government is now in the grip of the people who are telling it what to do. The Aborigines do not want this legislation under these circumstances. In 1976 we spent a year of agony while the land rights, which were to be brought down by Mr Fraser, were put into draft legislation. The first draft came in and it had to be amended. When the knowledge of that situation leaked out we had an invasion of Northern Territory Legislative Assembly members. One of them came to me and said: ‘I had to come. I am prepared to believe in land rights but I had to come. If I did not,
I would have lost my seat’. Those members had many discussions.
Again Mr Fraser stood over Mr Viner and said: ‘You will alter this and that to suit the Northern Territory’. The day before the legislation was to be presented in the House of Representatives somebody looked through the draft Bill and discovered that in the dark of night somebody had got at the Bill and altered several clauses. So the Bill was postponed for another week or a fortnight while copies of those draft Bills were pulped. The Bill was then redrafted. There are probably people in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs who have never heard that story. I have mentioned it here previously and it has never been denied. It cannot be denied because it is a fact. When the Bill went through both Houses of the Parliament the Opposition drafted something like 30 amendments. On about 25 occasions divisions were called in this chamber and people on the Government side of the chamber crossed the floor to deny to the Aborigines of the Northern Territory even a reasonable sort of land rights Bill. I will admit now that the original draft Bill of the Australian Labor Party was not all that it ought to have been. But the Bill- that weak little piece of paper that looked like a Lady Scott roll of toilet paperwhich was brought in by this Government was much worse than the Bill which we had drafted and which had a lot of strong points in it. That was to be the pattern. But what have we got left? The Government has been whittling away at the rights of the Aborigines through various attacks on the legislation either on behalf of the miners or on behalf of a small group of mostly absentee pastoralists. The Government keeps on taking away from the Aborigines those few little crumbs that it threw to them in 1976. This Bill is just a continuation of that whittling away exercise. There are not many clauses in it but each one does nothing at all for Aborigines. There is one clause that may do something if the Government consulted with the Aborigines, but it is not known to consult with them. I know the Government went through the exercise when it had a mini discussion on the Aboriginal Development Commission Bill which we discussed today. But as I said earlier, some people did not know what the legislation was about and they had never even seen it. They did not have the opportunity to discuss it. There are thousands of urban Aborigines who have never had access to the legislation because it was not published in the way it should have been. If the Government is advertising something else like its ‘Life. Be in it’ Norm campaign, or all the other things on which it has spent millions of dollars, such as the attempt to boycott the Olympic Games, then those things get wide publicity. The Government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising. A couple of these exercises used up millions of dollars. But that son of publicity was not given to the legislation. The Government states: ‘After all, they are only black. Why should we worry about them too much? If they start getting all screwed up and they talk too much and want to argue with us, what will the trans-national mining companies do to us? They will withdraw our campaign funds. All sorts of things will happen’. It is the mining companies and a few of the other trans-national organisations which run this Government.
– Your words are untrue.
– Never mind. If Senator Teague has shares in one of the big mining companies that is okay. I suggest he just pipe down because they might take them off him when things get bad.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order.
-He is upset.
– I am not upset. Senator Keeffe has made a reflection upon me by stating that I have shares in a mining company. I do not have shares in any mining company. I believe that it is wrong to make reflections on the Government as only having an interest in mining lobbies or campaign funds.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order.
– Sit down while a point of order is being taken.
– I have a point of order.
- Mr President, I have a further point of order on the honourable senator’s point of order.
– I have not heard the first point of order, Senator Grimes.
- Mr President, I believe that the bona fides of the real concern expressed by the Minister and Government members for the Aboriginal people has been reflected upon by the honourable senator and the remark should be withdrawn.
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I really think it is the height of hypocrisy for a Government senator to get up and say that it is a reflection on him for an honourable senator to say that he has mining shares. I could understand some honourable senators on this side objecting to someone saying that. It would be a reflection on his character for someone to say that he had mining shares. But half the honourable senators over there have mining shares and they know it. I can see no way in the world that Senator Keeffe can be asked to withdraw. I accept that it is an accusation and it is an accusation which we should make against them in debates on Bills such as this.
- Mr President, the matter on which a point of order has been taken has been exacerbated by Senator Grimes’ comments on the point of order. A suggestion has been made that Senator Teague, who has spoken in this debate, speaks from some form of interest owing to his owning mining shares. That is objectionable and it has been -underlined by the words which were used by Senator Grimes when he cast a general aspersion against Government members. It is about time that some slightly better standards were observed in this place on such matters. We have had a situation where an honourable senator on his feet taking a point of order has been interrupted in the course of that point of order in a quite offensive way. I suggest that Senator Keeffe, on whom the point of order was taken, should be asked to withdraw any imputation against Senator Teague.
- Senator Teague has taken that reference as a personal reflection on his integrity while we have been discussing matters which are before the Senate.
– I was probably provoked into making that remark when Senator Teague came out very loudly with his words of interjection defending trans-national mining companies. Usually it is a bit like Mr Petersen-
– Please, Senator Keeffe, no quoting. Are you withdrawing?
-Can I explain why I said it and tell you, Mr President, why I am going to withdraw? Please?
- Senator Keeffe, just withdraw.
-Mr President, can I speak to a point of order to make my point clear, because the reflection is now on me.
- Senator, you have reflected on Senator Teague. He has taken objection to it. I have asked that you withdraw because he has taken it as a personal reflection on his own integrity.
-Mr President, I will speak to the point of order and set out the situation as I see it. Certain things happen in my State when people feel that they have been reflected upon.
As Senator Teague has made the statement that he owns no mining shares, that he owns nothing at all, I suggest he should go on unemployment benefit. I withdraw my statement.
- Senator Keeffe will continue his speech.
– I have only a couple more short remarks to make. I think they are still pertinent to the situation. The Ranger agreement was another outstanding example of how this Government sold out to the mining companies, how it stood over and dominated the land councils until it got the agreement in the way it wanted. I am not casting reflections on the socalled gold pens that were passed out and which turned out to be aluminium anyway. Dishonest and corrupt practices are used in order to ensure that the uranium gets out of the ground. I do not know where we are going. These sort of deals show that we are becoming a terribly corrupt country which is led by a corrupt government. The amendment we are debating tonight to the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act -
- Mr President, I take exception to the words ‘corrupt Government’. I am a member of the Government. I know damn well that neither I nor the Government is corrupt.
– The remarks were not related to any person. It was not a personal reflection.
-Thank you, Mr President. The day that we cannot make strong references about an organisation or a government, democracy will have gone out of the window. I did not make a reflection on Senator Kilgariff. I am sorry if he feels hurt, but he is a member of a corrupt government. This can be seen from the deals which are made. The Olympic Games -
– I rise on a point of order. The statement now made by Senator Keeffe is that Senator Kilgariff is a member of a corrupt government. I suggest therefore that that is a direct reflection on Senator Kilgriff and should be withdrawn.
– A reflection on an individual senator is contrary to Standing Orders, but I did not hear such a personal reflection made that Senator Kilgariff was corrupt.
– I did not say at any stage that Senator Kilgariff is corrupt.
- Senator Keeffe said that Senator Kilgariff is a member of a corrupt government. That seems to me to be a direct reflection on Senator Kilgariff and should be withdrawn.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. I am glad that Senator Chaney raised this matter as it is the very issue that I have been complaining about in Question Time in this place for most of this year. The technique used by Senator Keeffe was exactly the technique which is used by the Leader of the Government in the Senate in Question Time. He accuses people like myself of being apologists for the Soviet Union, as being corrupt and all sorts of things. Mr President, you have consistently ruled that such remarks are within the Standing Orders. If Senator Chaney does not like it when such references are made from this side of the House, as far as I am concerned that is too bad. Senator Chaney and his colleagues have to make up their minds-
– The honourable senator should speak to the point of order and not debate the matter.
- Mr President, Senator Chaney and his colleagues have to make up their minds as to whether they can cop it as well as they can deal it out. I request that you rule as you have ruled on every other occasion. You have ruled that blackguarding as a whole is perfectly all right but when directed at a person is not all right. I think the set-up is crazy, but that is the type of ruling that has always been given.
– I have very little time left-
– I have not ruled on the point of order, Senator Keeffe. If Senator Kilgariff feels the statement was a personal reflection on him-
– Yes, I do. As the Minister has observed, it was a personal reflection.
– I must rise now to a point of order. Mr President, surely you cannot invite Senator Kilgariff to state whether he has been aggrieved. If he feels he has been aggrieved he should say so and we can then debate the matter. He did not do so because he took the view- I am certain it was a sound view- that when it was stated that he is a member of a corrupt government he did not take it as necessarily meaning that he is corrupt. If a government has 60 members 59 of them could be corrupt and Senator Kilgariff could escape that classification quite easily. That is why, Mr President, in looking back on the matter, I think you have been correct in your rulings. Reflections have to be directed specifically and clearly at an honourable senator. In this case that was not done. It was merely stated that Senator Kilgariff is a member of a corrupt government. Whether or not we should be using that sort of term is another matter. Certainly no reflection was directed at Senator Kilgariff. Surely he could not take offence.
-The Standing Orders relate to direct personal reflections. That is so. Collective reflections of a political nature are a different thing. Personal reflections according to the Standing Orders are out of order. I rule that way.
– I am sorry that we have finished up on this note. I had no intention of making an accusation against an individual. I thought that Senator Kilgariff would understand that. If he has been personally affronted or offended in any way I apologise to him. I do not withdraw the rest of the story. I believe that it had to be stated. I withdraw none of it.
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– This has been a rather interesting last half hour. Normally, when we have a debate such as this in the Senate people can follow the debate only by reading Hansard. It is only occasionally that they have the opportunity to listen to the broadcast of such debates in the Senate. Perhaps there is very little I need to say when people throughout Australia can hear a debate such as the one we have had in the last half hour. They can judge for themselves. Senator Keeffe in one of his old ploys is continuing to attack, to defame and to make all sorts of charges which of course can be answered. But why should we answer such accusations? Everyone knows of the ploys that Senator Keeffe uses. In fact, his name is well known throughout Australia and particularly in Queensland. While I live in the Northern Territory I have reason to visit Queensland on many occasions on various committees and so on. It is there that the honourable senator has earned himself a name. If he chooses to live up to that name that is his own business. I suggest that in debating the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill we are dealing with a very sensitive area. The Aboriginal people, in endeavouring to make the Northern Territory Aboriginal land rights system work–
– I raise a point of order. I take strong exception to the personal attack, the lies that Senator Kilgariff is telling by innuendo and the accusations that he is making without backing them up with facts. I suggest that if I do not get an apology he ought to be requested to leave the chamber.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Maunsell)- I have just taken the chair and I am not aware of what was said. Senator Keeffe, to what do you object?
- Mr Deputy President, I wish to speak to the point of” order. Obviously Senator Kilgariff was reacting to what was said by Senator Keeffe in the previous few minutes. Senator Kilgariff is now indulging in personalities. This is not relevant to the debate at all. I do not know what view he might hold of Senator Keeffe, but I do not think that anyone in this chamber would doubt Senator Keeffe ‘s sincerity in his desire to help Aborigines generally. I suggest that whatever Senator Keeffe has done in respect of other matters, that ought not to be canvassed in this debate. We are talking about land rights. Obviously the Government and the Opposition have differences of opinion on these matters, but they are not relevant to Senator Keeffe ‘s point of view. We are debating land rights, not whether Senator Keeffe said this or said that or did this or did that in the Northern Territory, in Queensland or anywhere else. Mr Deputy President, I think that you ought to call Senator Kilgariff to order and suggest that he should get on with the debate and leave personalities out of it. Nobody benefits or profits from the debate being allowed to degenerate into discussing personalities.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Senator Kilgariff, I have just taken the chair. I will be taking note of what you say and seek your co-operation.
– I cannot understand the attitude of the two honourable senators opposite. I was talking about the sensitive time we are going through in the Northern Territory. I cannot see why the honourable senators should have taken exception to that. As I was saying, we are going through a very sensitive time in the Northern Territory. The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act has been in force since 1976. It is a massive and innovatory piece of legislation for the Northern Territory and for Australia. It relates only to the Northern Territory and not to the rest of Australia. It affects the people, both Aboriginal and white. The Northern Territory is endeavouring to make this legislation work, despite the actions of honourable senators opposite and others. I am speaking of people who live outside the Territory and who attack the system and endeavour to erode the ability of the people of the Northern Territory to live together, to find the ways and means of living alongside each other. Frankly, I resent, as do the people of the Territory, the continuous intrusion by people who live outside the Territory and who endeavour to erode the race relations which exist now in the Territory.
Senator Gietzelt- You are starting to talk like Bjelke-Petersen.
– I suggest that the honourable senator confine his pursuit of topics such as this to events in his own State. If he wishes to come to the Northern Territory, I suggest that he join people in the Northern Territory, such as me and Senator Robertson, in seeking to bring about a situation in which both races are assisted and encouraged to live side by side. I suggest that it is apparent from the way in which members of the Opposition have attacked and sought to erode the type of legislation which has been introduced in an attempt to correct anomalous situations that their interest in being in the Senate and joining in the debate on matters such as this is not in an endeavour to bring about good race relations and a more normal situation and is not to assist in settling down the Aboriginal land rights problems, but in an endeavour to erode race relations and to cause trouble. They do not wish to see this type of legislation work.
I will spend another two minutes or so speaking about this. It was most interesting to observe tonight when Senator Keeffe was speaking- I could have drawn the Senate’s attention to this fact then, but I now draw Australia’s attention to it- that at one stage not one Opposition senator was with him in this chamber. (Quorum formed). As I was saying before a quorum was called in an endeavour to stop me from continuing with what I was saying, when Senator Keeffe was speaking in this debate all the other Opposition senators left the chamber. At one stage he was by himself on that side of the chamber. Practically everyone left the visitors gallery; perhaps two people remained. Honourable senators on the Government side also left. I think that that was an indication of what I am saying, that is, that no-one from either side of the House or from the galleries supported Senator Keeffe. Everyone knows Senator Keeffe ‘s reputation. He is out to destroy, not to assist.
As I have said, for land rights in Australia to work, for people to be able to introduce a workable system which will enable the Aboriginal people, the people of the Northern Territory, the Government and industry to work hand in hand, it is necessary that amendments such as those which are before the Senate tonight be introduced. I suggest that the amendments which are before the Senate tonight can be attributed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney who, in the past two years, has moved throughout the Territory and throughout Australia generally. He has had very many talks with the Aboriginal people- I have been with him on occasions- in an endeavour to find out what they think. He has spoken to the Northern Territory Government and to the people in an endeavour to formulate amendments which will make the Northern Territory Aboriginal land rights system more workable. As I said, this is a very sensitive area. The Aboriginal people are feeling their way. I think that what happened last week is indicative of their feelings. It was not a massive changeabout.
– What are you talking about?
– If honourable senators opposite would only listen, they would know that I am talking about the statement which the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs made last week when this Bill was to have been debated. The Northern Land Council had indicated that it was unhappy about a particular situation. What I am trying to say to honourable senators is that this is a sensitive area and that the matter has to be treated coolly and quietly to bring some sense and normality into it. It is my feeling, having spoken to the Manager of the Northern Land Council and to a senior person on it just after the message was sent to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs asking him not to proceed with the legislation, that there was no real disagreement with the action that has been contemplated by the Government. It is my understanding that the three land councils are in agreement with the Government’s action. The legislation has been discussed with the land councils on numerous occasions. However, they sent a message to the Government. After speaking to members of the Northern Land Council in the last few days, I believe that their concern is not a matter of disagreement.
Members of the land councils have so many pressures on them that they feel at times that life is a little too much. They are being asked to do this and that. Legislation to ensure that the Aboriginal people are being properly consulted will mean that more and more they will be drawn into situations where they have to consult and take action.
– But this legislation makes it unnecessary to consult with them.
– The honourable senator should stop yapping and just listen. He can have his say later. (Quorum formed). I believe that one of the problems which brought about the necessity to put off the legislation for a week was that the Aboriginal people who are involved in these land councils are under considerable pressure. At times I think they find that far too much is going on and they are having difficulty in coping. From talking to the two senior people from the Northern Land Council I think that is the situation. They feel that they need more people to support and assist them in doing all the work that is necessary to represent the Aboriginal people, the traditional people in the Northern Territory, to cope with consulting, to do what they are required to do by legislation and so on. 1 repeat that we are going through a very sensitive time. Aboriginal people have to be given the opportunity to settle down and to live as far as possible a quieter life. But this opportunity is not given to them. In so many spheres there are people who are deliberately intent on stirring and causing problems. I suggest that Senator Keeffe is one of those people. (Quorum formed).
I applaud the people who are behind this legislation. I refer particularly to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Government is showing extreme dedication to making Aboriginal land rights work. Working hand in hand with the Federal Government is the Northern Territory Government. Despite this, members of the Opposition are always endeavouring to denigrate the names of people in the Northern Territory. As I said, they are working hand in hand in an endeavour to make land rights work and to enable people to live side by side. That is the only future for the Northern Territory. My time is running out. A few quorums have been called during my speech. Senator Keeffe has packed his bag and left. The legislation will clarify certain situations. (Quorum formed). The Federal Government and the Government of the Northern Territory are working hand in hand and in close consultation with the people who are interested in this legislation, particularly the Aboriginal people. The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory has indicated to the Aboriginal people that where public roads, about which there is some dispute, go through Aboriginal lands no work will be done on those roads. Nothing whatsoever will be done until the traditional people from that part of the country are consulted.
As well as that, the Aboriginal people have been given the assurance that they will be fully responsible for the permit system for the roads that go through their reserves. Also I draw attention to the goodwill being expressed in the Northern Territory. Legislation has been presented in the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory, and that will rest on the table of that place until everyone has had ample time to comprehend and discuss it, and possibly to amend it. That Bill will give ownership of national parks in the Northern Territory- other than Kakadu- to the traditional owners. Surely this is an indication of the good faith of all people in the Northern Territory. I support the legislation and I support the work that the Minister is doing, knowing that in the last few months he has had a most difficult job. I assure all honourable senators who take a real interest in this legislation that the amendment to the Bill before the Senate is the answer. I suggest that no-one heeds criticisms made by people who do not wish to see good relations between the people of the Northern Territory or who do not wish to see the Northern Territory land rights legislation work.
– In recent years I have not heard such a poor standard of debate as I have on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill.
– It is continuing.
– Perhaps it is continuing; let us hope not. This is one of the most important Bills which has come before the Parliament since this Government has been in power and which concerns the relationship between Aboriginals and other Australians. The Bill involves such sacred matters that the debate should be at the highest standard, and those who stand up to speak should know something about the Bill. To recognise what the Bill is about, and the significance of it, it is necessary to consider the history of land rights in Australia. Sometime in the early 1960s we recognised that we had some responsibility to the Aboriginal community because of the occupation and exploitation of their land, and because of the damage we have done to their life and culture over some 200 years. That resulted in a referendum in 1967 when the European-Australian community accepted and recognised that there was a debt owing to the Aboriginal people of Australia, payment for which the States were not fulfilling. The people voted overwhelmingly- with the biggest majority of any referendum- to give power to the Commonwealth to repay a part of the debt that we owed to the Aboriginal people of Australia.
There were two legal cases at about that time, one of which was the Blackburn case in the Northern Territory Gove Peninsula area. There was also the inquiry in Western Australia of Mr Justice
Forster who found on legal grounds that under British law there could be no claim to land rights in Australia by Aboriginals. The Australian Labor Party came to power in 1 972 with a policy that it would give land rights to Aboriginal people. Mr Whitlam announced that, whether or not they had a legal claim to land under English law, the Labor Party believed in land rights and that it would set up a royal commission of inquiry headed by Mr Justice Woodward for the purpose of his determining how the Government at that time could honour its obligation to give land to the Aboriginal people. We recognised that the essential ingredient required in the payment of some compensation to Aboriginal people was the ownership of their land. In his report, Mr Justice Woodward considered the Land Rights Bill, land rights for Aborigines, and how the Government could honour its undertaking. He spent several chapters on showing the affinity between Aboriginals and their land.
It is hard for any white man to envisage what land means to Aboriginal communities. It is not a material object to which they have a right for commercial value. It is not the value of land as we recognise it; it is something sacred and spiritual to Aboriginal people. The question was how the Government could honour this obligation and give to those people such an important part of their whole culture, beliefs, mythology and dreams- the land that they seek to own. This tradition is passed on by a system of tribal elders who own the land through a system of decendency. They have a responsibility to keep and protect sacred sites on the land which is theirs. Some sites are so sacred and so secret that they cannot disclose the location even for the protection of the area. That is the whole set-up of the mythology of Aboriginal people. That is how they have always lived. It is the basis of their culture; take them from their land and the Aboriginal people are destroyed. That is what Mr Justice Woodward said.
The whole purpose of the recommendation to the Government was that land must remain in the control and ownership of the designated people following their tribal customs. The land is not for anyone else; it is not for land councils or for any other system, but for tribal elders. As the Aboriginals had to fit into the white man’s community with white man’s laws, proposals were made for their provision whereby, for example, the tribal elders views on land could be interpreted or brought down to us by various councils. On page 103 of his second report, in paragraph 568, Mr Justice Woodward states:
I believe that to deny to Aborigines the right to prevent mining on their land is to deny the reality of their land rights.
I find it quite impossible to inspect developments on Groote Eylandt or the Gove Peninsula or proposed works on uranium deposits in Arnhem Land and to say that such developments, without consent, could be consistent with traditional land rights for Aborigines.
In paragraph 578, Mr Justice Woodward states:
It will then be the responsibility of the Land Council and its officers to explain the offer and its implications to the Aboriginal community and the landowners directly involved and to see if they consent.
That refers to consent to mining on their land. Paragraph 579 states:
In order that the Aborigines can be shown as clearly as possible what they are being asked to agree to, the company will have to supply a form of impact statement, setting out what its purposes is, what it hopes to achieve, what will be involved at the exploration stage by way of road or airstrip construction, test drilling, seismic surveying, tree felling, ground clearing, bulldozing and building construction.
Paragraph 580 states:
The statement should then go on to give the best possible picture of activities and land and water requirements in the proving, developmental and production stages if the search is successful. It would need to set out the likelihood of any processing works being located in the region.
Paragraph 584 states:
It is only reasonable that they should take into their confidence the people who would be directly affected by their activities. And they could not be heard to say that Aborigines had agreed to the mining of their land unless those Aborigines were well informed as to what would be involved.
Paragraph 585 states:
In additional to the consent of the traditional owners of the land, I think it is necessary that any community likely to be affected by a substantial mining development should also consent. It is they who would be affected by a substantial influx of non-Aboriginal workers and, to my mind, these consequences can be even more serious than the devastation of an area of land. They should not be forced on an unwilling community.
We see all through the report the recommendation that anything that happens on Aboriginal land should have the consent of the owners, who are the tribal elders, with consideration being given to those who occupy the land. The tribal elders or the owners are not necessarily the occupiers of that land. Mr Justice Woodward recommends that the Land Council should conduct all negotiations and give or refuse its consent, on behalf of traditional owners or any communities likely to be affected by the application, and that it should also have its own power of veto. The whole purpose of the Royal Commission’s report was to give to Aboriginal tribal elders their land, their rights, their spiritual requirements. These things had to be given to the tribal elders, who were the designated owners of the land, and could not be disturbed without their consent. The tribal elders were the people who had to be consulted. The occupiers had to be consulted if any disruption of their way of life was intended. The land councils were to be established as a means of communication between the tribal elders and the white community, the Government or the mining companies.
There is no provision in Mr Justice Woodward’s report or even in the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act for mining without the consent of the tribal elders. Mr Justice Woodward, in his recommendations on mining, said that if the tribal elders did not agree to mining then it should not take place unless the national interest required it. He said that he placed particular importance on the word required’, and had used it with intent. It is not a question of national interest. It might be better for the national interest if we were mining all the time. We cannot disturb Aboriginal land, according to Mr Justice Woodward’s report, just because it is in the national interest to do so. Before a proclamation can be made, national interest must require it; it must be urgent; it must be definite; it must be a requirement for our survival. The important word is ‘require’. The national interest must require it.
I had a big hand in the formulation of the first Aboriginal land rights Bill presented to the Parliament. It was to be discussed in the House of Representatives on 11 November 1975, but events terminated the possibility of that discussion. Subsequently, this Government brought down a land rights Bill which, as Senator Keeffe said, was only a skeleton of the Bill introduced by the Labor Government. It omitted many clauses which I thought were essential, but nevertheless the Parliament carried that Bill. Whatever we may say, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is capable of being a good Act in fulfilling the requirements of the Aboriginal people. It is essential to carry out the intentions of the original Bill and the recommendations in Mr Justice Woodward’s report. The original Bill contained provisions similar to those in section 23(3), section 48, and other sections of the Act. Section 23(3)states:
In carrying out its function with respect to any Aboriginal land in its area, a Land Council shall have regard to the interest of, and shall consult with, the traditional Aboriginal owners (if any) of the land and any other Aboriginals interested in the land and, in particular, shall not take any action, including, but not limited to. the giving of consent or the withholding of consent, in any matter in connection with land held by a Land Trust, unless the Land Council is satisfied that-
the traditional Aboriginal owners (if any) of that land understand the nature and purpose of the proposed action and, as a group, consent to it: and
any Aboriginal community or group that may be affected by the proposed action has been consulted and has had adequate opportunity to express its views to the Land Council.
That is in complete fulfilment of the recommendations made by Mr Justice Woodward. The Aboriginal elders, the Aboriginal owners, must give their consent. The land council is the intermediary which signs the documents and carries out the agreements. But if it can be shown at any time that it has acted without consulting the tribal elders, if it can be shown that consent has been given by the Land Council without the owner’s consenting or being consulted or having a proper knowledge, as Mr Justice Woodward said, of the environmental impact statement on the effect on tribal land, then the owners have the right to challenge it, as they did in the case of Ranger Uranium Mines Pty Ltd and Queensland Mines Ltd. The owners entered into an agreement with the Ranger group which would never stand up to a legal challenge because it was achieved by handing out silver pens and not by consultation. Because that was done, we now have a provision that if an agreement is entered into or can be entered into without the application of section 23(3), despite the fact that section 23 (3) has not been complied with and there has been no consultation with the elders or with those occupying the areas, nevertheless the agreement stands. So it is a question of getting agreement with the land council, which is only the agent. It is like a solicitor entering into an agreement on behalf of a client without the client’s consent or contrary to the client’s instructions. That is the very thing that we are legalising for Aboriginals for the purpose of mining, and it is being made retrospective to January 1 977 in order to benefit the mining companies.
Tonight we heard Senator Teague, who is incapable of understanding the whole tradition of Aboriginal lands, say that only one elder can say that he was not consulted. Surely no one takes that seriously. But he is repeating only what the Minister said in a Press statement in reply to Dr Coombs’s condemnation of these proposals. No one has more sympathy and consideration or has done more work for the Aboriginal people than Dr Coombs. He points out definitely that Aboriginals are the owners. They are the ones who control their land. Not only must we have their consent but also we must talk to them as they want to be talked to. This Bill puts forward a proposal to have the consent of a group of people who have no say over tribal elders from within their communities.
When I was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs we set up town councils. I remember going to Wave Hill where we set up a town council under the direction of Aboriginal people to control the Wattie Creek area. They came to conclusions and put their views to us. which we thought were acceptable. They would go to old Vincent Lingiari, who was one of the greatest tribal elders I have come across, and ask him: ‘Is that all right?’ He would just say: ‘No’. That was the end of the matter. The Aboriginals are the owners. They are designated as the controllers of their land. They are to have that sacred land mined, drilled and ploughed up without having a say because some arrangement is to be made with a land council. A land council is their paid agent to carry out their tradition against their wishes and their expressions of opinion.
That is what this Bill is about. That is the intention of the Bill. Can anyone who has the interest of Aboriginals at heart, and who has the interest of fulfilling a promise to Aboriginals, ever agree with this legislation? I say without hestitanon that, contrary to the Bill which we discussed earlier today, this is not an attempt to get Aboriginal consensus, Aboriginal control or Aboriginal self-management. It states that Aboriginals can have control of such and such an area providing miners do not want it. If miners want it the Aboriginals have no say in the whole matter. That is what the Bill is about. That is why an amendment has been moved by the Opposition for the purpose of opposing the principles set out in the second reading speech.
I appeal to the Government with all the sincerity I can muster and say that this is the important element of our obligation and our promise- by the very enactment of this legislation which is being amended by this Government- to give land to Aboriginals. If the Government wants to see all its work destroyed and the repudiation of that promise now, it will carry this legislation as it is proposed.
– I enter this debate briefly to support the amendment moved by Senator Gietzelt. There is a temptation once again in speaking in a debate on Aboriginal land rights to go over all the arguments we have gone over before when debating land rights, not because these arguments have been put before, because they have been put before both in the chamber and outside, but because people both in this chamber and in the Northern Territory seem to have forgotten the basic element of land rights. I will resist the temptation because of the shortage of time available. Let me stress that arguments that we have put before are those that we would use again. These arguments have not changed and we take them in this debate as read. We have also had the great advantage of listening to Senator Jim Cavanagh ‘s contribution tonight. It was, as usual, outstanding as he gave us further background to remind us of the land rights of Aboriginal people. I will not attempt to go over the ground that he covered so well.
It is a great pity that only three members were sitting on the other side of the chamber to hear his outstanding contribution. Perhaps it is just as well that the proceedings are being broadcast as people who were listening were able to hear what was an outstanding contribution. It is interesting that the Northern Territory Government at present is introducing a Bill on land rights. On 2 1 April the Canberra Times stated that the Bill was aimed at solving the land rights conflict in the Northern Teritory. I shall read excerpts from the same article appearing in the Canberra Times which is headed: ‘NT seeks land “peacemaker” ‘. It states:
The Everingham Government is hoping that its proposal for an Aboriginal Land and National Parks Act will be a positive step towards removing contention and bitterness from Aboriginal land claims . . . The Draft Bill embodies measures to award lands to Aborigines through local boards, thereby giving them security of land titles in perpetuity under Northern Territory law . . . The new proposals include powers to established Aboriginal land and National Park boards in every area where clans have traditional occupation and use . . . Mining activities would be allowed on Aboriginal land under the alternative scheme only after written approval of the local board and with the approval of the Administrator.
Other points include plans for local boards to make bylaws covering regulation of fishing, use of firearms, hunting, pollution and littering.
The Opposition in the Northern Territory, which happens to be a Labor Party Opposition, did not oppose the Bill and will not oppose it. But a front bencher, Bob Collins, spokesman on Aboriginal affairs, objected to the suspension of Standing Orders so that the Government would remove the necessity for the Bill to lay on the table for one month. The idea of this regulation of course is, in the words of the Standing Order, to avoid hasty and ill-considered legislation’. It is the intention of the Northern Territory Government as I understand it to suspend Standing Orders and push this Bill through. Again 1 refer to the article appearing in the Canberra Times and to comments made by the Labor Party. The article states:
There is no advantage at all for Aborigines in all this haste- only advantage for the Government, Mr Collins said.
If the Government intended to follow the usual timetable, I would have accepted thai the Bill was a genuine attempt at a compromise proposal.
Because it intends to push the Bill through, I consider the move as simply a cynical political exercise for the forthcoming Assembly election . . . In an editorial, The Northern Territory News in Darwin said that Land Council chairman, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu was on record as saying that Aborigines were better off getting nothing from the Federal Government than nothing at all from the Territory Government.
Certainly the Everingham Government in the Northern Territory does not enjoy the support of the Aborigines in the Northern Territory. In an article appearing in the Australian on 16 February 1 980 it was stated:
A rift widened this week between the NT Government and territory Aborigines over land rights.
A recent Aboriginal conference endorsed a vote of no confidence in the Chief Minister, Mr Everingham, for opposing nearly every land rights claim presented to him.
The leaders of the Central and Northern Land councils later supported the motion accusing Mr Everingham of actively undermining the land rights movement . . . The chairman of the Northern Land Council, Mr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, slammed the Federal Government for ‘taking the guts out of Aboriginal land rights’ in moves to amend the legislation.
Of course, that brings us back to the comment by the Chairman of Northern Land Council on the present Bill. Without going into a great deal of detail I will make a few comments about the Bill. It is concerned with mining and with roads. That is the main thrust of the Bill. Some might say that it is understandably so. We in the Northern Territory see mining as important and roads, of course, are important to mining. As a side issue roads are important to others as well. One might ask: Is this the only section of the Act that needs amending? Is it that the Government does not see other sections as being important?
Possibly the people involved in other sections have not the same clout. An example is the provision of land rights for people on pastoral properties and in towns. After all, the Act is about land rights for Aborigines. Of course, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) will say that the Act deals only with unalienated land. Therefore one must put the question: What about land rights for people without claim or access to unalienated Crown land? I will not canvass that question at this stage. I simply raise this point to suggest that other areas need to be looked at.
I see that there is a problem in that we are providing white man’s solutions to black man’s problems. Of course, the obvious question is: What else can we do as white people? In answer to that question I would ask: Have we tried the Aboriginal way? Some most interesting experiments are being conducted in other sections of the law in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The Minister, of course, will say that the Aboriginal way is too protracted and wewhoever ‘we’ happen to be- need quick solutions. I noticed at a meeting of Estimates Committee D last week that additional funds were needed because there were no royalties from uranium. Despite the fact that we are told that we cannot program for anticipated expenditure, we can apparently program for anticipated solutions and for anticipated income. Obviously the Minister expected royalities. He expected some quick solutions. One might question the appropriateness of the decision, but obviously one can stress the point that he expected a quick solution to the problems- he expected the Aboriginal people to agree.
I refer honourable senators to another area of difficulty. It has been mentioned tonight that the Aboriginal people have recourse to the courts. I suppose that, with so many lawyers in Parliament, this is understandable. This is the way in which they would see the solution to the Aboriginal problems. I put the question: How many white people really understand the legal system? 1 suggest that only a few would and that fewer Aboriginals would understand it. I say that in no derogatory sense; obviously these people have a different background.
By suggesting, as Senator Teague did earlier, that everything would be all right, that .we need only to go back to the courts, we are delivering our Aboriginal people into the hands of lawyers. I suggest that this is neither appropriate nor desirable. Again, the Minister will say: ‘What else can we do?’ My reply to the Minister would be: ‘If we are dinkum, then try the Aboriginal way’. Certainly it will take time, it will require discussions and it will-require complete honesty and integrity. I suggest that we bring to these discussions, if we have them, what the Aboriginal people bring.
I have spoken before in this place about allegations from Aboriginal communities that politicians who visit their communities say one thing there and another thing in Parliament. We certainly cannot have this sort of thing happening. We also cannot have this constant change of mind that politicians seem to have. As members of the Government go round the communities- I am not pinpointing anyone in particular- they seem to change their minds. Each time they go, something different is offered. They seem to follow the Churchillian dictum of reserving the right to change their minds to suit the exigencies of the moment. This attitude might be all right in Westminster and it might be all right in Canberra, but it is certainly not all right amongst the Aboriginal people.
A party, including the former Prime Minister, Mr Gough Whitlam, visited a number of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory last weekend. They spent two days in the Centre and two days in the Top End. They had a range of discussions covering matters such as Aboriginal land rights and other matters. A great deal of concern was shown by Aboriginal people at the piece of legislation which we are discussing tonight. I will try very briefly, because I think a good deal of what I have to say has already been covered by my colleagues, to express, as I always do, the point of view of the Aboriginal people. I think it is now quite clear to the Minister from the information that comes to him that the amendments that he is putting forward are against the express wish of all the land councils.
-The Minister says no. My information, which is as late as last weekend, is that that is so. Aboriginal people feel that there should be no amendments until the Northern Territory Government announces which roads would be declared, and then the groups would consider that and make their decisions. The Aboriginal people feel that, as it is their land, they should have the say. As I have made the point before, the Aboriginal people do not want to see the land closed off- they are quite happy to see people moving through the land- but they have some fears. I think the Minister and his advisers would agree that the greatest fear they have is in regard to the road to Gove, a road that moves through an area of great significance.
I have read before in this place the comments of Aboriginal people about the need to have rangers on roads in the Northern Territory. I think that the attitude of the Aboriginal people is a realistic one. We can see it is realistic if we are prepared to accept the significance of sacred sites, if we honestly believe what we say when we say that the land is theirs. I fear that many on the Government side still support the view put forward by Mr Nixon ten years ago. In 1970- that is, three years after we had our 1967 referendum- he had this to say:
The Government believes that it is wholly wrong to encourage Aboriginals to think that because their ancestors have had a long association with a particular piece of land, Aboriginals of the present day have the right to demand ownership of it 1 think that attitude prevails among some of the people who sit in the two chambers at present. It is no good people saying, as has been hinted on the other side of the chamber, that Australians can go anywhere in the rest of Australia but not in the Northern Territory. We cannot go onto land which belongs to private people. We cannot move through station properties unless the owners give their approval. Of course, they ask as a common courtesy that we respect the land. That sort of respect is not always given, and permission is often withdrawn. Aboriginal people must have the same rights. Every week in the Northern Territory newspapers there are trespass notices denying access for people to move across land. Much of this land- the land to which we as Australians are denied access- is owned by foreigners; it is not owned by Australians.
Recently, I had to make representations to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory about whether people who, for many years, had moved along the road to a fishing spot could again have access to it, and the answer was: ‘It is private property. The owner has every right to shut the gate and keep you out even though you have gone along that road to your fishing spot for 30 to 40 years’. Remember that the roads we are talking about are not sealed highways. After the action of the Northern Territory in extending town boundaries, many of the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory feel that they cannot trust the Northern Territory Government. 1 come back to the point: Let us have discussions with the Aboriginal people but let us have this discussion with real honesty and integrity. There must not be agreement without consultation. We have seen the comment by Galarrwuy Yunupingu which I read earlier that the Bill is taking the guts out of land rights. He sees the need for consultation with the appropriate people and, of course, the appropriate people are the traditional owners in the Northern Territory. Land councils were not elected to make this sort of decision. They have a role, but it is not this one. They accept that this is not their role. Ownership and management of land, as indicated by my colleague Senator Cavanagh, is clearly delineated. The people to contact do not sit on the land councils. The land council itself is the contractor or the mediator.
I put the point that there is little danger in this Bill if the land councils are strong, if they can insist on full consultation, if they will not be railroaded and if individual officers will not crumble. But I ask: Is this realistic? The members of the land councils are ordinary, fallible human beings like you and I. Whites are weak and whites are corruptible. Blacks can be assumed to be the same under the same sorts of pressures. Legislation must take account of this factor. It cannot assume intangibles like good nature and it cannot rest on the assumption that people- even Ministers- will do the right thing. They have not always done the right thing and governments have not always done the right thing. Given the nature of man and given the exigency of the moment they may not do so in this regard.
I put it to the Minister that he should heed the voice of the Aboriginal people, as he did with the
Aboriginal Development Commission Bill. Objections have been raised by the Northern Land Council, by the people at Oenpelli, by those vitally involved and by outstanding public figures. The Opposition has also raised objections in the way open to it. I ask the Minister to heed these objections and react to them. I commend the amendment to the Senate.
– Once again we have had a fairly wide-ranging debate on the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill which is before the Senate. That debate has, as is usual in this place, varied in both tone and content. I welcome most of the contributions which have been made on the Bill. They have been very serious contributions on a matter which is of very deep concern to many honourable senators, namely, the operation of the Federal land rights legislation in the Northern Territory.
I should like to advert to a key point in the speech which was made by Senator Kilgariff, a speech which was unfortunately constantly interrupted. But I believe he made a point of some importance. The point to which I wanted to advert arising out of Senator Kilgariff’s comments was that this is a very sensitive area. I think the viewpoint which Senator Kilgariff put forward was reflected in the very much more moderate contribution made by Senator Robertson to the two debates we have had in this chamber on Aboriginal affairs today, as against the contributions of some of his colleagues. I say, with very great respect, that that moderation reflects the fact that both Senator Robertson and Senator Kilgariff live within the community about which we are legislating, a community that is roughly threequarter non-Aboriginal and one-quarter Aboriginal, a community which since 1976 has seen a very substantial shift in power and influence into the hands of the Aboriginal community, a shift which was affected by the 1976 legislation.
The position with respect to land in the Northern Territory now is that approximately 26 per cent of the Territory is Aboriginal land. Under the 1976 legislation, something over one-quarter of the Territory has become Aboriginal land, held under a freehold title for the use and benefit of the Aboriginal traditional owners, a development which I think most honourable senators would welcome. It is a fact that about 1 6 per cent of the Territory is under claim. For as long as I remain Minister I will be receiving reports from the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Northern Territory. It is not for me to say what proportion of those claims will succeed. We know from the claims that have been heard to date that a very substantial number have succeeded. We can expect therefore, that substantial additional areas will become Aboriginal land. So we have a situation in which in a very few years there has been a very substantial shift of economic power and influence. That is something which I welcome because I believe that in the historical sense one of the great difficulties that Aboriginals have faced is that they have been without any economic base and therefore they have been in a very weak position.
It does not need a very close observation to note that the process of change which is occurring in the Northern Territory is not without strain and difficulty. In the main the Aboriginal people are going through a process of social change which is likely to continue for generations. Whatever direction the Aboriginal people choose to follow, it is likely that they will be in a situation of change and hence of some stress for many years to come. The white Australian community in the Northern Territory is learning to live by a different set of rules and that in itself is likely to induce some strain.
I believe that, for the sorts of ‘reasons which were in part touched upon by Senator Evans when he spoke in the adjournment debate the other night about the strains and stresses suffered by a particular individual, the plea for moderation which was made by Senator Kilgariff tonight in common with the plea for bipartisanship which was made by his Northern Territory colleague, Senator Robertson, in the debate earlier today, are pleas that all honourable senators” ought to pay some heed to. That does not mean that there will not be disputes in this chamber. Senator Robertson has made a number of points tonight in which he indicated that he is in disagreement with what the Government is doing. I respect his right and indeed his duty to do that in areas where he thinks that is the case. I am not making a plea for bland unanimity in this chamber. What I do make a very clear request for is that tone of contribution which, I believe, was affected by the honourable senators whom I have mentioned and which I think was appropriate in this difficult area.
This Bill affects a number of matters under the Aboriginal land rights legislation. I think we can say that one of those is completely uncontentious That relates to the clarification of the position with respect to the ownership of minerals on Aboriginal land. It has always been the understanding of this Parliament, of the Government, I believe of the Northern Territory Government and of anybody else who was interested in the subject that minerals would be the property of the Crown, the non-uranium group minerals being the property of the Northern Territory Crown and uranium and associated minerals being the property of the Crown and the right of the Commonwealth. This Bill clarifies that point about which some doubts were raised following the issue of the initial titles under the land rights legislation. That is, I understand, non-contentious and is simply clearing up what was perhaps a piece of untidyness. The other two areas, the area of the roads which affects the registration of titles and the amendments which affect agreements made with miners, are matters which have given rise to some contention both in this chamber and outside it. I would like to make some comments on the points which have been made in the debate tonight.
With respect to the question of the registration of titles, I was required last week to make a supplementary statement because I received a message from the Northern Land Council advising me that it and other land councils were opposed to the proposed solution to that particular problem. As I advised Senator Gietzelt during the dinner break, I have since had a message from the Central Land Council indicating that it is in agreement with changes of the sort which are envisaged by this legislation, with respect to the titles and the question of roads. The Northern Land Council despite some rather mixed messages which I have received, has sent me a message confirming its opposition. But the position is again slightly different from the position which I indicated last week.
I was a little disappointed, however, at the statement which was issued by the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs following the statement that I made last week because, among other things, Mr West said:
Last night Senator Chaney admitted that his statement that the land council had agreed to support the Bills was untrue.
That is not quite correct. What I said was that my advice to a certain point had been that the councils had agreed. I had received a message the previous day that they disagreed and I immediately put that fact before the Senate, as of course I must. I am advised now that the Central Land Council does agree, the Northern Land Council disagrees, and I am left in some doubt as to just what is the true position. I have not made any statement that my original statement was untrue. What I have advised is that I have now received some conflicting advice on that particular point. Mr West also said that there was an amazing breakdown between the Minister and his Department. 1 find that a little curious because on this particular issue there has been very close contact between me and my Department. What Mr West might have said was that there has been some breakdown in communication between me and my Department and the land councils. But to suggest in some way that honourable senators can get out of my statement an inference that communications between my Department and me are defective is something that I find very puzzling.
The third suggestion he made with which I take issue is that the Bill be withdrawn to allow proper consultation with Aboriginal communities. The fact that the question that was raised affects something which has been under discussion with the land councils since at least last March, I think, does away with any suggestion that there has been a failure to have proper consultation. In fact there has been extensive consultation. The legislation was delayed to enable the Northern Land Council to proceed with its consultation with Aboriginal communities. I do suggest again that that is a fairly harsh interpretation. To suggest also that I wished to delay the Bill to cover my embarrassment, which is another of Mr West’s statements, is a little odd when I can advise the Senate that I gave Senator Gietzelt the option of dealing with the Bill last week or having it adjourned for one week. I offered the adjournment on the basis that he was entitled to have time to consider the matters that I was telling him about, if he wished. All these points might be regarded as relatively minor but I think they reflect a rather careless approach to the subject which I do not think is helpful to the Opposition, the Government or the Aboriginal people.
The problem with the roads issue is that titles were issued by the Commonwealth Government which excluded certain roads, as the Act required. When the titles were presented for registration, it was refused because the Northern Territory Government argued that additional roads should have been excluded. We were in a position where the Aboriginal land councils and the Commonwealth Government took the view that the appropriate roads had been excluded. The Northern Territory Government took the view that additional roads should be excluded. I conferred with all the parties on that dispute because the Aboriginal people made various representations to me that they wanted their titles to be registered, although I was able to assure them that notwithstanding the non-registration, the titles were valid. But they sought registration and we met to see how registration could be achieved. The suggested solution which is set out in the Press release which was issued by all the parties to those discussions on 1 7 March last year put forward a proposition which did not solve the problem but which simply suggested that the titles should be registered and that the parties should then proceed to seek a solution to the problem. The present position is that if the land councils or the Northern Territory Government wish to assert their own point of view, they can do so by going to the courts and seeking either a declaration or some other form of remedy which will clarify the position.
At our conference in Darwin it was suggested that the Aboriginal people would be able to settle this issue with the Northern Territory Government by discussion, but the view was also put at that conference that no discussions would take place unless and until the titles were registered. A proposition was put forward that the titles should be issued in a form which did not require the identification of specific roads, and if the parties subsequently could not agree which roads should have been excluded, then they could go to the courts exactly as they can do now. That is precisely the pattern that is proposed by this legislation. It simply removes the requirement that roads be specifically excluded, it permits titles to be issued which exclude roads in general terms and it permits any of the parties to go to the courts if they are unable to agree which roads are to be excluded. So there is not a diminution of rights under the legislation. There is simply a shift in the point at which if one cannot agree one litigates the matter. That is the position with respect to roads.
As far as any suggestion that there should be further consultation is concerned, I take the view that there has already been extensive consultation which has involved me on two occasions in lengthy meetings in Darwin, lt has also involved my officers in meetings. There has been consultation at various levels and I believe that it is important that we get to the point where a solution is found. One can go on consulting perhaps forever on these things, without arriving at a solution. What is proposed by this legislation will not diminish Aboriginal or Northern Territory Government rights, it will simply shift the point of argument, if there is going to be an argument. For that reason the Government believes that this legislation should be put forward. At my meeting in Darwin in, I think, October, when I met with all the parties again in the presence of their solicitors, I made it quite clear that it was the intention of the Commonwealth Government to proceed with this legislation unless points were made which demonstrated that by doing so we would be diminishing the rights of the land councils or of the Aboriginal people. I have to say that I have received no communication from the land councils since that meeting which would indicate to me that there has been any such diminution. In a Press release in February I again indicated that I would be proceeding with the legislation and it cannot be claimed that there has been any lack of notice or consultation with the communities on this matter.
I think Senator Robertson raised the point about his concern over urgent legislation being introduced by the Northern Territory Government with respect to a compromise proposal that that Government has to try to deal with certain land claims in the Northern Territory. I have sought advice on that because the information given by Senator Robertson is not the same as the information I have. My advice is that the Northern Territory Aboriginal Lands and National Parks Bill, which was the Bill to which he referred, has not been introduced in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and will not be introduced unless and until the relevant land council consents to the legislation. That legislation has gone through the process of consultation with the land councils, which is, I think, in precisely the form that we would want to see. It has been put forward as a solution which ought to be consensual. I have put the Commonwealth view that it is an acceptable solution if there is genuine agreement between the Aboriginals concerned and the Northern Territory Government that it is a solution that they want. As I understand it the matter still rests on the basis of its being considered by the relevant Aboriginal people, the land councils and traditional owners and no final agreement has been reached. There does appear to be something of a crossed line in this but my clear understanding is that the legislation is not to be proceeded with unless and until there is agreement.
The legislation which was scheduled to be introduced today was different. That was the complementary legislation which provides for permits on roads. It is complementary legislation which was promised in the agreement of March 1979. 1 think there has been some confusion between two quite different pieces of legislation. The Northern Territory Government has simply agreed to legislate to ensure that there is control by permit of roads which are not part of Aboriginal land but which pass through Aboriginal land and which are excluded from the titles by agreements under this legislation. That is a rather technical explanation, but the point is that the legislation to which Senator Robertson referred relates to permits to enter, and not legislation relating to Aboriginal lands and national parks, which is under negotiation between the Northern Territory Government and the relevant land councils and land owners.
The last, and I suppose the most vexed, area of this legislation relates to the question of agreements. We had a powerful speech made by Senator Cavanagh tonight. It was made with great spirit and with a devotion to the principle of Aboriginal land rights with which we are familiar in this chamber and which I think we all respect. I assure him that what is being done here is not seen, by the Government at any rate, as a fundamental breach of the principles which we embraced in 1976. 1 remind the Senate that the land rights legislation maintains the Aboriginal right of veto over mining development in all those cases, other than those where there are existing mining interests; an exception which was contained in the 1976 legislation. Existing mining interests are subject only to negotiation as to terms and conditions. New mining interests are subject to an effective Aboriginal veto. That Aboriginal veto can only be overruled by the Government proclaiming it to be in the national interest, and that proclamation is subject to parliamentary disallowance. I give the Senate the clear assurance that no change is contemplated in that scheme of things. We are dealing with the situation of what is to happen when there is an agreement with respect to mining on Aboriginal land. At the moment we have three examples of that if Gove is taken into account. But two have been affected since the 1976 legislation. There are the Ranger arrangements and the Queensland Mines Ltd mine at Nabarlek. We have a situation where both of those projects were entitled to proceed under the legislation. They were subject to agreements being reached on the terms and conditions of mining, and agreements have been reached.
Notwithstanding that some criticisms have been made about the Ranger agreement, which I reject, I have heard no suggestion that the Nabarlek agreement was entered into other than at the very clearly expressed wishes of the traditional owners concerned. My first contact with the Northern Land Council was when I was telephoned by its chairman and told that I had to sign the agreement the next day because the traditional owners were demanding it. That was in December 1978. The agreement was not signed until March 1979 after all the requirements of the Act had been met. The people concerned insisted that that agreement should be signed. I received a telegram from the Oenpelli Council urging me to expedite the completion of the agreement.
The problem that we are dealing with in this legislation is simply this: An agreement can be open to challenge at any time on the basis of some defect in the consultative requirements under the Act. So we get into the extraordinary situation where agreements can be made which can require massive capital expenditure of perhaps tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars and where it is impossible to demonstrate that the agreement has a solid legal framework which can be relied upon. The legislation essentially is simply there to remove that doubt. Just as section 19 of the Act required that agreements which alienated land should become binding when made, this legislation will require agreements which are made with miners to be binding once made.
The Act retains its provision which requires consultation and the consent of the traditional owners. That aspect is not touched. What is touched is the ability of people who claim to be or are Aboriginal traditional owners or are persons affected to go behind the agreement subsequent to its being entered into. To deal with the fact that that is a possible removal of a right, we are also putting forward an amendment which puts an obligation on the Minister to satisfy himself that the requirements of consultation have been met. So that additional safeguard has been added. If there is to be any form of development on Aboriginal land- I acknowledge the thesis put forward by Senator Cavanagh that perhaps many Aboriginals will not want and will not consent to it- it simply is not possible to have an arrangement where the agreement cannot be relied upon. In the essential connecting points between Aboriginal land and the rest of the community and the rest of the economy there has to be some point of certainty. It is to ensure that point of certainty that this legislation has been introduced. I hope it will be passed by this Parliament.
I close by saying that there is no lack of any commitment on this side of the Parliament to Aboriginal land rights. What is important, however, is that we have a system of Aboriginal land rights which can be seen to operate effectively and not to give rise to situations which simply bring the whole concept of land rights into some form of disrepute. The system has to work for the Aboriginal people and for the rest of the community when it comes into contact with Aboriginal land and the Aboriginal owners of Aboriginal land. I believe that if we genuinely want to see an extension of land rights around Australia it is important that we ensure that the operation of the Northern Territory legislation is practical and sensible and works in the best interests of the community and can be seen to act in that manner. That means taking into account community interests as well as the very special interests of Aboriginals which are so much the concern of this Senate.
I ask that there be a sensible and moderate approach to these matters. I believe it is in the interests of Aboriginals that that should be so. I believe that if we pursue that course we will not only look after the interests of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory but also we will be assisted in advancing the interests of Aboriginal people in the other States of Australia who still await some of the developments which have occurred in the Northern Territory.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I enter the debate at the Committee stage for the purpose of trying to clarify the argument I put which was somewhat demolished by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Chaney, who posed the question about what would happen when it was found an agreement which concerned the investment of many millions of dollars was open to challenge at any time. That is white man’s law and relates to a white man’s court. The right of a mining company which is prospecting on land at any time in any place can be challenged for reasons which the applicant thinks are justified. These challenges are not made because of the belief that they will not succeed.
A mining company entering into an agreement with a land council would know that there could be no successful challenge against its right to mine if the terms of the legislation which give the land councils the right to enter into an agreement were observed and carried out. We know, from the build-up of case law, what would happen if an attempt was made to challenge the decision of the court. There would be no hope of a successful challenge. There would be no danger that the right to mine would be taken away. The same thing happens under white man’s law at present. I think it was admitted in the Minister’s reply at the second reading stage that the agreement concerning Ranger was in doubt. There is some doubt as to whether the owners were consulted by the land council and whether the owners actually knew what was contained in the mining agreement. Therefore, one could say that the agreement was an illegal action by the land council, that the land council did not operate in accordance with sub-section 23 (3) of the Act and therefore that it was at fault. The mining company which entered into the agreement was obviously at fault by not assuring itself that the land council had carried out its obligations under the Act.
There is no danger to mining companies as long as they are satisfied that all the requirements under the Act that permit them to mine are carried out. Some doubt exists as to whether the conditions of the Act were carried out at Ranger. A challenge was made before a court at the time. We have legislation to make provisions retrospective to January 1977, to cover the actions of a land council which did not act in accordance with the legislation. We are justifying the land council’s non-observance of the legislation. This legislation is concerned only with protecting the interests of the mining companies. It will provide that such things will not happen in the future and that there can be no successful challenges concerning past agreements in which one party did not carry out the decision of Parliament. The argument falls flat that the mining companies would be hesitant to enter into agreement if there was some doubt about a challenge. There is always a doubt. There is always a possibility that a mining company, wherever it is mining, will act upon the assumption that its rights and obligations are now well established in case law. I am fairly sure that, in entering into the agreement, those rights and obligations would be met, so there is no possibility of a challenge being successful.
– I wish to raise a matter very briefly. I acknowledge that I have not heard the whole debate on this Bill and it may well be that this matter was canvassed in the course of the debate. The matter relates to clause 2 (2) of the Bill, which concerns the retrospective application of this legislation and its application in such a way as clearly to deny the rights at law of certain classes of people who otherwise would have an opportunity to challenge the terms of this legislation and who in fact did have such a challenge in train. I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) to indicate how it is that a government which in other contexts has been so passionate in defending the principle of non-restrospectivity is able to salve its conscience with this clause, which in fact extends the denial of rights of litigation in respect of this matter by virtue of that clause, which will give operation to this Bill all the way back to 26 January 1977.
- Senator Cavanagh has really repeated a number of the arguments which were raised in the second reading debate. I would like to clarify one point. In my reply to the second reading debate I did not admit doubt about Ranger; I admitted that doubts about Ranger had been raised. I draw that distinction. With respect to the rights of parties which are entering into agreements, those parties do retain a right of challenge before the court if, for example, a group of Aboriginal people feel that they are not being consulted when they should be consulted. There is that opportunity for them to go to the courts at any time before an agreement is approved by the land council and the Minister.
The point that Senator Cavanagh was making was that there was no necessity for this provision because, provided the provisions of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act are met, there can be no challenge. I simply ask Senator Cavanagh to place himself in the position of a contracting party. How would he ensure that the provisions of the Act had been carried out? The Act requires a contracting party to deal with the land council. The same pattern was provided for in the Australian Labor Party legislation. The contracting parties are not to deal direct with the land owners; they are to deal with the land council. It is the land council ‘s obligation to deal with the traditional owners. Therefore, the outside contracting party, the miner, deals with the owners through an agent. That is required by the Act. Indeed, I think it is an offence for them to act to the contrary. There is no register of owners. There is no way in which the miners can find out whether they are complying with the requirements of the Act other than by dealing with the land council.
Senator Cavanagh said that there is always a doubt in these commercial transactions. If a per- i son is contracting for a mining interest, normally that person can remove the doubts by searching the company register, the mining register and the land register to ascertain quite clearly who. he is dealing with, , the title of the .person he. is dealing with as to the asset that they purport to be contracting about and so on. There are various ways of guaranteeing legal certainty that the person concerned is dealing validly with the person who is entitled to deal. In the case of this legislation, that person is forced to deal with the land council. There is no way of going behind the land council to check. So if that person is to have that sort of certainty, which he has to have to borrow large sums of money and to commit large sums of capital, at some point that person must be able to rely on having a firm agreement. I think that is a situation which is unarguable and to which some regard has to be paid.
Senator Evans raised a question in respect of clause 2 of the Bill and the retrospective operation of the legislation. The matter of retrospectivity always has to be examined carefully. In this case the Government believes that in the interests of ensuring that the Act operates as it was intended to act, it is justified in ensuring that these provisions operate from January 1977. Hence, these provisions will apply to all agreements entered into under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, either before or after this Bill is enacted.
– I thank the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Chaney) for his reply and his efforts to justify what I think is an unjustifiable situation. Firstly, if I said that there were doubts in the Minister’s mind concerning Ranger, I stand corrected. The Minister said that doubts were expressed about Ranger, but he seemed to convey that they were not his doubts. I would have thought that any doubts held about the Ranger agreement would be doubts which the Minister had as to whether a legal agreement existed. That that is the case is verified by the retrospectivity of this legislation. That provision will ensure that the agreement is legal. It will cover the whole point.
On the other point, a mining company could enter into an agreement to mine my land. First, that company, through my solicitor, could go through a lot of land files, et cetera, to determine who was the rightful owner of the land. Of course, my solicitor could easily enter into an agreement on my behalf contrary to my instructions. If he did so, I do not think he would long be acceptable to me as my solicitor. Nevertheless, that is possible. In this case the role of the solicitor or lawyer is played by the land council. The land council could- possibly in its initial stages it might have a tendency to do so- express its views rather than the views of its client when entering into an agreement. Under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act, the clients of the land council are the owners. Under that Act, the names of all the owners are registered. The commissioner responsible for granting land rights would state in his report that today there are 200 owners. He would state the names of the owners of the land. Those names are available to a mining company if that company doubts the honesty and sincerity of the agent for the owners, which is the land council, just as they are if it were to doubt the honesty and sincerity of the lawyer I engaged to represent me in such a case. I do not see any difference between those two situations.
The question is whether the mining company concerned has confidence in the land council. If the mining company had that confidence it could then safely enter into an agreement knowing that there had been discussion with the owners and that the owners knew what that mining would mean to them. But if the mining company had some doubt- I would say that a successful prosecution or court action to stop the mining because the requirements of the Act had not been fulfilled would create doubt- it would seek in the future to get an agency other than the land council to act for it in dealing with the land owners before it entered into an agreement with the land council as required under the Act. I see no difference between that situation and the situation which exists in respect of mining ventures in southern Australia at present. I can see no justification for introducing this legislation other than to make the position of mining companies secure if they can get the consent of the land council, which does not have the right to state what should be done on land owned by someone else.
– I cannot add very much more to what I have said previously, but I pick up the parallel that Senator Cavanagh has used. Just as he said that a lawyer will not last long as a lawyer if he behaves in the way Senator Cavanagh indicated, nor will the Northern Land Council last very long as a land council if it behaves in the way Senator Cavanagh indicated. They are subject to much the same sort of discipline, namely that they can be dealt with by their clients. There is the additional safeguard of the fundamental democratic control of the land council. There is a difference between a normal European-style domestic or other commercial transaction and a transaction of the Land Council. That was underlined by the contributions of Opposition senators tonight who have talked about the Aboriginal way. What the land councils and the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Teritory) Act provide is a Western legal umbrella for an Aboriginal system. Once we get behind the Western legal umbrella we get into a situation where the Aboriginals themselves have to sort out just what the rights are.
Although, in the case of claims in respect of unalienated Crown land which are brought before the Land Commissioner, it is true that he is presented with a list of owners, the honourable senator will know that for Schedule 1 land such lists do not exist at this stage. There is no undefeasible register. I do not believe that 1 can take the point any further. Senator Cavanagh has made it quite clear that as a matter of principle he does not accept that the amendment we propose should be made. Therefore, I think the matter has to rest as one on which there is a difference in the principle which is put forward. I regret that the difference exists but it seems to me, on the basis of the debate we have had, that it is inevitable.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Chaney) read a third time.
– I draw honourable senators’ attention to the retirement due to illhealth of Mr Edmund Joseph Donnelly from the position of Secretary of the Joint House Department.
Mr Donnelly was appointed to the parliamentary service early in 1 979 and I believe the Parliament was very fortunate in having the service, short though it has been, of a man of his calibre, experience and good humour. Prior to his appointment to the Joint House Department, Mr Donnelly served Australia in many areas, commencing in 1945 with the Royal Australian Air Force and subsequently as a Commonwealth public servant in the Taxation Office, the Department of Territories, the Department of the Treasury and as Chief Auditor, Canberra.
I know I speak for all honourable senators when 1 say we will miss him. We acknowledge his valuable contribution to the working of the Parliament and wish him and Mrs Donnelly a long and happy retirement together.
-Yesterday Senator Grimes asked me several questions concerning the resignation of Mr Stewart Harris from the Parliamentary Library, and I undertook to obtain replies. I have now been informed as follows:
The first was the subject of Senator Missen ‘s question which was answered yesterday. The second related to claims that the paper which he had prepared on Afghanistan had been improperly delayed by the administration. He said that it was ready for the administration’s approval by 18 February but was not approved until 22 February. In fact the paper was never formally approved for release since it was unanimously agreed by the senior officers involved, including the director pf the group, that it had not been competently prepared.
-by leave-Mr President, I wish to express my concern about and disappointment with the answer that you have given to the question I asked in the Senate yesterday on the resignation of Mr Harris. I point out that without producing any evidence you have charged Mr Harris with a very serious offence, namely, that he made improper use of the Parliamentary Library’s resources and made a false statement on the matter to the Permanent Head of the Department of the Parliamentary Library. I believe it is absolutely crucial- I said this in the preface to my question yesterday- that members of the Parliament are able to obtain information from the Library and Library officers which is factual and well-researched. We should be able to obtain such information regardless of the effect it may have on political groups on Parliament, no matter how embarrassing it may be to the government or the opposition of the day.
I give an example: When the Labor Party was in government and I sat on the other side of the chamber, a decision was made to give de jure recognition to the Soviet Union’s jurisdiction over the Baltic states. I went to the Library and sought a paper on the subject because I did not know much about the Baltic states, the Russian takeover of those states and our recognition of that takeover. I received a well-researched and factual paper. I made no bones about the fact at the time that it was embarrassing to the Government of the day of which I was a supporter. I did not go screaming to the Parliamentary Librarian, the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, nor did I get a Minister in my Government to write a letter to the Parliamentary Librarian complaining about the document because it was embarrassing to the Government of which I was a supporter.
– Who has said that happened?
– That has happened now. Senator Walters should make no bones about it.
– You prove that.
-I will. To get the information we require we need men and women of skill, experience, knowledge and trust in the Parliamentary Library. I defy Government senators- Senators Walters in particular- to say anything to the contrary when I say that Mr Stewart Harris is such a man. He has had the trust, the knowledge and the skill, as has his superior, Mr Dunn, who has also been in some difficulties in recent times. Mr Harris is and has been a distinguished journalist in the Press gallery. He was a representative of the London Times for some 16 years. He is a scholar, a man considered to have great knowledge of international affairs, and great knowledge about and compassion for the Aborigines of this country. As such, Mr Harris ruffled the feathers of some people in the Government- in fact, of some people in the Parliament. His superior, Mr Dunn, was a man of similar knowledge and compassion who had a personal interest in the affairs of Timor and, as such, he ruffled the feathers of members of the Government and of the Opposition.
All honourable senators should be disturbed at what has happened to these men in the last few weeks. We are told by you, Mr President, that Mr Harris resigned because there was a possibility he would be charged with the improper use of the Library’s facilities and for making a false statement to the senior librarian. I, and I believe everyone in this Parliament, would be anxious to know whether Mr Harris or his senior, Mr Dunn, was at any time approached by the Parliamentary Librarian or, more importantly, by yourself or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and informed of the likelihood of such a charge; whether either of those men was presented with any evidence that such a charge may be laid; and whether they had the opportunity to refute such charges. If that was not done, an injustice has occurred in this case.
This is a statement which quite unjustly condemns Mr Harris without giving him the opportunity to reply. The Parliamentary Library is a department of this Parliament and the Parliament needs to know what processes have been used in laying such charges; whether such charges were to be laid; whether the person who it is alleged was going to be charged was informed about this subject; or whether this is just a statement from the Parliamentary Librarian to you Mr President and to the Speaker. If that is all it is, it is quite unsatisfactory. I have no detailed knowledge on the matter of the answer to Senator Missen ‘s question on the Freedom of Information Bill and to the second related claim on the paper on Afghanistan, but I understand some others in this Parliament have detailed knowledge and have considerable concerns about the answers given to those matters. Mr President, I find paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of the answer entirely unsatisfactory. They are as unsatisfactory as the first part of your answer. You say:
The vacancy caused by Mr Harris’ resignation has been advertised.
You then say that the decision has been taken to make it a two-year appointment in the first instance and that this was a considered decision because of a major review being conducted in the Library. You then go on to state:
Any suggestion that such a situation could be used to exert pressure on Mr Harris’s successor is entirely without foundation.
How that last sentence can be used in that bald way with the expectation that people in this Parliament will accept it is quite beyond me. The appointment of senior officers in the Librarypeople of skill, independence of mind and scholastic ability- on such a short tenure is an open invitation for pressure to be applied by the Parliamentary Librarian, the Presiding Officers, or the government of the day. Pressure could be applied to an officer to toe the line as far as policy is concerned in the papers he produces, and to toe the line as far as the view of the government of the day is concerned, or his contract will not be renewed. Of course, the suggestion reasonably can be made that such a situation can be used to exert pressure on Mr Harris’s successor or on anyone else in the Library who is appointed under such a situation. My concern is that the people we need, with skill, experience and knowledge, will not apply for a job with such short tenure for the very reason that they may be put under that pressure.
This answer, I suggest, is completely unsatisfactory. I suggest the answer has been given to you, Mr President, by someone who was closely involved in the problems occurring in the Library in the last few weeks- problems which involve two senior men, respected, and publicly acknowledged to be respected, by members on both sides of this Parliament. The answer is not good enough. We do not know the whole story of what has been happening in the Library. As parliamentarians we should know what is happening in the Library. Such a bland two-page statement putting forward very serious charges against a senior respected member of this community is not satisfactory to me. I can assure you, Mr President, that it will not be satisfactory to anyone on this side of the House and it should not be satisfactory to any member of this chamber.
-by leave-With all due respect to you, Mr President, the answer which you have just put down is a scandalous exercise in character assassination of a kind which would not be tolerated in this chamber were it to be used on one member of Parliament by another. I make the point that this is a scandalous exercise in character assassination, with a great deal of sincerity and with the utmost respect for your own role in this affair which, I am prepared to assume, is no more than that of a conduit of the Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Weir. Mr Harris, of course, is not present in this chamber and able to speak for and defend himself. It falls to others as a result to do the best we can to put a case on his behalf, albeit a case that has to be mounted at very short notice indeed.
There are matters in the answer which you have put down, Mr President, which demand answer either because, on their face, documents which have already been tabled or produced in this Parliament are manifestly inaccurate or a distortion of the truth or, alternatively, because, in respect of statements that are made in the course of this answer, there are points which are the subject of counter-evidence, counter answers, and form another side of the story. It is proper that that other side of the story, I think, be put to this chamber. I believe that that other side of the story will, when the facts are fully known, have a substantially greater credibility than the account of this affair that is embodied in this answer.
Might I begin with the second paragraph of the statement which suggests that Mr Harris did not resign ‘because he believed the Library administration had come between the staff of the Library and the members of Parliament’. He resigned rather ‘because he knew that there was a possibility that he would be charged for improper use of the Library’s resources and for making a false statement on the matter to the Permanent Head of the Department’. Let it be clear for the record, lest there be any temptation to have fanciful ideas about the extent of this impropriety, that what is involved here is a charge that in the course of the preparation of his book on the Aboriginal Treaty, Mr Harris made use of the services of certain typists from the Library’s legislative research service pool; no more and no less than that. Mr Harris’s own answer, as I understand it, to this allegation is that he did indeed request the typists in the Parliamentary Library pool to help him out with the preparation of his manuscript. What he explicitly and unequivocally said to them was that he wished them to do this only in their own time and to the extent that they had spare time available when they were not otherwise occupied by official Library duties. That, as I understand it, is Mr Harris’s position and the position which he will be perfectly prepared to verify in any way that is open to him. So let that be said.
Let the other answer to this allegation be that which was, in fact, suggested by Senator Grimes. It is my understanding that at no stage was Mr Harris, or his superior officer, Mr Dunn, told that any charge would be laid against Mr Harris in respect of this alleged offence. That is all it was- a matter of the alleged misuse of the typing resources by having a manuscript typed up in the typists ‘ own time, at Mr Harris ‘s wish.
– Order! It being 1 1 p.m., in conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the negative.
– It does not appear that any actual suggestion was made directly to Mr Harris or to his superior that any charge would be laid in respect of this matter. It appears that this is simply a matter of character demolition by innuendo, a small matter of the kind that arises in the administration of any department and may well be the cause of misunderstandings between superior and junior officers being blown up out of all proportion, and in this case represented as a major exercise in almost criminality on the part of Mr Harris. There is absolutely no justification, as I understand the facts, for any reading of the situation being put in those terms, nor is there any justification for the suggestion that Mr Harris had some knowledge that a charge was pending in respect of the matter.
I come now to the next part of your answer, Mr President, in which it is suggested that Mr Harris was quite without foundation in making the charges or allegations or in offering the examples he did about, first of all, the freedom of information reading list and, secondly, the paper on Afghanistan. In respect of the freedom of information issue, Mr Harris did make some suggestions that the presentation of a reading list had been delayed by the senior parliamentary officers and not made available to the Parliament. In respect of that, Mr President, your reply tonight said that this matter had been dealt with yesterday in your answer to Senator Missen ‘s question on this subject. Might I suggest that your answer yesterday to Senator Missen was another unhappy example of very clear misrepresentation of the facts. No doubt it was done in the best of faith on your part, and I do not in any way impugn your integrity on this matter. However, I suggest that you have had misrepresented to you the nature of Mr Harris’s claims. You may recall that it was said yesterday, with some devastating effect, that I acknowledged that the substance of Mr Harris’s claim had been that this matter had been delayed for something like two years, that in fact it had been sitting with the Library administration. In the course of your answer yesterday you said:
I am therefore able to inform the honourable senator that the list to which he refers was prepared in August 1979. It is therefore not a fact that the document had been delayed for nearly two years.
The clear imputation, the clear suggestion, the clear innuendo there, is that Mr Harris had made a wild and unsubstantiated allegation about the length of the delay involved. When one turns to the particular document Mr Harris circulated and looks with some precision at the claim he made about the delay, one finds that in fact no such claim was made. All Mr Harris said was this:
Later on he said:
Almost two years later that reading list has still not been issued to the Parliament, because the Library administration has held it up.
So far, that might appear to lend credence to your answer yesterday, Mr President. But let me read the next sentence in Mr Harris’s statement:
No notice was sent to Senators and Members of its preparation, although a first draft was ready in September, when the Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs.
As I read it, the reference there is to September 1979, and that is entirely consistent with the tenor of your answer, Mr President. There is some possibility of a misunderstanding about the way in which the language has been employed and about there being thought to be a reference to some earlier occasion. But, as I read it, and certainly as Mr Harris intended it to be conveyed- he does not in any way contest the proposition that the reading list was prepared in the latter part of last year- there is no substance for the innuendo, for the suggestion that there has been some wild and unsubstantiated allegation.
I now move on to the second part of the suggested excessive nature of Mr Harris’s allegations. That is in respect of the Afghanistan document. In your answer, Mr President, you say, again in a way that is, in my submission, grossly unfair to Mr Harris and Mr Harris’s reputation: it was unanimously agreed by the senior officers involved, including the Director of the Group, that it had not been competently prepared.
This is a reference to Mr Harris’s paper on Afghanistan. There is a quite explicit statement which, it appears, comes directly from the Librarian that there was unanimous agreement, even on the part of the Director, that this was an incompetent paper- that it had not been competently prepared. That is the reason given by you and by, it seems, the Librarian, for the delay in circulating to members the Afghanistan paper.
Is the statement that this was not a competent document an accurate statement? That is, I suppose, a matter of judgment. Is the statement that it was agreed by the Director of the foreign affairs group of the Library, Mr Dunn, that it had not been competently prepared an accurate statement? All I can say on this subject is that Mr Dunn, to my knowledge, is quite unequivocal that he never at any stage made such a judgment about Mr Harris’s paper. He says- as indeed Mr Harris in his own memorandum acknowledgesthat he, Mr Dunn, had some reservations about Mr Harris’s paper. That is not an unusual or surprising state of affairs. Mr Dunn is quite unequivocal that he never made any such judgment about the competence of the paper as a whole. To my knowledge, this allegation is regarded by the officers concerned as an extravagant and illfounded allegation designed to do no more than blacken not only the character of Mr Harris, but also Mr Harris ‘s competence and capacity to perform this job; a capacity which, I might add, is not to my knowledge in doubt so far as any member of this Parliament who has used Mr Harris’s services is concerned. To my certain knowledge Mr Harris is an outstandingly able person and I believe that that judgment would be shared by everyone else.
The remaining matter in your statement, Mr President, about the two-year proposition not being one that is in any way designed or capable of being used to exert pressure on Mr Harris’s successor is a point with which Senator Grimes has dealt. All I can say on that matter is that if one talks to any member of the Library staff, be they senior level, middle level or junior level, one finds a situation where nobody believes the new personnel arrangements that are being introduced with respect to this position and which are being foreshadowed in respect of all other positions are designed with nothing else in mind than to exert such pressure and to ensure that people on the Library staff will toe the line. There is acute and deep unhappiness in your own house- your own Library. It is a result of what can be described only, I fear, as maladministration of a very high order at the top.
Might I add one further point which I think throws doubt on the credibility of those on whom you have manifestly relied in preparing this statement. It is a matter which arises out of your answer to me on 17 April. It was an answer to a question which I put to you on 15 April about, among other things, Mr Dunn’s position and what Mr Dunn was told with respect to his ability to write on the subject of East Timor. You may remember, Mr President, that I asked you on 1 5 April:
Was Mr Dunn told by Mr Weir that in his new position he would not be permitted to write on East Timor?
Your answer on 1 7 April stated:
I understand from Mr Weir that Mr Dunn was so informed in a casual reference to the type of duties he would undertake. Mr Dunn had previously been given leave in which he said he ws going to write in depth on the East Timor situation. So far as he can recall Mr Weir said something like ‘ I do not want you to spend all your time writing on East Timor’.
I put into the record again the answer of someone who is not a member of this chamber and who is unable to answer for himself. I want to put into the record Mr Dunn’s answer to that particular response of yours, Mr President. I am not doing this with Mr Dunn’s permission because I am referring to a memorandum which he gave to me at my specific request to him for comments on this matter. I put this reply into the record because I feel that things have just gone too far. There has been too much assassination by innuendo and it is crucial that the other side of these allegations be heard. Mr Dunn said:
Mr Weir’s remarks about East Timor came in the context of the discussion between us on Wednesday, 2 April, about what would be the duties for the Special Project Officer position, to which he was proposing to transfer me. I questioned him about this position and about the kind of work it would involve. He said that I could work on international relations and he would like to have suggestions from me on the topics I might explore. I said that I could, for example, write a paper on Australia/Soviet relations and an in-depth study of the East Timor affair in the Australian parliament. Mr Weir’s exact words in reply were: ‘Not on East Timor; it’s too sensitive ‘.
I have had an absolutely unequivocal assurance from Mr Dunn that he remembers those words. He would swear to them with his life. He is in absolutely no doubt as to the exact tenor of those words and as to the context in which they were put, which fully reinforces the interpretation that others have made and will make of them. I suggest that it is just not open to this Parliament to rely in the way that you, Mr President, manifestly want us to rely on the version of these events of the Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Weir. I believe that earlier the facts on the record disclose inconsistencies with these propositions or that there is another side of the story which, when told, has a greater ring of credibility than Mr Weir’s version or your version, Mr President, of them.
It has come to my notice that Mr Weir has now put a document into circulation. I am not sure whether that document has gone further than members of the Library Committee. It appears that it is an attempt by Mr Weir to put again his side of the story- not that it has not been put very efficiently already in this Parliament by the Presiding Officers. It is an attempt to fill out Mr Weir’s side of the story. I can say only that it is not my desire to give any greater circulation to the substance of that document. It is a document which I regard as being a thoroughly scurrilous and defamatory document and one that is full of statements which are thoroughly destructivewere they to be accepted on their face value- of Mr Dunn’s character and reputation, in particular, and to some lesser extent, of Mr Harris’s. If the document were tabled in Parliament at some stage in order to secure the cover of privilege, which its limited circulation has already ensured that it will not fully be able to claim, the terms of the document, I for one and no doubt others, would be only too happy to answer. If not, it remains a matter for Mr Dunn to secure his own redress through the courts, as I have no doubt he will be tempted to do. I have no doubt that if he is so tempted he will be successful.
I conclude by saying with all due gravity that the course of this whole affair leaves one in no doubt that the one person to emerge with his credibility shattered by the course of recent events is not Mr Jim Dunn and is not Mr Stewart Harris. It is Mr Harold Weir, the Parliamentary Librarian. To a lesser extent I think it must be said that your own position, Mr President, and that of the Speaker have been somewhat brought into question insofar as it appears that you have been all too happy, with respect, to succumb to Mr Weir’s administrative authoritarianism. You have been all too happy, with respect, to give credence to his innuendo. You have been all too happy to reinforce his various manifest insecurities. You have been all too happy- again with respect- to communicate to this Parliament the untruths, the half truths and the equivocations which seem the staple of this gentleman.
I believe that at this stage the only, honourable course open to Mr Weir, the Parliamentary Librarian, is to resign. He has lost the confidence of a very large number of the members of this Parliament by the course of his behaviour over the last weeks in particular and there is nothing in this statement which has been brought down tonight, clearly with the backing and clearly with the information of Mr Weir behind it, which does anything whatsoever to restore Mr Weir’s credibility. It is an unhappy situation and one would wish that it had not occurred. But having occurred, I believe, as I say, that the only way it can be resolved is for the officer in question who has created this turmoil, who has created this chaos, who has created this lack of confidence in an institution which is absolutely fundamental to our capacity to perform our duties as parliamentarians, to resign. The only legitimate course, the only course that will in any way get us out of this morass, is for this man to resign.
– by leave- Mr President, I enter this debate with some hesitation because on at least one of the important issues involved I had sought, through you, in the Senate, a meeting of the Library Committee of the Parliament which was held this morning and which I was unable to attend because of a party meeting. I am therefore not fully aware of the extent to which members of that Library Committee- I think that Senator Evans is not a member of the Committee- might be aware of the issues that you raised this morning. But I first of all emphasise the fact that I certainly do not associate myself with the characteristic rantings and posturing of Senator Evans in this matter. However, it is clear that the Parliamentary Library now faces a very substantial crisis. Something needs to be done to resolve that situation.
It is all very well for Senator Evans to castigate the statement that you, Mr President, have put to the Senate this evening as a scurrilous attack on a certain person. But then, of course, Senator Evans has no hesitation in indulging in a vicious and scurrilous attack on an individual who has no right of reply in this chamber. Senator Evans, with parliamentary privilege, indulges himself in a most vicious attack on the Librarian of this Parliament. Mr President, in my view, Senator Evans has charged you with misrepresentation, though he slides out of that by suggesting that your statement was all due to bad advice. He sheets that advice home simply to Mr Weir and presumably all the people in the Parliamentary Library advising Mr Weir. Senator Evans has no hesitation in attacking all those officers who were advising you, Mr President, and through you, the Parliamentary Library Committee.
Allegations have been made of attempts by the Government to control information available through the Parliamentary Library. Surely it is clear to any reasonable person that these matters and the staffing of the Library are the responsibility of the Librarian and the Presiding Officers.
They are matters in which the Parliamentary Library Committee has taken, should and does take an increasing interest because of what is now a crisis facing the Parliamentary Library, a crisis created through political controversy. Because of the stand taken by people like Senator Evans and others, it is a political controversy that will do nothing to enhance the Parliamentary Library and its capacity to service as it should this Parliament.
Mr President, I refer to one or two points in your statement which, as a member of the Senate, I feel it is reasonable that I raise with you. You said in your statement that Mr Harris resigned because he knew that there was a possibility that he would be charged for improper use of the Library’s resources and for making a false statement on the matter to the permanent head of the Department. That raises a couple of questions for me. My first question is: How did he know, by what means and through whom? My second question is: What is the meaning of the words ‘a possibility’? In what terms had it been put to Mr Harris, and how firm a possibility was it? What was his understanding of the situation?
I feel that, in the interests of resolving this matter and perhaps removing it from the political controversy into which it has fallen, those matters might be clarified. There is one other matter on which I, as a member of the Senate and of the Library Committee, seek some further information from you, Mr President. It relates to the statement that the report on Afghanistan prepared by Mr Harris was considered unanimously by the senior officers involved, including the Director of the Foreign Affairs Group of the Legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library, that it had not been competently prepared, senator Evans has mentioned- I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong- that Mr Dunn, the Director of the Foreign Affairs Group, has said that he had never been party to such a view and that therefore it was not a unanimous view. If that statement has been made, it is something about which I feel we should have some more information. From what Senator Evans said, it may be that there was not, as he puts it, unanimity on this matter. Perhaps that should be clarified.
Mr President, there is one other matter which has not been mentioned yet and on which I seek your views. In paragraph 4 of your statement there is a sentence that begins:
In the context of the very right staff ceiling and the changing issues before the Parliament . . .
The relevance of the words ‘the changing issues before the Parliament’ to the statement made in that paragraph puzzles me. I am interested to know a little more about precisely what you and perhaps your advisers had in mind when using that term.
Senator Evans suggested that we need to hear the other side of the story in this matter. Surely, in one very important sense, this is the other side of the story. It is the Presiding Officers’ response to one side of a story that has already been put publicly. If there are questions arising from that, I think it is reasonable for any member of this Senate to seek further information, as I have done. But I do not believe that it is reasonable, and I do not believe that it does the Senate any credit, for someone such as Senator Evans to make a vicious attack on an individual before he has sought, and certainly before he has obtained, some of the further information to which I am referring.
– If you saw the sort of information which I have you would not be standing up now. Have a look at the document that he circulated to your committee and make your own decision.
– I know that many documents are circulating on this matter, and they give rise to many issues of great concern. They are issues that ought to be of great concern to every member of this Parliament, of this Senate and of the House of Representatives, because the Parliamentary Library has an important role in this place, providing essential information, advice and assistance to back benchers. Of course, I know that it has a special role in relation to the Opposition.
– Its morale is rock bottom.
– Yes, its morale is rock bottom and it ought to be rock bottom when it becomes the subject of significant political controversy in this country, and that is a tragedy for the Parliamentary Library. It is for that reason -
– We ask questions. We are entitled to ask questions.
– Of course you are, and I am asking questions too, but when we talk about political controversy, I ask whether the honourable senator has listened to his colleagues this evening and to what they have had to say? Has he listened to the allegations that they have so freely made? Mr President, you have sought to put the other side of the story on this issue. There may be other matters that need clarification. I would hope that, in this whole process, the Parliamentary Library Committee might have a role. Again I acknowledge that I was unable to attend a meeting that I sought. I understand that many of these issues were discussed this morning by the Library Committee. It is for that reason that I conceded at the outset that I had been unable to attend that meeting. Many of the questions that I have asked may have been answered had I been able to attend.
I emphasise that for members and senators the Parliamentary Library is a vital part of this Parliament but is now facing a major crisis. There have been issues such as the possible moving of the Parliamentary Library from Parliament House. There are issues relating to consultation with staff and with members and senators on that matter. There has been the question of Mr Dunn’s proposed transfer. There is now the issue relating to Mr Harris. There is the vexed question of the availability and form of information supplied to senators and members. I only make the point that the question of the possible moving of the Parliamentary Library is one that 1 and others sought to pursue in Estimates committees only very recently.
I conclude by saying that although there may continue to be issues that may need to be clarified, it is a tragedy that the matter should become a partisan political issue. It is doing, and will continue to do, nothing but harm to the Parliamentary Library. It will continue to damage the morale of the staff of the Library, which is an essential element of this Parliament. I believe that that is a tragedy for all of us and for the Parliament.
-by leave- Mr President, I am extremely disappointed by the reply that you have put down here tonight. However, I point out that I note that after about four lines your written statement reads:
I have now been informed as follows:
I assume that the remainder of the statement represents advice that has been given to you. It is with that advice that I find much difficulty tonight.
I do not wish to canvass a great deal of what went on in this morning’s Parliamentary Library Committee meeting. I do not want to break any of the confidentiality that we may have concerning its proceedings but it is important to say something about what happened. When we adjourned, at about 10.25 a.m., there was a feeling that we were getting somewhere; that we, as the Library Committee, the Presiding Officers and
Library staff members, were beginning to understand the problem. There was hope that in the near future matters would be righted.
There was a good deal of talk about what the problems were. I outlined that I thought that the Library was an integral part of this Parliament, one on which members depended greatly, but I also detailed some of the concerns. Other members of the Committee spoke of communication problems. I repeat that when we left the meeting most of us had the feeling that we were getting somewhere but tonight, when this statement was brought down, I felt that all that had been achieved this morning had been dashed. The statement incorporates, if I may so, some of the most disgraceful comments that I have seen in my four and a half years in this place. Let me just outline what I mean. In this statement brought down tonight, a person’s character has been definitely blackened.
I do not mention this very often because I have bad memories of what happened. But I can remember this very thing happening to me in 1975 when my name was put before the Queensland Parliament as a nominee for a casual vacancy in the Senate. The things that were said about me then were scandalous. I sat in the gallery and had to listen to them, not once but twice, because on the first occasion the Parliament was adjourned and it resumed a week later. On two occasions I listened to the scandalous and totally untrue things said about me in that Parliament. So I have an idea of what this person feels like tonight.
It is possible that until a minute ago when the proceedings of the Senate ceased to be broadcast he might have been listening to the debate. I know what he feels. Let us look at what was said about him. The statement says:
In the document that was circulated, that was quite so. In the reply that you brought down, Mr President, this statement was made:
That is not true. He resigned because he knew that there was a possibility that he would be charged for improper use of the Library’s resources and for making a false statement on the matter to the Permanent Head of the Department.
This man’s character has been blackened and he has no recourse. We have been told here, and the whole nation has been told- those people who were not listening to the broadcast of Senate proceedings tonight will be able to read about it in the Press tomorrow- that this person may have been charged with improper use of the Library’s resources. We were not told what the improper use was. Senator Evans outlined what he had been told. Surely if it had gone that far the statement should have gone further and said what the matter was so that we could ascertain whether it was a major matter. From what I can understand, it was a minor matter. Senator Knight raised the question of how great was this possibility- was it a great possibility or was it a small possibility? Was this person in fact told that there was a possibility that he would be charged, and did he actually resign because of that? I find it amazing that we are told that there was a possibility that this man would be charged, and yet he remained on duty until today. If there was a possibility that he was to be charged, it is amazing that he remained on duty. If he was to be charged, and if there was an offence, that is condoning the offence. Let us have a look at one other aspect of the matter which I find particularly disappointing or, to use Senator Evans’s word, scandalous. The second page of the statement says:
In fact the paper was never formally approved for release since it was unanimously agreed by the senior officers involved, including the director of the group, that it had not been competently prepared.
This statement is just as damaging to this man as the other statement that he might be charged because of an improper use of the Library’s resources. His professional reputation has been dashed by this statement. How will Mr Harris face up to another employer in the future when a statement which has been brought before this Parliament says that his work had not been competently prepared? If there were worries about Mr Harris’s work, about how competently he prepared his work and how well he did his job, surely Mr Harris should have been told. Surely that should not become public knowledge by being brought before this chamber and thus before the people of Australia.
What worries me is that a most complex situation is before us. Senator Knight said that there is a crisis in the Parliamentary Library. How true that is. But how do we resolve it? I have no intention of letting the matter lie in such a state that these things can be said about Mr Harris without his being allowed to put his point of view before honourable senators and, therefore, before the people of Australia. Senator Evans outlined one course of action which he thought should be taken. I do not know whether that course of action should be taken. But I and, I am sure, many other honourable senators would like to have the matter aired so that we can have the full story from each of the principal three people involved- Mr Weir, Mr Harris and Mr Dunn. I do not know whether this is a way out of the situation, but I firmly believe that each of those three people should be brought before the Senate so that we can ask questions of them and so that we can get the full facts about what has happened. I do not put that forward as a firm proposition at this stage. If those people were brought before us, I would hope that there would not be a witchhunt but that we would try to find the full facts. We continue to get contradictory statements on paper- statements which come from you, Mr President, on advice that you have been given, and which are circulated to us from other areas.
The only really satisfactory way of finding out what has happened is to bring those three people before the chamber and to allow them to put forward their stories. I hope that this possibility will be mulled over by each of us during the coming weekend. I will certainly mull it over and I might subsequently think it is not a good idea. On the other hand, I might firm my view that it is a good idea. But let us think about whether it is a possibility. I conclude by saying that my disappointment tonight arises from the fact that at 25 minutes past ten this morning we thought we were getting somewhere, but that as soon as I heard your statement read to the Senate, Mr President, I felt that all that had been achieved this morning had gone down the drain.
Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales)by leave- I would like, as a member of the Library Committee, to supplement Senator Colston’s remarks. There is no need for endless repetition at this time of the night, but when the original Harris memorandum surfaced, I, along with other honourable senators, asked you, Mr President, for an early meeting of the Library Committee. I am not egotistical enough to think that my request caused that meeting to happen because I think the rising crescendo of criticism made it inevitable. I simply say that most of us accept that our role on the Library Committee involves our being frank and that some of us have voiced elsewhere our private opinion that the matter should be grappled with. At 10.25 this morning I asked the Parliamentary Librarian, amongst other things, when we would receive the report on the consultative process that has been going on. The answer was: ‘I think I would be right in saying virtually within a week’. I went away from the meeting feeling that, independent of the individuals, whether it be Mr Dunn or Mr Harris, we could consider that report and proceed from there.
Another weakness in this situation which stands out very forcibly is that it seems to have involved a battle of communiques. It was obvious, as is the case in many of the disputes in the trade union movement and elsewhere in which I have been involved, that this morning the members of the Library Committee met in a low key atmosphere to try to achieve some harmony and thus to overcome the problem. I thought that after this consultative report was published perhaps we could establish better ground rules.
Senator Evans referred to the difficulties we faced if we accepted Senator Colston’s suggestion of a Senate investigation or if we referred the matter back to the Library Committee. On reflection it is obvious that if the Librarian makes a submission, as he is entitled to do, and if other people are not there to put their point of view, we will have what I call a base line debate which will go on week after week. The Librarian has hinted at misdemeanours and, in turn, Senator Evans has filled in the gaps and told us what they were. They certainly seemed small time. Mr President I do not know whether you and your colleague, Mr Speaker, should convene another Library Committee meeting or whether you should take up the suggestion that the Senate be the forum before which the principals appear. But the stage we have reached now, where we have been given a prepared document, is futile. I have had experience in all sorts of disputes and unless people are face to face disputes will go on like a festering sore. I, Senator Colston, who is a fellow member of the Committee, and Senator Evans, accepted our responsibilities today at 10.25 a.m. We were not unaware of the implications in the document. I was prepared to wait. Senator Evans provided some additional advice that probably Mr Harris would have come back with further information.
I think that this matter will remain unsolved until the Library Committee- much less the Senate as a whole- is in a position to hear the contrary points of view and judge for itself the authenticity of the submissions that have been made, otherwise we will be deluged with papers. I agree with Senator Colston that the Library Committee has responsibilities. We do not want to deal with the matter at long range. We will want a confrontation with everyone in the same room or independently. Everyone, including honourable senators, should be involved. This matter cannot go on. We need a general formula for the future. I know there are factors, other than those which have been dealt with. I think it is a futile exercise if one person calls another person names and then one party is not there with our having a right to cross-examination in relation to what has been said. That is the thought I leave the Senate with tonight.
-by leave- It is obvious that this debate will not see the end of the matter. It is necessary for the Opposition to discuss the implications arising from your statement, Mr President. I use the word statement’ because it virtually is a statement, although it is an answer to a question asked by Senator Grimes. Listening to the debate I cannot understand how it was possible for this question to be answered in the way it was, without the Library Committee being fully conversant with the details. It seems to me that it was not fully conversant with the details, because if it were I think that the debate which took place here tonight would have taken place within the Library Committee. Surely the responsible members of the Committee would not have allowed such an answer to be given to the Senate. That Committee would have sought the answers that we are seeking now in the full forum of the Senate. The charges and counter-charges should have been heard in the Library Committee. It is outrageous that you, Mr President, should be informed in such a way.
You will recall that you did me the courtesy of showing me the answer to the question because, in the first place, I believed that the statement was to be made and that we would have the courtesy of seeing it sometime before it was brought down. But you indicated that you would give the answer to Senator Grimes in advance. You also gave it to me and you will recall that I shook my head over this section of the answer. It seems to me, Mr President, that you have been wrongly advised. The questions that arise are these: Who wrongly advised you? Who prepared the answer in this way? Was it Mr Weir? If it was Mr Weir then Mr Weir is gravely at fault. I do not say that we should go to the extent of attacking Mr Weir in this place. But once the imputations or accusations against Mr Harris were made in this answer it invited- in fact, justified- the attack on Mr Weir.
Could I say to the whole Senate that this matter should not have been raised here tonight. My suggestion is that the President ought to go back to the person who advised him in this way and say that what I anticipated did take place- the President came under some criticism for putting before the Senate a statement which denigrated, without a proper hearing, a particular person. Mr Harris’s reputation is now in shreds. It is in shreds in a very substantial way. The President of the Senate gave an answer to the question and within that answer are serious determinations. They are not charges; they go beyond charges. We have determined here by way of this answer that Mr Harris was guilty of these things. Surely we should take this matter back to the Library Committee and the Library Committee should undertake a full investigation of the charges and countercharges.
If I might say so, this matter arises from the fact that the Library Committee’s role has been determined as being advisory to the Presiding Officers. If this were not so the Library Committee would be responsible to the Senate. Apparently it is not. The Library Committee is advisory to the Presiding Officers and the Presiding Officers take it upon themselves to make all the determinations. In this case the President give all the answers. I would say that that cannot be allowed to continue. The Library Committee’s role should be more than advisory; it should have the same standing as other committees of this place. It should have the full responsibility, through the Presiding Officers, to run the Library. Let me not go into that area. That is something we will have to determine later on. I do not think it is going to be practicable for us to bring people before the Senate as has been suggested by Senator Colston because he believes the matter to be extremely serious. Somewhere someone ought to investigate all the circumstances which led you, Mr President, to give this answer.
Mr President, no one wishes to be critical of you in any way. The only recourse that some of us have when any person brings down a statement of this sort is to hold that person responsible. Surely no one here wants to hold you responsible for this statement which places Mr Harris in such a serious position. I would suggest that we ought to look at this matter as one which brings into question Mr Harris’s position and not a determination. We should take this matter back to the Library Committee and tell it to take a close look at the matter to find whether the charges which condemn Mr Harris are real charges, whether he has had a chance to answer them, or whether they are just merely petty charges that should have been dismissed at the level of the Library Committee and not made a substantial matter before the Senate itself.
– by leave- The matter before us tonight concerns an employee of the Parliamentary Library. The employment of staff of the Library is directly the responsibility of the Librarian- both the hiring and the discharge of staff. The overall responsibility lies with the two Presiding Officers- Mr Speaker and you, Mr President. We must get this situation in perspective. It may well be that you, Mr President, wish to keep the Library Committee informed. As I understand it, the Library Committee has no responsibility within the field of employment. I say that in no way to denigrate the thought that the Committee ought to be informed.
Tonight honourable senators have sought to deal with matters in which they are limited in their knowledge. It has been unfortunate that those who sought to uphold one person and who saw great damage being done to that person did not see that they were equally being defamatory of an alternative person. Tonight we had the accusation that the Parliamentary Librarian is at fault. I think we are in no position to make such judgments. I feel that it is sad that those accusations were made. I believe that the correct course is for us to invite you, Mr President, in company with Mr Speaker, to take note of what has happened in the chamber tonight and to take note of any documents that have been circulated. If, in your wisdom, you desire to consult with the Library Committee by all means do so. Having done so, I take it that you will report back to the Senate and, no doubt, to the other chamber. I commend that course of action to the whole of the Senate tonight with the utmost of goodwill.
– by leave- I must confess that I was in consultation during some of the remarks by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick). I am not precisely sure of his suggestion. Mr President, do I take it that Senator Georges’ suggestion would be acceptable to you, that the matter be reconsidered by the Library Committee and that if need be in the Committee’s judgment the persons who are concerned in this matter be invited to appear before it for further clarification?
It is quite obvious that none of us is satisfied with the present position. In some way we must seek to resolve it. That must be done on the basis of full information being before the chamber. If some method which is acceptable to both sides of the chamber is not accepted, obviously the matter must be pursued by some other avenue, and that will have to be done next week. Personally- and I think I speak for my colleagues- I would prefer that not be done if full information can be put before the Senate.
– I will give all the matters consideration.
-by leave- I will speak very briefly. I must make a couple of points. There is talk of a crisis of confidence in the Parliamentary Library. The Australian Democrats share that view. We feel that we cannot be absolutely sure that when we go to the Library to gain information on a matter about which we might be critical of the Government we will be guaranteed impartial information. I put that forward with complete seriousness. I take issue with Senator Knight’s remark that this matter has become a political football. I think it is wrong to assess it at that level. The Australian Democrats think the matter goes far deeper than that. We are concerned at what is said in the second paragraph of the President’s statement. I relate it to the statement which Senator Evans made concerning the alleged offence of Mr Harris in which certain sections of his book were typed.
After all, that is a fairly trivial matter and could have been dealt with at a lower disciplinary level. Certainly it is not a matter to be paraded before the nation when the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast. I think this matter begs attention. I implore you, Mr President, perhaps tonight, briefly to tell us whether in fact this is Mr Harris’s only offence; when it happened and whether any disciplinary action was taken against him at that time when it was first known, or whether it has been held over until now; whether it was discussed with him and what is the full statement he made on the matter to the permanent head of the Department. These matters having been publicised tonight, I feel that it would be wrong for the Senate to allow them, as it were, to sit in mid-air.
I think Senator Evans’s comments beg for some response. I respectfully seek from you a brief statement before the debate is concluded on whether you are aware whether this indeed is the offence. Subsequently we might then ask you to look at the Hansard, consider the questions that have been raised by all three parties and perhaps make a statement which would clarify the position. In Mr Harris’s interests it is necessary for us to have some elaboration on the offence he is said to have committed.
– As you know, Senator Mason, I replied to questions on this matter put by Senator Grimes. The replies were based on information which was given to me. I am not in a position to give you further details at present. I shall obtain further details. I feel that the matter now requires further deep investigation, as has been indicated by honourable senators tonight.
Senate adjourned at 1 1.57 p.m.
The following paper was presented, pursuant to statute:
Canberra College of Advanced Education ActStatutes No. 42- Courses and Awards Amendment (No.1 ) 1980.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 9 October 1979:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Reports of deaths of newborn children overseas associated with the use of hexachlorophane were received in 1971. The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee considered the question of the use and toxicity of hexachlorophane on two occasions during 1972 and recommended that:
The Committee at its last meeting reviewed some more recent reports on studies carried out overseas on hexachlorophane and recommended that the label of products containing hexachlorophane and the associated product literature should include a statement warning women likely to become pregnant to avoid the use of such products.
The National Health and Medical Research Council through its Poisons Schedule Committee has had hexachlorophane under review since 1971. Since (hen. the Committee has recommended changes to the scheduling of hexachlorophane as new information caine to hand. At the present time, hexachlorophane is scheduled as follows in the Uniform Poisons Schedule. Most States and the Australian Capital Territory have similar provisions.
Schedule 3 (restricted sale from pharmacy)
Hexachlorophane in preparations for skin cleansing purposes containing 3 per cent or less of hexachlorophane except:
Schedule 4 (prescription only)
when included in Schedule 3 or Schedule 6
Schedule 6 (licensed poisons dealer sale).
Hexachlorophane in preparations for the treatment of animals.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 1 4 November 1 979:
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australian Vote on East Timor (Question No. 2332)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 19 February 1980:
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australia voted against the draft resolution on East Timor at the 34th General Assembly of the United Nations. In Australia’s view the resolution was unrealistic and impractical. Its main thrust was directed towards the pursuit of what Australia sees as pointless goals in the area of decolonisation. Indeed, Australia has recognised that East Timor has been integrated into Indonesia. The paragraphs relating to humanitarian issues failed to give due recognition to the Indonesian Government’s decision to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United States Catholic Relief Service to assist in relief efforts in East Timor. In short the draft was incapable of practical implementation for the real benefit of the Timorese people, and the Government sees no value in the continuation of what has become a sterile political debate.
Australia’s vote on the resolution of 22 November 1979 was the same as its vote on the Timor resolution in 1978. Therefore there is no reason to expect that it will lead to any changes in Australia ‘s relations with Indonesia nor its attitude towards the situation in East Timor.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 5 March 1980:
1 ) Which countries in the Western Pacific, South-East Asia and the South Pacific region are members of:
Which of these countries attended:
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Australia, Burma, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore.
As a result of its political status as a Crown Colony Hong Kong is not a member of the GATT in its own right but it participates in GATT activities.
With respect to newly independent states, the Contracting Parties have recommended to individual contracting parties that they continue to apply, on a basis of reciprocity, the General Agreement in their relations with territories to which GATT was formerly applied by the metropolitan power and which have recently acquired full autonomy in the conduct of their external commercial relations. This recommendation is intended to afford these countries an opportunity to decide upon their future relations with GATT. The recommendation at present applies to the following countries in the regions:
Democratic Kampuchea, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga.
Australia, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Democratic Kampuchea, Fiji, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam.
Australia, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Democratic Kampuchea, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong is an associate member.
Australia, Burma, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Democratic Kampuchea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Viet Nam, Western Samoa, Taiwan is a member of the IBRD.
Part I members are:
Australia, Japan, New Zealand.
Part II members are:
Burma, Democratic Kampuchea, Fiji, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam, Western Samoa, Taiwan is a Part II member of the IDA, the Solomon Islands has been offered Part II membership of the IDA. (Part1 countries pay their entire subscription in convertible currency all of which may be used for IDA lending. Part II countries pay only one-tenth of their initial subscription in convertible currency; the remaining portion and all of any additional subscriptions are paid in the member’s own currency and may not be used without the member’s consent).
Australia, Burma, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam, Western Samoa. Taiwan is a member of the IFC, Fiji has been offered membership of the IFC.
Australia, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Democratic Kampuchea, Indonesia, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, New Zealand,
Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam.
Australia, Burma, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Democratic Kampuchea, Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Tonga, Viet Nam, Western Samoa, Taiwan isa member of the ADB.
Australia, Burma, Democratic Kampuchea, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand.
Vict Nam withdrew from full membership in 1978 and now has observer status.
Full members arc:
Australia, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Democratic Kampuchea, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Western Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Tonga, Viet Nam.
Associate members arc:
Brunei, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Hong Kong, Niue, New Hebrides, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Tuvalu.
Australia, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Democratic Kampuchea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Western Samoa, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, Viet Nam.
Australia, Burma, People’s Republic of China, Democratic Kampuchea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Fiji. Japan, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam.
Australia, People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 18 March 1980:
Assistance Program to Pakistan, as reported in the Age of 3 1 January 1980?
– The Foreign Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Age Pensions (Question No. 2SS7)
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 18 March 1980:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The number of claims for age pensions refused in the years mentioned because the claimant could not meet the residence requirements were: 12 months ended- December 1977-709, December 1978-491, December 1979-489.
The figures could include cases where the claimant was the subject of a maintenance guarantee, lt is not known if a guarantee was cancelled by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in any of these cases.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 3 1 March 1980:
I ) Are the documents entitled “The Attorney-General in Parliament- Autumn Session 1979’ and ‘Press Releases by the Attorney-General 1979’ (Vol. 2) consolidations of material otherwise publicly available through Hansard or as a result of the Attorney-General ‘s press release network.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The documents, ‘The Attorney-General in Parliament’ and ‘Press Releases by the Attorney-General’ are issued every six months. Between them they contain all of the public statements made by the Attorney-General inside and outside the Parliament during that time. ‘Press Releases by the Attorney-General’ dates back to 1973. The first volume of The Attorney-General in Parliament’ appeared in 1976.
The documents are prepared primarily as a reference for officers of the Attorney-General’s Department in central office and in the States and for organisations involved with the Attorney-General. They are sent to law libraries, legal organisations and libraries of tertiary institutions and to people who have requested information relevant to the Attorney-General ‘s Department.
The material for ‘Press Releases by the Attorney-General’ comes mainly from the press releases issued by the AttorneyGeneral and by the Attorney-General’s Depanment. The material for ‘The Attorney-General in Parliament’ comes from Hansard. Both documents have a chronological and subject index.
The research work for the two documents is carried out by the Information and Public Relations Section of the Attorney-General’s Department. The Director of Information and Public Relations supervised the research and production of material in both documents including the photographs and biographical details. No other area of the Public Service was involved. The photograph and biographical details of the Attorney-General have been included in both documents since 1976 to make the documents more informative.
The production run of bom documents was 450. The cost of ‘The Attorney-General in Parliament, Autumn Sessions 1979’ for the 450 copies was 51,540. The cost of ‘Press Releases by the Attorney-General Volume II, 1979’ has not yet been sent to the Depanment by the Government Printer. However the cost of the similar documents produced in the first half of the year was $ 1 ,040 for 450 copies.
The documents have been produced at the editorial discretion of the Director of Information and Public Relations to assist people wanting to obtain information announced by the Attorney-General. Apart from speeches outlining the views of the Attorney-General on aspects of legal policy, the documents contain information about appointments, new developments in the law and announcements about the administration of the law. The material in the documents attributed to the Attorney-General is restricted to pronouncements made in the course of his ministerial duties. This, I am informed, is the editorial criterion that has been applied since the documents were first produced.
I do not believe the remarks made by His Honour Mr Justice Sweeney have any relevance to these circumstances. Nor do I consider that there has been any breach of the guidelines on official conduct by public servants.
Australian Aid to Kampuchea
-On 21 February 1980 (Hansard, page 175) Senator Primmer asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the following question without notice:
What effect if any will the Thai army order curtailing food and medical supplies from crossing the Thai border have on Australian aid to Kampuchea.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Local Thai military commanders suspended cross-border feeding operations from three border encampments for a brief period in February in an attempt to eliminate misappropriation of relief supplies.
The Australian program of humanitarian assistance to Kampuchea, the major pan of which has been provided through the international agencies direct to Kampuchea, was not affected by this action of brief suspension.
Use of Debendox by Pregnant Women
– On 26
February 1980 (Hansard, page 274) Senator Archer asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the use of Debendox by pregnant women. The Minister for Health has provided the following information:
The most appropriate method of investigating claims linking birth defects to the use of Debendox by pregnant women would be prompt referral to the Congenital Abnormalities Sub-Committee of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee.
The Congenital Abnormalities Sub-Committee has an ongoing review of the published literature on the question of an association that the drug Debendox might have with some birth defects since these were first reported. So far as it can assess, the frequency of birth defects in the children of mothers who have taken Debendox during pregnancy has not been demonstrated to exceed that in mothers who did not take the drug.
The Congenital Abnormalities Sub-Committee is currently formulating recommendations on an appropriate study to assess reports received by the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee of limb reduction deformities said to be associated with the use of Debendox.
The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee is of the view that it is not possible to state that any drug is absolutely free of risk to a patient or to an unborn child. On the other hand, of course, severe or prolonged vomiting in pregnancy carries its own risk to the mother and to the unborn child. In appropriate cases Debendox has proved to be a very useful drug. Therefore, the advice that applies to other drugs during pregnancy applies to Debendox. No drug should be taken during pregnancy unless needed and then only on the advice and on the prescription of the attending doctor.
Slaughter of Dolphins
-On 5 March 1980 (Hansard, page 541) Senator Puplick asked me, as Minister representing the Prime Minister, a question without notice concerning the slaughter of dolphins in Japanese waters. The Prime Minister has supplied the following information for answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Government has been following with some concern recent reports that Japanese fishermen have been rounding up and killing dolphins at Iki Island in Japan. In accordance with the Government’s policy of protection for all cetaceans, the Australian Embassy in Tokyo formally expressed to the Japanese Foreign Ministry the concern of the Australian Government at the killings and urged the development of techniques to disperse cetaceans which threaten substantial fishing interests.
On 29 February, the Australian Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission informed the Japanese Commissioner that there was concern in Australia over the reported killings and requested further information. The Japanese Commissioner subsequently briefed Australian
Government officials in Tokyo on the Japanese Government ‘s view of the incident, stressing that the livelihood of Japanese fishermen is threatened by the activities of cetaceans.
Legislation to implement the Government’s policy to ban the killing of cetaceans in Australian waters has been prepared. lt is expected that a Bill for the protection of cetaceans, which include whales, dolphins and porpoises will be introduced into the Parliament today.
Valium: Safe Use by Children
– On 6
March 1980 (Hansard, page 620) Senator Mason asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the safe use of valium by children. The Minister for Health has provided the following information:
The honourable senator’s attention is drawn to the answer to his earlier question which was published in Hansard on 26 September 1979 at page 1020. That reply stated that it is for the medical practitioner to assess the patient ‘s condition and determine whether Valium syrup is indicated. It is not the normal practice of my Department to conduct surveys which include reasons and justification for the prescription by registered medical practitioners of unrestricted pharmaceutiabenefits.
This situation still prevails. Valium has been proven to be a safe and effective drug when used correctly. It is the responsibility of the individual medical practitioner to satisfy himself that valium is indicated for use in the first instance and secondly to ensure that the parents of the child arc aware of the possible side effects and problems which may arise resulting from overuse of the drug.
Insofar as congenital malformations are concerned, several published studies have raised the possibility that the use of certain tranquillisers in early pregnancy may increase the incidence of binh defects. Such a proposition is not proven.
The Australian product information for valium includes a statement that the use of the medication during the first hair of pregnancy is not recommended.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 April 1980, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1980/19800423_senate_31_s85/>.