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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3746


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: 23/05/1975

Release Type: Press Conference

Transcript ID: 3746

BRISBANE,. FRIDAY. 23. MAY, 1975....
Mr. Wvhitlam: I thought I would begin by announcing a decision
we made in Canberra this morning. It was on the Royal Commissions
into the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. You remember
the Australian and Queensland Governments appointed joint Royal
Commissions in May 1970 and the report camne to hand six months
ago. Cabinet considered the report this morning. We decided
that there should be no drilling in the area of the Reef
until more scientific evidence is available about the long term
effects of possible oil pollution on the Reef and its ecosystems.
You might remember there was a difference of opinion between the
three Commissioners on the degree of' risk involved. We came down
firmly on the side of taking no risk at all. All the Commissioners,
all three of them, were agreed that no drilling should be permitted
on any cay, island, reef or national park or marine park when
declared. Two of the Commissioners, Dr. Smith and Mr. Moroni,
felt that with certain strict safeguards, drilling might be
permitted in designated areas around the Reef. The Chairman,
Mr. Justice Wallace, the former President of the Court of Appeal
of New South Wales, felt that this would be an unacceptable risk
and that all drilling should be prohibited until further scientific
inquiries had been made and the degree of risk established. We
accepted Sir Gordon Wallace's view. I wrote to Mr. Bjelke-Petersen
this morning, informing him of-our decision and seeking his
support for our stand, suggesting that our respective Ministers
should consult as soon as possible about carrying out the decision.
To put the safety of the Reef beyond doubt, we on Thursday,
yesterday, introduced a Bill to establish a Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park. This is in accordance with an undertaking I gave
here six months ago. I hope the Queensland Government will
cooperate with us in establishing a joint authority to administer
the Park for the protection of a great natural and national asset.
Are there any questions you would like to ask?
Question: Can Queenslanders expect that you will give the
Barrier Reef better protection than you have given Fraser Island?
Mr. Whitlam: The Barrier Reef in our view, falls within Federal
jurisdiction. Fraser Island does not. Federal jurisdiction
covers the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory:.
there's no doubt about that. We also believe that the seabed
around Australia falls within Federal jurisdiction. You remember
it was on this basis that Mr. McMahon when he was Foreign Minister,
in April, 1970, sponsored a Bill, when Mr. Gorton was Prime
Minister, to declare Australian jurisdiction over the seabed.
That Government, including Mr. McMahon's Government, when he
ousted Mr. Gorton, didn't proceed with the Bill. We passed it.
All theStates have now challenged it in the High Court. We

are confident, however, that we have power there, so we
exercise it. But on Fraser Island, that is State territory
and, accordingly, any authority we have starts at the stage
of exports only. That is, we can't say that people can mine
or cannot mine. We can't say on what conditions they can mine.
All we can do turns on whether they can make exports. Now you
asked me about Fraser Island in particular. You are referring
to the fact that we have said, in effect, we can't stop the
export of minerals under arrangements which were operating
before we came into office or before we passed any laws about
Question: YourcCabinet decision on the Barrier Reef Is
that an attempt perhaps to recoup some of the bad publicity
you received on Fraser Island?
Mr. Whitlam: We have been committed to having a Great Barrier
Reef National Park, Marine Park. I'm sure I promised it in
the 1974 policy speech and I'm pretty sure I promised it the
1972 policy speech. It's a very complicated piece of legislation
because it wants to rely on all the Constitutional authority we
have the seabed, international treaties, and so on. You look
at the Bill we brought in last night. We promised to do this,
we believe we are entitled to do it, now we have done it.
decision? Wouldn't this seem to pre-empt the High Court
Mr. Whitlam: You can't wait until you get the decision. If
we wait until all the challenges there are about half a dozen
different challenges and each of those is supportedby more than
one State if we waited until the High Court handed down its
judgement in all these half dozen challenges, we would have to
just mark time. We take the view, as the Gorton Government took,
and as I believe Mr. McMahon personally took, that the Australian
Parliament is entitled to pass laws concerning the seabed around
Australia, so we have gone ahead on that basis.
Question: I understand the Queensland Government considers
that the granting of oil drilling permits is within its jurisdiction.
What can the Federal Government do if the Queensland Government
continues along that line?
Mr. Whitlam: When this Act goes through, and I would expect
that it would go through the House of Representatives by the
end of next week and through the Senate by the end of the
following week, that will then, we think, be the law. If any
drilling goes ahead, we would think it would be in breach of the
law. I suppose we would have to wait for the High Court decision
there, but people who would undertake drilling now, and it has
been suspended for some years, anybody whoundertook drilling
now, would do so with the full knowledge that the Federal
Parliament has passed the law and unless the High Court declares

that law invalid, then that's a law which the person starting
drilling would have to obey. He would be committing a breach
of the law if he went ahead. The law has been passed and
therefore they would breach it at their risk.
Question: Is this, legislation then virtually a challenge
to the High Court?
Mr. Whitlan: No, we are going ahead on the basis, partly,
that we do have the legislative authority over the seabed.
There are, in addition, some international conventions covering
it and we would rely on those too.
Question:. Are you not challenging the High Court to find
in. your favour?
Mr. Whitlam: The* States,. all of them, have challenged our
Seas and Submerged Lands Act, which is the same piece of
legislation that Mr. McMahon introduced under Mr. Gorton,
five years-ago last month. The States have challenged the law.
Question: But you could go-and establish National Parks
and then have the High Court rule them as out of order because of
State territories.
Mr. Whitlam: That could be. But in the meantime, I hasten to
say, we offered I think, at least six months ago, we offered
to the Queensland Government.. I wrote to Mr. Bjelke-Petersen
saying let's have a Joint Board or Commission running the
National Park. And under the Bill which we brought in last
night, we would propose to ask Queensland to appoint people
to it. We want a joint one.
Question: Is it true that you expect that ,: cooperation from
the State Government in view of what's happened in the past?
Mr. Whitlam: I'd go no further and say that I hope. The offer's
been there for at least half a year. I think I wrote to
Mr. Bjelke-Petersen just after the elections last year, that's
in May I think.
Question: Will you be very disappointed if he doesn't
give that cooperation?
Mr. Whitlam: I will be disappointed, yes.
Question: Is it correct, that Cabinet has decided against
extending the minimum floor price for wool?

Mr. Whitlam: The decision that the Cabinet made this morning
on this matter will be given by the Minister for Agriculture,
Senator Wriedt, to the Australian Wool Industry Conference.
Question: What reaction
Mr. Whitlam: I don't know that, but that's when it will be
given. Question: What reaction will you get from wool growers, Sir?
: Mr. Whitlam: I've . given an answer to that one.
Question: Will. that be on Tuesday, Sir?
Mr. Whitlam: I don't know when the Australian Wool Industry
Conference is to meet the Minister.
But Cabinet has made a firm decision on it?
Mr. Whitlam: Yes.
Question: Has it rejected it?
Mr. Whitlam: I've given an answer to this one.
Question: Cabinet also today decided to appoint a three
man Royal Commission into pecuniary interests of parliamentarians.
Could I ask you, Sir, why a Royal Commission, why an inquiry
at such a high level?
Mr. Whitlam: The parliament resolved that there should be a
judicial inquiry. That meant an inquiry by judges. Now the
best way, we believe, to have an inquiry by judges is to appoint
them as Royal Commissioners. Once you appoint them as Royal
Commissioners, they can require people to give information in
reference to them. If you don't make them Royal Commissioners,
then they can ask somebody to give them information and that
person can defy them.
Question: inquiry? Can you give us the terms of reference for this
Mr. Whitlam: I haven't got them with me, but they were
substantially stated in the resolution of the parliament
Question: * r

three weeks ago.
Question: Has any decision been made as to who will make
up the Commission?
Mr. Whitlam: No. Even if there had been,* I wouldn't tell
you those, because obviously one has to wait until the
Governor-General appoints them, but I can tell you we have
not approached judges at this stage. After all, we only
decided this morning that it would be a Royal Commission
and that there would be three Royal Commissioners. But: it's
been known for at least three weeks that there would have to
be at least one judge or retired judge conducting it. So.
we decided that there should be three judges, or retired judges,
and that they should be Royal Commissioners.
Question: What about the suggested changes in ministerial
responsibilities for some members of your Cabinet? Is this in
fact true that you will be making--. changes in the near future?
Mr. Whitlan: ' There's one change that I'm going to make. When
the Telecommunications Bill and the Postal Services Bill are
passed by the House of Representatives, the Telecommunications
Commission and the Postal Commission will come into operation
and the Postmaster-General's Department will be abolished.
Senator Bishop will be the last Australian Postmaster-General
and he will take over one of Mr. Enderby's portfolios-
Police and Customs.
Question: What about Housing? Will that be taken off
Mr. Johnson and given to Mr
Mr. Whitlam: You ask me directly: no But frankly there is
no basis whatever for this speculation. It's significant
that this was in the papers earlier in the week and I suppose
I'm asked more questions at question time than anyone and
nobody thought there was sufficient strength in that speculation
to ask me. If they -thought I'd be embarrassed by this in
parliament, they would have asked me, but nobody asked. There's
no strength in that whatever. We created the Department of
Housing and Construction. We created it.
Question: What about Mr. Connor's standing after this
$ 2,000 mhillion loan business that's been causing such a scandal?
Mr. Whitlam: Be more precise. What do you mean scandal?

Question: According to Mr. Anthony it is a scandal.
Mr. Whitlam: Mr. Anthony talking about scandals! Don't
hide behind him. Let him say that to my face. You put
something directly to me yourself.
Question: Did the news of the loan affect Australia's
overseas credit rating? Was that reason, or one of the
reasons why Mr. Connor's authority was revoked?
Mr. Whitlam:" No, I told the parliament yesterday that you
can only raise one" loan overseas at a time and we were raising
a loan in the United States. Now that being. so, you've got
to end any other. negotiations you're carrying on for loans.
There are two big. nations which lend money the United States
and West Germany and each of them makes that requirement.
I stated that . yesterday. 1.
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Question:: Will the authority be given back to Mr. Connor
to re-negotiate this loan?
Mr. Whitlam: We'll wait until there's some proposition before
anything like that comes':. up.
Question: Any comment on Mr. Gorton's resignation from
the Liberal Party and his decision to stand as an independent
for the Senate in the A. C. T.?
Mr. Whitlam: I don't come into such painful political questions
as that. You'll be asking me about the split up in Western
Australia next and. Mr. Bjelke-Petersen's visit there. What canI say
about Mr. Gorton? Obviously it is an astonishing thing when a
former Prime Minister leaves the Party he led. That's big
news but I don't want to say anthing more about it. I've
made a couple of references to Mr. Gorton in earlier comments
to you. As you know, I support, always have supported, my
Party's always supported, some of the things for which he has
stood. After all, he was the first Australian Prime Minister
to show any interest in the Barrier Reef. He was the first
Australian Prime Minister to show any interest in the Australian
seabed. He persuaded Mr. Bjelke-Petersen to appoint the Royal
Commission into the Barrier Reef. He got through his Parliamentary
Party federally, the Bill to declare Australian jurisdiction
over the seabed. I support very much some of the initiatives
he took and I'm proud that I was able to consummate those
initiatives. His crowd let him down. We have pushed them through.
Question: What sort of penalties are you thinking of in
this oil drilling legislation? Any special penalties for
people who break the law in that particular regard, with oil
drilling in the Great Barrier Reef?
_ C

Mr. Whitlam: No. I can't remember what the penalties are.
I frankly can't remember. But there are penalties. I think
we should remember that penalties are of three kinds. One is
you can have a jail sentence, one is a fine, one is just getting
the Courts to enjoin somebody from breaking the law,. and then,
of course, if any person breaks an injunction like that, he
goes to Court for contempt of Court. It could be in any of
those three respects.
Question: You mentioned the loan negotiations going on
in the United States. How long had they been going on before
it was realised that you had two negotiations going at once?
Mr. Whitlam: The negotiations in the United States have just
started this week.
Question: Why didn't you continue with negotiations for
the $ 2,000 million that
Mr. Whitlam: You've got to choose which one you go ahead with.
You can't have competing loan negotiations. You have one or
the other.
Question: Can you say what that $ 2,000 million that
Mr. Connor was negotiating was to be used for in Australia?
Mr. Whitlan: In connection with energy matters, that is, to
maximise the development of Australian energy resources.
Question: Could you be more specific, Sir?
Mr. Whitlam: Well, look at the energy resources we have here.
We have natural gas, we have uranium, we have coal, we have both
black coal and Jignite, we have some hydro.
Question: Could you explain a little more explicitly, Sir,
as to why the United States loan negotiations were continued?
Mr. Whitlam: Why they were commenced?
Question: Why you decided to drop these other negotiations
in favour of the United States?
Mr. Whitlam: We decided the United States one was specific and

Question: There was more chance of obtaining money from
the United States rather than from this $ 2,000 million loan?
Mr. Whitlam: It was immediate and specific.
Question: Were you happy with the Queensland
Can I ask a question of the poor showing in the
Mr. Whitlam: This is a bit far back now, isn't
six months ago, really. I think it's been much Labor image?--
State elections
it. That's.
Question: Will the money to be raised in the United States
be of a similar amount to the $ 2,000 million.
Mr. ' Whitlam: . No, no.
Question: Will it be used for the same purposes as you
outlined in Mr. Connor's 3? 1;
Mr. Whitlam: No.
Question: What will it be used for?
Mr. Whitlam: General governmental purposes in Australia, that's
all general ones.
Question: Why have you decided to drop these measures that
you wanted the $ 2,000 million for?
Mr. Whitlam: We aren't dropping those measures at all. We
are intent on doing all these matters in the energy field.
After all, we established the Pipeline Authority, we established
the Petroleum and Minerals Authority, we have expanded the operation
of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. In all these respects,
it is very obvious that we are pushing ahead with the development
of one of Australia's principal strengths, namely our energy
Question: Then it is possible that you could re-open
negotiations for the $ 2,000 million
Mr. Whitlam: That's your speculation.

Question: You've told us that you think the Labor image
in Queensland has improved since the election, and yet we
see just recently and because of the Caucus vote on Fraser
Island, a deepening rift between Mr. Burns and his Deputy.
Does this concern you?
Mr. Whitlam: I only know what I see in this afternoon's paper
and I have learned from long experience to look behind the
Question: Would you attempt to mediate if you find
Mr. Whitlam: Now, wait a bit. I have stated where there is
Federal jurisdiction.. I want you to get clear what the Federal
jurisdiction is in matters within State boundaries. Why the
Federal Government decided to allow the Fraser Island people
to export the minerals which they've been mining there, is
because they were entirely within the law in what they had
done. They had got the leases within the law. They had been
subjected to a public inquiry on environmental issues. They
had undertaken to comply with the findings of that public inquiry.
They had undertaken operations on those leases in accordance
with those environmental conditions. They had done all those
things before my Government was elected. Furthermore, when
my Government was elected, there was no law preventing the
export of any minerals other than iron ore and uranium. our
predecessors had no laws forbidding the export of minerals.
It was one of the very first things we did. It was one of
the very first submissions before our Government. It came
from Mr. Connor and it was to prevent the export of any mineral
from Australia without the authorisation of the Minister for
Minerals and Energy. Let's get this quite clear. It is true
there are divisions of opinion in the Labor Party purely on this
question Should any Government make something illegal retrospectively?
Should you say that something that was quite legal.
when it was done, is now to be retrospectively made an offence?
And the Government has decided that it shouldn't. Now let's
look on the other side of politics. The mining is going on
there under a State law. The leases were granted by
Mr. Bjelke-Petersen as the responsible Minister himself. In
our parliament, federally, Mr. Fraser, Mr. Lynch, the Leader
of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition,
Mr. Anthony, the Leader of the National Country Party,
Mr. Sinclair, the Deputy Leader of it, have never said a word
of criticism of the mining on Fraser Island or the exportation
of the minerals mined on Fraser Island. They've not said a word.
Some of you may know Mr. Anthony's family has interests on
Fraser Island. Now do at least be a bit relevant. There are
differences of opinion within the Labor Party. I believe that
no Government should make a legal action retrospectively illegal.
We have passed the law now. Anybody who now seeks to mine on
Fraser Island and any new lease where there's been no mining
up till now, knows that we require an environmental impact
statement and a favourable result from any public inquiry,
before we will give authorisation to export the mineral.

They know that. That's now the law, but you can't fairly,
justly make a law retrospective.
Question: Do you foresee a clash between the Unions and
the Federal Government over the Fraser Island sand mining issue
now that the Unions have decided to black ban the company's
operations in Australia?
Mr. Whitlam: Have they? i'
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Transcript 3746