PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 5141


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: 15/09/1979

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 5141

Jeff Huddlestone
Mr. Fraser, welcome to Alice Springs sir.
Today you took a light plane journey to+' traverse ' the progress on
the Tarcoola to Alice Springs railway project.
Prime Minister-
Yes I did. -It was a very-interesting trip because the
construction was going very well. It was ahead of schedule.
We had to provide additional funds either that or the work was
going to have to be slowed down and that would have destroyed
the efficiency of the operation. It really is something to
be proud of.
The very fact of being so far ahead of schedule, 12 months,
and within its budget of $ 145 million will certainly add a
great boost to the Territory, particulary when the line reaches
the border in November. of this year.
Prime Minister
It will be a boost to the Territory then, but I think it will be
a better boost when it reaches Alice Springs. I imagine that will
be quite a day.
Huddlestone This evening you and Mrs. Fraser will be attending, along with
other official guests, the launching of the Australian& Fund
here in Alice Springs at the Old Telegraph Station. A little of
the Australiana Fund and just what that seeks to do.
Prime Minister
It is really a private organisation which the Government has
given, in a sense, tacit support to. There are four major
official establishments belonging to the Commonwealth: there is
Government House, Yarralumla; there is Admiralty House which is
the Governor General's residence in Sydney; Kirribilli House,
which I use sometimes when I am in Sydney, but which is also
used for official guests of the Government and that really is
the main use of it; and the Prime Minister's Lodge. Now none
of these houses are personal. They don't belong to the people
who are in them. They belong to the nation. But up to the time
I became Prime Minister they had really been furnished according
to the personal whims of the occupants of the day. ./ 2

Prime Minister ( continued)
I thought, and Tamie thought, that this really wasn't the
best way to go about it. So we'd established an official
establishments committee to look after these four residences;
to make recommendations about their development, having in
mind the historic background of the buildings and the occupants
they have had over the years.
Attached to that committee is the Australiana Fund and the
people involved in that operation. The purpose is, either by
money or in kind, to collect pieces of furniture or other
household things, which might have had some historical
significance in Australia in earlier times.
The two Sydney residences have been opened to the public.
Shortly Yarralumla and the Lodge will again be open to the
public. This will show what is being done with the
residences. They are being looked after I think much better.
They belong to the nation and they should have some of
Australia's history in them in pieces of furniture or
paintings. We got, the other day, quite a notable portrait
of the first Labor Prime Minister. It came on the market.
Somebody saw it and it was made available through this
particular operation. If it hadn't been started, that portrait
might have just gone into limbo. It's a good portrait.
We've got it hanging in the hall at the Lodge,' That is part
of the life of the place. It is part of Australia's history.
We have an old colonial sideboard which was discovered if
Tamie was here she could tell you more of the details but
it was discovered in Australia, made in about 1820 by I suppose
some of the original skilled tradesmen who came to this country
from the United Kingdom; made out of Australian timber, a
unique Australian design. Well now for the rest of time it
will be in the dining room of the Lodge. I think this is much
better than having bits and pieces of no real value and no
real historical significance.
Huddlestoneof course it is significant in itself that the function
tonight is at the Old Telegraph Station itself of great
historical importance and significance to Australia and of
course the Territory.
Prime Minister
It is. It has obviously been chosen for a purpose. I think it
is a very fitting location for the function. What Tamie has
been trying to do especially, is to emphasise that these
four residences houses do belong to the nation. They are
part of the nation's history and we ought to start building up
and housing some of that history in them. Therefore, there
are Australiana committees in all the States and in the Territory,
and this is the launching day here. ./ 3

Huddles tone
And of course, Mrs. Fraser is the President of the
Australiana Fund.
Prime Minister
Yes. She knows much more about it than I do.
Huddles tone
We have a number of questions that have been ' phoned in to
you this afternoon. The first one is from Pam Gardner of the
Anglican Lodge here in Alice Springs.
CALLER I have two questions. The first one is that there are plans
for building a dam outside of Alice Springs and also in the
Tennant Creek area the Mary Anne Dam and what I would
like to know is if the Commonwealth can have some kind of
legislation drawn up that it makes it a law that an
environmental impact statement has to be made before these
decisions can be decided ad hoc. An environmental statement;
how it affects the people living in these areas the
Aboriginal people and the white people and also to introduction
of foreign bacteria that might cause ( inaudible), menengitis,
or any other unknown germs that are foreign to these areas.
Also, that the environmental council in Darwin, if it can have
teeth to enforce this legislation. My second question is,
the public hospitals in the Northern Territory seem to be
understaffed with professionals and paramedical staff and
I would like to know whether this is the CLP's way of letting
people think that public hospitals are incompetent when really
they are not. They are just understaffed and medical staff
are working longer hours and consequently the public have to
wait longer. I was wondering if this can be rectified also.
Prime Minister
These things basically ought to be referred to Territory
officials and Territory Government. So far as the Commonwealth
is concerned, in major capital works that we fund, we do have
strict environmental laws and for any major work likely to
have any significant impact on the environment, an environmental
impact statement is necessary. That is taken into account.
Most of the States also have equivalent provisions, but this
particular one concerning dam, it would seem to me that the
responsibility there lies with the Territory administration,
with the Territory Government. We have quite deliberately
made decisions over the last two or three years which has led
to self-government in the Territory. I think that is better
because I don't believe people from Canberra should make
decisions for people in the Territory. But it does mean that
certain matters have to be addressed to that Government.
I think this is one of them. .4

Prime Minister ( continued)
Environmental matters are important and people are right
to be concerned that proper protections and courses are
On the other question you raised, the Commonwealth has been
involved in hospital funding, of course, with the States,
but by And large the States have determined the levels of
staffing in the Northern Territory. This ' again is a matter
coming under the control of the Territory Government.
The actual staffing levels are not something that the
Commonwealth is going to determine in the future.
I had understood that the staffing levels had been pretty good
in many areas. I am not making a comment now about a particular
area, but in many parts of Australia hospitals have had about
only a 60 per cent occupancy but they have been staffed up
to 100 per cent. That is one of the reasons why the hospital
costs have risen very greatly. That all comes back to how
much money taxpayers have to provide.
What we have been trying to do is to work out with the
hospital authorities in the States arrangements which will
enable the hospitals to be run as efficiently as possible
without in any sense diminishing the services available to
the public but doing it a bit more economically than might
have been the case in the past, because an enormous part of
health costs comes from the straight out hospital costs and
associated facilities. It is important that they use these
economically and sensibly, so long as health care is not
diminished. If there is a particular instance that you would
like to have looked into, I am sure Senator Kilgariff or one
of th e local members would be prepared to follow that up for you.
CALLER I would like to know if the Army could build the road from
Adelaide to the Northern Territory border, especially as it is
being classed as a military road.
Prime minister
Technically, some elements of the Army construction squadron
will obviously have that capacity, but it has not been the
practice to send Army construction squadrons to send people
to do work that is expected to be done by civilians. That is
a tacit agreement, or understanding, throughout Australia, and
it goes back a very very long time. The north-south road needs
upgrading. It takes time, but I think it would be wrong for
the Army to be used in current Australian circumstances.
I know Peter Nixon has been examining the national highway
program around Australia. Again, one of the questions in this
area of course is the extent to which the Commonwealth should
determine what roads money is spent on, and the extent to
which the States themselves should set priorities. We have
been trying to establish the circumstance . in which States would
accept responsibility within their own borders for the priorities.
I think that is as it ought to be. Again, in one or two
instances I know Peter Nixon has tried to persuade a State
to provide additional funds.

CALLER My question is: the radiation levels at Narbalek are
exceptionally high because of the richness of the uranium ore.
I have been trying to obtain information on worker exposure
for well over two months now, in which time I have been given
the run-around. It now transpires that Queensland mines
not only do their own monitoring, but they also do not need
to release any information on this radiation level unless they
so want to. Now would please ensure that monitoring is done
by an independent body and that all data on worker radiation
exposure be made freely available to interested members of
the public.
Prime Minister
I think you are wrong in iimplying that there is any secrecy
about any of this. Australia is establishing nuclear codes
for the operation and safety of people working,-whether it is
in mines or any sort of material that can provide radiation.
That covers a wide range. It can cover medical areas. It can
cover Lucas Heights. It can cover mining operations. The
provisions and arrangements that Australia is making after the
Royal Commission by Mr. Justice Fox are stricter I believe
than in any other country of the world. There was some publicity
about Narbalek sometime ago. But, I know quite well the
people there are taking all proper precautions; are sticking
with the requirements. There are independent authorities
that monitor these things. I really believe that your concern
in this particular area is quite misplaced. Our rules are
very very strict indeed. Quite obviously the well-being of
people working in a uranium mine, or at Lucas Heights, or in
the medical area where there can be materials that can involve
radiation. In any of these areas there need to be very strict
provisions, and there are.
The question I would like to ask is why does Darwin have
greater holiday benefits and ( inaudible) or mainly
greater holiday benefits on a remote area basis than Alice
Springs, where Alice Springs is probably more remote than
Darwin in a lot of respects as far as transport and access
to coastline and Eastern States. That is my question.
Prime Minister
The Government doesn't directly set terms and conditions for
its employees, or for anyone in Australia. For general people
under Federal awards, there is the Arbitration Commission and
they make determinations depending on a whole range of factors;
site and location can be taken into account. If it is a question
of Public Service employment, then it is the Public Service
Arbitrator in the Public Service machinery that can make
determinations, taking into account whole range of factors. ./ 6

Prime Minister ( continued)
If people believe that there has been unequal handling of
different situations, . between Alice Springs and Darwin, the
normal arbitral p rocedures, the tribunals, is the appropriate
way to pursue that. These things aren't left to the direct
determination of governments. I don't really believe they
ought to be. We've established a system of having an umpire
for industrial matters and award matters. I think we should
stick to the umpire. Sometimes you win out of it,-sometimes
you don't, but having that third party making the judgement
is a good a system as any.
CALLER My husband and his brother are Lebanese and have lived here
in Alice Springs. We've been , trying to bring his family to
bring his family here for years and we've been having an
awful lot of trouble. We get no definite answer; yes or no.
Senator Kilgariff has done numerous things trying to help.
We have spoken to Mr. MacKellar and we've written to the
Prime Minister's office and have received only replies
saying that the matter will be looked into. But this has
been going on this last time now for well over a year and we
are still getting replies saying the matter will be looked
into. I wondered if the Prime Minister could give us any
idea of anything else we could do to get a more definite
answer, even if it is a no either a yes or a no.
Prime Minister
I don't know the details of the case, but Senator* Kilgariff
is with me and he has told me that the Minister for Immigration
and Ethnic Affairs, Mr. Michael MacKellar, has in fact reviewed
the case. I don't know what the position is and what the
decision is, but I will be happy to speak to Mr. MacKellar
about it.
CALLER My question is: who is responsible for the current deplorable
state of the Stuart Highway, or South Road in South Australia.
Has the South Australian Government been allotted sums
specificially for sealing the Stuart Highway. Also, can the
Prime Minister state when Stuart, the south road, will be sealed?
Prime Minister
The South Australian Government hasn't been allotted sums
: specifically for the Stuart Highway, but it does get
significant sums from the Commonwealth each year for national
highways. That includes the Stuart Highway. But we have
adopted the policy of providing this money to State Governments,
and in this case to South Australia, and then we believe that
the State Governmen ought to exert their own sensible
judgement about priorities. Unfortunately, the South Australian
Government has put the Stuart Highway on a very low order of
priorities and therefore, without taking the question completely
out of the hands of the State Government, Mr. Nixon has sought
to bring a good deal of pressure to bear on the transport
Minister in South Australia to provide additional sums.

Prime Minister ( continued)
I think the caller is quite right. Much of the highway
is in a pretty bad position. In the Commonwealth's view
it ought to have been given-a higher priority rating out of
the funds that are available. I know Peter Nixon has had
some limited success in getting additional funds allotted,
but as we are administering these road grants at the moment,
and making the bulk funds available to the States, our power
is a persuasive one rather than one of dictatorship.
That is the way the Premiers want it. They say give us the
money and let us make the decisions. But then when something
goes wrong they very often tend to blame the Commonwealth.
I know that Peter Nixon is examining the future framework
of a national highways program and I also know he is concerned
that more funds be made available for the Stuart Highway.
But at the moment, under present guidelines, it's question of
persuading the South Australian Government.
What is the Government policy in relation to minority groups
and in particular to Aboriginal people. Is it one of separate
development or of assimilation. If it is a policy of separate
development, how far is it proposed to take that policy. it is
thought locally that a policy of separatism is being encouraged,
and examples of this are the lack of access to non-Aboriginal
members of the community to land granted under the Aboriginal
Land Rights Act. About one third of the Northern Territory's
area is so affected, and both residents and visitors find
difficulty in being unable to freely travel along roads passing
through Aboriginal lands.
Prime Minister
The policy of the Federal Government in relation to minoritieslet
me deal with it in two parts. For people who have come
to Australia, if you like, in the years since the last world
war, we now have a special program designed to provide much
better post-arrival services for migrants. This might involveresource
centres where they can get advice and assistance
relating to State or Federal Commonwealth departments; more
English language classes and generally greater assistance
in helping people to settle in to what is very often a different
life in Australia compared to their previous homeland. I think
these programs are useful. We had a special inquiry under
Mr. Frank Galbally. We adopted in full the recommendations of
that inquiry and the program is going forward very well.
For Aboriginals there are special obligations. We all know the
history of the past. I believe Australia was a little late in
introducing special programs designed to overcome some of
the difficulties that have grown out of the past. In other
words, in plain terms, there is positive discrimination in favour
of Aboriginals in a number of Government programs. I think that
ought to remain. I don't say indefinitely into the future, but
ought to remain certainly for the foreseeable future. It is not
a policy of separate development for all minorities and ethnic
groups. It is a policy of, in a sense, encouraging people to
seek out their own future in their own way. If you like,
strength through diversity, unity through diversity. ./ 8

Prime Minister ( continued)
If Aboriginals want to live on their reserves, through the
outstation movement, well then they * ought to be entitled to do so.
But if at the same time there are others who wish to join the
mainstream of Australian society and life, then they ought to
be encouraged and assisted where possible, to do so. It is
a policy of self-development, self-fulfillment, trying to meet
the special needs of Aboriginal people, but really with the
same kind of objective that we would have for all Australians
to lead the kind of life that they themselves want to plan
for themselves.
* Would.-you'please. let-. Alice . Springs' -people know when the
Stuart-Highway, which it is by n ame only, is going to be
upgraded by sealing it between ( inaud) and the Northern Territory
border. We all know the trouble section is in South Australia.
But should this make any difference to a national highway.
We had Mr. Nixon try to visit Cooper Pedy but could not land
his aeroplane because of the wet weather. We all know Ministers
are busy people, but surely he could have driven as many private
people have to. Their vehicles are being wrecked. Even when
it is dry, the road is arrugated and very pot-holey. Creek
crossings are a nightmare. Has this road not been sealed
because there is very few people in comparison with the
eastern and southern cities living along it' which in short
means not many voters. Northern Territory people rely heavily
on this road because the rail is slow and unreliable, which
should improve with the completion of the new line, but still
cannot provide the service of private enterprise. When will
this road be sealed. It is hard to imagine the tourist increase
to. the -Territ+ ory.
Prime Minister
I can't give a definite time scale because at the moment it
is the South Australian Government making decisions about
how much money gets spent on the Stuart Highway. I am told that
nearly $ 4; l1/ 2 million is in the program at the moment, this year.
But a great deal more than that could be spent. We make the
bulk term available to South Australia for national highways,
as we do to other States, but then they decide what roads the
funds will be spent on. I know that Peter Nixon is particularly
concerned about the Stuart Highway because of its importance
and also it has been given a low priority by the South
Australian Government. I know he has been looking at this
question. I can't argue against the thrust of what the
questioner was saying. I only wish the South Australian
Government would show greater sense of national * responsibility
in the distribution of the funds that are made to it.
CALLER I am a Commonwealth Public Servant and we are finding it
difficult to buy our Commonwealth Public Servant house.
I am wondering if the Prime Minister is aware of the situation
of Public Servants in my position and if he could perhaps
implement some sort of suggestions to speed up the procedure / 19

CALLER ( continued)
of being able to buy these houses.
Prime Minister
The policy in relation to this is being reviewed by
Mr. McLeay,-the Minister responsible,. right at this moment.
I think it might be a good thing if I could get Senator Kilgariff
to get hold of your address and when thepolicy is reviewed
he could drop you a note about it and then we can see if
that provides some help.
The Labor Party has stated that they will commence sealing
the . south.:-road-as part of their unemployment relief plan.
This sounds like a good idea because employment and transport
would both benefit and dole money would be diverted into a
major national project. Why doesn't your Government support
such a policy.
Prime Minister
The Labor Party had such a policy before and when Mr. Hayden
was Treasurer he abandoned it because it was costing a vast
amount of money and providing very little employment. Road
works at the moment a lot of it is undertaken with big machines
and heavy equipment, and it doesn't really provide all that
much employment. But we've taken the view that the only way
to get this economy right is to make sure that the farms and
pastoralists, and the industries in Australia are competitive
so that they can sell better and get into markets overseas and
because they are doing better they will employ more.
In the last 12 months private employment has grown again for
the first time in a number of years. I think that is very
encouraging indeed. The sort of " make work" programs that have
been tried in a number of countries, including Australia, just
haven't worked. South Australia has programs of that kind. But
if you look at the record of the last 12 months unemployment
has grown significantly in South Australia where it has fallen
a bit in other States; employment has fallen in South Australia
where employment has definitely grown in other States. The reason
for that is that the policies of the South Australian Government
have not encouraged investment and development. I believe that
the Northern Territory is moving forward quite strongly. The
pastoral industry is doing much better. Mining is going ahead.
This is the way to solve the unemployment problem. If you
want to argue, or suggest that more money should be spent on
road construction to get roads developed more quickly', that
is a different kind of argument. It is one, that if we had
the funds, I would certainly be sympathetic to, but I don't
think that really it is the way to tax the vexed and difficult
problem of employment.

CALLER I have a question to the Prime Minister about land rights
for Aboriginals. The majority of Aboriginal people are
alienated from their traditional land by cattle station leases.
I want to ask the Prime Minister what you will do to help them
get some land rights in the form of ( inaud) from cattle
station leases since the Northern Territory Government has
refused to make ( inaud) compulsory under their ordinance. Will
you press the Northern Territory Government to make ( inaud)
compulsory where necessary. . The Central Land Council is forced,
by the Land Rights Act, to devote its full time to attend to
Aboriginal claims to unalienated Crown Land, and ' has no staff
or money to attend to the problem of station ( liraud). Will you
fund the Central Land Council sufficiently to take care of
this problem. Also, the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission is
supposed to supply funds to purchase ( inaud) when necessary,
but it has insufficient funds for this purpose. Will you fund
the Land Fund sufficiently so it can also do its job. If you
don't do these things, will your Government accept responsibility
for the fighting and resentment and social problems, the loss
of culture, which are occuring and will continue to occur
amongst'Aboriginal people until all Aboriginal groups and
families in each tribe get some adequate land rights
in their own country in the Northern Territory.
Prime Minister
I think you are omitting the fact, or forgetting really, in
the thrust of the question, that it was this Government that
established the Land Rights Legislation and has therefore
provided opportunities to Aboriginals which they haven't had
under any previous administration. Also, I have visited over
the years a number of Aboriginal settlements and reserves.
There is a very real difference between them obviously. But also,
there is a feeling of optimism and enthusiasm for the future
in a number of settlements which might not have been present
several years ago. I think that is as a result of the general
policies that the Commonwealth has introduced. The Land Fund
Commission is going to be subsumed into a new body an
Aboriginal Development Commission which Senator Chaney will
be launching. That will have funds. There will be a commitment
to it but the Commission ' itselIf will determine the directions
in which the funds will be provided. I think again, that
significant progress has been made in relation to Aboriginal
problems, but a great deal more remains to be done.
What is happeni-ng as far as these Aboriginal houses these
houses that have been built in Alice Springs. Apparently an
amount of money was set aside to build a number of houses and
because of what was happening recently, it has been dropped
down to ten * houses that are going to be built in Alice
Springs. As quite a number of Aboriginal people have applied
for a house in town, what is going to happen to the rest
of the people that are on this special housing because of
that will be put into these houses. And another, from the
cutback from 20 to 10, what is happening to the money that
was set aside for those houses to be built? Is that money going
to be channelled back into Aboriginal housing in other areas
or in Alice Springs?

Prime Minister
I would have to speak to Senator Chaney about the details
of that. We are providing additional funds for Aboriginal
housing and for the first time we are providing substantial
sums out of the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement for
Aboriginal housing, which around Australia will provide a
very significant boost to Aboriginal housing of a kind that
I think we haven't had before. One of the oddest things is
that we have had the major welfare program for housing with
the States there had been a special allocation for
pensioners as a needy group but there had been no
particular allocation for Aboriginals. Now there is and
there will be in future programs. I think that is a very
significant advance. But I will be happy to speak to
Senator Chaney about the particular matters that you are
referring to in Alice Springs. I understand they are being
discussed with the Northern Territory Government.
CALLER I would like to ask Mr. Fraser, why haven't the armed forces
been put to work when strikers hold, or bring the country
to a standstill. Mr. Chifley did it with success. There
is no such word as can't.
Prime Minister
No, there is no such word as can't and you might note that
during a particular dispute, especially centred in N. S. W.,
Mr. Wran was offered certain assistance if he needed it
for moving blockages on major highways. He didn't pick
up that offer. But he would have had to ask for it because
it was essentially a State matter. Commonwealth power in
industrial di ; putes varies. Where they are Commonwealth
employees we have pretty substantial power and we've acted,
especially in the Postal Commission and Telecom, in a very
vigorous way. New legislation has been proclaimed and I think
we have the powers that are nedded. If people are under
State awards, if the State Government is the employer, then
they have the authority and they need to act, sometimes much
more vigorously than they do. If it is a private employer
then there are many provisions in the Arbitration'-Act which
they could use if they wanted to. But again, the initiative
sometimes has to be taken by employers. There is a belief
that the Commonwealth has direct responsibility in all dispute
situations. I am afraid that just isn't true. Our primary
responsibility is to establish a framework of law, for
people under Commonwealth laws, then it is for the parties to use
that law. Secondly, we have a very particular responsibility
for our own employees and I think we fulfill that. The
circumstances in which Mr. Chifley put troops into the coal
fields I think, well, they haven't arisen since 1948 and
you'll know, then, that the whole of industry was held up
because of shortages of coal, shortages of power. There were
blackouts frequently in the south eastern part of Australia
because not enough electricity was being generated. Again, we
haven't seen that kind of situation since.

Transcript 5141