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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3745

PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS CONFERENCE - CANBERRA, 20 MAY 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: 20/05/1975

Release Type: Press Conference

Transcript ID: 3745

PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS CONFERENCE
CANBERRA, 20 MAY, 1975
Prime Minister: Perhaps I should express my great satisfaction at
the progress that the Family Law Bill has made yesterday and today.
The central parts of the Bill have received the approval of both
the Senate last year and now the House of Representatives.
Australia, in consequence, will have the most advanced, most
enlightened matrimonial and family law in the world. The
medieval concepts of guilt and fault will be removed from divorce
proceedings. The sole ground for divorce will be the irretrievable
breakdown of marriage, manifested by 12 months separation. An
entirely new court, the Family Court of Australia, will be se~ t
up to handle divorce proceedings and to administer an extensive
machinery for reconciliation. The whole tragic business of
divorce will be handled in an atmosphere now of dignity and compassion, taking full account of the welfare of children and
the interests and feelings of the partners. By recognising the
fundamental status of marriage as a profoundly personal human
relationship, a relationship requiring the full consent, the
continuing consent,. of two partners, a contract founded on the
free, voluntary and absolute commitment of both sides yet vulnerable
to the human frailties of * either side, the Bill will give frash and
meaningful stature -Lo -the institution of marriage itself.
This has been an essehtially non-party measure; it was in the
Senate, it was in the Senate Committee which considered it, it
has been in the House of Representatives, both on the second
reading and now in the Committee stages. Yet I see it as the.
most progressive and extensive social reforif achieved during the
-term of my* Government. I believe Australians owe a lasting debt
to the architect of the Bill, the former Attorney--General,
Mr. Justice Lionel Murphy. We have come a long way since the
marriage and divorce laws in this country were dispersed in a
confused and-generally repressive tangle among the statute books
of the six different States and the different Federal Territories.
And on this occasion I don't forget the role played by Mr. Justicoe
Joske, by the present Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Garfield
B~ arwick, when he was Attorney-General and I think abbve all now,
Mr. Justice Murphy.
Are there any questions?
Question: Will you give an assurance now, Sir, that you will
honour your election promise to abolish the means test in the life
of this Parliament?
Prime Minister: Yes. This Parliament has until the middle of 1977
to run. And by that time I'm certain that every man and woman of
or above will have the age pension without means tests.. I've
given that undertaking on behalf of the party so often that I
shouldn't think that anybody would now doubt it.

Question: It's a subject of discussion at the moment,
Sir, that's why I raised it.
Prime Minister: Maybe, but you asked me and I gave the answer
that I would have given throughout.
Question: Are you satisfied with the performance of
Dr. Cass as Minister for the Environment?
Prime Minister: I believe that the question of the environment
will be handled more effectively and expeditiously from now on.
Question: In view of your apparent acceptance that sand
mining will not harm the environment at Fraser Island, can you
state your attitude now to oil drilling on the Barrier Reef?
Should the Queensland Government grant leases?
Prime Minister: Now, you misrepresent my attitude. I'm not
saying that I'm satisfied with sand mining on Fraser Island.
I've never said that. What I have asserted is that it is not
possible, constitutionally or legally, in my view, and the
view of the Government, to make our procedures retrospective.
That's what I've saidaand the companies which were given
authorisation by the responsible Minister to export sand
minerals from Fraser Island had been engaged in preparation
for that for many years. The dates were given at question
time today. And they had completely complied with the law.
Now the attitude that my Government has taken throughout has
been that in respect to contracts for sales overseas, it will
not break those contracts, it will not force the breaking of
those contracts. It will see that contracts are honoured. And
we have taken that attitude throughout. We can't take a different
attitude on Fraser Island to the attitude we have taken previously.
You mention the question of the Barrier Reef and oil drilling
there. The legal position is different there. There has not
been drilling there in recent years, it has been suspended for
over four years pending the Royal Commissions issued by the
Australian and the Queensland Government to Mr. Justice Wallace
and his two colleagues. The Australian Government will be
considering those Royal Commissions report on Friday morning.
I would expect that we will adhere to the point of view which
I had forecast that we will accept Mr. Justice Wallace's recommendation
that in the present state of knowledge, oil drilling
should not take place on the Barrier Reef. Now in our view,
and it has been asserted, of course, in the Seas and Submerged
Lands Act, at present under challenge in the High Court,
substantially, almost precisely, the same Bill that Sir Reginald
Schwartz introduced under Foreign Minister McMahon, under Prime
Minister Gorton in April 1970, the sea bed there is within Federal
jurisdiction. And therefore, the granting of permits of this
character in the sea bed around the Great Barrier Reef is a
matter of Federal jurisdiction. Similarly, of course, it's a

matter of Federal jurisdiction in respect of the Northern
Territory, in particular in respect to uranium and bauaxite found
which are principally in -the Northern Territory. Now there's
a different situation as regards sand mining, coal, iron ore
and so on, in the States. My Government...
Question: Why wasn't export approval given for those two
leases?
Prime Minister: Because there was no legal grounI to refuse
the export authorisation. No legal ground. The companies
had for years, before my Government was elected, complied w:!-th
the reautrements of the Queensland law. There has been an
environmental public inquiry about three or four years ago,
before we came in, under Queensland law. All the leases and
all the conditions had been granted, observed under Queensland4
law. In those circumstances it was not possible for us to set
the law aside. The position is different on -the Barrier Reef,
or at least the sea bed i~ n our view, because we believe
that's Federal jurisdiction and in the Northern Territory where
everybody agrees it's Fede~ ral jurisdiction.
Question: What led you to believe that . the environment
would be better managed i~ n the future?
Prime Minister: Because I bi . ieve the delay by the Departrnent
and the Minister have now been brought sufficiently to theirattention.
Question: When you say that there is no legal ground to
refuse exports surely that flies in the face the export powers
you have which Mr. Connor has used, on other occasions, and
has threatened to use, for instance, in relation to coal with
Utah State onshore mining, with gas onshore from central Australia,
etc. etc., and South Australia exports, the power has been plantCed
on a num ber of occasions to clearly lie with the Federal
Governfment. EHow can you say that there'are no legal grounds to
refuse exports?
Prime Minister: Well if you don't mind, I don't want to argue
the constitution law in detail with you
Question: Just very briefly would do
Prime Minister: No well, I'll bear with you. The constitution
gives the Federal Parliament the responsibility to pass laws
with respect to trade and commerce with other countries. There
may be some other powers which don't apply in this case, for

instance, the external affairs power, but there's no treaty
or international convention covering Eraser Island, or
defence power. But there's no aspect of defence power involved
in Fraser Island. Now the whole question is do environmental
factors come within trade and commerce with other countries?
Quite-apart from that, there is the question of making a law
retrospective. There was no Federal law, until last December,
none at all, and in those circumstances, whatever the constitutional
situation may be, it would be quite wrong to make
a law retrospective, that is a basic tenet and any court would
lean against making it, making an action or contract illegal
retrospectively. Question: Does your decision mean that you'll grant
export permits for the remaining leases of Dillingham Murphy
Ores, and with all due respect to your legal expertise, Sir,
do you think you compromise your party's environmental impact
policy? Prime Minister: No, I don't think we have. We were the
Government which extended the export prohibitions from iron
ore and uranium, where they were under our predecessors, to
coal and to bauxite and to beach sands. I mean, we did that,
and we brought in the law, the Environment Protection Impact
Proposal Act last December. We amended it again last week.
We are bringing in, probably this week, the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park legislation. We are drafting marine environment
protection legislation. We are doing this. I must emphasise
that you jeopardise a very great deal if you purport to make
anything which was legal, illegal retrospectively. Incidentally,
export permits or authorisations and they are the same have
not been sought in respect to the other leases. There will now
be a public inquiry under the Federal legislation, and that ought
to be concluded within the next few months, and it may be that
shortcomings in the mining on Fraser Island would be revealed
by that inquiry as they were not revealed by the State inquiry
of 1971, and if they are, then public opinion or State pressure,
or coordination, cooperation, Federal and State, might preclude
any damage.
Question: You mentioned the Marine Environment Bill and
the Barrier Reef Bill. Those Bills I take it, are proceeding
on the basis that you already have power over the offshore
areas despite the fact that the High Court hasn't made a
decision on the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill.
Prime Minister: Yes that's right, that is so.
Question: Are you worried at the suggestions that the
High Court may take up to a year to make that determination?
And in the meantime, how are you going to stop the States
granting and renewing leases in offshore areas?

Prime Minister: I'm not going to speculate how long the
Hfigh Court may reserve its decision in this matter. The
l] egislation which is about. ' to come in -it was approved by
the Legislation CommittLee this morning -is based on the
assumption that successive Federal Govern~ ments have made
for over five years now, that the sea bed is within Federal
jurisdiction.
Question: Regarding the Mayaguez affair. Do you bealieve
that President Ford was justified in sending in the M'arines, or
do you think -that his action was precipitate, coul d have rislked
the securilty of the area, and finally have you sent any note
or any message or any communication or cable to President Ford
about thc mat-ter?
Prime Minister:, No, I've sent rno communication, note, cable
or let-ter, to use -the terms of the Melbourne ' Age', and I
have no comment -to offer.
Question: Have you been appraised as-yet of -the A. C. T. U.' s
decision on indexation in Perth?
Prime Minister: No.
Question: I understand -that it was announced by Mr. Hawke
about 45 minutes ago, and th~ at they support the principle of
indexation. and call on all Australian trade unionists to do
the same.
Prime Minister: Good.
Question:. Apart from good, do you have any comment?
llrimne Minister: No, I'm very pleased. They've done the right
-thing as the Government did.
Question: In view of reported denials this morning of your
allegations concerning the Vietnamese family's entering Australia,
could you tell us when and how the Australian authorities were
misled in regard to this incident?
Prime Minister: I'll quote what I said to the Joint Parliamentary
Committee on Parliamentary Committees last night
" I should refer to what Senator Mulverhili says about this
Austral. ian of Vietnamese origin. What happened there was
-that ho misled -the authorities. He said that the Acting
Prime Minister, hie said Connor, had given authority for him

to bring certain extended relatjves. Connor denies it, so
for greater precaution I thought he might have meant Cairns
Cairns denies it too. He got them in by misrepresentation."
The situation is that a cable came from Guam to the Department
of Labor and Immigration on 11 May from an experienced officer.
" Sponsor travelled to Saigon after speaking to acting Prime
Minister, Connor. Sponsor claims to have been told by Acting
Prime Minister that should he succeed in getting rest of family
out of Vietnam they w. ould also be approved." Mr. Connor denies
that he ever spoke to him or that he ever told him anything
of the nature.
Question: Soon after Labor came to power a uranium mining
company in Australia entered into a contract which was signed
and written with a Japanese electricity firm for the supply of
uranium. So far Mr. Connor has refused to honour that contract.
Under what law is he refusing to do so, other than the export
powers? Prime Minister: lie assured the House today that he would honour
it, and it will be honoured. The uranium
Question: I'm talking about a contract entered into after
Labor came to power, he's only previously said that he will
honour contracts entered into before Labor came to power.
Prime Minister: Well the contract to which you refer will be
honoured. It was approved by the Government. The uranium
which the company is entitled to receive by whatever ' date
it is will be received by that company. The Australian
Government is in a position to ensure that that uranium will
be delivered in the terms of the contract. I made it plain
earlier, that in regard to the Northern Territory, the
Australian Government has all the powers that any State
Government has in these matters, in addition to export powers.
Question: What is your attitude to the application by
B. H. P. for a price rise?
Prime Minister: The Australian Government is responding to the
suggestion that it should provide counsel to assist the tribunal
in determining this application, and I expect in the next few
days to be conferring with the relevant Ministers on the general
terms of the view that will be put by the Government.
Question: Efforts are being made to get the trade unions
to prevent any mining on Fraser Island. If they succeed what
would the Government's attitude and actions be?
Prime Minister: The Government has responsibilities in this
matter and I don't see that unions do.

7.
Question: Have you received any communication from the
U. N. on the distribution of refugees from Guam and can you
give us any idea on the numbers although you've said that
this is going to be left up to the U. N. largely. Have you
had any discussion about the numbers that are likely to come
to Australia?
Prime Minister: No, I can give no estimate of that at all..
There might have been some communications with the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the last day I
haven't seen it. The UNHCR's representatives have been
operating rather in Hong Kong, and have been trying to operate
in Singapore rather than in Guam. One feature which has not
been sufficiently emphasised is that it is quite likely that
increasing numnbe:-s of refugees and they're the only categories
with which the Australian Government would be concerned, and
even of evacuees, might be returning to Vietnam. All the
forecasts and in fact the propaganda about bloodbaths and
holocausts have not materialised and there may, therefore,
be a very considerable number, very considerable increase in
Vietnamese returning to their own country. That of course
would be the best outcome.
Question: Are you satisfied with Mr. Connor's performance
as Minister for Minerals and Energy?
Prime Minister: In the matters we have been discussing here
which is all I suppose you are asking about, of course. I
think he has been a very effective and successful Minister.
He has gone as far in asserting the national interest as the
law allows. I know that some people choose to disparage him.
There was some reference to Utah by one of the earlier questioners.
Let me point out, that the previous Labor Government federally
made the Joint Coal Board arrangement with New South Wales, and
because of that, in New South Wales, Mr. Connor is able to assert
proper environmental conditions. In Queensland there is no such
arrangement and, therefore, he has to rely on persuasion alone.
Mr. Connor has a longer experience and a deeper involvement in
environmental matters than any of us.
Question: What mechanisms exist for the Department of the
Environment to be made aware of projects for the export of mining
products and at what stage of the projects proposal to the
Federal Government do those mechanisms come into operation?
Prime Minister: I don't know the details here. You should ask
the Ministers concerned. The Fraser Island one, of course,
the Fraser Island chronology, I know well and I cited it at
question time today.

Question: Suppl. ementary quest ion regarding the Viet -axese
question You did say they gained entry by misreprcse-fLation
or words to thatE effect, " Out what was tChe actual misrepresentation?
H-ow did they get in 24 of then.?
Prime Mini'ister: I have no suj-p. emn. ente,-ry answer.
Question: Dur-ing your discussions with the President of
the World Bank, Mr. Robert 14cNamara in Washingto,, n, was the
question of thE Bank's Third Window Project raised w,. ith you?
Prime Iinisterc: Yes.
Question: Did 71r. McNamnara ask yvou for a contribution,
dLid hie ask fort Australia to contribute towards that projecL-?
And to. what extent wo7(, uld Austraiia hDeco-rite financiallyv involved?
Prime Minister: He raisedl these matters with me. I pointed
out, of course, that no commnityen;: could be made except in
the Budget context and the Budget %, ouidn' L be announced until
19 August. But I did ltell him that I would,. qu it c soon, let
him have a tent~ ative response, but not as to amounts.
Question: When 6o you hope to renew the aids programmRes
in South VietLnamr, the civil aid p-fograiXmC?
Prime Minister:. As soon as we can establish cortmunications with
the Revolutionary Goverrnmert of South Vietnamn. Wie have, toflay,
inStl'UcLed our Ambassador-in Hanoi-to estciblish contact with
the representatives of the Revo: lutioiiary GovernmentL of South
Vietnam. When we have that contact, then of cour-se, we w. ill
be able to resume the quite extensive aid programmes we ha-ve
in the South. We also, of course, will be able to mnake our
own asses: sment about cond-itions for reconstruct'Cion, ' resettlement,
repatridtLion.
Question: Are you concerned that the Government's o'vertulres
to the now rulers,_ the new Governmeint ini Phinom Penh, have yet
to be acklicwledged?
Prime MinistLer-. think we are having the same time lag as
every other country is flaying in establishiLng relations with
the new Governme,-nt. in Phnomn Penhi.

Transcript 3745