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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 5162


Photo of Fraser, Malcolm

Fraser, Malcolm

Period of Service: 11/11/1975 to 11/03/1983

More information about Fraser, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/10/1979

Release Type: Media Release

Transcript ID: 5162

from the Press Office Summary of
A letter from a Deputy President of the Arbitration Commission,
Mr Justice Staples, which was distributed to his colleagues
in the Commission, has angered the Federal Government which is
seeking legal advice from Senator Durack on Mr Justice Staples
position. The letter was highly critical of the Government's
admendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, likening
some of the provisions to laws in pre-war Germany. Mr Street
commented this morning on the letter:
Mr Street: I have given a copy to the Attorney-General
and no aoubt he will be giving me his comments in due
course. Question: Have you seen Sir John Moore about this
letter you received?,
Mr Street: No, as you know Sir John is not well.
I rang him last night merely to say that this
document was in the hands of the press.
Question: Are you astounded by the tone of it?
Mr Street: I am astounded at the document coming
from somebody with the title of Judge.
Question: It would be extremely difficult-to move
anybody It would require a vote of both Houses of
Parliament. That would seem rather difficult in the
Senate. Could there be any plans to move Mr Justice Staples
Mr Street: We haven't even considered anything of that
kind whatever.
Question: Would you like to see him off the Commission Sir?
Mr Street: No comment at all.
Question: Mr Street, you have had it for some time. When
did you dcide to seek legal advice on it?'
Mr Street: Seek legal advice? That is rather a strange
expression. As soon as I got it, which was a day or two
ago, I gave it to the Attorney-General because he is a
man with the title of Judge in a Federal jurisdiction.
Question: Is a Judge not entitled to make any comment
at all on proposed legislation?
Mr Street: I would think it is unusual.
Question: Why do you think he sent you a copy deliberately?
Mr Street: You would have to ask him. ,/ 2

Question: Mr Street, has Cabinet considered this issue?
Mr Street: No.
Question: So what is the position as it stands at the moment?
Mr Street: The position as it stands at the moment
is that, as I mentioned, I am astounded at the language
of the document coming from someone with a title of Judge,
that I have given a copy of the document to the Attorney-
General, and that no doubt in due course he will be giving
me his comments.
Question: Mr Street does the Government find'it
embarrassing-at all that a Federal Justice has
described the legislation as comparable with pre-war
Nazi Germany?
Mr Street: I think that is a comment on the author.
Question: Mr Street let's be frank. Mr Justice Staples
has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Government
for some time now. Are you going to do anything about
this? Would you like to do something about it, or in
fac-t are your hands tied?
Mr Street: No, I have no comment to make on that at all.
As I say I have given the document to the Attorney-General.
There is nothing furthr to be said at the present time.
Question: precondition of future appointments that
might prevent that sort of thing happening. Could you
possibly restrict a Justice's duties, Sir?
Mr Street: I wouldn't comment on that at all.
Question: Sir you haven't said anything about his
criticisms themselves. Do you agree with them? Are
they valid criticisms?
Mr Street: I haven't commented on them, and I won't
comment on them until I have the comments back to me from
the Attorney-General.
Question: But you will pursue the legislation?
Mr. Street: Of course.
Question: Are you convinced at this stage that it would
stand up toa constitutional challenge?
Mr. Street: That is our official advice.

Mr. Justice Staples was appointed to the Arbitration Commission
by the Whitlam Government in 1975. Interview with Mr. Bowen,
Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Question : Mr. Bowen, do you agree with the criticisms
which Mr. Justice Staples has made of the proposed
Mr. Bowen: Yes we do. The legislation deserves the
greatest criticism. We have been opposing it in the
Parliament and it is on the basis of the law that is, that
what the Government is trying to do it has no constitutional
power so to do and accordingly what Mr. Justice Staples
has also said in writing to his fellow commissioners that
it is virtually beyond the powers of a Government so to act.
Question: Do you think, in your opinion, that he is acting
within hsrights as a Judge of the Commission?
Mr. Bowen: I think so, because judges don't forfeit their
individual views of individual rights. He is entitled to
talk to his fellow commissioners, he is entitled to write
to them. He has a point of view, and as he is a qualified
judicial officer I think it is most valuable to think he
can express a view which I would . hope the Government would
take notice of.
Question: It would appear from what Mr. Street said,
and I quote him, that he says: " I am astounded at the
language of the document coming from someone with the title
of a Judge".
Mr. Bowen: Well, Mr. Street has always been very loyal
to Mr. Fraser. I think it's Mr. Fraser's legislation
that they are trying to . push through the Parliament.
The point we must realise in this country is Mr. Fraser's
law is not always the law of the country, and so whilst
Mr. Street says he is astounded, we are equally astounded,
particularly those who have legal training, to think that
the Government would attempt to dictate to a_-court how
it should act. I think that's got no precedent for that
at all.
Question: Why do you think it had to be up to a judge
of the Commission to make the first moves in severe
criticism of the proposed legislation?
Mr.* Bowen: I would think it is because it is of a technical
nature. You would have, to read the fine print to realise
that what the Government was attempting to do was to tell
a court for the first time what it shall or shall not do
in the course of what is called justice. Now, justice knows
no bounds of a Parliament. It knows the bounds of rights
of people, and in this case I think it is meant that it would
have to require a skilled lawyer to really say what was being
done in the legislation. / 4

Question: Why do you so strongly support Mr Justice Staples?
What in particular of his criticisms to you strongly agree
with. Mr Bowen: Well, the invalidity of the legislation. It is
not a matter of supporting Mr Justice Staples, that we are
happy to do. But if Mr Justice Staples had remained
silent we still would have been opposing this legislation.
In fact we were opposing it quite strenuously in the
Parliament all this week. We have been gagged in the
divisions on the basis that the Government has no power
to do what it is attempting to do. At that stage we
ignorant of Mr Justice Staples letter to his fellow
commissioners. Qu estion: With Mr Justice Staples speaking out, do you
see the future of the Arbitration Commission being in
some kind of jeopardy over a rather crucial situation?
Mr Bowen: think it will strengthen it because the
problem we have in Democracy, unless people speak out, state
what is happening, you can get a weak democracy. Where
you get people who are able to stand up and express their
views as individuals but nevertheless ones which should
be taken notice of you get a much stronger democracy.
I think full marks to Mr Justice Staples for doing what
he has done, because by so doing this legislation ought
to be withdrawn.
Question: You don't see this speaking out as setting a
precedent which may have perhaps unfortunate results?
Mr Bowen: The way the world is going the more that
people speak up and indicate what should be done, the
better. You don't get democracy by silence Whilst
it can be said that perhaps Judges shouldn't be
speaking out on all issues, that we can understand.
But in issues of legislation what is the difference
between a Judge making a statement on the law asagainst
a Member of Parliament making the same statement.
Interview with Mr David Plowman, lecturer in Industrial Relations
at the University of NSW, who says he agrees with Mr Street
that it is unusual for Judges to make such comments, but his
sympathies are with Mr Justice Staples, because it is the
Arbitration Commission which must suffer the consequences of
any changes in the Conciliation Arbitration Act.
He said the area was a very technical one.
Making the trains run on time has become a major headache for
the Wran Government in NSW. Whilst the new Eastern Suburbs
railway is booming, commuters from Sydney's western suburbs
not only have to put up with slow, old and uncomfortable
transport, but far too often the trains just don't arrive.
According to the State's Public Transport Commission there
aren't enough drivers and too many get sick.

Mr Bjelke *-Petersen indicated today that he might be prepared
to soften his stand on his contribution to the Kainpuchean
appeal. His objection to participation in the appeal and
in other foreign aid appeals has been that he didn't know
where the money was going. Interviewed, he said he was
convinced, and he knew aid was going on the black market
in Kampuchea. He said it was a matter of doing the right
thing by the people concerned, and Mr Peacock should take
a plane right to the people and give them the aid, rather
than just send it by sea so that they never get it. The
people for whom the aid was meant never received it.
A group of Adelaide Catholic priests have offered to provide
accommodation for 80 Kampuchean refugees, but-the Federal
Government has turned them down because the number would put
the intake of Indochinese refugees over the quota. The superior
of the group has strongly criticised the Government's stand,
and said he was bitterly disappointed.
The Minister for Post and Telecommunications, Mr Staley,
flew into Perth today, reluctant to speak about a report
that Cabinet will discuss a submission by him on Monday
that will exclude Telecom from operating a new domestic
satellite communications system for.. Australia. The Minister
took pains to emphasise that there were inaccuracies in the
report, but would not say what they were. Interview with
Mr Staley, who said he would not comment on the precise
timings of things before Cabinet, or on any of the specifics.
He said he expects to be able to make a statement to Parliament
within the next few weeks. 000---

Transcript 5162