25th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Does the Department of Primary Industry, by arrangement with the Government of the United Kingdom and the United States of America, police standards of hygiene, slaughtering and buildings in Australian meat works engaged in the killing of meat for the export trade to ensure the maintenance of standards imposed by these two Governments? Has an inspection been made recently of the two principal killing works in Brisbane - the Brisbane Abattoirs and Borthwick’s Moreton Freezing Works? Will the Minister inform me whether the standards existing at the meat works I have named comply with the standards imposed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States?
– The Department of Primary Industry makes and enforces the regulations that set out the standards of construction and hygiene for meat works. The United States and the United Kingdom are our main markets, and if they are not prepared to buy our meat because we do not abide by conditions they specify, obviously we will lose their trade. The Department of Primary Industry is responsible for the regulations. It is also responsible for veterinary inspection to see that the appropriate conditions are complied with by the respective establishments. The honorable member asked me about certain killing works. These are regularly inspected, and if any adverse reports had been made, I would have heard of them. As I have not heard of any adverse reports, these works must be satisfactory.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Navy. Has any arrangement yet been devised to ensure that, over the years, qualified personnel from New Guinea will be trained in the affairs of the Armed Services and trained particularly to man and control naval vessels?
– So far as the question affects the Navy, I can say to the honorable gentleman that the three years’ defence plan that was announced to the House stated that New Guinea would have a coastal security force and patrol vessels. These were to be manned and maintained by local or indigenous people. Much work has gone into this project and there has been liaison between myself and my colleague, the Minister for Territories, because of the problems associated with it. Progress is favourable and I hope when the House rises to be able to visit Papua and New Guinea to discuss the further planning of the project with officials there.
– Yesterday I asked the Acting Minister for Immigration whether he was able to tell the House anything about the proposed entry of Japanese into Australia to carry on dredging work. I can understand that the Minister, being an acting Minister, may not have had the facts at his fingertips at the time. I now ask: Has the Minister had a further look at this question, and is he able to pass on any information?
– Since the honorable member raised the question I have made inquiries, and I have been informed that my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, authorised on 12th April last the admission of 20 Japanese specialist personnel as part of the crew of a dredge for the Port Hedland project. The dredging at Port Hedland is one of the projects essential to the extraction of iron ore from the area known as Mount Goldsworthy. The dredge is owned by Utah Construction and Mining Company, which is one of the participants in Mount Goldsworthy Mining Associates. Before the decision was taken, consultations were held with other Commonwealth authorities, with the trade union concerned, and, 1 understand, also with the State authorities in Western Australia. It had been clearly established that all the conditions governing the admission on a temporary basis of such personnel had been met.
My colleague was advised: (a) The dredge in question is the only one of its kind in the world capable of undertaking the dredging of the required channel, (b) The nature of the operations is of such complexity that it would be impracticable to train a complete Australian crew in the use of the specialist equipment and, concurrently, achieve the target which has been set for the completion of the dredging project, (c) Because of the tight programming of the various components of the project, any delays in one area could prejudice seriously the project as a whole.
Consideration initially was given to the possibility that the dredge should be manned by an all Japanese crew under the supervision of American engineers and specialists. Subsequent investigations suggested, however, that a suitable crew proportion would be 20 American engineers and specialists, 27 Australians and 20 Japanese. It was on this basis that authority was given for the entry for a limited period of the 20 Japanese specialists, subject to their being admitted with temporary residence status and to their being employed under the same conditions as those applying to Australian members of the crew.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. What arrangements have been made to acquaint youths who have passed the medical test for call up under national service training of the procedure they can adopt if they want to apply for exemption on the ground of hardship? In the case of father and son teams operating dairy farms, each milking, say, 50 or more cows, if the son is called up, what arrangements has the Department of Labour and National Service made to make labour available to carry on the son’s share of this work which cannot possibly be performed by the father on his own?
– When a national serviceman who has been called up for medical examination is passed fit, be is so notified and advised that he has a right to seek postponement of his training if hardship is likely to occur to himself, his parents or his dependants. He is given a form that he can fill in and forward to the clerk of the court of the police magistrate or the stipendiary magistrate concerned so that the matter can then be forwarded to the registrar of the court and the application can come on for hearing. A man is fully advised at the time he is notified of being medically fit of his rights and the procedures to be followed. As to the second part of the honorable gentleman’s question, the Government has adopted the view, which I think has been fully accepted by the community, that only in exceptional circumstances of hardship should there be deferment. As to the last part of the honorable gentleman’s question which relates to the supply of farm labour, naturally my Department will do all that it can to help through the Commonwealth Employment Service. However, the primary responsibility for finding employment during the period of the call-up must rest with the individual concerned.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Will the right honorable gentleman bring under the notice of the Minister for Trade and Industry the often expressed view of the Minister for External Affairs and the right honorable gentleman himself that Communist China is responsible for the aggression in Vietnam and that China is regarded as a potential enemy of Australia? If this is the considered view of the Government, will the Prime Minister request the Minister for Trade and Industry to take this into consideration when arranging future trade deals in Australian wheat, wool, metal and other Australian goods with China? Finally, will the right honorable gentleman instruct the Department of External Affairs to ascertain from the Department of Trade and Industry with whom, in China, Australia negotiates for the purpose of trade so that the Minister for External Affairs can commence negotiations for peace talks in an attempt to end the conflict in Vietnam?
– I am sure that the honorable gentleman who has just put the question will be happy to know that the Minister for Trade and Industry is here and is, as usual, in full possession of his faculties. Therefore, he has heard everything that the honorable member has said.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. I recently asked the Minister for information regarding the ban on the importation of live pigs from New Zealand. Whilst not in any way opposing the general ban, but because some stud owners are concerned regarding this problem I ask: Will the Minister review the matter at the earliest possible date?
– I realize that this ban has created some problems for the industry, but my first concern is the protection of all primary industries against the importation of exotic diseases. Therefore, the ban must be strictly applied. However, we are keeping very closely in touch with New Zealand and, if and when the trichinosis disease which is affecting pigs in that country is eventually cleared, we will be informed. In any case, I give the undertaking that, if we have no information in the meantime, we will review the matter in six months’ time.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question. In view of the fact that most developmental dredging work in north Queensland and in Western Australia is now to be done by foreign dredging companies, will he take steps to see that the industrial laws relating to this type of work are observed so that we do not lose more Australian lives under the same circumstances as caused the capsize of the dredge “ Kaptjan Neilsen “ in Moreton Bay, namely, overloading?
– I doubt the assumption on which the honorable gentleman’s question is based - that most of the work would be done by foreign dredging companies. Nonetheless, as to the substance of his question, we are constantly watching the problem of industrial safety and, in particular, safety at sea or during dredging operations. I will draw the attention of my Department to the honorable gentleman’s question and ask the Department to make sure that Commonwealth industrial laws in this connection do apply, particularly off the Queensland coast.
– Can the Minister for Supply give the House any up to date information concerning the dispute which has led to a strike by employees engaged on the Mirage project at the Government Aircraft Factories? When did this dispute arise and what union or unions are involved? What would be the effect of a continuation of the dispute on the production schedule of that aircraft?
– I think it will be understood that in an aircraft as complex as the Mirage there is a considerable amount of pipe work which has to do with fuel, hydraulic control systems and so on. The tightening of joints in al) this pipe work is done by aircraft fitters who are required to use a device called a torque wrench which applies a measured degree of tightness to every joint. It will be understood that if a joint is loose there will be danger and that if the joint is too tight there is equally a danger of strain. This is a matter which cannot, in the normal course of the process, be passed over to the aircraft inspector because the joints, having been tightened up, cannot thereafter be checked by him. In these circumstances we have asked the aircraft fitters to certify that the joints made by them have been tightened up according to their instructions. In other words, we have asked the fitters to certify to the quality of their own work. They have complained that this involves an element of the work normally done by inspectors and therefore calls for an increased margin of pay.
My Department has recognised that there is some ground for that submission and has offered an extra 7s. 6d. a week for the certification by the fitters of their own work. The fitters, members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, are dissatisfied with that amount. I think they have demanded a guinea. There has been a considerable amount of negotiation and discussions with shop stewards, with the men themselves and with the Union. The result of this has been a stoppage. The men have downed tools until their demand is met. They have made it extraordinarily difficult for the Department to refer the matter to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. However, yesterday I was obliged to notify the Commission that a dispute existed. I think the matter is being heard before Commissioner Neil at this very moment.
I deplore the fact that there has been this strike in a defence project as important as this one. The project has already faced enormous difficulties. There has been a great deal of irresponsibility in regard to this strike. We have had to stop the production line because if these pipes are not fitted in the normal progress of the equipment through the production line then all subsequent work must stop. Therefore there will be some delay in this project. I hope it will be a minor delay. I am happy to be able to tell the honorable gentleman - in correction of the figures that have been reported - that the Department has delivered 15 aircraft, that number 16 is about to be delivered and that number 17 is about to fly.
– I desire to ask the Minister for National Development a question. Is the Minister aware that at the present time the price of petrol on Lord Howe Island is practically double the price of petrol on the mainland? Will the Minister say what the position will be on Lord Howe Island under the new schedule of petrol prices?
– I am happy to be able to inform the honorable member that Lord Howe Island, which is, I understand, in his electorate, will receive a greater subsidy from the Commonwealth under the petrol price subsidy scheme than any other place in Australia. As a result of the subsidy the price of petrol, power kerosene and automotive distillate on Lord Howe Island will be reduced by 2s. 8ld. I do not know whether the reduction will lead to a great increase in motoring on the island. I understand that the speed limit there is 15 miles per hour.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Industry. In view of the importance of the ordinary consumer in the political and economic scene, will the Minister consider encouraging representatives of consumer associations to give evidence at Tariff Board hearings when the interests of consumers are directly and vitally affected?
- Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Wakefield used the word “ encourage “. I do not think it is my function to encourage any party to go to a Tariff Board hearing but I have made it clear repeatedly that not only those people who solicit increased protection are entitled to go to the Board. Anyone who, for any reason, wishes to oppose an application for protection is equally entitled to attend a hearing and offer what he regards as rebutting evidence. Consumers can take this action when any activity affecting their wellbeing is jeopardised by a proposal made to the Board. I think it is sufficient for me to make it completely clear that the way is open at any time for consumer interests to put their case before the Board.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. In view of the introduction of greater mechanisation and the increasing use of pesticides creating added dangers for rural workers, is the Minister in a position to say whether the Safety in Industry Campaign will be extended to rural industries? If so, could the Minister inform the House what action is contemplated regarding both the mechanisation and poisons?
– It was decided some time ago that the findings of the Safety in Industry conferences would be extended to rural industries. A start was made with the use of tractors on farms and rural properties. After consultations between the various departments of agriculture and other interests concerned, my Department did issue a safety pamphlet relating to the manipulation, management and control of tractors on farms. I think the honorable member will be glad to know that well over 100,000 copies have been distributed and that the document is in strong demand. Inquiries were also held about electricity undertakings on farm properties and documents are now being prepared, and will be distributed, on this aspect. The question of poisons and pesticides was under active consideration, but both these points involve technical problems of an important kind. Therefore, prior to a final conference being held, the question was referred to the National Health and Medical Research Council for its observations and for recommendations to my Department and to the other departments involved.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Health a question. He will be aware of the great danger to the Australian cattle industry if, by some chance, foot and mouth disease spreads to this country. I ask: Are there adequate protection patrols on the border between West Irian and the Territory of Papua and New Guinea? In addition, are patrols actually operating on the northern coastline of Australia? Finally, what is the nature of the patrols? Are aircraft used to any extent?
– Quarantine control exercised in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea conies under the jurisdiction of my colleague, the Minister for Territories. However, I know that quarantine measures are quite strictly observed in the Territory. The Department of Health co-operates to some extent by providing technical advice. In the northern areas of Australia, the position is similar to that in all the States. At the principal port of entry in each State and at the other main ports of entry, strict quarantine controls are maintained. Vessels and aircraft are inspected on arrival. In many instances, disinfection and other forms of treatment are practised. I presume that when the honorable member referred to patrols in the northern regions of Australia, he had in mind some form of regular naval or air patrol. Such patrols are not made, but we receive the assistance of both the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force in this field. Also, we have a coast watching system along the whole of the northern coastline. This reports any unauthorized vessels that are likely to approach the coast. Approaches by unauthorized vessels occur on occasions in the monsoon season when what we describe as drifters tend to drift across from nearby islands to the coast of the mainland. When such a vessel is sighted, action is taken to assume control of it, to destroy the vessel itself and to place those aboard in quarantine under strict control until they can be returned to their own country. I can assure the honorable member that very strict precautions are taken in all fields.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. He will know that it was originally expected that a record apple and pear crop would have to be shipped overseas from Tasmanian ports and that it was necessary for the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority to move to Tasmania waterside workers from ports in other States. As there seems to be growing unrest on the waterfront, and as it is essential to meet delivery dates to avoid import charges and quota restrictions, can the Minister inform the House how shipments are progressing and whether the crop will be cleared?
– Shortly before the shipment season for Tasmanian apples and pears commenced, the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, or A.S.I.A., was asked to provide additional waterfront employees for the three shipment ports in Tasmania - Port Huon, Beauty Point and Hobart - because it was then thought that there would be a record crop to be shipped. Unfortunately, because of climatic conditions, there has been a shortfall in the crop and, consequently, it was not necessary to send to Tasmania so many watersiders from mainland ports. Nonetheless, the honorable gentleman will be glad to know that the crisis period - if I may use that expression - has passed and that most of the Tasmanian crop has now been shipped. I understand that shipments will be completed about the end of this month, with the exception of a few cargoes that will have to wait until next month.
– My question, which is addressed to the Attorney-General, concerns the terms and conditions attaching to the carriage of passengers by both AnsettA.N.A. and Trans-Australia Airlines. May I say, by way of very brief explanation, that these terms and conditions provide that any proceedings by a passenger against either airline shall be brought only in Victoria. I ask: Will the Minister consult with his colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation, about the practicability of requiring both airline operators to provide that legal proceedings may be brought in any capital city, thus ending the present very quaint situation that has been described by the expression “ provincialism “?
– I have not looked at this matter for some time - indeed, since I was in private practice. I recall having seen the provision that the honorable gentleman mentions. It is one of the conditions of the contract into which the airlines enter with passengers. This is not a matter of law but a matter of private contract. However, I will look at the question raised by the honorable gentleman and will have a discussion with my colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation, as requested.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation: Who names airports? If the Department of Civil Aviation has a major say in naming airports, will the Minister, after consulting with State Governments and local authorities, ask the Department to consider renaming the Western Junction airport, near Launceston, the Harold Gatty airport, so honouring a famous Tasmanian airman who encircled the globe with Wiley Post in 1931, and who performed many other feats? Further, is the Minister aware that Western Junction is a railway junction? I should point out, Mr. Speaker, that as the Minister for Civil Aviation is a Tasmanian, I expect a sympathetic reply to this question.
– For some time the Department of Civil Aviation has had a policy not to allow airports to be named after individuals because of problems that frequently arise when a name is not associated with the town where the airport is located. This can cause difficulty in the despatch both of passengers and freight.
– What about KingsfordSmith airport?
– The honorable member will notice when he consigns baggage to Sydney that it is sent to Sydney and not to Kingsford-Smith airport. I think the Department has adopted a wise policy. I will draw the attention of the Minister for Civil Aviation to the question, but I do not expect that he will alter the existing policy.
– Has the Minister for Health seen a statement made recently by the Australian College of Surgeons in Melbourne that much of the advertising by some tobacco companies is of a kind to endanger public health? Does he agree with this, and can anything be done about it?
– Information which we have received from overseas indicates that there is some problem in the relationship between lung cancer and cigarette smoking.
The extent of this relationship is, of course, very hard to gauge. The State Governments are undertaking a campaign to educate young people in the dangers of smoking. In another field the Commonwealth Government has certain responsibilities and some action is being contemplated, on which at this time I cannot comment.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Immigration a question about migration to Australia from South Africa. Is it the practice of the Department to refuse permission to enter Australia to persons who leave South Africa merely because they have been refused the ordinary travel documents by the South African Government? If this is so, has there been any recent decision of a different kind, and does this mean a revision of this practice?
– Apart from saying that every application for immigration is dealt with on its merits, I will have to make inquiries into this matter. I will let the honorable member know the result.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Health. In view of the possible spread of exotic animal diseases to Australia, which has been referred to in previous questions this morning, will the Minister give consideration to encouraging Australian experts in the employ of the Government to gain practical experience in connection with such diseases? In particular, will he endeavour to arrange that officers who wish to serve with United Nations agencies for limited terms do not, thereby, lose seniority in the Public Service?
– At regular intervals we arrange for officers of the Department of Health to go overseas for the express purpose of being brought up to date on the latest information on these problems, particularly as they concern the introduction of exotic diseases. The same policy will be pursued in the future. If there are opportunities for any of our officers to be employed in these fields by agencies of the United Nations, such as the World Health Organisation, they will be catered for in accordance with the Public Service Regulations. 1 assure the honorable member that the position will be quite satisfactory.
– My question, which is directed to the Acting Minister for Immigration, is supplementary to questions asked by the honorable member for Batman and the honorable member for Lalor about the employment of 20 Japanese-
– Order! The honorable member’s question is now out of order. Already this morning two questions have been asked on this matter.
– Well, I direct a question to the Minister-
– Order! The honorable member is out of order.
– Has the Treasurer seen a recent article on poverty in Australia in which Professor Brown of Adelaide argued that this country has less than 8 per cent, of households below the poverty line, compared with less than 14 per cent, in the United Kingdom and 20 per cent, in the United States? Whilst we must never be complacent, does the Treasurer consider that our relatively better position represents a fair illustration of the efforts of the Government and other responsible authorities in Australia to alleviate hardship and to redistribute the resources of the community where that is possible?
– The economic and social programmes of the Government have as an important objective the spread of prosperity throughout the community and a just sharing of the national production. Whilst I certainly agree with the honorable member’s injunction that we should not allow ourselves to become complacent in these matters, I believe that any fair minded survey of the Australian situation would reveal that great progress has been made and will continue to be made. There are two signs to which I can point in this connection. The first is the remarkably high degree of owner occupancy of housing in this country. I believe that by now the percentage has reached a world record. That should assure to most Australians of our generation a degree of security in their old age which has not been known by any previous generation. The second sign is the high level of savings in Australia. Again, it compares very favourably with the level in any other country.
But in our economic policies we have to maintain room for incentive and enterprise in order to evoke the most vigorous and most capable efforts of our community towards improving the national standards of production. I believe that we can rely upon the efforts of our parliaments and industrial tribunals - our democratic institutions - to see that the gross national product is shared equitably as a result of their decisions. I assure the honorable gentleman that the improvement of living standards for all sections of our people remains uppermost in the minds of members of this Administration.
– Will the Treasurer, when preparing the next Budget, have regard to the hardship being endured by many needy aged and infirm people throughout Australia? With the object of improving the lot of those people suffering hardship, will the right honorable gentleman provide a substantially increased vote for social services and confer with his Cabinet colleagues on action to relax the means test? Incidentally, he would thus present to the nation a new image of the Minister for Social Services.
– I cannot accept the implication in the honorable gentleman’s question that Australian standards in social welfare are low. Indeed, in the lifetime of this Government there have been many important innovations in the social welfare field as well as improvements, usually the product of annual consideration at Budget time, in the scale of services provided both for pensioners and in relation to medical services. I assure the House that each year at Budget time there is a most comprehensive and close examination not merely by myself as Treasurer but also by my colleagues in the Ministry, assisted of course by the close attention and study given to these matters by the Minister for Social Services within whose administration they fall. Just as in each other year there has been this close attention which so frequently has resulted in an improvement at Budget time in the scale of services, I assure the honorable gentleman without giving any undertaking as to the outcome, because the problems of the Budget cannot yet be clearly seen by us, that this close consideration will continue to be given.
– The Minister for the Navy will recall that during the “Voyager” inquiry Commander Kelly and SubLieutenant Bate of H.M.A.S. “Melbourne” were named as having some responsibility. Since the report of the Royal Commission was issued has the Navy reviewed the Commission’s findings with respect to those officers, who, I believe, are still serving? Has the Navy confirmed the responsibility of those officers? If so, are their Service records marked accordingly? If not, why has the Naval Board not publicly cleared their names? If the Minister does not know the answers, will he please obtain them and advise me?
– I thought that the attitude adopted towards the two officers mentioned by the honorable member was made clear in the Prime Minister’s statement on this subject.
– Has the Prime Minister ordered a review of the system of voting in Senate elections? If so, will such a review include consideration of means of settling differences likely to arise between the two Houses in view of the possibility of a deadlocked Senate after 30th June? Will he also consider adopting the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Committee relative to the Senate?
– I have not given any direction in this matter, but I welcome the suggestion made by the honorable member. I will bear it in mind.
– Has the Treasurer seen a report by Mr. N. J. Douglas, an agricultural consultant, that lack of credit is holding back agriculture? As this statement supports my view, will the Treasurer investigate the possibilities of increasing the amount of capital available for rural development through the long term lending fund and the Commonwealth Development Bank at lower rates of interest?
– I regret that I have not seen the statement to which the honorable gentleman directs my attention, but I am familiar with the views so persuasively expressed in this House by him. I can assure him that the Government does not lose sight of the important necessity to ensure that an adequate volume of credit shall be available for those engaged in rural production. We have consistently pressed the view with the Reserve Bank of Australia, which in turn passes on this view in its consultations with the trading banks, that priority should be given as to the provision of funds and special consideration should be given as to rates to those who borrow for production on the land. My last study of this matter showed that, as a proportion of total advances, rural credit is holding its position. However, I shall make a fresh study of this matter in the light of the honorable gentleman’s question and see whether any further action is required of us.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented. When the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) addressed a question to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), he asked the right honorable gentleman to request the Minister for Trade and Industry to take certain factors into consideration when arranging future trade deals in Australian wheat, wool, metals and other Australian goods with Communist China. I am misrepresented because I have never engaged, nor has the Department of Trade and Industry engaged, in any negotiation with Communist China or with any official of Communist China. The Government is not in diplomatic relationship with Communist China and has no trade commissioner in Communist China. Neither I nor my Department have had any part whatever in negotiating any trade arrangement with Communist China. It is publicly known, of course, that the Australian Wheat Board-
Opposition members interjecting -
– Honorable members of the Australian Labour Party sneer, but the Australian Wheat Board is an organisation which they themselves helped to create, as did we on this side of the House. The Board is, for practical purposes, a co-operative realising agent for the Australian wheatgrowers. If the members of the Australian Labour Party would like a law passed that would forbid the sale of Australian wool or wheat to Communist China, the simple thing for them to do is stand up and say so - not try to secure political advantage by implying that they would not like these goods sold but lacking the courage to come out and say so.
– by leave - All I want to say is that the Australian Labour Party has never refused to say where it stands on international trade. We believe in trading with Communist China, Communist Russia and every other country, because we believe that through trade we help the cause of world peace and through trade we help suffering humanity. Our criticism of the Government is not that it trades, but that it trades and then claims that the trade is being carried on under non-Government auspices and that the Ministry is not responsible for the trade. The Government has diplomatic representation in Russia, which is a Communist country, and it sells wheat to Russia. The argument that, because we do not have diplomatic representation in China, the Government is not in any way associated with trade with China is, in our view, not a correct statement of the position. But let nobody here misunderstand where we stand. We believe in trade wherever we can get trade. We believe in fair trade. Our opposition to a lot of the trade that is carried on in the world is that it is discriminatory against Australia, that we are not getting a fair deal, not from Asian countries or Communist countries but from countries that belong to the West.
Motion (by Mr. Fairhall) proposed -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Monday next at 10.30 a.m.
– The Opposition is opposed to this resolution. We are opposed to it for very good reasons. We think that the Government has treated all sections of the House with studied contempt in that it is rushing into recess with a big programme of bills still to be passed, not only through this House but through the Senate as well.
We believe that the Government has dallied with the business of the House and is now rushing legislation through with unprecedented speed. The House has met for eight weeks out of five months. In the period before Wednesday, 12th May - that is, in the first 20 days of the sitting - 16 bills were introduced and we also had before us four bills that were not passed in 1964. Bills introduced since last Wednesday week, a period of five sitting days, number 36. In all, 52 bills have been introduced, 36 of them in five days and 16, plus 4 from the last sessional period, in 20 days. We have passed 14 bills through this House in the last five days, and it cannot be said that they have been given proper consideration by the House.
It is true that members of both the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party have taken little or no part in some of the debates. That is a reflection upon them. To get some bills through, the House was forced to sit until 1.40 this morning. The Government should have allotted more time today for the debate on the Bill that was before the House in the early hours of this morning. The sitting for any one day should finish at midnight. The debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill took so long because honorable members on the Government side were at least interested in that Bill. But they were certainly not interested in education or in most of the other pieces of legislation. I know that members of the Australian Country Party will probably be interested in some of the bounty bills. They will be told that Parliament cannot finish on Monday night unless they maintain silence. The Parliament should not be silenced on these or any such measures. We have 19 bills still on the notice paper to be passed today and on Monday and it cannot be said that adequate consideration can be given to 19 pieces of legislation in two days. It certainly cannot be said that the 36 bills that have been put down on the table within five days, and of which we have little knowledge, will have received proper consideration before they are referred to another place.
No wonder the Government has to bring down amending bills year after year to correct the anomalies and inadequacies of legislation that it has enacted in the previous years. There are 22 bills still on the notice paper. Nineteen of them have to be passed. Only three bills will be stood over to the Budget session. One is the Trades Practices Bill, another is the Bankruptcy Bill and the third is the bill dealing with designs. For the reasons, first, that we have not had adequate opportunity to discuss the legislation, and secondly, that there seems to be no good reason why the House should go into recess next week - no reason why, as far as we know, it should not sit all next week, or the week after, if necessary - we oppose the Government’s motion.
We know that the House will rise at 5 0’clock today. But it is quite possible that we will be sitting here well into Tuesday morning, either waiting for legislation to come back from the Senate or completing the debate on the defence bills which are of major importance to this nation, and on which we will have no more than five hours’ debate. The Opposition thinks that the position is disgraceful, undemocratic and a reflection on Parliament. It does not do anything to enhance the reputation of the Government, and certainly does not do anything to enhance the reputation of those who sit meekly behind the Government and are afraid to raise their voices and make a protest in their own interests and in the interests of this Parliament.
– We have just had a very laboured effort from the Leader of the Australian Labour Party (Mr. Calwell). If you consider only one side of an argument, of course, you get a very different picture from that which the facts, if studied objectively, would present. I am going to study those facts for a few moments with the House but, before doing so, I emphatically reject any suggestion that this Government has treated Parliament with comtempt, is unmindful of the rights of private members, or is unmindful of the need for a proper democratic analysis and an expression of representative viewpoints on the measures which the Government, toy virtue of its responsibility as the head of the Australian Administration, presents to the Parliament from time to time.
As to the length of the current sessional period, it has, as I mentioned somewhat earlier in the proceedings, run about the normal length of autumn sessional periods of this Parliament. We have fallen into a pattern which I believe has suited the parlia mentary needs of the Australian year. We have an autumn session and we have a Budget session. In between, there is a Parliamentary recess which is not, as many members of the public seem to imagine, a long holiday for honorable members. As far as most members are concerned, they are either involved in one of the Parliamentary committees, or on one of the official delegations which conducts from time to time studies on matters of consequence to the Parliament.
As for the Government, the period in between the autumn session and the Budget session is one of most concentrated effort in which Ministers prepare the measures associated with the financial programme for the year. There has not been, Sir, any departure on this occasion from the normal pattern. Admittedly, there have been important matters arising for consideration which have produced a degree of abnormality, it might be said, in this particular sessional period. Honorable members only have to look at the notice papers we have had from day to day to see how many of the measures have arisen out of the pressures of the military situation and the dangers threatening this country as they exist in South East Asia at the present time. For instance we have had a group of defence measures, and consequential measures, such as the Defence (Reestablishment) Bill which was under discussion only yesterday, before the Parliament which have arisen from the deteriorating international situation in South East Asia. If honorable members examine the time given by the Parliament to a discussion of the problems of South East Asia they will see how big a part those events - quite abnormal events - have played in relation to the business of the sessional period.
Then there was another abnormal situation in that we found it necessary to consolidate what has been termed the Brussels tariff legislation. This is the longest legislative measure, I understand, ever drafted by this Parliament. It was made necessary and urgent because of the need to standardise nomenclature around the international trading world so far as that is practicable. Then, Sir, we had the introduction of the Trade Practices Bill. The matters to which I have just referred had an important relationship to our drafting capacity. Our draftsmen are, I believe, overworked. There are not enough of them. That is not because of any lack of assiduity on the part of the Minister concerned, or because of lack of efforts to secure legal assistance for this purpose. However, that circumstance did have a bearing on the legislation I have mentioned.
I think there is one aspect which should be stressed. The Government acknowledges, very frankly, that since it was elected it has gone energetically about the business of giving effect to policy undertakings it made at the last election. I and the parties which sit behind the Government are proud to be able to claim that the undertakings we gave at the election of 1963, by the time we conclude this sessional period, almost without exception, will have been honorably achieved and in working operation. I can well understand the chagrin of honorable gentlemen opposite who cannot produce sufficient unity in their ranks to evolve one substantial item of policy, but this Government, with the united support of its own parliamentary members, achieved a legislative record last year, and by the end of this sessional period, will have given substantial effect to the remainder of its policy undertakings.
– Will the Minister tell us why we have to crowd all this into three days?
– The honorable gentleman, whom I concede was with us last night at all relevant stages, has asked why we have had to crowd this into three days. I am glad to have the reminder from him of the pressures which are on the Government at this time in relation to its time table. In the week after next we have a most important conference with six State Premiers. The matters concerned could not have been dealt with earlier and cannot be dealt with later. They could not have been dealt with earlier without interfering with the programme of the sessional period, and they cannot be dealt with later because the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) will be going overseas to represent this country at important discussions in Washington and London. We believe it to be necessary - I am sure the House will agree - for him to be present at a conference of Premiers which has to resolve the financial revenue arrangements between the Commonwealth and State Governments, perhaps for a period of five years or more.
Next week it becomes necessary for Cabinet to give close attention to the issues which will be discussed at the Premiers’ Conference. We have given an undertaking to the Premiers that there would be talks with their officials before we meet, and quite clearly Cabinet has to resolve the proposals to go to the Premiers before the officials can have their talks. Honorable gentlemen opposite would make more conviction in what they are telling us if the closing stages of the sessional period had been marked by a large attendance of members of the Labour Party and their application closely to such legislation as is before the Parliament. Last night, on a Bill which is admittedly one of some consequence, we took a division following an amendment moved by an honorable gentleman opposite.
– At what time was the division taken?
– Honorable members opposite ask at what time we took the division. It was a dreadful thing to happen to any parliamentarian that on one night in this sessional period he should be required to sit beyond midnight to consider an important piece of legislation. I would like honorable members opposite ito point to any sessional period in any year when the Labour Party was in office when we were not required to sit night after night beyond midnight and into the small hours of the morning in order >to conclude the programme that had been brought forward.
We have tried to give every consideration to the convenience and comfort of honorable members. In every week of this sessional period time has been made available on the Thursday to private members, either for the Grievance debate or for private members’ business. But last night when we were debating a measure at no very late hour for grown men who should be able to have an occasional late night - and we had been able to get to bed at about midnight on the earlier nights of the week - we found that the most members that Labour could muster on a division called by them were 31 members - only about three-fifths of their strength - at a time when the Government vote was 58. Sir, I think that is a test not only of their good faith but also of their sincerity. As for Government supporters, I apologise on behalf of the Government for any inconvenience that they have been caused. If we have to work hard and strenuously over these concluding weeks, I can assure them that there are hard and strenuous weeks ahead for most of us and that this was the most effective arrangement which it was found practicable to make in relation to a very heavy programme of legislation in this sessional period.
– The Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) is too modest. He claims credit for having introduced a pattern of sitting weeks. I concede that in this respect he has effected improvements. We know approximately how many weeks we shall sit at a time and what weeks we shall be in recess. He has, however, also introduced a pattern of legislation in which all Bills pile up in the last week of every sessional period. He made no answer to the statistics presented by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell which showed that in the first 20 days of these sittings, that is, up to and including Tuesday of last week, 20 bills were passed and the Parliament got through all legislation that came before it. In the five ensuing sitting days the House has passed 14 bills, and it still has to pass 19 bills; today and next Monday the Government proposes that 19 bills be passed. Why should we have so much less time to debate these 19 bill in two days than we had to pass 20 bills in 20 days? If this legislation is so important because of the South East Asian position and because of election promises, why do we not have as long to debate it? The Leader of the House did not answer this. If this motion is defeated the consequence will be that the House will sit at the normal time - 2.30 p.m. - next Tuesday and then will sit throughout its normal sitting days. Why should we depart from those sitting days?
I shall take the honorable gentleman’s excuses in turn. First, he said there were bills dealing with the crisis in South East Asia. There were bills dealing with this crisis last year and they also were brought in and the last two sitting weeks of last year. So these Bills are always brought in at a time when there is no adequate opportunity to debate them. His next excuse was that the longest piece of legislation ever passed by this Parliament - the Customs Tariff Bill to implement the Brussels arrangement - had to be brought in. But that went through yesterday in 20 minutes. There was no complexity about the Bill. It made no significant changes, it renamed some items. The next piece of legislation to which he referred dealt with restrictive trade practices. He gave it as a justification for crushing up our sittings into two more days. But we are not dealing with the restrictive trade practices legislation - ‘that is to ‘be debated in ‘the next sessional period. So it does not appear that any of his arguments are valid on the question of specific bills coming in.
His next excuse was the shortage of draftsmen. If the draftsmen have not yet been able to draft the bills, why not give Parliament the opportunity to debate the bills when the draftsmen have drafted them? The draftsmen finally get round to the bills and the Government finally brings those bills in; but it follows the pattern of bringing them in when Parliament is about to rise. Why not have Parliament available when the bills are available?
The honorable gentleman’s next excuse was the necessity for the Government to carry out its election promises. Of course, it ought to be carrying out those election promises; but the honorable gentleman is there referring to the promises made during the general election campaign a year and a half ago in November 1963. One would think that it was no cause for congratulation that the Government should have carried out its election promises during the half of the life of the Parliament which has now elapsed.
But there is one piece of legislation which was promised not in November 1963 alone. I refer to the restrictive trade practices legislation, as it was to be, but which is now the Trade Practices Bill. This legislation was promised two years before during the 1961 general election campaign. It was promised in the Governor-General’s Speech when he opened Parliament in March 1960. It was referred to again in the Senate election campaign of six months ago. Here is a piece of legislation which was promised five and a quarter years ago and which has been promised at three successive Federal elections, but this piece of legislation is not being put through this sessional period. Even the Bill is not in accordance with the promise. Half the promises have been betrayed and even the half promises will not be discharged in these sittings. The Trade Practices Bill is being left until the next sessional period. I should think that the honorable gentleman’s excuses fell down on all scores. Then he twitted us with our attendance on what he said was the one sitting after midnight. This was the second consecutive sitting after midnight. We sat after midnight on Wednesday as well as on Thursday, and my recollection is that we sat after midnight on Tuesday of last week also. Honorable members on both sides of the chamber were not in full attendance last night.
The statistics are not confined merely to the number of bills. Let us consider the nature of the bills. Those which have been brought in since Wednesday of last week comprised 844 pages of print,, and some of it is small print in schedules. Accompanying those bills there has sometimes been an explanatory statement. The explanatory statements for the Estate Duty Assessment Bill and the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Bill amount to nine pages of fine print. So in all we have to deal with 853 pages of print. I have left out of account the Trade Practices Bill and the copyright bill because they are not being dealt with during these sittings. If I were to include them, the figure would be over 1,000 pages to be read in five days. It would take honorable members their full time, doing nothing else, just to read through them.
Half of these Bills deal with amendments to principal Acts and many of them are long Acts. They range from the Customs Act of 90 pages, Commonwealth Electoral Act of 96 pages, the Broadcasting and Television Act of 83 pages and the Defence Act of 78 pages, down to the smallest of them, which has about 8 pages. If honorable members were to read through these Bills and the principal Acts which they amend, they would have to read nearly 2,000 pages of print during the last five days. Could any parliament or any congress in the world be expected to deliberate satisfactorily in those circumstances?
Throughout the whole of the Treasurer’s speech one could see the attitude that once the Government has made up its mind - it has taken months and even years to make up its mind about some of the Bills before us, and from 5 weeks to 5i years to have them prepared - then all that the Parliamentarians have to do is to agree. Parliamentarians are permitted to debate the Bills within certain limits of time but apparently they are not expected to think them over outside this House.
There has been a pattern of procedure in this legislature. Normally, no Bill comes up for the resumption of a second reading debate until there has been an intervening Wednesday on which the respective parties could discuss their attitude to the pending legislation. Furthermore, I have tried to establish the arrangement that there will be an intervening weekend as well. Only two of these Bills- - two of the thirty-six Bills introduced since Wednesday of last week - have been dealt with in accordance with those two practices. Only in respect of the Broadcasting and Television Bill and the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Bill, has there been an intervening weekend plus an intervening Wednesday. We have been expected to debate all the other measures without Party meetings, without meetings of our party committees, and without any opportunity to confer with advisers and experts in the fields concerned. Now the Government is taking away Friday and Monday, which ordinarily would be available for party committee meetings and for consultations with advisers and experts.
Private members of the Government parties and members of the Opposition party are no more able to become experts on every subject coming before this Parliament than are Cabinet Ministers and junior Ministers. We all depend on outside advice and consultations with experts. The Government has taken weeks, months and years over its consultations and deliberations. Private members in the Government parties are expected to forgo them; the Opposition is expected to forgo them. This is not the way to conduct a parliament or a congress.
It is true that throughout the Western world the role of parliament has declined. This is so in countries with presidential dominance, as in France under President De Gaulle. It is so, I regret to say, in the countries with British parliamentary system through the increasing dominance and arrogance of the Executive. In the English speaking world, only the United States of America has a legislature which still has a deliberative function. We ought not to reduce our deliberative function any further. We should not have to forgo it on this occasion. The Opposition can try to defeat this motion and sit on Tuesday as usual and go through a ninth sitting week in an autumn session of the Parliament. We have usually had nine weeks in the past; why not this time? Why must all private members, Government and Opposition alike, be expected to debate in two days - unusual, and indeed completely exceptional sitting days - as many bills as we were given 20 days to debate at the beginning of the session before the draftsmen had done their job and before this Government had done its job?
– Sir, I will not detain the House for very long but I think the record should be put straight regarding the great lamentation made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) this morning about the treatment of private members of this Parliament. I say quite frankly that since this session began, every normal Grievance day has been allotted for this purpose and fully utilsed. Every general business day has been allotted and used by honorable members. Not once was either of these days denied to private members; nor was it intended that they should be. Not once has an opportunity for debate been denied on the motion for the adjournment of the House. I have the records of the times, the speakers, the time the House adjourned and everything else, and they show quite conclusively that the Labour Party has used the motion for the adjournment of the House much more than have the Government parties. The motion for the adjournment of the House is, of course, a means whereby all honorable members may bring matters to the notice of the House.
We have heard a great deal from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about the need for opportunities to study bills and to speak in this House. Sir, I think it should be said, and said emphatically, that throughout the entire sessional period not one member of the Opposition has been refused an opportunity to speak on any bill or on any subject raised during debate. Furthermore, not one member on the Government side has been refused the opportunity to speak if he wished to join in the debate in any bill or subject before this House. I think that when honorable members talk about the times that have been available to them during this session the matter should be put straight.
The Opposition has spoken about sitting next week. I would think that the Labour Party would do well to take stock of the attendance of its members in this House. The attendance of Opposition members at divisions on the important bills dealt with in this House has been absolutely lamentable and are a shame on Her Majesty’s Opposition. When one considers the attendance, clearly it is complete falsity to talk about not having an opportunity to debate special matters. By their very absence honorable members opposite have shown that they have not been interested. Last night when the Broadcasting and Television Bill was being considered, crocodile tears were being shed by the Opposition members about not being able to debate the subject adequately. But when a division was taken, we found that the Opposition could muster only 31 votes against 58 on this side. We want to know where the other Opposition members were. Crocodile tears are being shed again today.
I do not want to detain the House but I do want to say that there are several honorable members on the Opposition side who have co-operated with me from time to time in my position as Government Whip in order to see that the business of the House would not be delayed unduly. I thank them for their co-operation. I emphasise, however, that every time that was a personal decision made by that particular member himself. I just want to put that quite clear. But there is another matter I want to refer to because the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said this morning something about: “ Oh, we can sit on Tuesday and next week “. Does the Labour Party want the House to sit when the Labour Party is having its conference in Canberra? We know from past experience that every time the Labour Party conference has been held in Canberra members of the Opposition have run from this Parliament as quickly as they possibly could - and this is another reason - because of the division in their executive, a division in the ranks of their own members. Here we find that this sham fight - this crying over the time for which Parliament sits-
– I rise to order. I require the withdrawal of the word “ sham “. The honorable gentleman broke an undertaking last night. That is why members were not here, and I will not have him using words like “sham”. A man without honour in this place is not entitled to reflect on the honour of other members.
-Order! I suggest that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition withdraw the remark he made when referring to the honorable member for Phillip as a man without honour. I call on him to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw the remark that he is a man without honour.
– I shall now give my ruling relating to the remark made by the honorable member for Phillip that the Opposition is putting up a sham fight. They are not words that should be withdrawn. They are words used as a generalisation and words which have been allowed to be used in this House. I suggest that honorable members should remember the standards of debate in this House on this particular matter.
– I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for withdrawing his remark because it was completely unwarranted. I was going to end on that note–
– You broke your undertaking. I do not withdraw that.
– I was going to end on that note, but the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said something about my breaking an undertaking. That is completely ludicrous, untrue and not worthy of a man who is aspiring to the leadership of a party.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker,I require the withdrawal of the word “ untrue “.
– Order!I ask the honorable member for Phillip to withdraw the word “ untrue “.
– I rise to order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has accused the honorable member for Phillip of breaking an undertaking.
– That is right.
– The honorable member for Phillip says he did not break an undertaking. When a charge is made against an honorable member which is untrue, he has an inherent right to say that it is untrue. He should not be called upon to withdraw it.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, you asked the honorable member to withdraw a statement.
– Order! The honorable member for Kingston will resume his seat. As to the point raised by the honorable member for Mackellar, I rule that there is no substance in it. The Chair is not aware of whether any undertaking was broken or otherwise. It is not the responsibility of the Chair to decide that. As to the remarks by the honorable member for Phillip that the words were untrue, I asked the honorable member for Phillip to withdraw the remark because of the implications contained in it. If the honorable member for Phillip then chooses to make an explanation, it is not the responsibility of the Chair to decide whether it is correct or otherwise. The responsibility of the Chair is to try to maintain dignity in this House as the Chair is endeavouring to do at this moment.
– I submit that you should require the honorable gentleman to obey you and withdraw the term “untrue”, which he used about me, just as I obeyed you and withdrew my charge that he was a man without honour.
– Order! I asked the honorable member for Phillip to withdraw his remark that the words used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were untrue. I understood that the honorable member for Phillip had done so. If he has not already done so, then I ask him now to withdraw the remark.
– I withdraw the remark. But I want to say that no agreement was broken. The facts of the matter are these–
– You will make them up.
– I want to say that there was no agreement broken.
– Order! Honorable members will cease interjecting.
– I want to point out to the House that the matter to which reference is being made related to an additional speaker on the ‘Broadcasting and Television Bill. I made no agreement with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member made it with the Whip. I made it with the Leader of the House.
– I made no agreement with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member made it with the Whip.
– What position is he in to make an agreement? I am rather diffident about doing this on the birthday of my friend, the honorable member for Wilmot, who is involved in this matter, but I want to say quite plainly that I have a copy of the official list of names which was given to me by the Opposition Whip, and which was printed and handed to the Chair. The name that it is suggested was placed at the bottom of that list was not on the list and did not appear on it at any stage. This is a falsehood. I am defending my honour on this. I say the statement is completely false and I stand by that. I do not want to delay the House any further. I just want to put the record straight on this matter.
I ask honorable members to look at the times at which the House has sat and adjourned, and the length of the adjournments, and to take into account the fact that at no stage during this session has the gag ever been used. Every person on either side of the House who has been required to speak, or who has wished to speak on any particular bill or subject matter, has been allowed to do so. These are the facts.
– I move-
That the question be now put.
– I move -
That the honorable member for Wilmot be heard.
– Order! The Standing Orders provide that the moving of the closure motion overrides all other motions.
– I rise to order.
– Mr. ‘Deputy Speaker, I ask you to enable us to hear what the Leader of the Opposition is saying. Because of all the interjections it is impossible to hear what he is saying.
– In view of the fact that the name of the honorable member for Wilmot has been mentioned, I think the Minister might withdraw his motion for the time being until the honorable member for Wilmot has spoken.
– If the Leader of the Opposition feels that the Opposition Whip has been involved in this to the extent that his word is doubted, I have no hesitation in saying that I withdraw my motion to enable the honorable member for Wilmot to speak.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted to withdraw the motion.
.- I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this matter. I am surprised that, only a few hours after singing “ Happy Birthday “ to me over the telephone the honorable member for Phillip(Mr. Aston), who is Governmen Whip, should now be getting up in this place and suggesting that I was on the wrong foot.
– Order! I suggest that the House come to order. If the interjections from both sides continue, and if honorable members continue with their present behaviour, the Chair will take steps to see that the House does maintain order.
– I want to put the record straight and state the facts as I know them with respect to this matter about which we have been accused by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) and by the Government Whip this morning. They made reference to the small attendance at a division in the early hours of this morning. I went to the office of the Government Whip at about a quarter to 12, I think it was, last night and said to him: “ How far are we going in this debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill? “ He said: “ We will stop after the member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) has finished his speech.”. The honorable member for Lang was speaking at the time. He finished his speech at ten minutes past twelve this morning. I returned from the Government Whip’s office to my seat here and saw the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen), with a glass of water on his desk, looking as if he were about to launch himself into a speech. It seemed to me as if he was looking through notes of a speech. I thought: “ This seems very strange, after what the Government Whip told me just now “.
– The name of the honorable member for Parramatta was on the list of speakers.
– Of course it was, but no one was to speak after the honorable member for Lang had finished. That is what I had been told. I am telling the truth as I know it. Hear me out. I wrote a note to the honorable member for Parramatta, which began: “ Dear Nigel “.
– I may say at this point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I even address the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) with the words “ Dear Bob “. So I addressed to the honorable member for Parramatta a note in these terms: “ Dear Nigel: One question. Are you taking the adjournment of this debate? “An attendant took that note across to the honorable member. He read it and immediately came down the aisle to the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) who had just entered the chamber and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme), who was sitting on the front bench, and showed the note to them. The Government Whip, also, came down before the honorable member for Parramatta returned to his seat with my note in his hand, seated himself at his desk and wrote a reply to me on the back of the piece of paper on which I had written my note. This reply he sent across to me by an attendant. It was in these terms: “We want the second reading of this Bill tonight”. At the bottom, he signed his name. That was the first indication to me, as Opposition Whip, that the second reading debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill was to finish in the early hours of this morning instead o. at the conclusion of the speech of the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart). That is true, whatever the honorable member for Phillip has to say now.
Naturally, in planning to enable Opposition speakers to take part in debates, I, as Opposition Whip, have to make arrangements well ahead and know in advance what we are doing. Last night,- on the advice of the Government Whip, we were contemplating finishing the sitting about 12.30 a.m., about half way through the list of speakers set down for the second reading debate. That debate was to finish today and there was to be no debate last night on the motion for the adjournment of the House. The honorable member for Phillip, in his office, had told me: “ There will not be a debate on the motion for the adjournment “. I appealed for a debate on that motion. I said: “We did not speak on the motion for the adjournment last night. Let us speak tonight. As far as I am concerned, there need be no debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House tomorrow - Friday - because we shall be rushing off to the airport at 5 o’clock to catch our planes home.”
– Apparently, the honorable member can be generous.
– I am telling what happened. The honorable member for Phillip has wrongly accused the Opposition of putting up a sham fight in the early hours of this morning. I want to tell the House about that, too. At any rate, we on this side finally heard, from the honorable member for Parramatta, that the House was to sit on to complete the second reading debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill. So the honorable member for Lang was followed by the honorable member for Parramatta. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) then spoke, and he was followed by the honorable member for Cowper (Mr. Robinson). We came to the end of the debate about 1.15 a.m., when there was a division on the Opposition’s amendment. However, on the assumption that the sitting was to finish at about 12.30, some sick Opposition members - there are eight of them - had been given leave to go to their hotels. I make no apology for that. It is cruel and wrong to keep ill members here until 1.30 or 2 in the morning to VO.e on legislation. I did not know that the debate was to continue to the end of the second reading stage when, at about 11 p.m., I granted leave to those ill members. I did not then expect a division to be taken last night. It was put on us completely out of the blue. In a division held on Tuesday, 45 Opposition members voted. However, that division was held during normal sitting times. It was held at a civilised hour, not the uncivilised time of 1.20 a.m.
I have here a list of Opposition members and any honorable member opposite may see it. For future purposes I keep on my list a record of each member who has to be given leave to absent himself. Anybody who looks at this list will find that last night eight Opposition members were given leave because they were ill. Some of them have been in hospital recently and have not yet fully recovered. 1 make no apology for giving them leave. The honorable member for Phillip has very unfairly suggested that we put up only a sham fight last night. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) will bear witness to what I have said this morning about the understanding that there would be no debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House last night and that the sitting would end about 12.30 a.m. I now come back to the main issue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the Government promised that we could have today and Monday to finish–
– I wish to take a point of order. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who is Opposition Whip, was given special permission to explain on his own behalf his assertion that the honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston), who is Government Whip, had wrongly said something about him. Affording the honorable member an opportunity to make his explanation is fair enough, but it is quite unfair to honorable members on this side of the House - and on the other side, too - for him to proceed to debate the matter.
– I do not want to strain my good fortune in being allowed to explain these matters and give a proper answer to these unjust charges that have been levelled at me this morning by the Government Whip, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Honorable members opposite will find that, whenever a division is called at a proper hour, Opposition members are here to vote. But, in a civilised country, it is not a fair go to call out sick men to vote in division at 1.15 a.m. I hope that the discussion this morning will stand as a warning to the Government that, in future, it should give the Parliament a full week to debate in a civilised manner a heap of legislation of the magnitude that has been put before us in the last couple of days.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker–
Motion (by Mr. Chaney) agreed to -
That the question be now put.
Question put -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Monday next at 10.30 a.m.
The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker - Mr. P. E. Lucock.)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Consideration resumed from 20th May (vide page 1818).
Clauses 1 to 5 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Section 18 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following subsection: - “ (2.) The (Minister may direct the Board to hold an inquiry in accordance with1 this Division into any matter relating to the operation of this Act or the regulations, or to broadcasting or television or both, other than a matter relating to the Commission, its affairs or operations, and the Board shall hold an inquiry accordingly.”.
.- I move-
At the end of the clause add the following proposed sub-section: - “ ‘ (3.) A reference in this section to this Act shall be read as including a reference to the regulations.’.”.
Under clause 6, proposed new section 18 (2.) extends the matters into which the Board may hold public inquiry. The clause, as drafted in the Bill, covers those matters which are contained in the Act itself. The amendment applies to the regulations which are included at the end of the Bill. It is believed desirable that the Board should have this right and that it should be included in this particular provision. I do not believe this proposal requires much debate.
.- The Minister announced on 17th December 1964 that he intended to introduce this legislation. He brought it into the Parliament on 13th May 1965 and now he produces a series of amendments, of which this is the first. I want the Minister to explain whether this amendment in particular, and his other amendments, were overlooked by the draftsmen because they had so much work before them that they did not have sufficient time to prepare this legislation thoroughly. If that is not the explanation, will the Minister tell me why such a simple amendment as this was overlooked by his Department? At the same time, I think he should be good enough to tell honorable members when the draftsmen were asked to prepare this Bill, because this was the whole point of the discussion this morning, namely, that important legislative proposals are not being sent to the draftsmen early enough to enable him ito present measures to the Parliament in time for a thorough discussion to take place. This is a simple amendment which should not have been overlooked, and I want to know why it was overlooked.
– I do not believe the Committee wants to waste a lot of time on this. On 17th December last year I indicated the main principles which would be incorporated in the Bill. The draftsmen, the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden), myself and officers of my Department have been in almost constant consultation over a period of four or five months in the drafting of this Bill, because it has been our desire to overcome the problems associated with the lack of certainty in the provisions passed in 1960. Having concentrated our attention primarily on the principles associated with the Bill, having had them printed - I assure honorable members it is much easier to look at provisions in Bill form than in typewritten form with scribbled alterations here, there and everywhere - and having brought the Bill into the House, we felt some minor adjustments were necessary, including one or two adjustments of principle. They are minor adjustments which could have been left until the Bill is before the Senate. However, to meet the convenience of the two Houses we thought it desirable that they should be put into the Bill now.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Division 3 of Part IV. of the Principal Act is repealed and the following Division inserted in its stead: - “ Division 3. - Limitation of Ownership or Control of Commercial Television Stations.
” 91.- (1.)
” (6.) In this section, ‘ the prescribed date ‘ means the seventeenth dayof December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four. “ 92c. - (1.) A person shall not be a director of two or more companies that are, between them, in a position to exercise control of three or more licences.
Penalty: One hundred pounds, and Ten pounds for every day on which the offence continues. 92f.- (1.) “ (4.) The Minister shall not refuse to grant approval under this section, and shall not give a notice under the last preceding sub-section, unless there has been a report by the Board upon such matters as, subject to any directions of the Minister, are determined by the Board to be relevant to the application of this sub-section in relation to the transaction and the Minister, after considering the report of the Board and any recommendation made in that report -
.- To say the least, the Government is in a real mix-up with Division 3 of Part IV of the principal Act. This isthe second occasion since 1960 on which this Division has been completely rewritten. Evidently the previous provisions have failed completely to meet the intention of the Government when the original legislation was enacted. On 12th May 1960, the then PostmasterGeneral, the then honorable member for Dawson, when dealing with this Division in his second reading speech on the Broadcasting and Television Bill 1960, said -
I now come to a group of clauses in the bill which substitute a new Division 3 for the Division 3 of Part IV that is now in the act. Division 3 in the act at present contains two very significant sections. The first is section 91 which provides that a person shall not be in a position to control directly or indirectly more than two television licences. The second is section 92 which provides that 80 per cent, of the share capital of a company holding a licence shall be held by residents of this country and that no non-resident shall hold more than15 per cent of that capital. These provisions were enacted to express this Government’s policy that thus very important channel of communication should not fall into the hands of too few, and that the benefit derived from the exercise of licences which lay in the grant of the Government should be spread widely through the Australian community.
That expresses the view of the Government Now Division 3 is to be completely rewritten. In other words, the Government is following precisely the pattern of the 1960 Act. Even allowing for the limitations, the errors or the experience that certain sections of that Act did not meet the wishes or policy of the Government, it is certainly amazing to find that now we are called upon completely to rewrite the Division. Anyone who glances at clause 7 of the Bill will see that it is a very extensive alteration. In addition, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) has circulated another amendment to this Division, which no doubt will be moved shortly.
We notice that the rewritten section 91 spreads over almost three pages of the Bill. It is well nigh impossible to read it in conjunction with what is in the Act at present. The present Division 3 is completely repealed. The Postmaster-General, in his second reading speech, confirmed the view that this Division had failed and had to be completely rewritten. I believe that we members of the Opposition are entitled to ask why the original provisions of the Act were framed in such a way that they have had to be rewritten twice. It might well be thought that the Government’s policy should have been expressed clearly in those original provisions. In debating other amendments - I make only a passing reference to them - we will indicate that the provisions of this Division have been evaded by people interested in television company shares and the purchase and control of television companies. This Division of the Act has failed completely. But the Government is not prepared, now, to make certain provisions of this Bill apply to people who have failed to give effect to the Government’s policy, as set out in this Division.
The Postmaster-General, in his reply, might tell us why this radical change is being made. I should also like to know the organisations, individuals or companies whose actions, he believes, have made necessary the rewriting of this Division. They are important matters, bearing in mind the principles enunciated by the then PostmasterGeneral in 1960.I point out that the present Postmaster-General, in his second reading speech on this Bill, expressed the same views as the former Postmaster-General expressed in 1960. The former PostmasterGeneral was hopeful that the changes made in 1960 would ensure the implementation of the Government’s policy. But those changes have failed completely. Every section of Division 3 has been rewritten. No doubt some of the proposed new sections incorporate the existing words. But the endeavour to close the loopholes, as the present Postmaster-General said, has necessitated not just the addition of an odd section but a complete rewriting of the Division.
Two interpretations can be placed on that. One is that the Division was badly drafted. I excuse the officials concerned because they probably thought that within the terms of Government policy they were doing everything to close the loopholes. The second interpretation is that the Government is dealing with some pretty slick operators in the television world. The fact that the Government has to rewrite completely every section of a division of an act indicates that it must be up against people who are prepared to go to any lengths to gain control of this great medium of publicity and propaganda. The Division has to be rewritten because these people are so smart and so wide awake. I do not doubt that in drafting the Bill the Minister, in all genuineness, was endeavouring to close the loopholes. The necessity for these amendments shows that the people whom the Government is seeking to bring within the scope of the provisions of the Act on the limitation of ownership or control of commercial television stations undoubtedly are very well advised, no doubt at the highest cost and by the best brains. They have made it necessary for the Government to write a completely new division into the Act.
I notice that in proposed new section 91 the Minister has gone to great pains to define what the terms “ holder of a licence “ and “control” mean. Sub-section (2.) reads -
For the purposes of this Division, a person has a prescribed interest in a licence if he is -
the holder of the licence;
in a position to exercise control, either directly or indirectly, of the licence;
in a position to exercise control of more than five per centum of the maximum number of votes. . . .
Time does not permit me to read the whole sub-section. It indicates that in rewriting this Division the Minister has endeavoured to cover practically everything. However, there is still no guarantee that the legislation will function effectively.
The Minister has been extremely liberal, to say the least, in regard to the number of interests that people may have in television stations. If the Government wants to prevent monopoly control and limitation of ownership, I cannot see why it should go beyond allowing only one television station or licence for each company. Giving one company the right to have an interest in even two stations or licences undoubtedly starts it on the road to creating a network. Unfortunately, the Government has found it very difficult to cope with that situation under the existing Act.
I ask the Minister whether he will explain to us why it has been necessary to completely rewrite this Division. Can he tell us where he believes the legislation has failed? He can do that more extensively in Committee than he could at the second reading stage. Will he tell us how this Bill will close the loopholes in many of the provisions of the 1960 Act, which undoubtedly have proved to be completely ineffective? Those loopholes have caused him, rather apologetically, to bring to this Parliament a Bill which rewrites a division in practically every way and which evidently is designed to stop people gaining monopoly ownership and control of television stations - people who are backed up by all the brain power that they can buy in order to contravene the provisions of an act which was brought down in good faith by the government of the day.
I suggest that if the Broadcasting and Television Act is to be amended from time to time, after many months of delay, and every time it is amended it is to be almost rewritten, it certainly will be a very mixed grill. Whilst I am not doubting the Minister’s sincerity in this matter, I would like an explanation of the forces behind the changes that are being made and the reasons why the high hopes that the previous PostmasterGeneral expressed for the 1960 legislation and his good intentions were not brought to fruition. Did that happen because of bad drafting or because the operators against the Government are too skilful? Does the Government believe that there is no way of implementing its policy? Is this Bill just another attempt to bolster up the legislation a bit in the hope that it might succeed?
.- There should be no mystery - none whatsoever - about the provisions of this clause. I admit immediately that it involves a completely new concept, which has required the rewriting of Division 3 of Part IV of the principal Act. In my view the definition of “ prescribed interest “ is one of the very real power stations in this Bill. It is a completely new concept, lt may be compared with the existing section 92b which deals with the meaning of control of a company and which reads -
For the purposes of this Division, a person who is, or who, by any application or applications of this section, is deemed to be, in a position to exercise control of more than fifteen per centum of the total votes that could be cast at a general meeting of a company is deemed to be in a position to exercise control of that company and of any voting rights of that company as a shareholder and of all acts and operations of that company.
What happened was this: The articles of association of the company were altered to provide that no matter what sized holding a shareholder held he would not be in a position to have voting rights in excess of 15 per cent, of the voting strength. This is an evasion of the Act, but a person is entitled to put himself in a position where he may legitimately go about his business. If there was a defect in the law it is the fault of the Parliament. Now, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme), by proposing this amendment, is embarking on an entirely new course. The definition of a prescribed interest is, again in my view, more stringent than the previous provision of 15 per cent. Under this Bill if a person has more than five per cent, of the maximum number of votes or more than a five per cent, interest in a television company - the term “ interest “ covers a substantial field - that person has a prescribed interest and immediately the mechanism comes into play. I think the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) was unfair to the PostmasterGeneral in recognising the novelty of this approach to limiting the control of interests in television. I do not think I can add anything useful to what I have said about the points made by the honorable member for Grayndler.
.- I move -
In sub-section (6.) of proposed section 62, omit “ seventeenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four “, insert “ eighth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and sixty “.
The amendment is proposed by the Opposition in order to make retrospective the provisions of the proposed new section. We do this for the simple reason that we feel that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) has attempted to close the loopholes that existed in the 1960 Act. I was pleased to hear the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) say that this Bill was an attempt to close those loopholes. The Opposition’s main objection is that even though an attempt has been made to close the loopholes, we have the gravest doubts whether the legislation will have any more success than did the 1960 legislation.
– Why does the honorable member say that?
– For the simple reason that in 1960 Sir Charles Davidson brought down a completely new measure. It provided that the interests of shareholders in television stations should be limited to 15 per cent. The legislation contained other provisions relating to television companies and take-overs. Division 3 of Part IV. of the 1960 legislation was similar to the provision in this Bill. The new Bill certainly tightens up the provisions contained in Division 3 of the old legislation. The new Bill reduces the maximum interest that a shareholder may have from 15 per cent, to five per cent, but up to this stage the television companies have been able to get around the 15 per cent, limitation. We must appreciate the fact that the television companies have tremendous financial backing. They are prepared to pay the best
Queen’s Counsel in the country to go through the legislation seeking loopholes. I am absolutely certain that they will do it again.
The Opposition moves this amendment because we feel, as we did in 1960, that the Government should do something to curb the activities of the holders of television licences. The Government attempted to do this in 1960, but was unsuccessful. It is now making a further attempt to curb the activities of licence holders but in setting a prescribed date the Government selected the date on which the Minister made his statement - 17th December 1964. The Minister virtually says: “We believe that some of the television licence holdings at this stage may contravene the Act that we are now passing, but if that does happen we are prepared to overlook any misdemeanours or infringements to the new provisions provided they took place before 17th December 1964.” We contend that the 1960 legislation was designed to curb the activities that this Bill now endeavours to curb. Consequently we say that the prescribed date should be the date on which the 1960 legislation received Royal Assent - 8th June 1960. I submit that it is completely wrong to say that if you were able to infringe the Act before 17th December 1964 you may continue in the future, contrary to the provisions of the new Act, contrary to the intentions of the Government and contrary to Government policy.
In his second reading speech the PostmasterGeneral said -
It was thought, at the time the 1960 legislation was enacted, that the action being taken would ensure the effective operation of the Act to limit the extent of the control or influence which might be exercised by any one person or group over companies holding licences for television stations. There was no departure from the original concept that a person might control, directly or indirectly, two licences providing they were not both in the same capital city. The definition of control was amended first to extend to practical and commercial control by any means and secondly to fix at IS per centum the voting power which would be deemed to give control of a licensee company and of its operations. This was a sincere endeavour on the part of the Government to ensure that its policy in respect of the ownership of television stations would not be frustrated. I must, however, be frank and say that our expectations in this regard have not been completely realised.
That is the point I make. Again I concede that this is a sincere effort on the part of the Government to close the loophole, but it is allowing a very large loophole to remain. The companies got around the 1960 Act and now the Government is telling them that it is prepared to allow them to have their victories provided they happened before 17th December 1964. We say that, because the Government’s intention was so plain in 1960, the prescribed date should be 8th June 1960, the date on which Royal Assent was given. In his second reading speech the Minister said also -
I propose, however, to outline for the benefit of honorable members their broad import.
He was referring to the amendments then being introduced. He continued -
Before doing so, 1 should say that the Government has given close consideration to the position of persons or companies who, by virtue of their present shareholdings in licensee or related companies, or financial interests in licensee companies, would be in breach of the Act when amended. However, we have come to the conclusion that there would be serious difficulties in making the provisions of the Bill apply retrospectively in such cases. Apart from being required to divest themselves of interests held directly in licensee companies, the persons and companies involved would, in many instances, be required to divest themselves of shareholdings in companies other than licensee companies. The acquisition of these interests may have come about in the normal course of business and involve indirect interests in television companies which, although not significant in terms of the existing legislation, might well become significant under the new provisions. . . However, if a person or company who has acquired excess interests prior to 17th December 1964 subsequently divests himself or itself of such interests, he or it will not thereafter be entitled to recapture those excess holdings, although he or it will be able to participate in any new issues of shares which may be made.
There is a further inconsistency here. The Government says that if a man had excess interests in a company prior to 17th December 1964 and has sold them he is not entitled to take them back, but if by the holding of his shares in that company he happens to get a new issue and that new issue puts him above the limits set by the amendments to this Bill, he is nevertheless entitled to take the new issue.
The Minister admits that he considered whether retrospectivity could be applied here and apparently decided that it would cause too much trouble. Too much trouble for whom? It could only be too much trouble for people in half a dozen companies throughout Australia. The people concerned are buying and selling shares every day of the week. If they want to get around the provisions of legislation, they will organise all sorts of transactions. They went to the trouble of changing their articles of association so that no shareholder would have more than 15 per cent, of the voting power in a company. All of these factors should be considered. Trouble would not be caused to anyone except the people in half a dozen companies. These companies have thumbed their noses at the Government, and I think the Government and the Parliament are entitled to make the provisions of this Bill apply back to 8th June 1960, the date on which the Davidson legislation was introduced. This is reasonable. It would not cause much trouble to anyone other than those interested in half a dozen television companies. It would be of no great concern to the general populace of Australia. For that reason, the amendment moved by the Opposition should be carried.
Sitting suspended from 12.47 to 2.15 p.m.
.- I desire to speak in support of this clause and to oppose the amendment put forward by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart). The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) has spoken on the motion,but he has not spoken about the subject matter of the motion. He made no constructive suggestions. What his speech amounted to was a plea for information. He wants to be told something about the Bill and something about the facts. The only fear that I have, Sir, is that if anyone sets out to tell the honorable member for Grayndler about the Bill or about the facts the honorable member will be unable to absorb the information and will fall asleep. He reminds me of the Eskimo who was brought down from the far north and shown over New York. He only got to the third street when he fell asleep. The trouble was that his mind could not absorb so much new material in such a short time. I suggest that the honorable member should have confined his remarks to the motion.
May I address some remarks to the amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Lang? At present, the Bill will operate from 17th December 1964. The honorable member wants it to operate from 9th June 1960. What this amounts to is this: In practice, if this amendment proposed by the honorable member for Lang were adopted all transactions entered into during the past 41/2 to 5 years would have to be undone. These transactions, at the time they were carried out, were entered into in the faith that Parliament meant what it said when it referred to a 15 per cent, holding in television licences, and that it did not mean 5 per cent, when it said 15 per cent. Those members of the community who have acted in good faith on what Parliament said they should do would be asked to undo the transactions they have entered into over41/2 years. Those transactions were lawful at the time and it is a complete misconception to say, as some members of the Opposition have said, that they were in contravention of the law. They were not Not only have certain parties entered into these transactions, but other transactions have been based upon them. Dealings have been entered into on our stock exchanges from time to time by those who held shares in the television companies based upon the lawful position that existed at that time.
To pass this amendment, and to ask that all these matters should be undone, would be very much the same as asking a cook who had made an omelette to put the eggs back into the shell. It is not possible. Not only is it not possible but it would be most unfair and most unjust. It is an overriding principle that unless it is absolutely imperative in the public interest Parliament does not make Acts retrospective. If transactions have been entered into with faith in the law as it exists, one does not suddenly make those transactions unlawful, or require people who have relied on the Acts and the consequences of the Acts to set about undoing them years later. I strongly oppose the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang.
.- Mr. Chairman, I am indebted to the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen). He gave me a little more information than did the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme). At the risk of disappointing him, let me say that I understand his explanation, but I have not worked out his jokes yet. Over the weekend I will spend a bit of time on them because they have evidently come from a deep knowledge and learning. I am very interested also to hear his view that you cannot make legislation retrospective. The Taxation Branch chases one to the grave. It will go back for years to get the taxes due. Honorable members have only to pick up annual reports of the Commissioner for Taxation to find that this situation exists.
It did not worry the Australian Country Party much, either, in days gone by when the Government brought in certain concessions on superphosphate. It did not worry about going back a little to give the benefits. Evidently the proposal from this side of the Parliament is to be rejected because certain people have benefited, not because they thought the Act was just or lawful at the time, but because - in the words of the Minister, almost - they found highly skilled lawyers, no doubt like the honorable member for Parramatta, whom they were able to pay out of the profits they were making. These lawyers were able to work out devious ways around the law. Whilst the companies may technically be said to have been within the law they were certainly running very close to the wind. That is the real reason behind this legislation. The Minister and the Government knows that certain people in the television world have completely defeated the proposals enunciated in the previous Act for the simple reason that they were able to get the advice of skilled people - call them shrewd operators if you like - who were able to tell them how the proposals could be overcome, how they could make a profit, how they could take control of television stations in contravention of the Act, and in every way defeat the whole purposes of the legislation. I would say that these people had very bad intentions.
The honorable member for Parramatta, bringing to bear all the great legal knowledge that he has brought to this Parliament, tells us that we cannot make the proposed new section retrospective. I will tell the honorable member why the Government will not make it retrospective. It is because friends of the Government are involved. If this new section were made retrospective to last Christmas the Government would have to challenge Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. on its acquisition of the Brisbane television station. Everybody knows that it amounts to instant expulsion from the Liberal Party to do anything to Ansett. He is the God of the Liberal Party. Why should he not be? He is running the nation with the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) helping him along. That is why the Govern ment does not want to make the proposed new section retrospective. 1 wish to refer to the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for the year ended 30th June 1964. I have not been able to get this year’s report as it is not yet published. I would not do the Minister an injustice, but I hope that he has not held the report up because he knows that Ansett will be listed in that journal as one of those who has made important changes in the shareholdings of broadcasting stations. On page 11 we listed important changes in shareholdings in broadcasting stations. The report reads -
The following were the more important of the changes in the shareholdings in companies holding licences for commercial broadcasting stations during the year under review.
During the year The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. increased its issued capital from 11,524,860 ordinary shares of Ss. each to a total of 24,280,514 shares.
The report goes on to show that that company is interested in 3DB Melbourne and 3LK Lubeck. Then Queensland Newspapers Pty. Ltd. is listed in connection with stations 4BK Brisbane and 4AK Oakey. Then Commercial Broadcasters Pty. Ltd. is mentioned. That company, of course, is tied up with Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. These companies are sacred cows too, like Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. Commercial Broadcasters Pty. Ltd. controls 7HO Hobart. Coming down further in the report I notice that on 29th June, as mentioned by the honorable member for Lang, John Fairfax Ltd. informed the Minister that the company had purchased the Australian investments of Associated Television Ltd., London. No wonder the honorable member for Parramatta, representing as he does all the wealth, power and influence of the district from which he comes, and standing here as representative of the Government and of big interests, does not want to make this legislation retrospective beyond 17th December 1964.
What the amendment of the honorable member for Lang proposes to do is to postdate the effect of the Bill to the time of assent to the Act in 1960. Any company that has exploited the television medium in this country since that date, by economic controls and contravention of what the then Minister said would be an Act that would cover up this trafficking in shares would then be guilty of an offence.
The Government is admitting, in effect, that these companies have, as it were, been caught with the goods. But the Government is not going to penalise them. It is not even going to ask them to give the goods back, but it says,, in effect, that if they do this again as from 17th December 1964, it will be illegal. In other words to have committed a crime since 1960 will not matter for the simple reason that the Government is going to date the Act back only to 17th December 1964. If this Act has been contravened, as the Minister stated that it has, then the Government has completely failed to control these operators. The Government had the best of intentions in making this provision, but these people found a way around it. They defeated it by sinister means and cleverly manipulated arrangements and shareholdings. I believe that they should be called upon to answer to what I will call these acts.
We find that the Government argues against the suggestion that the legislation should have retrospective effect. 1 see nothing wrong with retrospectivity when it is designed to catch people who have put it over the people and the Government. These people are not just taking control of a television station to enable them just to bring entertainment to the people. The control of a television station means power by propaganda through this medium. Television dominates the thinking of our people from one end of the country to another, so great is it as a propaganda medium. Above all else, control of a television station means huge profits, as 1 exemplified last night, to the extent of £2,455,000 in 1962-63. These people have been prepared to make the Government change the Act twice, which shows how bad it must have been, and the Government did so because it had to protect itself from its own supporters. In making these changes the Government was acting out of desperation. But now the honorable member for Parramatta and the Minister refuses to accept the amendment which will bring within the scope of the provisions of the Act those people who have manipulated shares and the control of television stations - not in the interests of the country but in their own personal interest. I should like the Minister and the honorable member for Parramatta to explain to me how they justify this attitude.
I do not like to make observations about the intentions of people, and nothing would be further from my mind than to cast aspersions on people’s intentions, but I cannot help thinking that this Government is here to protect the wealthy interests which are behind it. And why should not the Government protect their friends with television interests? In return no doubt it gets unlimited free time during election campaigns on all stations throughout the Commonwealth, and it is given the best viewing times at night on the stations operated by owners of the “ Daily Telegraph “, the Sydney Morning Herald “ and others. Everything possible is given by this great medium of propaganda to put the Government into power. Therefore in this legislation the Government makes certain that it does not repeat the wrongs of the past, but makes the legislation apply only from now. Its purpose is to square off with the television companies to whom it is obligated and who, in turn, are obligated to the Government for the power that they have been given. As honorable members know, very few Labour interests are involved. No Labour organisation has more than a small interest in a television station.
So the people who are being protected by the Government in not adopting the proposal made by the honorable member for Lang are the very people who should be brought to book, that is, those wealthy interests who control this medium of propaganda and who are making huge profits from the licence. I suggest to the honorable member for Parramatta that he may be good at law but that he is not very practical at politics. Among Government supporters he is an innocent abroad. He has not been here long, but in due course he will become aware of the devious ways in which the people whom he is protecting in his speech today take advantage of this legislation. I hope that the Government will adopt the resolution moved by the honorable member for Lang. It is an endeavour to bring to book those people who have prospered under this Government by defeating the laws of the land. These people should be called upon to answer for their actions.
– I am amazed at the ignorance of members of the Opposition when they discuss a subject such as this. It was obvious to me last night from the three speeches which we heard on the second reading of the Bill that it would be almost fair to say that none of those who spoke had even read the Bill, let alone tried to understand it. At this moment I want to deal quickly with three matters which have been raised. The first relates to the date, 17th December, and the effect of that date and the announcement that I made on that day. Let me go back a little because we have heard a great deal about Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. We know from other debates and other comments made in this House that members of the Opposition have a complete hatred of Mr. Ansett and all his undertakings in this country.
It will be remembered that in relation to Austarama Television Pty. in Melbourne, Mr. Ansett and his company were the successful applicants. When the licence was about to be issued to Universal Telecasters Queensland Ltd. and the shares came on to the market, Mr. Ansett went in and bought heavily. I say this against the background that the policy of the Government was that no person should control more than two stations. Let us leave aside for a moment the problem associated with changes of articles of association. Let us forget that. Mr. Ansett had Austarama in Melbourne, and when the Brisbane shares came onto the market he went in and bought heavily. This gave him a second station, which was within the policy laid down by the Government that no person could have control of more than two stations. But it was not just as easy as that. Not Mr. Ansett, but the other people who were the directors and the promoters of the Brisbane company, had included in their articles before they went on the stock exchange to sell shares an article which restricted the voting rights of any shareholder in Universal Telecasters in Brisbane to 15 per cent. So it did not matter what percentage of shares he had or any shareholder had; he could not, under the terms of the Act as it then was, be in control of that particular station.
I move just a little further because it will be remembered by honorable members that licences were also to be granted in relation to South Australia and Western Australia. Both stations which received licences in these States had restrictions in their articles in relation to voting rights and they were down as low as 7i per cent. If this was not leaving the situation completely open to any one ox the big newspaper interests, the people who have been slated over the last few hours by members of the Opposition, to go in when these shares came onto the Stock Exchange, to buy up in a big way and get control of one or two other stations, then I do not understand this setup. On 1 7th December, to avoid this very thing happening, I produced the statement. The principles enunciated in that statement are the ones which are in the Bill. The two new stations in South Australia and Western Australia have been able to avoid - if I may use the term - a virtual takeover by one of the big interests because of what was done on 17th December. To suggest that anything that has happened in relation to television in recent months has been to the advantage of Ansett and contrary to the policy of the Government or what was intended to be in the Act is, of course, completely stupid and ridiculous. I make that point, but I want to go back to 1960 and this is where the amendment is trying to take us.
It is my understanding that there are responsibilities on the Government and on the Opposition in relation to the things which happen within this Parliament. The Government produces a bill and any private member can produce a bill; but from whatever source it is produced, it is the responsibility of every elected member to analyse the content of the bill and, surely, to bring to the notice of the House deficiencies which may be apparent to him. I was staggered last night to hear the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), a Queen’s Counsel who is practising - or at least until he came into this House was practising - at the New South Wales bar suggest to me that an officer of this Parliament - he put himself in this category - was under no obligation whatever to offer a view to protect the interests of the Australian people in relation to interpretations of bills which come before the Parliament. L’ any man is prepared to say that, I say to him that he should not be in this place because the very reason that he is elected to this place is to look after the interests of the Australian people. The Opposition accepted the 1960 Bill believing that it would give the protection which the then Postmaster-General believed it would give.
Therefore, I say to honorable members opposite that it is their responsibility as much as it is that of Government supporters, if the Parliament did not close up any loopholes that were obvious. The fact that the Parliament did not take such action is, perhaps, a clear indication that loopholes were not obvious to honorable members opposite or to us. But time has passed since 1960. Shrewd lawyers - and I suppose that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition regards himself in that particular category - and shrewd businessmen in Australia found that by altering a company’s articles of association and restricting voting rights to 15 per cent., they could defeat the aims of the 1960 amendment. Therefore, those people who did so did it quite lawfully. I say, as a member of the Government and a member of the Liberal Party - I think I can speak also on behalf of my colleagues in the Country Party - that we do not believe in a principle which sets retrospectivity against a person who has done something lawful.
I think that is a fairly plain statement of why I believe the Government should not accept an amendment which says that the prescribed date referred to in proposed new section 9 should relate to 1960, when the previous Bill was before Parliament. What would be the effect of applying the new provisions retrospectively? Let us remember that the only amendment of which the Opposition has given notice is the one saying that we should make retrospective to 1960 almost the whole of this Bill. If I understand common English, it means that the moment this Bill was proclaimed, all those people who have done the things that we have been talking about, would be contravening the Act and would be obliged to sell their shares. Thousands of shares in television stations would be placed on the market to be sold immediately. Let us consider the impact of such an event on the stock exchanges. Thousands and thousands of small shareholders in television stations throughout Australia would be affected. It may be that members of the Opposition, who no doubt have constituents with shareholdings in television stations, do not mind very much what happens to the investments of those people. Some shareholders may only have £1,000 or £2,000 invested in the shares of the public companies concerned, but whether the investment is small or large, there is no concern in the hearts or minds of honorable members opposite for those people.. Overnight, there would be a crash in the value of television shares on the exchanges. Prices might fall from say 10s. to perhaps 5s., involving a loss of 50 per cent, of present investment capital. It is all right to poke fun at the big concerns, but I would be almost prepared to guarantee that in many of these stations more shares are held by small investors than are held by the big investors in the community.
If the Opposition carries this amendment, what about the penalties that will apply if the shares are not sold? Penalties are prescribed by the Act, of course. I do not believe there are the resources in Australia, or that it would be the desire of investors in Australia, to take up the hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of shares that would come on the market overnight. The penalties prescribed for breaches of the Act are very severe. The Labour Party has produced only one amendment; it has not even suggested that a period of, say, three months should be allowed in which to get rid of the surplus holdings. I guarantee that the market would not settle down for five years if this amendment were carried, having regard to the magnitude of television interests and the way in which they are distributed throughout the Australian community.
I say quite deliberately, Sir, that I believe that this amendment stems from the complete and utter ignorance of people who do not understand the Act. ‘Probably they have not read the Act. I can understand people such as the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) or the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) taking this course, but I cannot understand the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, a Queen’s Counsel, doing so, He ought to be able to understand and ought to be able to interpret the Act. Yet he must have approved the honorable member for Lang moving this amendment. This is the first time I have spoken in this debate since this amendment came before us, and I say that the Government under no circumstances could accept it. I believe that deep down in their hearts members of the Labour Party would not like to see it carried.
.- Sir, I can assure the honorable Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) that deep in our hearts we on this side of the House do want to see this amendment carried. I was rather surprised that he poured scorn on those people who were unable to understand all the implications and complications of legal procedures involved. Why is this Bill before the Parliament? The Minister’s action in introducing it is an open admission that neither he nor his predecessor understood the Act. He has tried to explain what this Bill is trying to do. It has taken him all this time, with all the phalanxes and squadrons of Queen’s Counsel and the panoply of the law behind him, to do so. For innocents abroad he takes the cake, What is the issue before the Committee? We have seen the annual, almost weekly procedure of Government supporters and Ministers weeping for the poor widows who own television stations. It is pathetic to think of those poor people who may be deprived of their shareholdings in a television station; who may have to throw the shares on the market where nobody will take them up. In the year 1961-62, for instance, profits from broadcasting and so on were only £2.5 million. In the next year again they were only £2.5 million. If the Minister were to compel the sale of shares in organisations that have been conducted as a special benefit for the people who managed to get hold of television station licences, one would get killed in the rush to buy them. So these arguments from the Minister are specious. I give him credit where credit is due. It will not take me long. He has at least admitted that he was in grievous error earlier. He has at least stood up in the Parliament and said: “We did not understand before, but now we are going to do something about it”.
What is the issue in this amendment? We are suggesting that the prescribed date in the Bill should not be the 17th December 1964, because acceptance of that date would compound all the errors of the past and confer on those people who have television station licences all the benefits of the devious actions by which they got round the law. We suggest that the new provisions be back dated to 1960. The Minister asked: “ Why does the Opposition not bring down all the contingent amendments? “ He knows full well, because he and the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) have been weeping here about it that the draftsmen cannot keep up with the Government’s requirements, so it is no good the Opposition trying to have amendments drafted. If the Minister looked at the Bill he would see that clause 2 says -
This Act shall come into operation on the day on which it receives the Royal Assent.
But, of course, Royal Assent will be the result of his own recommendation at some future date. Even if the Minister could not work it out for himself at least his advisers would be able to do so. Would it be so difficult to handle the question of the disposal of shares? Surely it could be done easily enough through the date of proclamation; or the Minister, realising that there has been a serious blunder, could adjourn consideration of the measure until contingent amendments could be prepared. But what ought to happen to the shares? According to the last report before us, there are 42 television stations in operation and another 30 or 40 were mooted. Of course, we have not before us any report telling us how many really are in operation. The air belongs to the people of this country and the television channels are a public endowment. In my view, we have no right to bestow them upon singularly fortunate people in this way. In Great Britain, they have managed to operate under a different system. If it came to a showdown, the Government itself could buy shares.
Let us consider some of the other things the Minister said. He said, in effect: “ You do not understand what might be involved in the articles of association.” How does the Government operate in other fields? Are members of the Government such innocents, or are they so helpless when it comes to challenging the rules of trade unions? Do not the rules have to be registered with arbitration commissions and so on? Is not this position something which the Government should have foreseen when it was devising this system? Why is not there a specified set of articles of association?
I believe, from the eager look in his eye, that the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) is probably going to speak on this. He might be able to explain whether what I suggest is a possibility or an impossibility. He might be able to explain whether there ought to be a standard set of rules, or of articles of association, or a memorandum of association, or whatever these things are called, for the ownership of television stations. Should not all the share registers be maintained by the Government itself? Should not every share transaction be registered, perhaps with a Government registry? Television is not a private concern; it is a public operation. It is an operation which involves a great deal of law and which has had to be brought before the Parliament on a number of occasions. Therefore, I believe that no case can be made for the non-implementation of the amendment proposed by the Opposition.
I was interested to hear the statement made by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen) that it was impossible to make the law retrospective as suggested. I think it is sound procedure in law and a sound principle of morality and ethics that you do not punish a person for a crime if what he did was not a crime before a certain act was passed. But the receipt of a huge sum for the disposal of assets that have been created by public endowment is not, of course, a question of punishment. The spirit of the Act is a very important thing. 1 think it is reasonable to ask people who have been in serious breach of the law to divest themselves of their shares. 1 cannot see any major difficulties that a government such as this one, with all the advisers it has at its disposal, should not be able to overcome. I was disappointed when the Minister adopted the attitude that he did. He started off by saying that we had not read the Bill. Honorable members on this side have put as much study into it as was possible in the short time at their disposal. He also said that our proposal was stupid and ridiculous. I do not think it is. Nor do I think that in opposing a proposition put forward by the Opposition in a responsible way, the Minister should use such terms.
One might well ask what are the objectives of the Bill before the House. It seems to me that the Bill will confirm a benefit previously bestowed and expanded as a result of devious operations by people who have attempted to get around, not only Government policy but what the Minister obviously thought was the letter of the Act as well as the spirit of the Act. This is one of the challenges that the community and democracy continually face - vested interests and commercial power challenging the authority of the Government. It is like the historic struggle back in the 1930’s between the bankers and the Parliament. These days, we have created a Frankenstein of our own. We have created a panel of television stations and a network in radio integrated into the whole system of mass communication through newspaper ownership to the stage where it is getting beyond the power of the Parliament itself to challenge. It is obvious to honorable members on this side of the House that one of the major difficulties facing the Government in any challenge to these people is that the Government is afraid of the power that it has created and bestowed upon a handful of people. What nonsense it is to suggest that an operation such as we suggest here would cause great hardship to the people who run the great Press combines of Australia. I would ask honorable members opposite, especially those who have had very long legal training and developed their skills to the highest possible peak, to examine this matter in order to see what is the best practical approach to it. I believe that it is an act of folly for the Parliament to confirm this operation by people who have been in breach of the spirit of the Minister’s directive and of the Act of this Parliament. We would not do this for any other group in the community. I do not believe we would tolerate it for a moment if other groups were concerned. I will listen with great interest to hear any explanation as to why people who have been in breach of the spirit of the laws of this country as enacted by this Parliament should have their activities confirmed by the passage of the Bill in its present form.
.- The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) suffers from a number of disabilities, and I regret to tell him that the most conspicuous one he has revealed this afternoon is a fertile imagination and an extremely barren regard for facts. Last night, I said that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - the National Leader of the Opposition - reminded me of Sheridan’s Puff in “The Critic “. My friend, the honorable member for Wills, reminded me this afternoon of
Sneer in the same play. One feels bound to say to him in the words of Sneer -
The body of your work is a composition of dregs and sentiment, like a bad tavern’s worst wine.
If anything is clear to me, and to everybody who has studied the Bill, it was that the honorable member for Wills has not studied the Bill; or - and I do not think this is false dichotomy - if he has studied the Bill, he has not understood it. I venture to say that the honorable gentleman has displayed an appalling ignorance of the fundamentals on which this Bill rests. First of all, he made no attempt whatsoever to reply to the spelling out by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme) of the very manifest difficulties involved in treating this matter in a retrospective way.
– I did.
– Let me pin my friend down. On what specific counts? The PostmasterGeneral referred to the difficulties of tracing back the shareholdings. These were people who bought shares in good faith and sold them in good faith. One might well find that some shares had passed through three or four hands. Where is the honorable gentleman going to attach the disabilities in a transaction of that complexity? The Postmaster-General adverted to the fact that if a number of shares were put on the market suddenly, almost capriciously, this would have a debilitating effect on the value of the shares. What does the honorable gentleman say about that? He sneers at that proposition and says “ Can you imagine the picture of the poor widows who own the television stations?” Let me put something else to the honorable gentleman. He has an entrenched hatred of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. It so happens that there are 58,000 people in this country who have an interest, by way of either shares, debentures, or something of that sort, in Ansett Transport Industries Ltd.
– I did not mention them.
– Maybe the honorable member did not mention them, but the look flashed in his eye. “ I hate Reg.” This is the message that comes so constantly from the opposite side of the House. What does my honorable friend say about the 58,000 people who hold an interest in Ansett
Transport Industries Ltd.? Are these people now to be put in a position of extreme disadvantage by the Government saying to them: “ Your company acquired an interest in television stations and, ergo, you must now pay the penalty for it.”?
I turn from that to the basic doctrine which, of course, runs through the Labour Party on this matter. Whatever faults we may see, whatever criticisms we may offer of the Opposition’s particular point of view, I am bound to say it has a splendid simplicity. The Opposition would not simply legislate to restrict ownership in the field of television. What it would jolly well do would be to destroy every vestige of private enterprise in the field of television in this country. I hope that the people of this country will never be under any misapprehension about the meaning of that.
I now come to the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), Sir. If ever there was a well merited slogan it was that chosen some years ago by one of the honorable gentleman’s political opponents: “Be decent. Be clean. Change Daly.” I listened carefully to the honorable gentleman this afternoon when he made this sneering attack on my friend, the honorable member for Parramatta, who, if I may say so without impertinence, made a very well prepared, very well constructed and very informative speech on this measure last evening. The honorable member for Grayndler, of course, has never been the same since he fell in love with Mavis Bramston. The television critic, “ Veritas “, has taken him to task. I understand the sort of disturbance that flows over one when one is under a bit of an attack. But what “ Veritas “ has done to the honorable member seems to amount to a well deserved nudge. I say to him: Even though it may have seemed to be a harsh form of gravel rashing, do not worry, old chap; you will recover at some time or other.
The honorable member for Grayndler referred to transactions that avoided the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act as crimes. That was his language. What is criminal about them? The honorable gentleman has used phrases such as: “ These people have been in contravention of the law”. Rubbish. They have not been in contravention of the law. If he is so smug and so completely sure of his position in this, I invite him to point to any one instance in which any of the people concerned have been in contravention of the law. If ever a dangerous doctrine has been propounded in this Parliament, Mr. Chairman, and if ever there has been a doctrine that this Parliament should shy clear of, it is the doctrine oi retrospectivity in legislation that has been propounded this afternoon. Where does retrospectivity stop? If our approach to these problems is that we approve of the undoing of complicated transactions that run back over five years, why not apply this doctrine in other fields? Some of the ideas advanced by the Opposition from time to time in relation to taxation seem to me to be passing strange. What would happen if we approved of the doctrine of retrospectivity in this general sense? Where would we stop then. Some honorable members opposite may take the view that people who bought motor cars five years ago should now pay sales tax at the rate of 50 per cent, on those vehicles. If we were to take this attitude, how would we approach the country’s legislative problems?
The people referred to by the honorable member for Grayndler have not broken the law. I think that it is a complete reflection on the intellectual integrity of such people to suggest that they have broken the law. I understand the hatred that consumes honorable members opposite whenever they think of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. But I put it to them with the utmost frankness that they do themselves and this House a thorough disservice by saying that that company has acted in contravention of the law. It has not contravened the law. It has not contravened the present Act or the Act as it is intended to stand when amended by this Bill.
As I observed last evening, Mr. Chairman, people are entitled to take full advantage of the law as it stands. Does the honorable member for Grayndler seriously submit that a person who, in his income tax return, claims deductions in respect of his children, does wrong? The law says that he may claim such deductions. In this instance, the Broadcasting and Television Act laid down that the interest of any group was not to flow into a greater field than was spelt out by the provisions of the Act. But it so happened that people found that they were able to limit the voting power in companies by certain means. They adopted a certain device. One may speak of it as a device, but that seems to me to be a rather harsh description. Nevertheless, these people did not break the law. If any fault is to be found, let it lie where it should - on the Parliament. To charge law abiding people with having broken the law is, in my view, to perpetrate a travesty of right thinking. I regret that the Opposition has embarked on such a precarious and shameful course.
– Mr. Chairman, the audacity of the Minister amazes me. A few minutes ago, he read the Opposition a lecture on what he described as its lack of knowledge of the provisions of the Bill. He told us that we had not read it, that we had not looked at it. He said that we should have taken the opportunity to go into conference in order to find out about the provisions of this measure. I remind him that, in 1960, when we were considering similar legislation, we tried to discuss the measure then before us clause by clause, but it was pushed hastily through this place by the then Minister, and its passage was completed at about 12.8 a.m. On that occasion, we endeavoured to point out, as we are endeavouring to point out now, that the legislation being considered might not do what the Government believed it would do. Yet the Minister now says that we know nothing about this Bill. We are prepared to admit that we know very little about it. Let me quote from the Minister’s second reading speech to show that he, too, thought it was a difficult measure to understand. Apparently, when he made that speech only eight days ago, he thought that this was a complex measure, for he said -
The Government has had this position under review for some time. It is a difficult area and perhaps no more than a study of the Bill is necessary to give honorable members a ready appreciation of this . . .
I do not propose in this second reading speech to deal in any great detail with the various clauses of the Bill. They are, in general, fairly complex and can better be dealt with in the Committee stage.
Because we are now taking him at his word and endeavouring to discuss the provisions of the Bill at the Committee stage, the Minister has become angry with us and says that we know nothing about the measure. Are its provisions complex or are they not?
Can they be better considered at the Committee stage or can they not?
– The Opposition is really putting up a pretty poor show if this is its contribution to the adjustment of anything it believes is wrong.
– In view of the Minister’s interjection, let me break aside from the argument that I was developing. Instead, let me show the House just how long the Minister and the Postmaster-General’s Department have been considering these matters. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board, in its report for the financial year 1962-63, at paragraph 1 1 1 at page 34, set out a statement that had been made by Sir Charles Davidson, when Postmaster-General, in connection with the transfer of shares in a broadcasting and television company. The report does not give the date of the statement, but it must have been made before 30th June 1963, because the report takes matters only up to that time. I have not sufficient time to read all of this statement, although I should like to do so in order to show the Parliament how it is being misled by the Minister and by both his senior counsel and his junior counsel. Certain matters are highlighted in this statement, which shows that, since early in 1963, all the things that the Government seeks to curb by means of this Bill have been known to the Department and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and have been the subject of statements by the Minister’s predecessor in office. The report records Sir Charles Davidson as having stated -
In recent months there has been considerable movement in substantial shareholdings of commercial television companies arid also amendments to the articles of association of some of the companies owning or interested in television licences have been made to enable persons and companies to own considerably more than IS per cent, of the capital of such a company although not thus becoming entitled to exercise more than IS per cent, of the voting strength of the company. Provisions are being inserted to the effect that no shareholder irrespective of the amount of his shareholdings may exercise more than IS per cent, of the votes cast in general meeting. Also difficulties in the way of television stations obtaining access to first rate programme material have become apparent.
So both the developments that the Government is endeavouring to prevent by means of this measure were known to it early in 1963. Sir Charles Davidson continued -
These matters have come under my notice and, through me, under the notice of the Government. Any substantial change in the beneficial ownership of shares in the television company, or in its memorandum or articles of association, must receive my approval as Minister. But I cannot refuse my approval unless a breach of the Act is involved in the transaction submitted to me. The Government has no intention of departing from either of the policies to which I have referred and, bearing in mind the developing trend which it has observed and to which I have referred, it desires that the legislation should be adequate to enable these policies to be made effective.
This was in 1963. On 17th December 1964 the then Minister said virtually the same thing. Now, 18 months later, the Minister is going to do it. He brings the Bill before the House, and eight days later we are discussing it. The Minister has the audacity to get up in anger and say that we know nothing about it. We are prepared to admit that we know little about it, but we have not the same resources behind us as has the Minister. We have not had the same detailed instructions issued to us as he has in front of him now.
– Did the honorable member consult any member of the Board to find out what it contained and what it meant?
– What chance did any member of the Opposition or any backbench member of the Parliament have to get in touch with members of the Board between 13 th May and 20th May?
– They have been in Canberra for the last week, so members opposite did not have to walk outside of this House to see them.
– The Minister is interjecting and is getting very angry because we want him to tell us what we want to know. Why is he getting angry? Does he not know the provisions of the Bill? Is he not obliged to answer our questions? Why should I have to go to a public servant for information when a matter is being discussed in this House? Why cannot the Minister answer my complaints? The Minister says: “We confidently expect the proposals to do what we intend them to do “. Will the Minister answer our questions? The Minister said that he would give us the opportunity to discuss these proposals at the Committee stage, so let us go through the Bill. Let me ask the Minister why, if this is to restrict the ownership and control of television stations, he is amending the Act to allow greater ownership of television licences or greater interests in television licences by one person. I refer the Minister to clause 6, and in particular to proposed section 92 (1.) which states -
Subject to this section, a person contravenes this section if, and so long as, he has a prescribed interest in -
each of three or more licences;
each of two or more licences for stations in a Territory; or
each of two or more licences for stations in a State and within a radius of thirty miles of the General Post Office in the capital city of the State.
I want to put the facts right on the line. I want the Minister to see them in “ Hansard “. I want him to be able to see them when the same thing happens in five years’ time and it is suggested that the Opposition did not argue these proposals and that the Opposition is to blame for not detecting all the loopholes in the Act. Let us examine existing section 92(1.) which states -
A person shall not be in a position to exercise control, either directly or indirectly, of -
licences in respect of more than one commercial television station within a Territory or more than one commercial television station within a radius of 30 miles from the General Post Office in the capital city of a State; or
more than two licences in respect of commercial television stations in Australia.
The proposed amendment allows for three or more.
– No. It is exactly the same. It is put negatively - and I may agree that it is put badly - but it amounts to the same thing.
– Here is the point again. If in my reading of these provisions I have been misled, surely it is up to the Minister to explain the position. If he wishes, he can brief his junior counsel; but the Act quite specifically says “ more than one commercial television station “, whereas the Bill before us says “ each of three or more licences”. I am sure that the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowen), with his legal training, could argue that the new provision would allow the persons concerned to have up to three television stations. I am certain that even 1, without any legal training, could make a reasonably good job of arguing this before any court. So, when the Minister complains about the Opposition speaking in Committee–
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Lucock).Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- More in sorrow than in anger I want to express my opinion of the remarks of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) who spent 50 per cent, of his time pouring rather fluent scorn upon members of the Opposition. It saved him the trouble of answering some of our arguments. For the remaining 50 per cent, of his time he supported an argument based on a point of order. He spent some time outlining how I had demonstrated a hatred of Mr. Ansett. As I recall, I did not mention that rather estimable and capable gentleman at all. This was a simple demonstration of the fact that even when Mr. Ansett is not under attack honorable members opposite feel inclined to stand up and defend him or advertise him - I do not know which.
Several issues have been raised in reference to the amendment we have placed before the Parliament. We have moved that a date be prescribed earlier than the one already in the Bill. Government supporters say that this is introducing retrospectivity. The date prescribed in the Bill is 17th December 1964. The date on which we are discussing this in the Parliament is 21st May 1965 - some six months later. Apparently there is some final degree of retrospectivity which would be a serious error, but a retrospectivity of six months is all right.
We refuse to accept the view that to ask people to divest themselves of their shares, provided that they receive an adequate price for them - to sell them at their face value - is a punishment in the sense in which we speak of retrospective punishment in other legislation. We refuse to believe that it is impossible to trace share dealings of this nature. We refuse to believe that it is impossible to prevent the occurrences we are legislating now to prevent.
Today we have witnessed the attitude of the Minister to honorable members of this Parliament who seek information at the
Committee stages of a Bill. This morning we discussed the procedures of the Parliament. The Opposition took a serious view of the way matters are being rushed through the Parliament, The honorable member for Phillip (Mr. Aston) - the Government Whip - made all manner of remarks about the Opposition’s participation in Committee debates. He said that Opposition members were not here at certain times; that they were not here for divisions. This afternoon we take up an issue before the Parliament at the Committee stage of an important bill and we are accused of wasting time. We are told that there are other things that we must do.
What is the function of a Minister of this Parliament? As I pointed out earlier, a Minister is a member of this Parliament. His ministerial office is bestowed upon him because of his membership of this Parliament. All his status, his prestige, his power and his authority flow from his membership of this Parliament. He is a member of the Parliament with a special function. Indeed, one might say he has several functions to perform. One is to administer a department which has been created by the Parliament and another is to act as a liaison officer between that department and the Parliament. In this issue there is no difference between us. While we might have serious differences of attitude on many matters which come before the Parliament, there is, in fact, no difference in the function of the members of the Parliament whether they belong to the Liberal Party of Australia, the Australian Country Party or the Australian Labour Party. It is our bounden duty to give the closest possible scrutiny to every Act of the Parliament and every bill that comes before it.
It is the Minister’s duty, in his position, to explain as courteously and as fully as possible everything about a bill. But when the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart) posed a complicated question to him, he could not answer. So we can come to the conclusion only that while this legislation is complicated for us it is equally complicated for the Minister himself. On a day such as this, in the last hours of a session, when we are considering a matter which concerns the Parliament and the people of Australia, to have the Minister act as though it were impertinence on our part to raise these questions is, I think, in contempt of the Parliament itself. I can see no difficulty in the question I have raised concerning the tracing of share deals. Admittedly the complications in the Companies Act, the procedures relating to share dealings on the exchanges, interlocking companies and directorates, have built a rather complicated, abstract structure in the economic life of Australia. But this Government has tremendous administrative resources at its disposal. It does not seem to have much difficulty in tracing the earnings, five or six years ago, of a citizen in my electorate who should be receiving a pension but who was in breach of Commonwealth legislation five or six years ago. It does not seem to have much difficulty in designing rules to control trade unions and the trade union movement.
The honorable member for Moreton made quite clear his belief that it is quite ethical, or all right, for operators in the television sphere, although they are in breach of the spirit of the Act and the spirit of the Government’s policy, to get around the Broadcasting and Television Act and to achieve an aggregation of power which we consider to be undesirable.
– I said that it is not a contravention of the law.
– That is right. The honorable member adopted the quite sound legal view that, if somebody can get around the law, obviously that is not a breach of the law. That is all right by the honorable member. But I do not think that is the way in which the community operates, particularly in respect of the bestowal of a privilege such as a television station licence. We have 1 1 million people in Australia. We have 40 or 50 television stations. About 80 television station licences have been issued so far. The people on whom those licences are bestowed receive a benefit of great value. Implied in the bestowal of a licence on a company is not just a simple commercial operation or legal right but also an ethical or moral duty to observe the laws and rules of the community.
The honorable member for Moreton, on occasions, is very vocal in his criticism of the operations of trade unions which, according to him, do all sorts of disastrous and dastardly things such as going on strike.
In many instances - all the industrial acts have not been amended yet in order to try to suppress the trade unions - the law gives them that right. The honorable member believes that for unions to go on strike is a very serious breach of their public duty. He believes that they ought not to do such things. Yet he says that it is all right for the powerful people in the Press, radio and television fields to get around any law, the spirit of the Government’s policy and the spirit of the Government’s legislation. We cannot have this double standard. lt is quite obvious that the honorable members opposite operate in a completely different context from that in which we members of the Opposition operate. The Liberal Party, the conservative party and the non-Labour parties - call them what we will - operate in a materialist context in which people who own property may do what they will with that property in the exercise of their power and authority over it and in getting around any law in the disposal of it. We on this side of the chamber do not adopt that materialist view. We speak here for people. We are concerned with the people’s rights. I believe that every television and broadcasting station licence in Australia fundamentally is the property of the people of this country. As somebody said at the recent television congress, the air belongs to the people. We have no right to operate in such a way that we confer on the people in the television field the benefit that flows from contravention of the spirit of the Broadcasting and Television Act and of the spirit in which licences have been bestowed on them.
The television companies are in breach of the spirit of the whole idea of public television in Australia not only in that way. I suggest that honorable members obtain a copy of the report on Australian television programmes and see who are the people who are in breach not only of the spirit of the law but, in fact, of the letter of the law. What action has been taken in this regard? ls there anything which says in any way that the Government, in fact, is concerned about these breaches of the law? I mention this matter not with hatred, not with any absolute disregard for the gentleman concerned and not being critical in any way of him as a man or anything else. Is it not a fact that a television station licence was be stowed on a subsidiary of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. on the presumption that the station’s programmes would have a certain Australian content, and that the station has not fulfilled that obligation?
We ask the Government to face up to its obligations. The powerful radio, television and Press networks of Australia are getting beyond the powers of this Parliament. I ask all honorable members to consider very seriously whether or not the power of those networks must be curbed now. We must not act in any way which shows that we are afraid of them. The Minister should do something about this matter, and particularly about the amendment that is now before the Committee.
.- I wish to raise two points. The first relates to a matter that was raised by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). He suggested that the Government was making the law retrospective by six months when it related this Bill back to 17th December last year. Of course, the position of people who entered into transactions after 17th December last year is that they had a clear statement, made publicly by the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Hulme), that the law would be amended and that if they entered into any new transactions they would do so completely at their own risk. So, they had full warning that the law was about to be changed. It is proper, therefore, to relate this Bill back and to make it operate from the date on which that public statement was made. But, from that the honorable member for Wills seeks to argue that the law ought to be made to relate back for five years. Of course, that would pick up transactions which were entered into in good faith by people who had no warning at all of this Bill. That is where the element of retrospectivity comes in. It is an entirely different proposition to make this law relate back past 17th December last year, before any public statement had been made, and to require people to undo their transactions.
The other point relates to a matter raised by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart). He suggested that the Bill, in proposed new section 92, provides that a person may hold three licences, and that under the existing act a person is restricted to holding two licences. Of course, that is not the position. Section 91 of the existing Act provides that a person should not be in a position to exercise control of more than two licences in Australia. The clear effect of that is that it is lawful to control two licences, but unlawful to control more than two licences. The present Bill, in proposed new section 92 which will take the place of the existing section 91, says that a person will contravene the Act - that is, he will commit an offence - if he holds three or more licences. That means that it will be lawful to hold two licences, but unlawful to hold three licences. The new provision, although the wording is changed slightly, has precisely the same effect as the existing provision. Therefore, it is not correct to suggest, as the honorable member for Lang did, that the new provision represents a change in the policy of the Government.
.- I do not wish to say much about the political lightweight from Moreton (Mr. Killen), because I have bigger fish to say a few words about. But, after I look him over, I cannot help thinking that as a lawyer he is a good example of the reason why the goals are full.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Grayndler whether he is speaking to the clause or to the amendment.
– I am directing my remarks to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart). But, first, let me take exception to the attitude of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) and the Government. Have you noticed, Mr. Chairman, how sensitive and cranky honorable members opposite have become in the last few minutes? On the notice paper for today the Government has 17 bills. It thinks this is a sausage factory, not a parliament. Because we have jacked up on the Government–
– Order! I suggest that the honorable member for Grayndler do what he said he would do, namely, speak to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang.
– I appreciate what you have said, Mr. Chairman. I merely say that the Postmaster-General made an accusation - unchallenged by you, Mr. Chairman - that the Opposition knew nothing about the Bill. The reason why he is taking exception now is that we have shown a great knowledge of the things that the Government is trying to hide and the people whom it is trying to protect. We have shown that in the debate on the amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Lang and which the Government will not accept.
– The honorable member has not explained things very clearly.
– Who could explain anything to the Minister? His departmental officials have to write everything out for him, and even then he cannot absorb it. Everything that he says in the Parliament
– Order! 1 remind the honorable member for Grayndler that he is speaking purely and simply to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang. The Minister, when he spoke, was speaking to the clause and to the amendment. I again ask the honorable member for Grayndler to restrict his remarks to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang.
– Very well. That is no problem at all. I was just making a passing reference to the insinuation made by the Minister, whose Whip came into this chamber this morning and attacked us for breaking an agreement–
The CHAIRMAN__ Order!
– I will speak to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang; but, of course, if honorable members opposite, who are interjecting, want to be contentious, I can read for 10 minutes without any trouble. I can read the clause with which we are dealing and the amendment. If honorable members opposite want to butt in and to get a bit cranky, that is all right with me.
– Will the honorable member read the amendment for my benefit?
– I will read the amendment so that the honorable member for Kingston and other honorable members will know precisely what I am speaking to. I am not as tired now as I was at 2 o’clock this morning, so I will take my time. The amendment reads -
In sub-section (6.) of proposed section 92, omit “ seventeenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four “, insert “ eighth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and sixty “
I will tell honorable members why this has been done. The Government is shielding its wealthy friends. The Government is shielding the people who have taken up the shareholdings in the great television companies. The Government does not want the general public to know the extent of the activities of these people in television. It does not want the Opposition to tell the public the true position. That is why the Government forced me and my colleagues on this side to debate this Bill late last night and in the early hours of this morning. The Government knew that no television station and no newspaper would report what we said. The Government is ashamed of the policy it has adopted and it does not want the people to know what it is putting over them. In his second reading speech the PostmasterGeneral said - . . situations have developed which, though they are not in breach of the law, are in conflict with the Government’s stated policy.
In other words, the companies were legally correct. They were shady but just within the law. They were dodging around, keeping within the law. The Minister said -
I must, however, be frank and say that our expectations in this regard have not been completely realised.
They were legally right but morally wrong. Despite this the Government will not support our amendment. The Government says that it is impracticable. I am not awed by the lecture of the legal eagle from Parramatta (Mr. Bowen) who stood in his place as though he were earning a couple of hundred pounds a day telling us poor mortals about the law and its implications. Good heavens, gone are thedays when we must put up with this kind of thing. God has not been as kind to some of us as He has to others like the honorable member.
– I was making only a passing comment. Like the honorable member for Lang, I want the Minister, not his departmental advisers, to tell the Opposition what is wrong with the amendment. I do not want to know what the Minister’s advisers have written for him. I do not want to have to chase after departmental officers on Saturday and Sunday because the Government has refused to introduce this legislation in sufficient time to enable us to debate it properly. I do not want to have to find out from departmental officers what the Minister does not know. The Minister’s situation demands that he provide us with the information that we seek. We do not want junior and senior counsel behind the Minister inflicting on us legal opinions, as was sought to be done last night. This is a complex matter. The Government has sought to shorten the debate on this Bill by placing 17 items on the notice paper. We will not take it. We want to know why clause -
– Which clause?
– Does the Minister want me to read it again?
– Very well. One would think the Minister would be able to absorb this the first time. But no, he wants me to read it again.
– Order! The Committee is not debating the clause. It is debating the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang. The honorable member should confine his remarks to the amendment.
– The Minister asked what the amendment was, and I submit that I am entitled to read it to him. I will take my time going over it so that it may register with the Minister. The honorable member for Lang moved -
In sub-section (6.) of proposed section 92, omit “seventeenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four “, insert “ eighth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and sixty “.
Sub-section (6.) of proposed section 92 reads -
In this section, ‘the prescribed dale’ means the seventeenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four.
That means that the Act will take effect on that date. I want the Minister to follow my argument, because he could not do so earlier. We want to change the prescribed date from 17th December 1964 to 8th June 1960. Is that clear? We want those who have evaded this legislation, for reasons which we believe the Government does not want the public to know, to be brought within the scope of the Bill. The Minister has made a statement saying that this could not be done. He has been supported by honorable members opposite. We on this side do not accept their arguments. Retrospectivity applies to a great deal of complicated legislation in this country, such as taxation legislation. The Taxation Branch follows matters through even to the grave in order to get the money that is owing to it. So why should the Minister try to pull the wool over our eyes? For how long must we on this side of the chamber accept that everything the Government says is right? The Government has not provided us with any proof. We want to know why the Government will not accept our amendment.
– I am not interested in the Treasurer. We are sitting on a Friday because the Government does not want to explain these things to us. The Government wants to rush this legislation through. Instead of trying to stifle debate the Minister should tell us what is happening. Let him give us a reasonable explanation.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate -
Without requests -
Customs Tariff Bill 196S.
Customs Tariff Validation Bill 196S.
Without amendment -
Customs Bill 1965.
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill 1965.
Debate resumed from 19th May (vide page 1662), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Is it the wish of the House that this suggestion be adopted? There being no objection, the course suggested by the Treasurer will be followed.
.- These small measures amend the Estate Duty Assessment Act and the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment Act. The Estate Duty Assessment Act is amended to provide that donations to tha Winston Churchill Memorial Trust will be allowed as deductions when estate duty is being computed. The Opposition offers no objection to this amendment. A similar amendment to the Income Tax and Social Services Assessment Act will allow gifts of £1 or more to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the National Trust of Queensland to be deducted for income tax purposes. Again, the Opposition offers no objection to the amendment.
A further amendment to the income tax legislation will give effect to a promise made by the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research (Senator Gorton). When the Commonwealth scholarships scheme was introduced, it was said that the value of a scholarship would be taken into account in computing the concessional deduction for income tax purposes that could be claimed by a parent, both for the education allowance and for the support of the child. These provisions are now being inserted in the Act and will operate as from 30th June 1964. This action is being taken to fulfil the promise made by the Minister and again no opposition is offered to it.
It is pleasing on this occasion to see that the explanatory memorandum supplied with the Bills is much briefer than is usually the case. I know that it is intended in the next sessional period to introduce some amendments to two amending Bills that were dealt with some months ago. I hope that when this legislation is brought before the House, an opportunity will be given to honorable members and to people outside the Parliament to consider it. Many of the provisions of the legislation will be of a complex nature and I hope that we will be able to evolve more satisfactory machinery for considering amendments to taxation legislation. Nearly every member of the community, either as an individual or through business activities, is affected by the Act. It is now a very unwieldy document and many of its provisions are not normally within the knowledge of lay members of the House.
At this stage I do not intend to say what sort of machinery 1 think should be evolved. However, I will say that when a technical bill is brought before the House, I think that a committee with equal representation from both sides of the House should consider it and report on it. If need be, expert witnesses, both from the Departments and from outside the Public Service, could be brought before the committee. This might help us to understand some of the matters dealt with by the legislation. If this is not done, the legislative processes could become very unreal, especially in this intricate field of taxation. I ask the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) to consider my suggestion between now and the Budget session.
– Does the honorable member suggest the appointment of a select committee?
– I am not prepared at this stage to say what form the committee should take.
– Does the honorable member envisage a committee of parliamentarians?
– Yes. I do not like outside committees.I think we need a committee of the Parliament here. We need a committee that would be able to meet quietly and consider these matters objectively.
– That would be a standing parliamentary committee on taxation.
– Yes, a standing parliamentary committee on taxation which would have, say, the same powers as the Public Accounts Committee. It could call departmental officers to explain matters to it. It could call, perhaps, representatives from taxpayers associations or other groups in the community who otherwise may not be heard - or sometimes one may be heard and sometimes the one may be heard to the detriment of another who is not heard. However, I do not want to give details of this proposal.
– Problems of policy would arise.
– No, I am not thinking of a committee that would lay down the framework of legislation. That is the Government’s function. I am not suggesting that a committee of the kind I have in mind would frame policy. However, sometimes when the Government introduces legislation to give effect to its policy, it is difficult to make the policy comprehensible to the House as a whole. Sometimes the Parliament, which ultimately is responsible for the collection of revenue within the framework of the Government’s policy, is not quite sure of what it is doing, and I think that is very wrong. In view of the limits of time today, I do not want my remarks to be regarded as very final words. I am suggesting that a new approach should be made. When the Government lays down the framework of its legislation, I think that people outside the Parliament should be able to come to a committee and give their views or even be informed, as perhaps we should be at times. However,I offer that suggestion for consideration. The Opposition has no objection to the Bills.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Harold Holt) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 19th May (vide page 1662), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Harold Holt) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20th May (vide page 1770), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- Again, the Opposition has not had a great deal of time to contemplate this piece of legislation, but the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) did give an indication some weeks ago, in answer to a question by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard), that it was his intention either to make an interim statement, or to bring down legislation before the end of the sessional period to renew the assistance which is given to the gold mining industry. For the most part today the views of the Australian Labour Party in this matter will be indicated by my colleague, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.
I should like to point out, however, that the gold mining industry is still of considerable significance in Australia. We produce, according to the latest statistics, somewhere in the region of 1,000,000 ounces per annum of this mineral at an annual value to Australia of some £15 million which, as the Treasurer rightfully pointed out, is somewhat significant in our international accounts. I find also by reference to production statistics, that of the 1,000,000 or so ounces that are produced in Australia every year some 800,000 ounces come from the one State of Western Australia, and in that one State virtually the major part comes from the one area of Kalgoorlie.
There is no doubt that however insignificant gold may be in the aggregate in terms of our gross national product, it is of considerable significance to the city of Kalgoorlie which is so ably represented by my colleague. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has pressed for legislation of this kind for some time, as has the industry as a whole. At times some of us have our own views about the folly of digging this metal from the ground, but nevertheless, up to the present time, mankind has not yet evolved any satisfactory substitute to take the place of gold. Even at the present time there seems to be a little bit of agitation going on in the world about a gold exchange standard or some kind of new international monetary unit, We talked about this the other day and I am not going to traverse the subject again. Until we improve our attitude on this question for better or for worse gold, apparently, is going to be of some significance. As I have indicated, it is significant in this one area in Western Australia.
There is one thing I should like the Treasurer to tell me, perhaps not now, but later on. He said in his second reading speech that the immediate cost of this proposal will be £50,000 per annum but that it is expected that the cost will rise significantly above that figure in the next five years. I do not like giving a sanction in this House to expenditure without having some likely indication of what the magnitude of that expenditure would be.
– If the honorable member gives me some idea of what the movement in costs will be in the next five years, perhaps I will be able to help him.
– As the Minister has said that the costs will rise significantly, at least he should have some idea of the amount of the increase. I do not wish to pin him down to a figure but perhaps at a later stage he might amplify his statement.
– That is the problem. The figure is related to the movement of costs which affects a number of mines.
– I quite appreciate the point, but nevertheless one should not give a blind acquiescence to this sort of thing.
– There are practical limits in a matter such as this. If we were to run into an inflationary cost situation that affected gold mining costs it would no doubt affect government receipts.
– I quite appreciate that. I also appreciate the very narrow margin at present on which the industry is surviving. The price of gold is pegged at 35 dollars an ounce, or about £15 10s. in Australian currency. The average cost of production at many of these mines is £12 10s. an ounce. That does not leave a great deal to play around with, and even the subsidy is not very large because the amount of subsidy that can be paid is limited by the Government’s obligations to the International Monetary Fund. There are limits to the amount of subsidy that can be paid and I think we are very near to the limit at present.
I do not envisage any spectacular increase in the production of gold as a result of this legislation. It is unlikely, for instance, that the yield will be 2,000,000 ounces instead of 1,000,000 ounces. The significant increase that the Minister speaks about will probably be of the magnitude of 100,000 ounces rather than 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 ounces. However, the Opposition supports the measure and my colleague, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, will put the particular point of view of his own individual city.
– I shall delay the House only a few moments, but as a Western Australian
I want to say how much I appreciate the action of the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in bringing down this legislation. I am quite certain that the continuation of the subsidy will preserve the life of a city. Kalgoorlie has a population of about 20,000. Perhaps the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that is about the figure. It is a population that exists purely because of the gold mining industry.
We hear in this chamber a lot of talk about decentralisation. It is said that we should tell people to move from the coastal areas. For a long time we have had a perfect example of this sort of movement in this area which was a desert region. A city has been built up purely as a result of finding gold. The increase in this subsidy will ensure the continued life of Kalgoorlie and its suburban areas. It must be realised, as was pointed out by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), that of the Australian production of about 1,000,000 ounces per annum 800,000 ounces is produced in the Kalgoorlie area.
I wish to refer to the annual report of the President of the Chamber of Mines and quote a statement made in reference to the future of the industry. He made this rather pertinent statement.
The major well established companies are maintaining ore production following heavy expenditure on underground mechanism and modernisation of surface plant and equipment. Significant economies, have resulted from the introduction of heavy fuel for power generation. . . . However, production costs continue to rise and there is little prospect of any expansion in the industry unless the price of gold is significantly increased to the producer, either by subsidy or by international adjustment. Should this occur, operating mines would be able to exploit lower grade ore and some idle mines would again become attractive as potential producers. The industry would receive an uplift in economic circumstances and the atmosphere would be created for another revival and cyclic expansion of gold production and prospecting activities.
To some degree this Bill will meet that situation. I should like to pay a tribute in this House to the work that the Treasurer has done in an attempt to obtain an increase in the price of gold. I think the House is quite unaware of what he has done. At the meeting of the International Monetary Fund held -in Tokyo last year he put forward a rather strong plea for an increase in the price of gold. I remind honorable mem bers that the price of gold can be increased only if certain nations agree to the increase. I quote from the address delivered by the Treasurer on Wednesday, 9th September 1964, at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development -
It must be assumed from their reports that neither the Fund nor the Group of Ten contemplate any change in the price of gold. It remains to be seen how long this commodity can be held at a price fixed 30 years ago. It is against nature to hold it there unchanged indefinitely, regardless of general cost and price movements, and for my own part, I think we merely increase the difficulties of adjustment, the longer an adjustment is delayed. However whatever views we may hold on that aspect, we clearly need a comprehensive and up-to-dale study by the Fund of the causes of the decline in gold production in so many countries and an examination of methods whereby the supply of metal fundamental to the liquidity of the International Monetary System can be substantially augmented. I would hope that by the time of cur next meeting, such studies would not only have been put in hand, but their results made available to use early enough for a more searching discussion then.
I think that not only the Treasurer, but indeed all citizens of Australia, and particularly those of Kalgoorlie, hope that something will be put in train and that the final result will be an increase in the price of gold. The only reason that I rose to speak in this debate is that recently in this House and in the Press in my own State of Western Australia there has been strong criticism in respect of what this Government has not done to develop some areas of Western Australia. Tn one respect I believe that nothing but praise can come for the action that has been taken not only to preserve an industry but also to preserve one of the principles that many honorable members declare themselves to be in favour of - the principle of decentralisation in Australia.
.- The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Gold Mining Industry Assistance Act which, as the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) pointed out last night, is due to expire at the end of next month. The Act was first introduced in 1954 to provide assistance, as the name implies, for the gold mining industry which, for several years now, has been facing a very difficult time. As everyone knows, the price of gold has remained at the same level for a much longer time than we care to remember. During that time, particularly in latter years, there has been a steady increase in the cost of production which, quite naturally, has made it more and more difficult for everyone who is associated with the gold mining industry. It has made it difficult not only for the gold mining companies to keep their mines operating but also for the people employed in the industry, many of whom over the past couple of years have had the unenviable experience of seeing their employment terminate simply because of the closure of a mine. In addition, the fixed price of gold and the rising costs have had their effect on the prospecting side of the industry, and today we find that very few men are engaged in that occupation.
One could not find a much tougher occupation than prospecting, if one is entirely dependent upon it for a living. It is an interesting and exciting occupation if one is fortunate enough to be on gold, but for those who are not fortunate enough to find a patch, and the majority are in that position, it is not very long before they find that their incomes are practically non-existent. Prospecting plays a very important part in the industry and we cannot really afford to see it disappear. As I remarked a moment ago, many men have lost their employment over the last couple of years because of the closure of mines in which they have worked. Fortunately, a number were able to obtain employment in other mines and in other places, but in practically every case it meant that they had to shift their place of residence from where the town had existed while the mine was functioning to some other place.
It will be appreciated that the process of shifting a residence is a very costly business not only because of the expense of the actual shifting but also on account of the loss of money or the asset in the home that they own. It is a very sad experience to go into old mining towns and to see the homes which, while the mine or mines were operating, were worth quite a substantial sum and were kept neatly and in good repair, but which, as a result of the closure of the mine, are in a state of complete disrepair and almost worthless. But if it is heartbreaking for any of us to go through those areas and to see some of those things, how much worse it must have been for those people who have been directly affected. While the mine is operating the house owned by the miner is an asset, and quite a considerable one, but immediately the mine closes, or news of the closure is made public, practically overnight the value of the house disappears and, instead of being an asset, it becomes a liability. Five mines have closed down on the gold fields of Western Australia since the beginning of 1963. The total production of those mines would have been about 110,000 ounces a year. During 1961 and early 1962 those mines would have been employing about 700 men altogether, or even more. Today, no-one is employed at those mines, except for perhaps a caretaker or one or two engaged in demolition work. In practically every case the miners and their families were obliged to pack up and shift elsewhere with no chance of selling their houses. They were obliged just to walk out and leave them. I suggest that it needs no imagination to appreciate the cost and suffering which has been brought on those people by the closure of the mines. That sort of thing has happened on several occasions and in some cases - the more recent ones - the people who have been affected have been through the process before. If it is reasonably possible to prevent a recurrence of that sort of thing we should do everything that we can to ensure that it does not happen again, simply because of a fixed price for gold and rising costs of production.
I have spoken in this House on several occasions on the gold mining industry and the difficulties with which it is faced. I have pointed out the importance of the industry and have explained why it is so important. I do not intend to go over all those things again. The Treasurer has agreed that it is important, and I believe that everyone else holds the same view. The Australian Labour Party has always appreciated the many important parts that the industry plays. It was a Labour member in this House, the late Mr. Vic Johnson who, by his constant and consistent advocacy prior to and during 1954, eventually prevailed upon the Government to bring down legislation to assist the industry. Unfortunately, since the Act was introduced, it has not been amended sufficiently or frequently enough to meet the changing needs of the industry. The fact that so many mines have closed down since 1954 is ample proof that the Act has never provided sufficient assistance to meet what was its real purpose, namely, to prevent the deterioration of the industry.
The last time 1 spoke on this matter was late last year when I initiated an urgency debate on behalf of the Opposition. At that time we asked the Government to treat the matter as one of urgency and importance and to bring in some legislation at an early date. The Government is now providing some additional assistance through this Gold Mining Industry Assistance Bill. I hope that the assistance given by the Bill will considerably slow down the deterioration in the industry.
I am pleased that the Government has acted in reasonably quick time following the urgency debate last year. I am sure that the assistance given is not sufficient to stop the deterioration of the industry completely, but it should go a long way towards doing so. I pointed out last year that a large number of people living in the gold field areas of Western Australia were very worried about the future of the industry. They did not know whether further assistance would be made available. Because of that uncertainty and because no action was taken by the Government, or any assurance given that further assistance would be granted, many people left the industry and the gold mining districts. Many more would have left if they had been able to do so. The experience of other people in other places who had lost jobs and suffered considerable loss by way of housing and other effects was causing concern everywhere. Honorable members will recall that the Opposition asked the Government to consider that important matter and to arrest the concern which was so evident, and so halt the drift away from those areas. I feel that this legislation will create a different attitude, not only amongst the miners and their families but also amongst the business people and others associated in any way with gold mining. I certainly hope that it will bring a more satisfied feeling and a greater sense of security to people in mining areas.
The Treasurer said last year that as he understood the position the reduction in production was not dramatic. He went on to support that view by referring to the drop in production from 1,100,000 ounces in 1953-54 to 1,026,000 ounces in 1963-64. If the Government had been basing its case on those figures alone, or simply on production, it would have been on an insecure foot ing because anyone who has a knowledge of the industry knows very well - and it should be obvious to anyone else - that if the industry is operating on a price for its product which is the same today as it was 20 years ago, then it must increase production in order to survive and must also do everything possible to reduce its cost of production. Where the industry reaches the stage where it is not possible to reduce the cost of production any further it has only one step left to take, and that is to increase production still further.
Unfortunately, what has happened is that some of the mines have not been able to stand the strain and have been forced to close down. Others which have been able to continue have done so only by adopting methods of mining which are not good for the continued life of the mine or, to put it another way, have meant the shortening of the life of the mine. However, on the production side alone, if the Government were to take a line through more recent years, it would find that while the production quoted by the Treasurer for the years 1953-54 and 1963-64 showed a reduction of 74,000 ounces in annual output in that 10-year period, there was in Western Australia - the State that produces three-quarters of the gold mined in the Commonwealth and its Territories - a fall in production of about 66,377 ounces in the period from 1961 to 1963. Therefore, if the Government used production as the simple factor for its decision, it would see that there is good reasoning in that regard alone for a substantial rise in subsidy or for some other form of assistance.
The Treasurer also said last year that on the information he had received, the position in the industry was not so much one of financial depression but rather of decreasing ore resources. That statement would depend on what is actually meant by the phrase “ ore resources “. If the honorable gentleman meant that ore bodies were becoming less the statement would not really be correct. If he meant that the value of the ore bodies was decreasing, it would still not be really correct. Generally, the ore bodies, or the continuation of the bodies, are still available and their value has remained fairly constant. For instance, if one considered what happened several years ago. one would find that while ore bodies became exhausted on one level they continued at a deeper level or at some further distance along on the same level.
Values in the ore bodies change today just as they changed years ago. However, while the ore bodies are still available and are perhaps of the same grade, the point is that the cost of mining them has increased considerably over the years. As a result, ore bodies which gave a reasonable margin of profit 15 or 20 years ago cannot be mined economically today. Therefore, they are by-passed for other bodies of a higher grade. The difference in the overall grade of production in a period of 12 months may not even be noticed. But if one looks into the matter closely one finds that this is because the mine management has been obliged to take a greater amount of higher grade ore and a lesser amount of lower grade ore. If that is what was meant by the Treasurer when he referred to a decrease in ore resources, I agree with him. But I would point out that the mere fact that those ore bodies are being by-passed and lost, because of the cost of production as against the return for the product, adds weight to a case for further Commonwealth assistance. If the ore bodies which should be mined are being left behind because of the economics involved it means in practically every case that the body of ore is lost completely. As a result there is a considerable shortening in the life of the mine. Unfortunately, that is what is happening today.
Mines operating today in Western Australia have ore bodies sufficient to keep them working for many years. The mines will still be working in Kalgoorlie when the people presently living there, regardless of their age now, have passed on to what we are told are better pastures. The only thing that could stop the industry at Kalgoorlie would be an economic situation in which it was not economical to mine the ore bodies. That is the fear which is in the minds of some of the people living there today. What is required now is a substantial rise in the price of gold. Every honorable member would welcome such a happening. However, it would appear, at this stage anyway, that it is very unlikely that this will happen in the near future.
This is an industry of national importance and I suggest that it is the duty of this Parliament to do all it possibly can to assure that the mines at Kalgoorlie and in other parts of Western Australia in particular, and mines generally throughout Australia are given every opportunity to remain on a reasonably sound working basis until such time as there is a substantial rise in the price of gold. I am pleased to be able to say that I think this Bill will go a long way in assisting the gold mining industry. It does not include all that the Opposition would have liked to see in it, but it is a considerable improvement in the provisions of the Act. Unfortunately, it does not help those people who are searching for, but not actually producing, gold to receive any assistance under the Act. The person prospecting for gold in the normal manner will not receive any help. He must be fortunate enough to recover gold before becoming entitled to any subsidy. I have raised this matter in the House on previous occasions and pointed out that a grant on a £1 for £1 basis to companies or groups of prospectors who are going out into the gold bearing country, trying to discover new mines would have a very stimulating effect on the industry. I hope that before too long we will see such a scheme operating. If it is not operated directly by the Commonwealth, then I hope that something can be done to devise a scheme to be operated through the Commonwealth by the States. 1 come now to the amendments proposed in the Bill. Let me say in the first place that 1 welcome the extension of the term of the subsidy scheme from three years to five years. We feel sure that this will allow large producers, if not so much the small producers, to plan and organise well ahead, particularly on the development level. Mining is not an occupation in which you can decide quickly upon development. It may take some time before the development programme shows any signs of results, and having to carry out a developmental programme without any certainty that when the development is completed gold bearing material will be discovered, makes the occupation much more risky than it should be with the extension of the term of the scheme from three years to five years. This extension, I am sure, will be welcomed by the industry generally.
As to the actual subsidy, this Bill proposes an increase in the maximum from £3 5s. to £4 an ounce in the case of large producers, which represents an increase of 15s. an ounce. For the small producer, or the producer of less than 500 ounces, the subsidy will rise on a flat rate basis from £2 8s. to £3. These increases, of course, will be very acceptable and I feel sure it will make a very considerable difference not only to the atmosphere of the industry but also to the people engaged in the industry and the people generally in the goldfield areas who are either directly or indirectly associated with the industry.
I was hoping that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) would be in the chamber because I would like to have an explanation of one or two points. I refer, first, to clause 4 which seeks to amend section 9 of the Principal Act. These amendments will be of great benefit to the producer who, although he produces more than 500 ounces elects to remain a small producer. There are some who prefer to do that and in fact are practically forced to do so because they do not keep a rigid list of costs. In some cases, although a man does not expect to recover anywhere near 500 ounces of gold, he is fortunate enough to strike a patch that returns over 500 ounces but, not having expected to produce so much, he has not bothered to keep a check on costs.
The proposed amendment to section 10 by the insertion of new sub-sections in place of present sub-sections (1.) to (5.) inclusive appears on the surface to be quite all right, although I am not entirely satisfied as to paragraph (c) of proposed new sub-section (1.). This paragraph reads - the cost in respect of that year of development of the mining property.
I can only hope that the Treasurer, or whoever determines the matter will deal with it sympathetically.
I should also like an explanation of paragraphs (c) and (d) of proposed new sub-section (1.). These provisions relate to diamond drilling. I note that paragraph (d) refers to diamond drilling carried out by a producer elsewhere than on the mining property. What does “ mining property “ mean? Does it refer to the whole of the lease held by a producer, or does it refer only to the particular part of the lease on which mining is being carried out? I notice, too, that the definition of “ approved diamond drilling “, to be found on page 3 of the Bill contains the words “ in or in the vicinity of an existing goldmining area “. I should like to know just what that means. For instance, does that definition include drilling on virgin country which is not actually on the lease held by the producer? In other words, could a producer carry out exploration drilling with a view to establishing a new mine if the drilling were successful and still qualify for assistance under paragraph (d) of proposed new sub-section (1.) of section 10? Personally, I hope that this is intended.
Also I should like to know just what the words “ vicinity “ includes. Does it refer only to the outskirts of a mine which is still operating; or would “ vicinity “ cover the outskirts of a mining lease held by the producer? Or must the land be on the lease but close to a mine still operating? Again, could it be on the lease but close to a mine which is not at present working?
Further, would I be correct in believing that the producer qualifies for assistance for diamond drilling irrespective of whether the drilling results in the discovery of gold bearing material? Again, I hope it does.
The repeal of section 12 of the principal Act will be very welcome. We have been pressing for this amendment ever since the Act first came into operation. Section 12 can and has operated unfairly to certain sections of the industry and its deletion from the Act will allow some large producers who were previously shut out from benefit because of this section to receive, at least part, if not full subsidy. It will assist at least a couple of large operators, engaged in the gold mining industry in Kalgoorlie and, as a result assist not only the industry generally but also many people who are associated, either directly or indirectly, with the industry.
It is proposed also to repeal the present section 13 of the principal Act. Section 14 of the principal Act is to be amended by the addition of a further sub-section. If this proposed new sub-section is inserted for protective purposes, as would appear to be the case, I feel sure that it will never have to be put into operation for I am certain that the mining companies or gold producers who, over all these difficult years have, together with their employees, done a remarkable job in establishing a high standard of mining efficiency, are not likely to carry out mining operations in a manner other than what is in accord with good mining practice.
In conclusion, let me say that if anyone anywhere raises any criticism of the amount of subsidy for gold mining, or if anyone anywhere claims that the subsidy is too high, I suggest to those critics that they take a look at other industries. For instance, since 1954, the dairying industry has received a total of £167 million by way of subsidies. It is estimated that the subsidy paid to the cotton industry this year will be over £1 million. The phosphate fertiliser industry will receive an estimated £111/4 million for the year 1964-65 alone. Last year a sum of £43/4 million was paid by way of subsidy for petroleum research and this year it is expected to be £5 million. The shipbuilding industry received subsidies amounting to over £2 million in each of the last two years. Subsidies with relation to tractors have totalled over £1 million in each of the last two years. It is estimated that the subsidy paid to the gold mining industry this year will amount to £560,000. I suggest that those figures indicate that we can still, with impunity, provide a great deal more assistance to the gold mining industry, if it should be needed. I hope that a close study will be kept of its needs and that there will be no hesitation about granting further assistance as soon as it is required because the gold mining industry is of far too much national importance to be allowed to languish. I support the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from Administrator recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for the third reading to be moved forthwith.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) raised a number of matters, Mr. Speaker. I think it would be more satisfactory if I did not attempt to deal with them off the cuff. I undertake now to let him have, by Monday, answers to the specific questions he has raised. Perhaps, his colleagues in another place will have an opportunity to follow up the particular matters if he considers that that course would be desirable.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 13th May (vide page 1489), on motion by Dr. Forbes -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This measure, also, Mr. Speaker, is a machinery one. Its purpose is merely to make machinery amendments to the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act. It provides for no additional benefits to anybody. Indeed, I think it provides for additional contributions by one or two classes of contributors other than those who contribute to the ordinary members’ fund. The other matters dealt with relate to anomalies that have been found in the Act. The opportunity to correct them is now being taken. As one of the trustees, I know that these matters have been under discussion by members of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust. One or two of the amendments arise out of the discussions by the trustees. I understand that the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), in particular, wishes to refer one or two other matters to the Trust, and I am sure that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) will arrange, at some early date, for a meeting of the Trust at which those matters may be considered. The Opposition offers no objection to the Bill.
– Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) will find time to have another look at this Bill. I am not altogether certain that we are doing what is right or that we are doing it as well as we could do it. I have here a table showing the operations of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Fund since its inception. With the concurrence of the House, I incorporate it in “ Hansard “. It is as follows -
When one looks in detail at the report of the Commonwealth Actuary, one finds that he has not been quite as precise as he should have been in estimating the outgoings from the Fund. Had he reported in more precise detail, I would probably have been able to put my finger on the reason why the Fund is now accumulating very considerable assets. Whatever the cause, it appears that this is so. At 30th June last, the Fund’s assets amounted to £560,138. That is a large sum. It is not all surplus, of course. Some of it represents a margin held against contingent liabilities. But, when one looks at the situation and realises that, under legislation that is likely to come before the Parliament, the number of members in this House will probably undergo an increase of a fairly continuous character, one would say that the resources of the Fund are much greater than it needs for the discharge of its liabilities.
I think we can afford to be a little more generous, perhaps, not to ourselves, but to former contributors who have passed from this Parliament and who did not altogether share in the full pensions that would come to us if we were to leave the Parliament now. I know that, since, we have paid higher contribution rates. At present, we are paying at the rate of about £7 10s. a week, or a total of £402 10s. a year. Although those who have passed from the Parliament did not contribute at the same high rate, they have nevertheless to live in the economy of the present, though perhaps not the kind of economy that we shall have in the future. They have to buy at current prices and not at the prices which were operative when they were in the Parliament and according to which the salaries of those days were determined. In addition, for those of them who are on the bottom of the scale of living, the parliamentary pension does not amount to much. Indeed, its major effect - not its sole effect - is to disqualify them for the age pension. Had it not been for their contributions to the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Fund, they would have been entitled to that.
For these reasons, I ask the trustees of the Fund, rather than the Treasurer, to consider whether the scheme could be made more equitable and more simple by doing something that they have ample scope to do within the resources of the Fund. They could forget about the complexities of the Act and provide that all contributors shall be entitled to pension at the annual rate of half the salary on retirement, with a specified minimum, whatever it may be. I believe that the minimum is at present £18 a week, and £21 a week for those over 65. I do not believe that we should reduce these minimum figures. Indeed, I think that, as time goes on, we may consider raising them. But let us get rid of the complexities.
I have looked at the Fund from an actuarial standpoint, and it appears to me that what I suggest would not cost a great deal of money. Let us get rid of the complexities of the present Act. They are the kind of thing that, I believe, seamen refer to as a lubber’s muddle. In general, I think that a clear principle could be sustained, maintained and defended. That is the principle that, in the tidying up of this Fund, we should ensure that all contributors are entitled to pension at half the rate of salary on retirement, with a guaranteed minimum to provide for those who may have retired in days when salaries were much lower. There are still a few of them. This would be a clear principle. It would be consonant with the general practice that is adopted in respect of other retirement funds, and it would be well within the bounds of financial possibility, having regard to the resources of the Fund.
I do not propose to go into greater detail in submitting this proposal. I suggest that the trustees should look at the matter. I am particularly concerned with the injustice that is done at present - I believe it is a substantial injustice - to those former contributors who left the Parliament at the 1961 general election, both members of this House and senators, including parliamentarians on both sides of politics. There are not many, but those that there are are entitled, I believe, to a little more than they are getting now. lt is perfectly true that, as the law stands, they have not this entitlement that I propose. But it is true, also, that the Fund is in surplus and that it has a considerably greater balance than the Actuary gives it credit for. Believe me, in the past his estimates have been wrong.
– They have been ultra conservative.
– His estimates have been wrong. Let us accept that as the fact. Since his estimates have been wrong in the past, there is no need for us to place a deificatory reliance on his estimates in the future. 1 do not suggest any increase to apply to any honorable member of this House, because I think the arrangements made for us are fair and reasonable. All I would ask is that increases be applied in retrospect to those who are no longer with us, who have paid in their money, and whose money has helped to create the surplus in the Fund.
Let us simplify the Act. Its absurd complexities are quite unnecessary; there is no reason for them at all. They are just the Treasury run mad, as the Treasury very often does run mad when it gets to legislation of this kind. Let us adopt the simple precedent that an honorable member is entitled, whether he is one who is going out in the future or one who has gone out in the past, to the same treatment, namely, one half of his retiring salary. If for one or two members - and it will be only one or two - this does not come up to the required and existing minimum, let us put the minimum into the Act just to apply to these few people who went out in the distant past.
This is what I ask the trustees to do. I am not going to move an amendment at this stage, although I think in some respects an amendment would be justified. I am sorry that this legislation has come into the House at a time when there has not been a chance for honorable members to confer with the trustees, who, after all are the trustees of honorable members, and there has been no time for past honorable members to confer with the trustees, who also are trustees for past members, in providing this substantial measure of justice, not for ourselves but for past members who should be on the same kind of footing as we are. If they come in at a lower rate they will be drawing at a lower rate because their pay-in was related to the level of their salaries at that time.
If the trustees would like, I would be very happy to work with them in preparing the necessary amendments to the Act. They would be quite simple and would reduce enormously the complexities of the Act. I hope that this will be done and that some consideration will be given to it in the Budget session. It is only because there has not been a proper chance for present honorable members and past honorable members to confer with the trustees on this matter that I do not move an amendment now. There is no reason for the complexity of the Fund. There is no reason for the injustice which is being done to more than one past honorable member from both sides of the House and from both Houses of the Parliament. I hope that what I have said is constructive and that the trustees will have a further look at this matter and will be prepared to bring forward the necessary amending legislation in the Budget session.
– I thank the House for its reception of this Bill. The points put by the spokesman for the Opposition, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean), and by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) will, of course, be studied. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is a fellow trustee of this Fund with me, and I am sure he will be glad of an opportunity to study, as will I, the views which have been put by the honorable member for Mackellar. If the honorable member for Mackellar would care to set out his views in written form and in a more amplified way than he has found it practicable to give them today, I assure him that those views and any points he makes relating to the assessment of the Fund made by the Commonwealth Actuary and of the drawing likely to be made, will be studied. This applies to any points raised by any other honorable member who finds an interest in these matters.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr. Harold Holt) read a third time.
Bill - by leave - presented by Dr. Forbes, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of this Bill is to effect the changes in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme that were announced in the House on 27th April 1965. These changes are designed to alleviate the position of those pre- 1959 Act entrants who have found some difficulty in meeting their contributions to the Fund, particularly when nearing the point of retirement.
As the Act now stands, an increase in pension entitlement shortly before retirement, resulting from a promotion or increase in pay, may mean a high rate of fortnightly contribution for these servicemen because of the short period within which they must meet the additional cost of their share of the higher pension entitlement. The impact of such high fortnightly contributions upon pre- 1959 entrants was alleviated by the provisions under which, in certain circumstances, contributions may be deferred and paid in a lump sum on retirement. Nevertheless, some members have continued to experience difficulty in the latter stages of their service. Those who have joined the Forces since the 1959 Act do not face this difficulty because their contributions are expressed as a uniform percentage of pay throughout service.
The basis of the proposed changes is that, in future, pre- 1959 Act contributors whose pension entitlements are increased will have the option of deciding not to pay additional contributions and of receiving the Commonwealth’s share of the increase in pension entitlement without making a matching contribution. Such an election will be final and, once made, the Commonwealth’s share of any further increases in pension entitlement will be granted on a non-contributory basis without, of course, the portion of the additional pension entitlement normally provided by the member’s own contributions. The amount of the non-contributory element of pension provided by the Commonwealth will represent, on the average, 77.5 per cent, of the increase in pension that would be available if contributions were paid by the member, the actual percentages ranging from 80 per cent., at the earlier retiring ages, to 71.4 per cent., for those retiring at 60 years of age.
A pre- 1959 contributor who elects not to increase his contributions and who has previously rejected portion of his total pension entitlement will retain his existing right. upon a subsequent promotion, to elect to take up some or ail of that previously rejected entitlement, subject to medical examination, but it follows that in these circumstances no additional contributions will be required and that the additional benefit will be confined to the Commonwealth’s share of the previously rejected entitlement.
When deciding upon these changes the Government recognised that for some servicemen the June 1964 pay increases had resulted in substantial increases in contributions. The Bill therefore provides that the option of electing to receive the Commonwealth’s share of an increase in pension entitlement, without making a matching contribution, will initially be available, with effect from the date immediately prior to the increase in contributions resulting from the June 1964 pay increases, for a period of three months from the commencement of the amending legislation.
In addition to this major change in the scheme, the Bill includes the following minor amendments: -
Several other proposals made by the Services and the Government members Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Committee are being considered by the Government and a further amending bill will be introduced in the Budget session.
The Government has also decided that the existing defence forces retirement benefits legislation should be simplified by replacing the present legislation with two separate acts. One will deal solely with the scheme as it applies to the post-1959 Act entrants. The other, which will apply to pre-1959 Act entrants, will contain much of the existing complexities in the legislation. These arise primarily because of the need to apply to those contributors both the pre- 1959 provisions, in respect of the pre-1959 Act element of their total entitlement, and separate provisions in respect of subsequent entitlements. Their subsequent entitlements are based on similar principles to those in the scheme as it applies to new entrants, with modifications to take account of the different contribution bases. However, the necessary re-drafting will take a considerable time.
The Government is aware that the introduction of the Bill at this stage of the current sittings leaves little time for debate; but it decided to proceed with the Bill after considering the effects of delaying the introduction of the amendments. The proposed changes are for the benefit of servicemen and it is clearly in their best interests that the Bill be introduced now rather than it should be deferred until the Budget session. I have already indicated that further legislation will be introduced at a reasonable early stage of the Budget session. The debate on that legislation will give honorable members an opportunity to make a wider examination of this matter than they will be able to make at this stage.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) recently asked whether a comparative statement could be prepared setting out the retirement benefits provisions that apply to members of the armed forces in Great Britain, the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand. As this information will be of interest to all honorable members in connection with this Bill, I am having circulated a statement containing that information, together with similar information in respect of Australia and examples of rates of pay in the various countries. With the concurrence of honorable members, I incorporate the statement in “ Hansard “.
I commend the Bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Whitlam) adjourned.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment -
States Grants (Science Laboratories) Bill 1965.
Universities (Financial Assistance) Bill 1965.
States Grants (Technical Training) Bill 1965.
House adjourned at 4.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows - 1 and 2. (a) During the period 1954-55 to 1963-64, the total profit of the Reserve Bank of Australia (prior to 14th January 1960, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia), was £180.413,687, of which amount £113,432,658 represents the profit made by the Note Issue Department. (The Reserve Bank includes the Note Issue and Rural Credits Departments, while the former Commonwealth Bank included the Note Issue, Rural Credits, Mortgage Bank and Industrial Finance Departments.) The Bank’s profit was distributed as follows -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is as follows -
Information concerning the obligations of the Commonwealth and State Governments and of semi-government and local authorities in Australia and overseas is published in the annual Finance Bulletins issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. For the Commonwealth and the States, the figures are of securities on issue on behalf of those governments. The amounts shown for semigovernment and local authorities include also net overdrafts, and liabilities of over one year for which no formal securities have been issued.
The latest date for which comparable information is available for all authorities is 30th June 1963. Details are as follows -
m asked the PostmasterGenera], upon notice -
How much (a) free and (b) paid time was occupied by each political party on each commercial television station at the last Senate elections?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
The information sought by the honorable member is contained in the following statement.
son asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows - 1. (a) Payments made to registered hospital benefits organisations by their members during the financial year 1963-64 amounted to £25,743,309. (b) Payments made to registered medical benefits organisations by their members during the financial year 1963-64 amounted to £20,873,942. 2. (a) The difference between members’ contributions of £25,743,309 and fund benefit of £22,696,807 in respect of registered hospital benefits organisations amounted to £3,046,502 for 1963-64. (b) The difference between members’ contributions of £20,873,942 and fund benefit of £18,679,835 in respect of registered medical benefits organisations amounted to £2,194.107 for 1963-64. 3. (a) The operating expenses of registered hospital benefits organisations during the financial year 1963-64 amounted to £3,540,994. (b) The operating expenses of registered medical benefits organisations during the financial year 1963-64 amounted to £3,291,611. 4. (a) (i) The aggregate reserves of registered hospital benefits organisations as at 30th June 1964, were £23,746,222. (ii) The aggregate reserves of registered medical benefits organisations as at 30th June 1964 were £9,891,816. (b) No. (c) See 4 (b). (d) Aggregate reserves are required for two main purposes - (i) they enable a fund to meet an abnormally heavy claims experience which may arise from time to time, such as epidemics and the like; and (ii) for accounting purposes, it is necessary to make special provisions for unpaid claims or unpresented claims in respect of the particular accounting period. 5. (a) No. (b) See 5 (a). 6. (a) The general level of medical fees had risen during the ten years in question. While the Commonwealth benefit for a number of services had been increased during this period there had been no appreciable change in the level of Commonwealth benefits until 1st June 1964. (b) This is due to the fact that, while uniform Commonwealth benefits apply in all States, the general level of medical fees varies as between States, (c) This increase reflects the fact that contributors generally are seeking an ever-increasing volume of medical services. However, it is pointed out that the figure of 3.4 services in 1953-54 (the first year of the Scheme) is affected by the time lag between the date on which a medical service is rendered and the date on which benefits are paid for that service, (d) The increase in the average number of services per enrolled person per annum has, no doubt, resulted from the popularity of the free Pensioner Medical Service introduced by this Government. The provision of this service has relieved the eligible pensioners of the financial worry of medical expenses incurred and, as a result, they are more inclined to seek medical attention for their ailments. The tendency for the increase to be more in surgery visits than in domiciliary visits probably results from the fact that, as the service is free, the patient is more willing to attend at the doctor’s surgery and seek early treatment.
n asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s question, which I take to refer to Palestine refugees, is as follows -
The Commissioner-General, in recording these figures, has noted that they are based on the Agency’s registration records “ which do not necessarily reflect the actual refugee population owing to factors such as unreported deaths and undetected false registration “.
Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (U.N.E.S.C.O.) and World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) have also provided some assistance. Other voluntary agencies which have provided help are listed in Table 23 of Annex 1 of the 1963-64 UNRWA Report.
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The most recent statistics on these matters relate to 30th June 1964, when information was obtained from the universities about overseas students. The answers to the honorable member’s question, based upon this information, are as follows -
t.- On 24th March the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Kevin Cairns) asked me in a question without notice when the final details of the 1961 census will be available.
The Commonwealth Statistician has now advised that the final results of the 1961 census will be published in 38 “ Parts “, of which 26 have been published. The remaining 12 are in various stages of printing and their dates of publication will be entirely dependent upon the time taken by the Government Printer to complete printing. The Statistician’s report is in an advanced stage of preparation and the Australian Life Tables are in course of preparation by the Commonwealth Actuary.
m asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence has supplied the following information -
Army- 3rd February 1904.
Air Force- 31st March 1921.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 May 1965, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1965/19650521_reps_25_hor46/>.