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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3625

PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS CONFERENCE AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA ON 18TH FEBRUARY 1975

Photo of Whitlam, Gough

Whitlam, Gough

Period of Service: 05/12/1972 to 11/11/1975

More information about Whitlam, Gough on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 18/02/1975

Release Type: Press Conference

Transcript ID: 3625

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' 21)
PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS CQNFP. ENCE AT
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA ON
18TH FEBRUARY 1975.
QUESTION WHITLAM QUESTION The N. S. W. Premier, Mr Tom Lewis, has announced that
he intends to fill the Senate vacancy with a non-
Labor Senator. Sir, what's your reaction to this,
and secondly, is there any action that your Government
can take to ensure that the convention is observed?
My attitude to the matter has been made quite plain,
of course, for very many years. I was a member of
the Constitution Review. Committee in the late 1950s
which unanimously said that, where there was a casual
vacancy then, and the former Senator belonged to a
political party, then the new Senator appointed by
the State Government or the State Parliament should
belong to the same Party as the vacating Senator.
I've always held that view. And it is also, I
gather, the view of every Senator at the moment,
and it used to be, hitherto, always has been the view
of everybody who has been Premier. So there's no
need to ask what my view is. I gather the Liberals
in this Parliament in the House of Representatives
also believe that Mr Justice Murphy should be
succeeded by a Labor Senator. Perhaps I might
quote what Mr Snedden, the Leader of the Liberal
Party in this Parliament, said, I gather, at Randwick
on Sunday: Billie Mackie Snedden, have no power
to determine who that successor will be. -I have no
power under the Liberal Party Constitution. 1 have
no power under the Australian Constitution". Anc
then he says something about that you press people
find it hard to understand this. Then he says,
" I have stated my view clearly, frankly, without fear,
and without seeking favour. That is my view, and I
maintain it, and if some of the commentators had the
merest teeny-weeniest understanding of the Australian
Constitution, and of the Liberal Party Constitution
they would understand where the decision lies". T
don't know where that leaves Billie Mackie Snedden.
He would make a great Prime Minister. That is, the
Liaader of what would be the majority numbers in the
Federal Parliament would have no authority whatever
in a case such as a casual-vacancy in the Senate.
And but it does seem to ' accord with general respect
in which he is held by Mr Lewis, by Mr Bjelke-Petersen
and by Mr Anthony. Because all of them have disagreed
with him on matters of oil prices, and beef or coal
exports, or Senate replacements within the last week.
And he lets them go their own merry way.
Does any Premier have any power to conduct international
trade agreements, or to conduct international
trade agreements on behalf of his State with another
country?

WHITLAM QUEST ION
WHITLAM QUEST ION Well no other country has ever thought so, and
until the last week, I don't believe any Premier
had that illusion either. The Federal Parliament
is the one that has the authority over trade and
commerce with other countries and among the States.
That has always been the case. And here again,
Mr Snedden himself has said it, but of course,
apparently he has no power of persuasion over
these errant Premiers. But of course, it's not
just a question of what Queenslanders may think
of their Premier. I notice that Mr Bjelke-Petersen,
on I think it was, he wants to sell
Queensland beef. He doesn't want the Japanese who
want Queensland coal getting their beef from New
Zealand or Tasmania. He was down in Tasmania just
over a week ago, trying to rescusitate the Country
Party, or National Party, in Tasmania.
But the fact that he makes this reference shows the
absurdity of it. Other countries-buy Australian
beef. They want that beef to be of acceptable
standard and the national Government has to ensure
those standards. Now you just can't take our
commodities, whether they're mineral or pastoral
or agricultural commodities, and classify them
according to State compartments. We sink or swim
as a nation. And Premiers have no international
standing at all. None of them ever have. They
certainl~ y have functions, and important functions
within Australia. But internationally, no Premier
* has any standing whatever. Premiers, for'instance,
have no standing with the British Government,
except as heads of government of British coloni6O.
Do you have any plans, or are there any plans, to
appoint other Senators to august positions, such as
ambassadors or to the High Court?
No. Incidentally, there have been other appointments
of this character by our predecessors. You remember
Senator Spicer was appointed as a judge. Senator
Annabel Rankin was appointed as an ambassador.
Senator Prowse chose to retire before the end of his
term, aiid he was replaced by another Country Party
Senator. This was only early last year, about 12
months ago. Now Mr Anthony, the Leader of the Country
Party telephoned Mr Tonkin, the Premier of Western
Australia, to make sure that if Senator Prowse, a
Country Party Senator, retired before the end of his
term, would Mr Tonkin replace him with a Country Party
Senator. And Mr Tonkin said, of course he would. He
would heed the convention.
not only appointments of this nature for appointments
of this nature as well as for the convention of
replacing with a Senator of the same Party? / 3

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WHITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM QUESTION
WHITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM I don't believe that, since proportional representation
was introduced for the Australian Senate, that there has
ever been a Senator who has not been replaced by a
Senator of his own Party. There has never been such
a case. Senator Murphy's resignation produced the 26th
casual vacancy. The previous 25, that is, since
proportional representation was introduced in 1949,
had all been succeeded by persons belonging to their
own Party. 10 of them were appointed by a State where
they were political opponents of the Government of the
State.
Prime Minister, are you considering moving to have a
referendum to take the power of the States to appoint
Senators in a casual vacancy, away from them? And
secondly, are you considering a referendum removing
the power of the Senate to block Supply?
No. I suppose your question derives from an article*
in one of the newspapers which said that a couple of
university lecturers had written to me on this subject.
So, insofar as the matter's come in correspondence, I
can be said to be considering it. But a copy of their
letter was also given to the press, so that's the
origin of that story.
Mr LEWIS has indicated that his appointment may be
what may be called non-political. Is such a thing
possible? It would be extraordinarily difficult, I imagine, for
a politician to find a non-political appointee. I
think Mr Lewis went further I think he said heA-iould
appoint a political neuter. I'd assume that we would
not only have a Senator Withers, but a Senator Wethers.
The Sydney Morning Herald in a leader this morning
suggested that perhaps Mr Lewis might delay appointing
a Senator at all until the next elections, which
they seem to think might be an acceptable solution.
Do you think that would be an acceptable solution?
Well I naturally regard any suggestion by the editorial
wr-iters of the Sydney Morning Herald with the greatest
respect and reverence. I notice on this matter, the
Sydney Morning Herald is the only newspaper in the
whole of Australia which has given any editorial
support to Mr Lewis. Every other metropolitan newspaper
has editorially condemned him.
Sir, how much longer are you going to tolerate
Mr Stonehouse using Australia as a sanctuary?
I don't like commenting on individuals on an occasion
like this. If a question like this was asked in the
Parliament, I would require it to be put on notice.
Now a question was asked of the Minister for Labor and
Immigration about this, at question time today.
6

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( coqnt.
QUESTION
WH ITLAM
QUEST ION
* WHITLAM
QUESTION WH ITLAM
QUESTION You have his answer to it. I don't know all the
details of these matters. As I understand it,
Mr Stonehouse, has committed no breach of
Australian laws. As I understand it, until I
don't know what's happened this afternoon no
country has sought to extradite him. There are
procedures for extradition if he's broken any
laws of any other country. As I understand it,
he has not broken any laws of our country. I know
it's a very easy thing on which to comment. Anything
I said on this subject would get very great
coverage. You don't mind if I don't rise to that
lure.
Do you see any merit in those two referenda?
I ha~ ien't considered them. I have one referendum
proposal before the Parliament which I think is a
very urgent and necessary one. Namely, that whenever
there is an election for the House of
Representatives, there should also be an election
for that half of the Senate which is first due to
face the people. We must bring to an end this
absurd situation where we have an election a
national election every year and a half at the
most. Mr Prime Minister, Do you have under consideration
any plans to delay the Supply bill or in any other
Way circumvent the Senate's rather easy way of
sending the Government to the people?
My whole procedure is to act according to the
ordinary practices and proprieties in these matters.
Supply will be sought in the ordinary way. If the
Senate chooses to reject Supply, that will be another
breach of Constitutional conventions. I think we
ought to realise that the constant suggestion that
the Senate may reject Supply, as it threatened to do
in April last year, is no justification for refusing
Supply. We should never accept that this is a
proper or a normal or a principled thing to do. It
has not, it had never happened in Australia before.
The fact that it has happened once does not make it
proper to do it or to threaten it again.
Does that mean, Prime Minister, that the Opposition
if you had any say in it, the Labor Party in Opposition
would not reject Supply in the Senate if it had the
numbers? When we were in opposition, and this proposal to
reject Supply was put, I successfully opposed it.
I was talking, Sir, in the future tense.

( I F
QUESTION WHITLAM T. nl' ontenip Late I am not goin* to hypothesise
on that nmitter. You know what I have done. In 1967
t3' ere was this suggestion. You remember it it was
in the context of post and telegraph charges, and
there was the suggestion in the Australian Labor
Party in the Caucus, then in Opposition that we
should vote against the money Bill. And I successfully
led the opposition against that move.
You have spoken very strongly today, Prime Minister,
against two State Premiers on the stands that they've
taken on two issues that we've spoken about here
today. And you have obviously taken great delight
in their disagreement with Mr Snedden. But do you
think in any way that Mr Lewis and Mr Bjelke-Pctersen
do, in fact, represent the views of the people of
their States their stands on the beef and coal and
on the Senate vacancy.
No, I don't think they do. But what does appal me
let's assume that Mr Bjelke-Petersen does represent
the views of Queenslanders on this matter. I do
believe that Australians in general should understand
the implications of what he is putting. It is not,
I believe, acceptable to Australians to say that, if
our biggest customer, Japan doesn't buy beef from
Queensland, then Queensland will not sell coal to
Japan. After all, coal comes from other States,
beef comes from other States. But surely, in
international trade, we act as one nation.. But it's
really an idle speculation, because Mr Bjelke-Petersen
has been condemned on all hands by this or should I
say Mr Snedden and Mir Peacock have begged to difrer
from Mr Bjelke-Petersen. They don't agree with him.
The fact is that any Australian Government could
prevent this course of action by any State Premier.
The any Prime Minister, any Australian Government,
the Australian Parliament have authorith over the
trade and commerce with other countries and among
the States. And if they choose to act or legislate
then any State action or legislation would be
nullified. It would be void to the extent of any
inconsistency. So Mr Bjelke-Petersen should know
that he couldn't do it. The difficulty is that, in
order to attract some support, presumably in his own
State, he is creating unnecessary tensions between
Queensland and the other States and he's also casting
a cloud over the our relations with other countries.
I think, however, Japan knows quite clearly with what
Government in Australia it has to have all its
relations. / 6

QUESTION WHITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM QUEST ION
WHITLAM QUESTION WH ITLAM When will you expect this Session's Supply Bills to
be introduced into Parliament?
At the ordinary time.
Mr Whitlam, you mentioned before that when Senator
Prowse retired from the Senate, that Mr Anthony
contacted Mr Tonkin to make sure that the normal
convention would be followed. Did you contact Mr
Lewis to take the same precautions?
No. The only conversation I have had with Mr Lewis
on this matter was by telephone on Sunday week. I
told him that a letter was being delivered as the
Constitution requires, by the President of the
Senate, to the Governor of New South Wales. And
I said I thought he would like to know, because he
would have to advise the Governor as to his response.
And that's the only conversation I have had with
Mr Lewis on this matter. I gather, from the newspapers
that he then rang the Premier of Victoria,
Mr Hamer, who gave him certain advice, which Mr
Lewis chose to ignore.
Mr Prime Minister, do you approve of guns being taken
to the Cabinet Room? Were you aware last Friday that
Mr Bjelke-Petersen took an armed bodyguard into
the Cabinet Room? Do you know if the Queensland
Premier obtained permission from the presiding officers
of the Parliament to bring an armed man into the
precincts of Parliament House? And do yop1 intend to
have members of the Queensland Party frisked at the
next conference?
I believe nobody was in Parliament House. The
presiding officers or the Treasurer and I who
respectively presided over the Loans Council and
the Premiers' Conference were informed that Mr
Bjelke-Petersen had an armed body guard with him.
I don't propose to take any action about this
matter. I should imagine Mr Bjelke-Petersen would
have got the message here that no posses are required;
Prime minister, there have been suggestions from a
number of quarters that the Government should take a
much tougher stand this year. If the Opposition does
try to block Supply, that it should resist that, and
that it should try to stay in office. If Supply is
rejected, do you think this is possible? And is this
being considered by the Government?
I have seen such speculations. I'm not going to
respond to them. / 7

-7-
QUESTION WHITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM QUESTION WH ITLAM
QUESTION WH ITLAM
QUESTION Prime Minister, following the Federal Conference
decision at Terrigal on the Provisional Revolutionary
Government of South Vietnam, have you had an
application from them for the establishment of any
sort of an office here?
No. Does the initiative, in fact, rest with them?
Yes.
What is the progress, if any, on the take over of
the State Railway system? Have you come to any
financial arrangement with South Australia? And
if not, when is such arrangement likely to come
about? There were some pretty thorough discussions on this
matter at Terrigal between Mr Dunstan and Mr Vergo
the &. LMister for Transport and also
between Mr Nielson, the Tasmanian Deputy Premier
and Mr Batt, the former Tasmanian Minister for
Transport, with Dr. Cairns and Mr Jones, my minister
for Transport and me. And I would be pretty
confident that the discussions which have gone on
for over two years now will soon be successfully
concluded. Sir, following your rejection for the second time
of a visa for Mr Wallace to come' here, do you
think it likely that the Australian tour of Southp
Africa will proceed?
I think it will probably not proceed. After all,
the Australian Cricket Board of Control would be
influenced very much by the decision of the
International Cricket Association in July. last
year, that there should be no tours of South Africa
until cricket there was multi-racial. Furthermore,
if Australia were to send an XI to South Africa,
it is quite likely that no Australian XI would be
received in the Carribean countries j Indiarr
Pakistan or that any teams from those countries
would visit Australia. There's a very great deal
at stake in this matter as far as cricket is concerned,
quite apart from the general question of what the
nation's attitude should be and the extent to which
the Government should safeguard the nation's
interests and reputation.
Prime Minister, did Cabinet accept~ a proposal yesterday
from Mr Johnson, for additional expenditure on welfare
housing? If so, for how much? And secondly was
the proposal vetted by the Expenditure Review
Committee? / 8

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WHITLAM QUEST ION
WHITLAM QUESTION
WHIT LAM
QUEST ION
WHIT LAM
QUESTION There will be, quite soon, a Bill for additional
housing grants to the States under the Housing
Agreement, partly for Housing Commission or Trust
houses and partly for Home Builders' account loans.
And half of the amount to be appropriated was
announced last November. I mightn't have the
particular States precisely in mind, but I think
in November, the additional amounts were announced
for Qld., S. A. and in respect to housing commission
houses, N. S. W. There will now be home savings
home builders' accounts grants for announced for
each of those States, and both categories for
Victoria. But this is under an arrangement which
was made last June. You will remember at the
Premiers' Conference last June when preliminary
grants were announced by my Government under the
housing agreement with the States. We stated
that if additional amounts could be spent in
erecting houses we would consult with the States
again. And when the States made such proposals,
we did consult with them. That was the arrangement
concerning housing agreement finance. You remember
that in 1973, we allocated record amounts of money
for housing agreement purposes, but the States in
fact, built fewer houses than they built for those
purposes for about 10 years. So in June last, we
said we didn't mind, in effect, how much money was
provided, as long as it could be spent in housing.
Not just put in Trust Accounts.
To take up the point on the Expenditure Committee,
I think this the first question I think you've ever
addressed me. For months.
Two weeks, I think sir. To take up the Expenditure
Committee, it met, I understand, on Thursday last
week, and then you told the Premiers on Friday
that any " ons", as they say, would have to be matched
by " offs". When might we expect to hear what the
" offs" are?
I don't think you will hear them. They occupied
quite a deal of the Cabinet's attention yesterday.
Could you give us some idea of the amount of money
involved.
No. Mr Whitlam, in the light of the decision yesterday
on the Capital Gains Tax, or land tax, could you
comment on a proposal put forward by Mr Cameron
I think about 18 months ago, that the Cabinet
considered a Holding Tax on land and a flat rate
holding tax on unoccupied land? / 9

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WHIT LAM
QUESTION WHIT LAM
QUEST ION
WHITLAM QUESTION
WHITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM QUEST ION I don't remember the proposal.
Could you amplify that point about how we won't find
out about the " offs"?
No, I am not going to announce what proposals were
in Minister's submissions which have now been
deferred or modified. After consideration and
report by the Expenditure Review Committee. That's
what I have said.
I thought decisions had been made.
No. I should I thought it was clear to you what
was involved in the Expenditure Review Committee's
operations. It is to look at proposals between
Budgets. The Budget is the Budget discussions
are the~ appropriate time to fix priorities between
competing claims. And this Committee will particularly
scrutinise submissions by ministers for the
Cabinet which would involve additional expenditure
this financial year that is, before the next
Budget discussions are held.
Did Cabinet yesterday, decide to cut back on
existing programs?
It scrutinised the prospects of expending the full
amount allocated for some programs.
Are you of the opinion that statements being made
by'Messrs. Anthony, Lewis and Bjelke-Petersen since
Mr Justice Murphy was sworn in to the High Court
were in contempt of Court? And if so, will you
refer them to the Attorney-General?
Yes No. I believe the dignity of the High Court
would be better served by ignoring the comments
which the gentlemen that you name have made.
On the expenditure question, Sir, isn't one of
the aims of your announcement about the Committee
of Ministers to curtail expenditure? That it
would be providing something of the sort of
leadership-which is required for the States to
curtail their own expenditure? To let the private
sector know that you have an answer to the
cr4. ticism that Government expected to have
expenditure was going unchecked? Sir, why can't
we find out, in aggregate terms, the amount of
money that this mysterious committee administers is
saving?

QUESTION W7HITLAM QUESTION WHITLAM Now, I am not going to respond to your kind invitation.
The fact is, that if I was naming any of these items,
I'd immediately be swamped with pleas to contirmr
particular item which is being c1eferred. You know
that perfectly well, so I am no't going to..
Sir, does that mean
No, you have had your question.
Well, to follow up, does that mean, sir, that you are
no longer on the election hustings in asking Mr
Snedden to stipulate on what he would cut back on
expenditure?
Well, I notice that he is proposing to cut back
expenditure on tertiary education, to introduce
fees and to cut education allowances. I' you
can s& e think you asked him a few questions on
this what was it, Monday wasn't it? And he came
out with that bright idea. I can assure you that
we will not be bringing back tertiary fees,
technical fees. We will not be retrenching
educational allowances for those that can survive
the means test which is there in operation.

Transcript 3625