26th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr DOBIE presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth requesting the Government to prohibit the advertising of cigarettes on broadcasting and television stations and to require that a suitable warning of the health hazard of smoking be displayed on cigarette packets and wherever cigarettes are advertised.
Petition received and read.
A similar petition was presented by Mr Donald Cameron.
– Mr Speaker, I wish to inform the House that the Minister for Air, Mr Howson, who is Chairman of the Working Party on Structure, Policy and Finance of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, left Australia last Saturday to attend a meeting of the General Council of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association at Kampala, Uganda, and to take part in the conference deliberations which follow the meeting of the Council. It is expected that he will be away until about Friday, 3rd November. During Mr Howson’s absence, the Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr Swartz, will act as Minister for Air and in this chamber will represent the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson).
– I wish to ask the Treasurer a question. The Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales, in his Budget speech, stated that Commonwealth income tax receipts had shown a natural growth of more than 10% per annum since 1959 but the average annual growth in tax reimbursements grants to New South Wales had been only Is the New South Wales Pre mier’s assessment correct? If so, does this mean that the Commonwealth is depriving New South Wales of 2Wc of the tax reimbursement that it should receive?
– I will have to examine the figures supplied by the honourable gentleman. When I have done so I will let him have an official reply. I point out that one may, if one wishes, select figures that are most favourable to the case one is attempting to present. This could have been done on this occasion. Nevertheless, I will obtain the facts for the honourable gentleman and supply them to him.
– My question to the Minister for Immigration concerns a naturalised Australian whose wife and two children live in Bulgaria. 1 would seek your indulgence, Mr Speaker, to observe that all efforts to re-unite this family in Australia have failed, mainly because the mother and her two children cannot get exit permits to leave Bulgaria. I appreciate that in a matter of this nature the Australian Government has no standing whatever. Nevertheless, will the Minister be so kind as to take advantage of the visit to this country of the Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria to ask him to intervene on behalf of this desperately unhappy family?
– It is our policy to do all that we can to assist family reunions. There are some very unhappy cases where family reunion has not been possible because we have, as the honourable gentleman recognises, no capacity to interfere in what amounts to a matter of internal administration - the issuing of exit permits. As far as Bulgaria is concerned, in the last 10 years there have been 300 applications by Australian residents for family reunions. During that time not quite 100 families have been re-united. The presence in Australia of the Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria and officials of his Government has been seized by officers of my Department to raise this matter. I hope that as a result of this matter being raised with the Bulgarian officials, opportunities will be created for the reunion not only of the family which the honourable gentleman has in mind but also of all those other families involved.
– While the Deputy Prime Minister is entertaining, on behalf of the Australian Government, his guest, the Communist Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, will he inquire why common courtesy in respect of travel was not extended to an Australian Labour Party member of the Australian Parliament while in Bulgaria in October last year? Will the right honourable gentleman inquire why the passenger aircraft on which I was travelling from Yugoslavia to Turkey was buzzed and forced down by a jet fighter over Sofia; why I and other passengers were confined to a room at the airport from 6 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. before being marched back to the aircraft; and why we were refused any information regarding the reason for being grounded and the length of our detention?
– I know nothing of the matter referred to by the honourable gentleman. I do not know whether there is any significance in the fact that the honourable member has chosen to ask his question today when the Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria is an honoured guest in our country. All I can say is that when I was invited last year to visit Bulgaria I was treated in that country with every possible courtesy by the Bulgarian Government and by all other people whom I encountered.
– 1 ask a question of the Minister for the Army. It is generally recognised that on a date to be determined the 3rd Battalion will leave the major South Australian training camp at Woodside for Vietnam? Has the Minister any plans for the further utilisation of the Woodside training establishment? Does he anticipate that other troops will move into the area or does he plan to use the Woodside army camp for some other purpose?
– In the long term, the Army would prefer to have battalions of the field forces being trained in areas further north where they can be located together at places like Holsworthy, Enoggera and Townsville, but as the honourable member will know, building of the major task force base at Townsville is not yet completed and it is still, therefore, necessary to use some of the older camps and establishments throughout Australia. I thought originally that the 9th Battalion would be raised at Puckapunyal but, on investigation, we found that the married quarters situation in the Adelaide area was far better than in Puckapunyal and Seymour, and the 9th Battalion will be raised at Woodside. It is proposed that a major part of its training will be undertaken in South Australia. In addition, the School of Military Intelligence, presently located at Middle Head, is going to be placed at Woodside for some years as an interim move until it gets its own permanent home. This will relieve the congestion in the Middle Head area. The waterborne, transportation and terminal units, which are very much overcrowded in the Middle Head and Chowder Bay area, will move- into the accommodation released by the School of Military Intelligence. So there will be two quite major units at Woodside, at least for some time in the immediate future - the School of Military Intelligence and the 9th Battalion shortly to be raised.
– I address a question to the Minister for the Navy. Will HMAS Sydney’ transport the majority of the increase of 1,700 service personnel to Vietnam? Is the Minister aware that although members of the ship’s company have made several trips to Vietnam they are not entitled to repatriation benefits and war service homes benefits? Is the Minister aware that there is concern among the ship’s company because they have not been granted these benefits? Will the Minister give an undertaking to the House that this situation will be rectified?
– I have received representations from time to time from the families of members of the crew of HMAS ‘Sydney’ for the granting of full war service benefits to the crew while the ship is transporting troops to and from Vietnam. As the honourable gentleman would know, this is a matter of policy and the Government has made a determination on it. The determination is that any member of the forces who is posted to a special area on what is known as special service’ - which includes Vietnam - is entitled to certain benefits, among which are exemptions from taxation, war service homes benefits, the returned from active service badge and full repatriation benefits. Without wishing to canvass, the argument at question time, I point out to the honourable gentleman that there is a real distinction, which I think he would see. between a member of the Service who is posted to a special area for a prolonged period of duty - say up to a year - and the crew of HMAS Sydney’ or that of any of the other ships of the Royal Australian Navy which might spend a relatively short time, perhaps a matter of days, in the Vietnam area. I remind the House that members of the crew of HMAS ‘Sydney’ while travelling to and from Vietnam on such missions are automatically covered by repatriation benefits for any injuries sustained from enemy action during those voyages.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Considering the serious financial position that many wool growers now find themselves in following the downward trends in wool prices, can the Minister say when the Wool Marketing Committee, set up by the Australian Wool Board, will release its report and when the full text of that report will be available to all Australian wool growers?
– As the honourable member stated, the Australian Wool Board is obliged, under the Wool Industry Act, to set up a Wool Marketing Committee to examine and report on any changes in or improvements to wool marketing in Australia. Since the defeat of the floor price plan in 1 965 the Committee has continued its work. The Wool Board has set up two sub-committees, one to examine private selling and the other to examine single bale lots, clip preparation and bulk classing. The Marketing Committee has reported to the Board. The Board has the report and will present it to the Australian Wool Industry Conference for consideration on 31st October. At the same time as it is presented to the Conference, it will be made available to wool growers, to newspapers and to the public generally.
– I ask the Treasurer: Has the Government considered whether Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities should pay the new Victorian stamp duty on income. If so, what decision has been made? If not, when will a decision bc made?
– Immediately before I returned to Australia J received a draft Cabinet submission on the problems mentioned by the honourable gentleman. I have approved of the Cabinet submission and it will be listed for discussion, I imagine, either this week or early next week.
– I address a question to the Attorney-General. Is the honourable gentleman aware that hundreds of garments, notably women’s jacket suits, are being sold under what amounts to false pretences in that they are being sold as washable when they are in fact anything but washable, even with extreme care by hand? Is the AttorneyGeneral aware that the garments to which I refer have an underskirt with a dye that runs even in cold water? So that honourable gentlemen may properly understand the seriousness of this problem, 1 beg your indulgence. Mr Speaker, to ask whether the Attorney-General knows the difference between a petticoat and an underskirt. Is he aware that a petticoat is a garment on its own whereas an underskirt in this context is actually sewn into the skirt and made with it as a sort of lining? Thus, is he aware that the skirt cannot be washed without the underskirt? Will the Attorney-General see whether action can bc taken to protect the public from this serious and unfair merchandising practice?
– Do not mini-misc the problem.
– I claim no special knowledge of this problem and I am asked not to mini-mise il. However, as I have a wife and three daughters, T do draw a distinction in terms of cost between these different garments. 1 know them from that angle rather than from the angles that have been put by the honourable member. At a recent meeting of Attorneys-General various proposals to amend the Sale of Goods Act were discussed. Suggestions were circulated to various bodies, including universities, which might be thought lo have some particular interest in the subject. As a result some representations were made suggesting amendments to the Sale of Goods Act. The suggestions have been referred to the Law Reform Commission of
New South Wales, which will bring its recommendations before the Attorneys who will consider amendments to the Sale of Goods Act. I will bring before the Attorneys and the Commission the substance of the matter raised by the honourable member.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer the right honourable gentleman to legislation which is at present before the United States Congress and which has been described by the Minister for Trade and Industry as ‘a resurgence of protectionism in the United States’. Does the right honourable gentleman share the alarm felt by the Minister for Trade and Industry at this legislation before Congress? Did he discuss this matter with United States Government officials during his recent visit? If so, what impact will it have on Australian exports to the United States? If access to American markets for a large number of Australian exports is further restricted, will the right honourable gentleman seek exemption for Australia from the United States interest equalisation tax as a compensatory measure?
– I share, and I am sure that every member of the Government shares, the concern of the Minister for Trade and Industry at the attempt by Congress to tack on to a social services bill a provision restricting the export from Australia into the United States of Australian and other goods. I did not have the opportunity to make representations to the United States Government on this problem, but at an American-Australian Association luncheon I did point out that between the United States and Australia there was a big balance of payments deficit against Australia’s interest. I pointed out that the deficit in the balance of trade was now something of the order of $500m per annum. I therefore urged the United States Government and its Administration to note that we were in effect making a contribution to help the United States in its balance of payments problem and suggested that they should adopt a much more liberal policy towards Australian imports than they were adopting at the moment.
I am pleased to be able to say that before I left the United States of America the Johnson Administration had appointed the Secretary of State, Mr Rusk, the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Orville Freeman, the Secretary of the Interior, Mr Udall, the Secretary of Commerce, Mr Trowbridge, and the Secretary of Labour, Mr Wirtz, to address one of the congressional committees in order to ensure that the spirit of the Kennedy Round of GATT negotiations was in fact honoured by the United States. I cannot say what the result of this is likely to be, but I can say that a great number of United States newspapers and influential people recognise that what is being recommended would in effect be turning back the clock and would be contrary to the spirit of the Kennedy Round of GATT negotiations. I hope that these negotiations and the information which has been conveyed will have some effect.
– ls the Minister for Shipping and Transport aware of a Press report which appeared as a result of the Commonwealth Railways golden jubilee celebrations at the week-end referring to the standardisation of the Port Pirie to Adelaide link? In this statement it was implied that this work could be effected merely by moving one rail inward and could be completed in one week-end at a cost of $4,000 per mile. Can the Minister say whether this is feasible? Secondly, in view of the significance of this particular railway in the overall planning of the State standardisation programme, can he inform me what progress has been made in the planning of this work?
– I did see the statement to which the honourable gentleman refers. I think it arose from an enthusiasm towards standardisation rather than a practical realisation of the problems involved. If there were only one set of rails and it was not a question of integrating a standard railway track with the suburban railway system and many other feeder lines then possibly the physical work would be as simple as suggested; but there are many other quite complex problems associated with the standardisation of the Port Pirie to Adelaide track. When the standardisation of the Port Pirie to Broken Hill section was first under consideration some preliminary examination of the associated problems dealing with the rest of the standardisation of South Australia was done. A preliminary estimate put the cost of this work at many millions of dollars. In recent times the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner has been preparing a report on this work for the Government. Quite recently the Premier of South Australia wrote to the Prime Minister asking that the planning of this work should proceed. The Prime Minister replied to him stating that this matter would be given consideration as soon as details of the existing work between Port Pirie and Broken Hill were finally settled between the Commonwealth and South Australia. There is no doubt that in due course this work will be undertaken but it will depend on quite a number of considerations, including the budgetary position of the Commonwealth at the time the work is planned.
– Can the Treasurer inform the House of the rise in the cost of living in the six capital cities since June this year and also since June last year? Was he aware of these increases when the Budget for 1967-68 was being prepared? If so, why were not social service and war pensions increased? Does he expect social service pensioners to live on the smell of an oil rag while retired members of Parliament are given substantial increases in their pensions?
-Order! The honourable member will ask his question.
– Will the Treasurer consider introducing a supplementary Budget to grant increases in pensions which will cover the increases in the cost of living since the last pension rise?
– I have just seen before coming into the House the recent changes that have occurred in the consumer price index. These changes were due almost wholly to increases in the price of meat and other foods. At the moment I have not had an opportunity to work out the full implications of these changes, nor the reasons for them, but I shall be doing so quite soon. Until I have done so I am not in a position to answer satisfactorily the honourable gentleman’s question.
– Will the Treasurer ask the Commonwealth Public Service Board to approve the making up of the pay of Commonwealth public servants who are called up for national service training, as is done by some State Public Services and some private companies?
– I shall obtain from my Department information relating to the problem that the honourable gentleman has raised and I shall discuss it with the Prime Minister as soon as I have an opportunity to do so.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development. I refer to the question of the honourable member for Mackellar, which in the absence of the Minister for National Development last Thursday was addressed to the Prime Minister, in which he requested the tabling of copies of leases or licences relating to off-shore exploration and production of oil or natural gas either issued or to be issued and to be recognised under legislation now before the House. I ask whether the Minister will also provide details of the percentage holdings of overseas capital in subsidiary and principal companies which are or will be grantees of such leases or licences.
– My Department produces regularly a map which shows not only off-shore tenements allocated to mining companies but also on-shore tenements held by them. From memory I think the map is produced once a year. It is available to the public and is not restricted in any way. Any honourable member who desires to receive it can do so by making application to me. I am not certain, but I believe that the holdings of various companies are shown. But if they are not I would be only too happy to supply the honourable member with any information that he requires*
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. I refer to the current survey of road needs in Australia by a committee known as the National . Association of Australian State Road Authorities, which is a body constituted of representatives of the States and a representative of the Commonwealth in respect of the Territories. I ask: In view of the disparity between the criteria being applied, which place country roads in a relatively unimportant category, and the Government’s present policy of making Commonwealth aid available on the basis of 40% for country roads other than main roads, trunk roads and highways, will the Minister clarify the Government’s attitude to the current survey? Further, will he confirm the Government’s current adherence to the present guaranteed 40% of funds for country roads, as provided in existing legislation?
– The National Association of Australian State Road Authorities has no official standing with the Commonwealth in relation to its advice about roads. This body, which consists by and large of State representatives, although the Commonwealth Department of Works is represented, makes its own assessment of Australian road requirements as it sees them. The honourable gentleman may remember that just before the last Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement was introduced the Association had made an assessment of Australian road needs covering the 10 year period ahead. While this work was valuable it was not accepted in entirety by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will rely primarily for advice on a survey of Australian road needs currently being undertaken by the Bureau of Roads. The Bureau will undoubtedly make considerable use of the information which it will obtain from NAASRA but it will apply its own particular criteria to this information and will advise the Government in due course. The Government, I should imagine, cannot be regarded as being irrevocably committed to the division of Australian road funds which requires 40% to be spent on rural roads other than main roads. It has been the custom for a long time to have this division; but the reason behind the setting up of the
Bureau of Roads was to have a new survey of the entire road needs of the Commonwealth. Therefore I cannot give the honourable gentleman any assurance that the present formula or any other formula will be the basis of any new Commonwealth Aid Roads Agreement.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the statement made in London by the former Leader of the Opposition in the following terms:
Vietnam overshadows every other issue and on this occasion it must be neither ignored nor sabotaged … I hope that when the Federal Executive of the Labor Party meets next week it will lay down a strong, hard line for the campaign and see that this time everybody sticks to it.
Will the Prime Minister accept the challenge? Has the Prime Minister noticed any change in the Opposition’s policy on foreign affairs or Vietnam?
- Mr Speaker, I did see a report in the Press of the statement attributed to the former Leader of the Opposition, and this was, of course, consistent with views which he has publicly expressed many times in this country. I agree with him that one of the outstanding issues - by no means the only issue but certainly ohe of the outstanding issues - which have to be resolved when we come to the Senate election campaign is the foreign policy to be pursued by the parties in this Parliament, particularly in relation to Vietnam. I myself have not discerned any difference between the basic policy of the Australian Labor Party at the last general election and that which emerged at the most recent meeting of the Federal Executive of the Party. As I have previously said in this place, Labor policy remains substantially as it was and our policy has been consistently clear. Therefore, there does exist between the two sides of politics in this House a great gulf which the- public itself must be called upon to resolve. I, for my part, accept that challenge willingly and, indeed, gladly, because we have recognised always the supreme importance for Australia of resistance to aggression in Vietnam, security, and stable progress in a peaceful environment arising out of a successful conclusion to that conflict.
– I direct to the Minister for Immigration a question which is to some extent supplementary to the question asked by the honourable member for Moreton. In view of the Minister’s expressed concern for the need for migrants in Australia to have some degree of reunion with relatives who are still in countries from which they cannot migrate to Australia, will he examine the position of relatives of migrants from East Germany who wish to come to Australia for visits, but who are prevented from doing so by the necessity for them to have a passport other than that which they would normally hold?
– As the honourable gentleman well knows, this matter has been considered continually and is a matter of policy. The honourable gentleman will not entice me into saying at question time something which ought to be stated with precision.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether he is aware that concern is being expressed at the delay in granting rural loans to discharged national servicemen? Is he also aware, as I understand the position, that doubts still remain as to who will be responsible for the drawing up of security documents in respect of these loans?
– There has been some delay in the granting of certain rural loans, an exercise which is being administered by my colleague, the Minister for Primary Industry. However, an enabling Bill is now before the House to confer greater discretion on those concerned to expedite the process. A number of loans have been held up for this reason. If there are other reasons for the delay, I will inquire into the matter closely and let the honourable member know.
– Can the Minister for the Interior advise me why his Department granted a long lease of private land to the New South Wales Golf Club Ltd, a private company, at La Perouse which is in the electorate of Kingsford-Smith? Is the Minister aware that the general public are debarred from enjoying a game of golf on this course which is situated on public property because membership of this club is confined to certain individuals? Can the Minister advise me of the name of the Minister for the Interior who granted this lease of 216 acres for 20 years from 18th March 1961 at a very low rental to this club of wealthy individuals, none of wham lives in the district?
– I have no knowledge of any of the matters raised by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith. I will treat the question as being on notice and give him a considered reply.
– 1 refer to a question which I asked the Minister for Health some time ago relating to the importation of sheep from South Africa and to the Minister’s reply in which he regretted that the prevalence of blue tongue and other exotic diseases in South Africa made this impossible. Can the Minister say whether new testing techniques have made it possible to relax the ban on the importation of cattle semen from the United Kingdom, so making available to Australia’s rapidly expanding beef industry improved strains of cattle, and in particular the Charollais breed?
– I am glad to be able to inform the honourable member that the discussions which have been going on between veterinary authorities of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia since February on this matter have now been satisfactorily concluded. It has been possible to lay down tests and conditions which, in the opinion of world authorities and the veterinary authorities of all the Australian States, will enable us to import cattle semen from the United Kingdom and New Zealand without the risk of introducing blue tongue. I may add that in relation to importations from New Zealand it has been possible to waive the 2-year storage period, but we have had to continue this provision in respect of importations from the United Kingdom. The point I make is that the conditions now in operation will permit the importation of cattle semen of beef and dairying breeds, including the Charollais breed, and I am sure this will be of great value to the Australian livestock industry.
– I address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. He will remember that in an answer to a question on notice he informed me last week that no recent improvements had been carried out to increase the water flow and pressure from hydrants at the Kalgoorlie aerodrome and, furthermore, that it would not be necessary to do so unless traffic increased considerably. Does the Department of Civil Aviation now accept as adequate a smaller flow and lower pressure of water for fire fighting purposes than were accepted in 1965? If so, why has the requirement been reduced? If, on the other hand, the requirements of the Department have not altered, how does the Minister explain the reply he gave to me last week, having in mind that a reply I received from the Minister’s predecessor in 1965 stated that the water flow and pressure at the Kalgoorlie aerodrome did not meet the normal requirements of the Department and that the Department had under review a project to improve the flow and pressure so that they would meet those requirements?
– The reply I gave last week contained the latest information available. The facilities at the Kalgoorlie aerodrome are adequate for the services that are provided. I think the honourable member knows - in fact I have discussed this with him - that we have plans for the possible future development of this airport which may involve a requirement for some additional facilities in this field. However, at this stage I cannot comment further than to say that the plans for future development are at present being considered, and when a decision is made on them I will discuss the matter with the honourable member.
– I direct a question to the Minister-in-Charge of Tourist Activities. Will the Minister confer with the Minister for Shipping and Transport with the object of encouraging the introduction of a uniform system of informative road signs on roads in remote and isolated areas in order to dispel the insecurity of the many tenderfoot but nevertheless warmly welcomed tourists who now traverse our hundreds of miles of isolated roads, and make it possible for these tourists to locate the homesteads or telephones which are at all times readily available even though not in view from the roads?
– Insofar as anything can be done on a federal basis to implement the recommendation implicit in the honourable member’s question I will be pleased to discuss the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Shipping and Transport, although it seems to me, with due respect to the honourable member, that road signs come within the jurisdiction of the individual States.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that the Royal Australian Air Force maintains an air movement authorisation register - that may not be the exact name, but it expresses the purpose of the register - at each squadron, including the VIP one, in which details of crew, passengers, flying hours, departure and destination as well as intermediate stopping points are registered with respect to the movements of all aircraft of the squadron? Are details of dates and times of use of aircraft, as well as a considerable volume of other information, recorded also? Will the right honourable gentleman consider using the information in such a register to avoid the delay and the circuitous procedure now being followed by the Government in its notably droll effort to avoid presenting a full breakdown of the operating csots of-
-Order! The honourable member will ask his question.
– and information on persons using the VIP flight?
– The honourable gentleman cannot refrain from his usual smart a leek technique when he asks a question in this House.
– I take a point of order, Mr Speaker.
– I withdraw the word ‘smart’.
– I ask that the Prime Minister withdraw that remark, which I find insulting, and refrain from resorting to abuse when he cannot answer a question.
-Order! The Prime Minister has already withdrawn the word smart’.
– I withdrew the word ‘smart’. After the presentation of papers, which is about to follow, question time having expired, I shall ask for leave to make a statement about flights of VIP aircraft. It will be supplementary to the statement that I made on 4th October. It so happens that as part of the material prepared for the statement that I intend to make today I have a quite voluminous document headed ‘List of Accepted VIP Tasks’, which sets out the applicant for the use of an aircraft, the port of embarkation, ports of call, where the aircraft is stationed, the aircraft travel, the number of passengers and the number of crew. I believe that this, together with the other information that I shall give to the House, will substantially cover the point to which the honourable gentleman’s question was directed.
– by leave - As I have just explained in answer to a question, this statement is supplementary to the statement that 1 made on 4th October on the VIP flight. The House will recall that on the earlier occasion 1 said that I would examine the feasibility of some realistic dissection of costs so that more information could be given to the Parliament, and I expressed the view that the Treasury would be the most appropriate body with the necessary expertise and objectivity to conduct such an examination. Immediately after T gave this assurance to the House I asked my colleagues, the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury), who was Acting Treasurer, to have examined the possibility of establishing a realistic basis for the assessment of costs attributable to VIP flights and the financial policy implications of the recovery of such costs by the Department of Air from other departments.
In the light of the Treasury examination I now make the following comment. In doing so, I remind honourable members that No. 34 Squadron - the so-called VIP flight - is an integral part of the Royal Australian Air Force and must be there in time of war to provide transport and communications services. Currently the flights made are mainly for the purpose of VIP transport, for training, for air tests, for ferrying, and for squadron support. But in a time of emergency there would be both a national and a defence requirement for fast, secure and independent transport and communication, for example, for the carriage of Service chiefs, for other direct Service purposes and for the carriage of persons directly connected with the defence side of government. This, of course, carries with it the need for aircrew trained for these services. It has been regarded as the function of the Air Force to provide and conduct this Squadron. Its operations clearly would, in an emergency, be integrated with other RAAF transport arrangements.
In other words, No. 34 Squadron has, prospectively, a full defence role, in direct terms and in other ways directly related to the national defence effort Having regard to this, the capital costs of the Squadron and certain other charges may be considered properly attributable to defence appropriations. This is not to deny that VIP transport requirements have not been allowed for in the re-equipment programme or that certain fitting out with VIP transport purposes in mind has taken place. But neither is it to deny the defence support capability. Accordingly, the Treasury, in its findings, has based its calculations for the costing of VIP flights on an extra cost basis. Of course, up to the present the full cost of the Squadron has been carried within the vote of the Department of Air.
The Treasury has agreed, with the Department of Air, that these costs comprise aircraft flying costs, aircraft handling at civil airports and catering. The aircraft flying costs in turn comprise fuel and oil, tyres, oxygen, spares and servicing by contractors. These are elements which the Treasury says are reasonably attributable to the VIP purposes themselves. This basis means that certain items are eliminated from the costing on the ground that they would be incurred in any event - that is to say, as a consequence of defence policy provision against a time of emergency. These items include amortisation and interest on the cost of capital facilities, including aircraft, the pay and allowances and upkeep of crews and other Squadron personnel, and support provided by Base Squadron Fairbairn and other RAAF formations.
On this basis, the Treasury has been able to indicate the cost of VIP flights for the year 1967-68 - that is the current financial year. Its estimate is an amount of approximately $450,000. The actual amount could be somewhat higher this year and will certainly be higher next year when the more modern aircraft are fully in operation. On the other hand, there will be gains in efficiency and considerable saving of time in the air on many flights for Ministers, their staffs and other users as the more modern aircraft come fully into use. The 1967-68 estimate provides for travel by senior Service officers to be regarded as a proper charge to the defence appropriations and not to VIP flights. Travel by the Defence and Service Ministers, however, is in this calculation being attributed to VIP flights even though their travel is in part directly associated with defence and Service assignments.
I now move to the question of charging out of costs. As a general rule, it is not the policy for one department to recover from another department costs of carrying out functions for which it is responsible, except in respect of services provided to or by business undertakings such as the Postmaster-General’s Department. This rule has, I understand, the general support of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. Treasury suggests that this policy should be adhered to except in special circumstances. It goes on to say, however, that if recovery is to be made, it would not think that the costs should be recovered from every Department involved but rather that they should be met from a separate appropriation item of the Prime Minister’s Department. This strikes me as being both practical and sensible. My own Department is the most appropriate in view of certain of its central responsibilities, and also since if is responsible for costs relating to visits of Government guests from abroad and for the travel costs of the Governor-General. The Government has decided to adopt this procedure. These costs, therefore, will be charged to the Prime Minister’s Department. Payments from the Prime Minister’s Department will thereafter be credited to the relevant appropriations of the Department of Air. This will have the effect of reducing defence expenditure by the amount of the payments by the Prime Minister’s Department. It is proposed to institute this procedure in 1967-68 with funds initially provided to the Prime Minister’s Department from the Treasurer’s advance pending additional estimates.
Except for Service purposes any use of VIP aircraft must be approved by the Governor-General in respect of his own use of them and that of his staff and by myself or the Minister for Air, in respect of all other use. Similarly passengers must be approved within the same group, that is by the Governor-General for those in aircraft occupied by him and by myself or the Minister for Air in relation to all other passengers.
A number of questions which have been asked in the Senate are also being answered today. This information will be available to members of the House of Representatives in Hansard. Some of the detail sought was so extensive that it did not seem appropriate to handle it in that way. Consequently, the details will be tabled in the Senate, and I propose to table them here together with the questions and answers which relate to them. I have handed one of the documents to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), and members who choose to study it subsequently will see why it has been handled in this way rather than incorporating the material in Hansard where it would occupy a disproportionately large amount of space. The answers to the questions asked in the Senate could have provided a piecemeal picture. Indeed, several of them were of a loaded character and could quite easily give an entirely misleading impression. I felt that they should not be answered until the general statement which I made earlier and this supplementary statement were in possession of both Houses. Then the replies to the questions, which have been answered quite fully, could be seen in proper context.
Parliament is entitled to facts, if they can be procured, which will enable members to form a judgment as to the purposes served by the flight and the manner in which it is being conducted. My concern all along has been not to deprive the Parliament of information but to ensure that the Parliament was not given a misleading picture because of the type and range of questions put to Ministers. This prompted me to make my first statement to the House which I have now supplemented. I wish to add some further comments.
I have stressed more than once that responsibility for the conduct of the VIP flight rests with the Minister for Air and myself. I hope this has not been overlooked by its critics. I am no more sensitive to Press and public criticism than most public men. After all, I experience it on most of the 7 days each week for 52 weeks of the year. I do not claim to be a modern Gulliver, but usually I manage to shrug these criticisms off as Gulliver did the darts of the Lilliputians. But there are some forms of criticism to which I do react quite strongly. These are criticisms of an unfair kind which undermine the status and authority of Parliament, and which belittle - whether thoughtlessly or cruelly - decent, conscientious men who serve in the Parliament and in the Ministry.
I have flown the best part of 250,000 miles since I became Prime Minister. I do not fly for the fun of it. Some of it is uncomfortable, most of it is tiring, and altogether it can be quite exhausting. The best part of any flight for me is the walk out of the plane down the aircraft steps. But the VIP flight has enabled me to keep many more official commitments with organisations and people all around Australia. I have been able to see a great deal more of the 3 million square miles of this continent and of the many projects contributing so much to our development. In the recent week of parliamentary recess, so-called, I was able to keep official commitments in four capitals. No less importantly, it has enabled me, as it has many of my colleagues and the Leader of the Opposition, also, to devote time more efficiently to the business of Cabinet and Department.
All this has somehow been conjured up by some as something improper, inappropriate or unreasonable. There are always to be found those who seize on any opportunity to demean members of this Parliament. There have been attempts to paint a picture of Australian Ministers enjoying VIP flight privileges not matched anywhere else in the world. This, of course, is absurd. I recall being flown in a British Government aircraft from Northern Ireland to London 15 years ago. When I attended the Finance Ministers meeting at Accra in Ghana in 1963, my opposite number from Canada arrived in a four-engined aircraft provided by his Government. During my years as Treasurer, I was flown by the then Secretary of the United States Treasury, Mr Douglas Dillon, in the four-engined aircraft provided for his official use. In my travels as Prime Minister I have been provided with this courtesy several times in the countries I have visited. This has become a matter of course in many other countries. My colleague, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck), has told me that Mr Paul Martin, his opposite number in Canada, wishing to speak to him in Ottawa in the course of his recent visit, sent a Jetstar aircraft to collect him, and arranged for him to be returned by the same aircraft after talks had concluded. My colleague, the Treasurer (Mr McMahon), told me only today that when he was at the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank at Rio de Janeiro, the Ministers from Canada came in two separate aircraft. Each brought his own aircraft.
As I have said previously, the VIP flight is an adjunct of modern, efficient Government. Nobody questions the use by the Department of Civil Aviation of- its fleet of 17 aircraft which it operates for its purposes. The VIP flight consisted of 9 aircraft in 1958. It is still a flight of 9 aircraft. When replacements were decided upon in 1965, we acted on the best technical service advice available to us to get aircraft as nearly comparable as could be obtained to those which had become obsolescent and to serve the same purposes. This fact - that the flight is an adjunct of modern Government - seems to have been overlooked by those senators who question my use of these aircraft in an election campaign. The business of the Australian Government does not cease because an election is proceeding. The aircraft is a flying office in which my staff and I carry on our work as best we can. It assists me to return to my Department the more speedily even while an election campaign is in progress. I am sure that most Australians will see the uses of the flight sensibly in their proper setting, if the facts are not distorted for them by those who have no wish to present them in their true light. I hope that in any further attention that is given’ to this matter we can concentrate on the pertinent and be spared the pettifogging. As soon as the questions in the Senate have been answered, I will arrange for the questions and answers to be tabled in this chamber. I present the following papers:
Royal Australian Air Force VIP FlightMinisterial Statement, 24 October 1967.
List of accepted VIP tasks extracted from No. 34 Squadron records for the period 1 January to 31 August 1967.
Motion (by Mr Snedden) proposed:
That the House take notice of the ministerial statement.
– I thank the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) for the answers which he has forecast will be given in the Senate and the analysis which he has given of the costs and the purposes of the Transport Squadron, the VIP flight. I am bound to say, however, that the right honourable gentleman and his colleagues have been primarily responsible for the way the whole of this issue has blown up. It was on 8th March that the first question on this subject was put on the notice paper in another place. Subsequent questions were put on the notice paper by the same honourable senator on 5th April, 19th April, 4th May and 19th May. These questions sought the information which the right honourable gentleman now proposes to give in the other place. On 31st March 1966 my colleague, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) put a similar question on the notice paper of this House. In particular he asked:
In respect of each such flight during this period -
That is, during the previous 12 months - what was the (a) name of the VIP who used the aircraft, (b) name of any other passenger, (c) destination, (d) cost and (e) purpose?
On 13th May of last year the Prime Minister gave the names of most of the VIPs, who had used the flight. He declined to answer other parts of the question which I have quoted on this ground:
After a Right is completed the list of names is of no value and is not retained for long.
This clearly could not have been given as a reason for declining to answer the questions in the other place. These all related to the immediately preceding week. Accordingly, the information could have been given at any. time. It could not be said that the information had been lost, mislaid or was of no further value. So the whole matter, naturally, has been festering. There are in this place two questions going back to the earlier part of this year. The honourable member for Grayndler has had one on the notice paper since 2nd March. There is nothing physically difficult about answering the question. I have had one on the notice paper since 2nd May. I will concede that there is no great urgency about it. Nevertheless, it is no wonder that the flare up occurred in the other place. It should have been possible to answer questions like this; it was possible as we now know and there could be no excuse for waiting all these months to give an answer.
Perhaps we all are wiser now than we were about the whole technique of aircraft purchase. The new acquisitions for the flight were announced by the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) in the House on 1st December 1965. I obtained the adjournment of the debate. The debate was never resumed. But in the light of experience brought to our notice by the AuditorGeneral in respect of these purchases - we are purchasing a vast number of aircraft overseas from the United States, Britain and France - we can see that we have been caught by surprise. We now know that aircraft salesmen are some of the most thrusting in the business and we have been shocked by the Auditor-General’s reports concerning the cost of the spares.
One of the biggest doubts about the VIP flight is the BAC111 aircraft. Looking back on the speech of the Minister for Air in December 1965, I find that he said that they had a considerably larger capacity, speed and range than the Convairs they were to replace. He said they would be able to fly non-stop to any part of the Australian mainland and at the same time their range was sufficient to facilitate contact with countries adjoining Australia, as for instance New Zealand and other countries in South East Asia. These are not Lilliputian aircraft; they are Brobdingnagian aircraft. These are very considerable aircraft in the commercial sense.
– Which one is the honourable member speaking of?
– The BAC1 1 1 . These are much more lavish than any VIP aircraft we have had before. They are British aircraft. It is thought that they were the personal choice of the previous Prime Minister. It is clear that if we were going to have aircraft of this size we should have had DC9s since they had been ordered for commercial airlines and we would need very few more spares for two additional aircraft than we would need for two orphan aircraft. I cannot understand why for internal routes, in view of the great amount of purchases that Britian makes from us, we did not buy more civilian aircraft from Britain. I cannot understand, for instance, why the Trident or the BACIII should not have been purchased instead of the Boeing 727 or the DC9. At all events, we have the worst of both worlds. This is a lesson to all honourable members on both sides of each House. We have to be much more diligent in scrutinising purchases of service or commercial aircraft. We have been caught and we ought to learn from our experience.
Looking back on it, I cannot understand why we purchased the BAC111s for this transport flight. I do not know that any honourable member can justify this purchase now. When a European head of State, the President of Italy, was recently visiting us we chartered a Boeing 727 which was available and completely adequate for the purpose. I made no similar criticism of the HS748’s and of the Mysteres because they certainly seem to be suitable for the purpose. One of the provocations is that we use Air Force aircraft. It might be better to use chartered aircraft for this purpose. There would be less misunderstanding and more restraint. But the very use of the term VIP aircraft’, particularly in association with publicity - and sweet are the uses of publicity - which the Prime Minister and the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) have allowed to surround their dolce vita and their Indian summer have aroused very real resentment on the whole subject.
– Why does the honourable member not tell us how much he has used them?
-Order! The honourable member for Mitchell will cease interjecting.
– I am speaking on this occasion because interjections like that are made in the chamber whenever this question is raised. I have never sought to conceal this information. I am quite happy for any honourable member or any member of the public to know where I have used these aircraft because, as the Prime Minister has correctly stated, I have been able to do my job better, as be has been able to do his job better, because appropriate aircraft have been available. But I should think that charter aircraft would do equally well. I have drawn up my itineraries on the basis of scheduled commercial flights. Since I became Leader of the Opposition I have taken off and landed in commercial aircraft in this country 200 times or more. I have used the VIP aircraft in only two circumstances; firstly, in tours of inaccessible areas and, secondly, in case of supervening demands. In the latter case honourable members will see - I bring the instances right up to date - there have been no more than five cases.
– What about the byelection?
– The honourable and reverend gentleman interjects about the byelection.
– What were the five cases?
– As 1 said, they were for supervening demands. I used the VIP aircraft in connection with the Capricornia by-election from Sydney to Canberra on the day of President Saragat’s visit because, as honourable members will notice from Ansett-ANA and Trans-Australia Airlines timetables, it was impossible to go the whole way from Rockhampton to Canberra by commercial aircraft before the President was due to arrive.
– What about the visit to Sale?
– I went to Sale in connection with the Air Force week celebrations. As I told the Tight honourable gentleman earlier, arrangements were made 6 months ago for me to be the guest of honour. I was to make many visits throughout Gippsland at Sale, Traralgon, Moe, Yallourn and so on. The first ceremony was at Traralgon at 1 1 o’clock. It was impossible to get down from Sydney to Traralgon by 11 a.m. The Air Force had arranged to make formation flights overhead at that time. In those circumstances my wife and I went down in a Mystere from Mascot to Sale.
– No one is getting upset about it.
– But the honourable gentleman mentioned that case.
– The honourable member did not go to Capricornia from Sale, did he?
– No, I did not. I went to Capricornia invariably by commercial aircraft.
– When the honourable gentleman toured the Dawson area he did not use commercial aircraft.
– I mentioned that I used them to visit inaccessible places.
-Order! There are far too many interjections from both sides of the House.
– -I mentioned inaccessible areas. I shall state the only instances to the House. Between 24th and 28th April, a week when the House was not sitting, I went in a HS748 to Thangool, Mount Isa, Normanton, Karumba and Weipa.
– Wind up the apologia. No one is questioning the honourable gentleman.
– Exactly, but if any honourable member makes an interjection I am prepared to answer it. lt would have been impossible to get to those places in connection with the brigalow, the beef roads, bauxite and so on by commercial services. Again, the next week when the Parliament was not sitting between 28th May and 4th June I went to Alice Springs, Darwin, Katherine, Gove, Groote Eylandt, McArthur River, the Ord, Port Hedland, Mount Goldsworthy, Wittenoom Gorge, Mount Tom Price, North West Cape, Carnarvon and Geraldton. It would have been impossible for me to visit those places by ordinary commercial services. The only other time 1 have made such a tour was to the Murray-Darling area a fortnight ago when the Parliament was not sitting. I had planned to set out from Adelaide by commercial services and then by car but the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister supervened. On this occasion, as with the visit of President Saragat, my presence was desirable and my absence would have been improper.
– We do not mind.
– I know that the right honourable gentleman does not mind, but if honourable gentlemen here or in another place are disposed to query any of these uses 1 for one am prepared to justify them anywhere. I make my itineraries on the basis of commercial flights. I have not used the VIP aircraft except on tours of inaccessible areas. Honourable gentlemen will see, firstly, that it would have been impossible to visit these places in sequence or at all in the time available unless there were noncommercial services available. Secondly, I had certain unforeseen representational jobs to do. To return to the general situation, the whole position has arisen because the Government declined from March and April onwards to give information which was available to it. It had declined to give information in answer to a question asked by the honourable member for Grayndler because the information was no longer available. On this occasion the information was available and a new excuse had to be devised. The information is now available and a new procedure has been devised. This is a good instance of the way in which Parliament can achieve a change. We were entitled to the information. The change which has been made is a desirable one. Mr Speaker, in order to preserve the rights of the House to debate this matter further, I ask that I have leave to continue my remarks.
– No. you have finished. I want to speak to the motion.
-I call the Prime Minister.
- Mr Speaker-
– Is this a private argument? Cannot we all buy in?
– Yes. There will be plenty of opportunity. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has chosen to speak on this occasion when he chose not to speak when my main statement on this matter was presented to the Parliament. In an attempt to justify his present speech and his former silence he said the reason was that at that point of time he was not aware of the Auditor-General’s comment in relation to the purchase of aircraft.
– I did not say that.
– The Leader of the Opposition said that he did not have the facts before him then. Now he is very much better informed and therefore he is coming in on this occasion.
– I said that the interest of all of us has been aroused by the AuditorGeneral’s comments.
– The honourable gentleman clearly made it understood that the reason why he was silent then but vocal now was because of what the AuditorGeneral had to say on this matter. What was his other reason, if that was not the reason? He cannot say it was because of the delay which has occurred. The same delay had occurred when I made my first statement on 4th October - only a few weeks ago. The Auditor-General’s report was presented to the Parliament on 17th August. So whatever specious reasoning the Leader of the Opposition may try to put to the House on this aspect, it disappears when one examines the facts.
What really has happened since is that the honourable gentleman who took the responsible line which his predecessor had taken when he was Leader of the Opposition and exhibited that line in the way in which he handled my previous statement, has now found it time to get on the bandwagon.. He sees a little political advantage to be gained. His colleagues in the Senate have stirred up a little mischief on this matter. The honourable senator to whom he referred happens to be an independent member of the Senate who is facing an election in the near future. The motives for his inquiry are not all that obscure. In fact, I happened to share a dormitory at school with the independent senator and I was at the university with him later on. 1 know him very well indeed. He is about as much concerned with VIP flights as the man in the moon. But he is very much concerned with being re-elected as a member of the Senate for Tasmania. He finds in a mainland newspaper which circulates freely around his State a willing accomplice in a matter which brings into some discredit members of this Parliament in the use of their parliamentary privileges and opportunities. This is an old story. I can remember the days when an election issue was made of the construction by Stanley Bruce of a dog kennel at the Lodge.
On that occasion we had to go through all the Press criticisms.
– That was in the days of the depression.
– Yes, but I remember the misuse that members of the Party to which the honourable member belongs tried to make of this particular matter. We have gone through this business with the provision of motor cars for members, trips abroad for members and telephone and stamp allowances for members. Years ago members of this Parliament voluntarily reduced their salaries by £225 of the £1,000 which they were receiving. The first re-instatement of £50 of the £225 which had been voluntarily reduced was greeted with the great banner headline: ‘The Midnight Ox Unmuzzles Itself. This is a very popular bandwagon to get on at any time. I regret that the Leader of the Opposition in this House has seen fit to take cheap advantage of the opportunity presented to him here today.
I have tried to set out in a reasonable fashion what the facts are. I have been willing to accept sensible debate about the use of the flight and its purpose. The Leader of the Opposition made the suggestion that we ought to charter these aircraft. Does anybody seriously imagine that we should go about chartering appropriate aircraft for the varied purposes of the VIP flight from the commercial lines currently operating in Australia on the day to day or week to week basis on which the VIP flight is used? I have given the House details showing that there have been 481 flights in the period from 1st January to September of this year. Does anybody seriously imagine that we could just charter appropriate aircraft to pick up Ministers or Leaders of the Opposition and their staffs to take them to the places they want to go? Landing grounds at some airports are unsatisfactory for some types of aircraft. For instance, the Mystere aircraft cannot land at several of the landing grounds around Australia. Therefore the smaller aircraft to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred and to which he takes no exception have to be used.
His only criticism, as I understand it, is directed against the BACH ls. After more than a couple of years of study of this problem in November 1965 Cabinet came to a decision regarding the obsolescent fleet which included DC3s that were 20 years old, Convair aircraft which at that point of time were 9 years old and a couple of second hand Viscounts. Cabinet decided what it should procure for a VIP fleet that would last 10, 15 or 20 years. We did not come to some snap decision ourselves. We look the best advice that our Service personnel could offer. They gave us that advice not only in the light of the requirements of VIP clients but also in the light of the needs of the Air Force itself. They recommended a small, fast aircraft which was not capable of carrying some 30-odd people, as I saw one newspaper editorial described it. In point of fact if there are six people and their luggage in the Mystere it appears to be almost uncomfortably crowded. It is a very speedy aircraft but it is not a particularly comfortable one. I assure the Leader of the Opposition, as he will discover when he makes more extensive use of it, that it is not an aircraft in which one can comfortably work with dictation, typing and the other work that goes on in an office operation. As a Minister, and certainly as Prime Minister, I have to conduct office operations as I am going about the business of this country.
I have been authorised by the former Leader of the Opposition to make known his general view on this matter which he conveyed to my predecessor. He had been offered the use of an aircraft in the course of a by-election campaign. He said:
If I should need to avail myself of your kind offer to use an RAAF plane, I will certainly get in touch with you but, on present indications, I will not need to do so. However, I do appreciate your offer and 1 will understand, as I said on other occasions, that if you should use RAAF aircraft at any time it will be because of your heavy commitments.
You will never hear any criticism from me for any use you make of an RAAF plane.
That is the responsible attitude of a man who knows the pressures and demands to which the Prime Minister, Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition are subjected in the service of this nation. I have one word on the BACIII. The BACIII was, I repeat, recommended to us as a replacement for the Viscount and Metropolitan Convair aircraft. Viscount aircraft are no longer in production and even if it were possible to procure a secondhand Viscount the spares would not be available indefinitely. The same applies to the Metropolitan Convairs which have gone out of production. The nearest replacement was the BACIII. The honourable gentleman asked why we did not choose DC9s. The DC9 happened to be a rather more expensive aircraft and it was felt that the BACIII would serve the same purpose.
It is true that when President Saragat visited Australia, because of the size of his party, which consisted of forty members of his own entourage and forty accompanying pressmen, our own VIP fleet was too small. But for visits by most prime ministers - and we expect to have an increasing number - and other people of VIP status for whom the Mystere and the smaller aircraft will not be suitable, then the BACIII will serve its turn. In the event of an emergency, no transport aircraft in the whole fleet would be more valuable than the BACIII. I do not seek to avoid criticism or discussion on this matter. I merely come back to what I said at the conclusion of the statement I made: If we are to give attention to the matter, let us concentrate on the pertinent and avoid the pettifogging.
– Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation on one point.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Prime Minister made the point that I did not speak after he made his earlier statement on 4th October. The reason is that whereas on this occasion he gave me the full text of his speech before lunch, on the previous occasion he spoke from notes alone and I had no foreknowledge of his speech.
– I have never in all my experience in Parliament, which is nearly 20 years now, seen a Prime Minister so sensitive and so touchy about a matter as is the present Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) on this issue. 1 am rather curious about this reaction. It puzzles me. I am wondering whether it may be due to certain omissions from the document he has tabled or to the validity of the criticism levelled against him by members of his own Party in another place who have lent their support, votes and names to a resolution expressing dissatisfaction with the Government’s replies to questions about the use of VIP aircraft. It seems to me that sufficient information has still not been given.
If this is to be the only document we arc to be given in response to the Senate’s demands for more information, it will surprise me greatly indeed if the Government supporters in another place see fit to accept this as a satisfactory answer to their demands. This document does not give the time of departure of VIP aircraft. This is important. I think that the public will agree with me almost unanimously that if a commercial flight was available at the time when a Minister was ready to leave for Sydney, then there was no justification for the use of the VIP flight. Therefore, before we really understand whether the use of VIP aircraft is fully justified, we need to know the departure times of these aircraft so that we can ascertain whether commercial aircraft were available at those times.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) that we do not express any criticism at all of the use of VIP aircraft by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition has made it perfectly plain that he does not criticise the Prime Minister. Who could criticise the Prime Minister for using VIP aircraft? After all, the responsibilities and duties of the Prime Minister of a country of our size, and of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, who is the Prime Minister’s opposite number in this Party, are so wide and involve travelling such tremendous distances to all parts of Australia that it would be utterly impossible at times for these two gentlemen to use only commercial aircraft without seriously affecting their capacity to do the job. But the public is entitled to know the names of junior Ministers and, indeed, of senior Ministers who use VIP aircraft when commercial flights are available at approximately the same time. This is not an unfair request on the part of the public.
T believe that the other place has rendered a service in taking the action it has taken to force the Government to realise that parliamentary government means responsible government and not government by the Executive Council. When the Parliament demands that something be done and comes in head-on collision with the Executive
Council, the will of the Parliament has to prevail, otherwise we do not have responsible government. On this issue the Government is attempting to prevent the will of Parliament prevailing. It is trying to circumvent the Opposition first by refusing to supply the information and then by giving inadequate information. I think that the document tabled by the Prime Minister should be examined very carefully before we accept it as satisfactory.
I notice from it that the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) made four or five flights within 2 or 3 days from Canberra to Sydney and return. Surely it is not suggested that no commercial aircraft were available at that time? Surely the Treasurer need not have used the VIP aircraft four times in 3 days. T do not believe this for a moment, unless there is some very good reason, and I will take a lot of convincing. I do not want to mention any names, but there is an entry in pencil on page 2 of one portion of this document. It appears to have been rubbed out. Apparently some time between 17th July and 20th July a VIP aircraft was used between Essendon and Canberra. It seems that the aircraft was stationed at Canberra and it travelled from Canberra to Essendon. It had two passengers but no crew on it - according to this document. Does this reflect the general accuracy of this document? One of the passengers was a lady; the other could have been the pilot.
– What page is this?
– There are several pages numbered ‘2’. lt is on one of these pages and it deals with the date. The Minister will identify it quickly when I tell him the date looks like 18th July 1967. This might help. These and other things suggest to me that something is still a little fishy about this document. It would surprise me greatly if the Liberal senators who expressed such dissatisfaction with earlier statements are now satisfied with this statement. I think it is a pretty poor thing for the Prime Minister to talk about the Opposition causing his Government headaches, tribulations and all kinds of embarrassment when the fact is that the resolution would never have been carried in the other place but for the support which members of his own Party gave to the proposition. Let us not be hypocritical about this. I have said enough to indicate my feelings on the matter. To recapitulate my point of view, I see nothing wrong with the Prime Minister’s using VIP aircraft in the course of his duties. I certainly see nothing wrong with a very senior Minister using them in the event of his not being able to get a commercial aircraft. I see nothing wrong with the VIP aircraft being used in the course of transporting members of a select committee of the Parliament to carry out its duties. I see nothing wrong with the Leader of the Opposition who, I believe, next to the Prime Minister, would be the busiest man in the Parliament using these aircraft. However, what an absurd situation it is for an enormous aircraft with a crew of five to transport from Canberra to Sydney a junior Minister who is travelling alone.
In other cases the information available indicates that the aircraft transported as many as twenty-two passengers. However, the names of these people were not given. Were they members of the Federal Executive of the Liberal Party? They certainly were not members of the Federal Executive of the Labor Party. But who were they? Let us find out who these unnamed people were. I have no objection to the Prime Minister’s wife, family or daughters-in-law travelling with him on these aircraft if they want to. I am not churlish about these things. Let us accept the fact that the Prime Minister is entitled to be surrounded by his family. But surely the inquisitive public who pay the cost of this service are entitled to have their curiosity satisfied. They should be told who occupy the aircraft. We on this side of the Parliament have nothing to hide. Our Leader has told the Parliament openly and clearly where, when and under what circumstances he uses the aircraft. I hope not one member of the Government will criticise the use to which the Leader of the Opposition has put the aircraft, any more than we on this side have so far criticised the use to which the Prime Minister personally puts the aircraft.
But I want to know why it is that members of the Governor-General’s household - the information suggests that the Governor-General did not accompany them - are able to take long excursions into the north and north-west of the Commonwealth in these aircraft, presumably at Government expense. No-one objects to the GovernorGeneral and whatever number of staff he wishes to take with him making such trips. However, I do not know what special rights or privileges they have or why the public should be expected to provide his staff with jaunts to the north. These things are deserving of fuller consideration and more information than we have had so far. For that reason, I hope this is not the last that we will hear of this and that the Government will unbend to the point of giving the balance of this information. I cannot believe that the people responsible for the compilation of relevant documents do not know the time at which aircraft leave. I cannot believe that any Tom, Dick or Harry can get on one of these VIP flights without his name being taken. For that reason 1 hope we will hear more about this matter in the future.
(4.15] - The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) referred to a number of matters, some of which, I believe, want clarifying. He queried the authority of individuals and also certain personnel attached to the staffs of Ministers, and even of the GovernorGeneral’s household staff, to travel on VIP aircraft. As has been stated by the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt), and repeated today, the authority for the use of these aircraft is vested, firstly, in the GovernorGeneral and the Prime Minister for their own use. They have the authority to decide this. Also, if anyone outside of these two persons wishes to use the aircraft, authority can be given only by the Minister for Air (Mr Howson), who does so mostly in consultation with the Prime Minister, or on the authority of the Prime Minister himself. So, the situation in every individual case has been examined before such authority has been given.
The honourable member raised a point concerning a number of answers required to questions which had been asked in the Senate and also raised in the House of Representatives. The Prime Minister referred to the situation when he said that today a number of answers to questions which had been on the notice paper in the Senate and also in the House of Representatives would be sent round through the normal channels. Indeed, acting on behalf of the Minister for Air, I sent answers to those questions to the Senate today and the Prime Minister did say that copies of these would be tabled in the House as soon as they were cleared by the Senate for the information of honourable members. Answers will be available, of course, in Hansard to the questions which have been asked in this House. The information which has been provided will be available and the honourable member will be able to obtain that as he requires it.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh also queried the times of departures and made quite a point about this. He implied that VIP aircraft had been used at times when commercial aircraft could have been used. I do not doubt that the information required is available on the flight schedules of these aircraft and that this information could have been obtained had it been thought desirable. However, the information obtained was put together in this form to try to cover all the queries which had previously been raised. This is one point which had not been raised before. Of course, this is obviously a type of red herring with which the honourable member is reasonably familiar. It is not really designed to contribute towards the constructive analysis of the paper before the House. When authority is given for personnel to use the aircraft, as I have said before, each application is considered on its merits at the time. Of course, there will be occasions when commercial aircraft move into localities which are used by VIP aircraft. Also, situations can arise where commercial aircraft can cover part of a particular trip for which VIP aircraft are used. But VIP aircraft are used to save time or for convenience to cover two or three trips which would have to be made by commercial aircraft. On the question of chartering commercial aircraft, I can speak with particular knowledge. It would be utterly impossible to cover the type of service which the VIP flight provides outside of its service capacity by a normal charter operation. In fact, the very point made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) is that he wants to use aircraft to visit a certain number of out of the way places. No doubt, there are places to visit which he would want to use VIP aircraft because it would not be possible to utilise one airline’s aircraft to fly to that locality.
– I was not suggesting that the aircraft would be chartered only from commercial airlines.
-Order! We do not want any private conversation across the chamber.
– I can assure the House that even if one were able to charter an executive type of aircraft such as the Mystere the combined cost of all the charter operations we would have to conduct would be considerably greater than the cost of the operations that we are now conducting. Also, because of the limited number of this type of aircraft available, we would not be able to get a service when we wanted it.
The honourable member for Hindmarsh made a number of minor inquiries. He referred to the proportion of one passenger to five crew. I hope he is not suggesting that if, say, the Leader of the Opposition were travelling alone on a Mystere we should cut down the number of crew members because only one passenger was being carried.
– Certainly not. I was talking about junior Ministers.
– Well, if a junior Minister had the privilege of using one of these aircraft and was travelling alone, naturally we could not cut down the number of crew members, because safety of operations would not permit this.
– Can the Minister tell us about the passenger who flew without any crew?
– I have just checked the list on which that notation appears. I will confirm this later, but it appears to me that someone has merely put a tick on that list to indicate that the crew was the same as the crew for the previous flight, which was made by the same aircraft. The fact is that a typographical error was made in leaving out the figure ‘5’ for the number of crew members. I can see nothing sinister in that.
I do not think there are any other points that need to be answered at this stage. I merely confirm what the Prime Minister has said in relation to the statement that he made today, and I confirm also his statement with regard to the BACIII. It was suggested that perhaps airline aircraft in use today such as the DC9 might be suitable tor VIP purposes, or alternatively that the BACIII might be used for airline purposes. The BACIII that we have ordered is one of the smaller varieties. The new stretched version of the BAC1 1 1 has gone into production only in the last month or so and it was not available at the dme the DC9 aircraft were ordered. The BACIII we have is suitable for RAAF purposes but would not be suitable for airline operations in competition with the other types of aircraft that are in use.
Debate (on motion by Mr Snedden) adjourned.
– by leave - Discussions on the constitutional future of the island of Nauru have been proceeding between representatives of the Nauruan people and of the three Governments - of Britain, New Zealand and Australia - which are at present responsible, under United Nations trusteeship, for the administration of the island. My colleague, the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) and I have represented the Australian Government in these talks. The British and New Zealand Governments have been represented by their High Commissions. The Nauruan people have been represented by delegates of the Nauru Local Government Council headed by Head Chief Hammer DeRoburt, O.B.E.
The conclusions reached in those discussions are recorded in a joint statement subscribed to by the representatives who took part in the talks. The text of the statement is:
Discussions between representatives of the Nauruan people and representatives of the governments of Australia, Britain and New Zealand on the constitutional future of Nauru were recently resumed.
At the earlier discussions held in June this year proposals by the Nauruan delegation seeking the agreement of the partner governments to Nauru becoming an independent state on 31st January 1968 were considered. At that time the governments agreed that it was appropriate that basic changes should be made in the government of Nauru but they put forward for consideration alternative arrangements under which Australia would exercise responsibilities for external affairs and defence but which would otherwise give the Nauruans full autonomy.
At the resumed talks the Nauruan delegation said that they remained grateful to the partner governments for the careful thought that had been given to the problems of the political future for Nauru but that the particular proposals suggested by the partner governments presented substantial difficulties from the Nauruan point of view. The Nauruan delegation envisaged that Nauru should in the future maintain close links with all three partner governments. They proposed that the relationship with Australia would remain a closer one than that with any other country. The Nauruans would wish to maintain a Nauruan office in Australia as a main channel of communication with the outside world and would be happy to see an Australian office established in Nauru if this were desired. They hoped that Australia would agree that the High Court of Australia should hear appeals from the Supreme Court of Nauru and that Nauruan students could continue to come to Australia.
The position of the Nauruan delegation was however, that the nature of the future Jinks between Nauru and the three countries which were now the administering authority should be determined by agreement after independence had been attained. The primary objective of the Nauruan delegation was the attainment for Nauru of full and unfettered sovereignty. The partner governments responded that they would respect the views put forward by the Nauruan delegation. The partner governments were therefore agreeable to meet the request of the Nauruan delegation for full and unqualified independence.
The date on which Nauru will become independent requires consideration in the light of the steps that are necessary to enable the change to be made. The partner governments have agreed to take the necessary steps to seek from the present United Nations General Assembly a resolution for the termination of the trusteeship agreement upon independence being achieved. The Australian Government has agreed that the passage of legislation by the Parliament should be sought during the current parliamentary session so that Australian law will cease to apply in Nauru upon a date to be proclaimed, this being the date agreed upon for independence.
The Nauruan delegation is now engaged in examining in detail with a working party of officials the arrangements required to enable a constitution to be drafted for discussion by the Nauruan people and the many other administrative steps that need te be taken to prepare the way for a smooth transition from trusteeship to independence. In the light of progress made a date for independence will be agreed upon.
The Nauruan delegation and the partner governments will make every effort to adhere to the date of 3 1st January 1968 if this is found to be practicable. At the same time both the Nauruan delegation and the partner governments place importance on proper consideration being given to the drawing up of the constitution as well as ensuring that the essential administrative requirements to enable the Nauruan people to take over their own government are met.
The partner governments have undertaken to co-operate with the Nauruan representatives to the fullest possible extent and to provide all possible assistance that may be needed and sought by the Nauruan representatives towards the achievement of their objectives.
The agreement that has been reached is an historic one and is of far-reaching importance to the Nauruan people. The choice of full independence is theirs. We wish them well. If after independence the Nauruan Government wishes to continue close links with Australia, as forecast by the Nauruan delegation at these talks, the Australian Government will be ready to respond and to consider sympathetically any requests that may be made for assistance. I expect to introduce in the House in the near future the Bill referred to in the joint statement.
– by leave - It is appropriate that the Minister for Territories (Mr Barnes) should have made this momentous statement on United Nations Day, since it is under the charter of the United Nations that Britain, New Zealand and Australia accepted obligations to lead Nauru to independence. This is the first of the Territories for which Australia became responsible to which Australia has helped to give independence. The association between Australia and Nauru has extended over half a century. The arrangements which the Minister has just announced are very satisfactory indeed. The negotiations have been long, but they have been friendly. Nauru and Australia will always be neighbours and there is every reason, to believe that they will always be friends. One can hope that in due course there will be a similarly satisfactory outcome for the New Hebrides, for which Britain and France are jointly responsible; for the Solomons and Fiji, for which Britain alone is responsible; for eastern Timor, for which Portugal is reponsible; and above all, for Papua and New Guinea, for which Australia is responsible. My Party joins with the Minister in wishing the people of Nauru well in their future, economically, politically and socially.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1933- J966, I present the report relating to the following proposed work:
Stokes Hill Power Station, Darwin - Stage 4 Extension.
Ordered to be printed.
– by leave - In view of the rapid increase in the population of Darwin, which is growing at the rate of 9.4% per annum, and the rapidly growing export trade through the port there, I am very pleased to hear that the Public Works Committee has recommended that work proceed with Stage 4 of the Stokes Hill Power Station. I can only hope that the work will go ahead with expedition.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time
The basic purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the Government’s decision, announced in this House on 15th March 1967, to extend the limits in which Australia has exclusive rights over fisheries from 3 to 12 miles. There is at present legislation, namely, the Fisheries Act 1952-1966, that controls fishing in proclaimed waters beyond the 3-mile territorial limit. However, the existing legislation does not apply to foreign nationals whose operations are based outside Australia and the external Territories. The Bil) now before the House would exclude foreign vessels and foreign fishermen from operating within the new 12 miles exclusive fishing zone off Australia and the external Territories unless the vessels and fishermen were licensed under the Act. Provision is made in the Bill for substantial penalties for illegal fishing in the exclusive fishing zone by foreign vessels. The inclusion of these new penalties has necessitated some technical amendments to the provisions of the Act relating to the jurisdiction of courts to try offences against the Act.
Australia, in common with Britain, certain Western European States, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America and other countries,- has continued to adhere to the 3 miles limit as the breadth of the territorial sea and it is not intended to change this situation as far as Australia is concerned. However, many countries, including Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, have extended their fishing limits to 12 miles. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr Bowen) has advised the Government that this action and that now proposed in the Bill are in accordance with international law. In these circumstances I consider that Australia should secure for its fishing industry the advantages that international law permits. In practice the adoption of a 12-mile exclusive fishing zone will have the effect of further protecting our fisheries and encouraging development. The crayfisheries, which form the basis of a valuable export industry, will be given a very substantial measure of protection as will our developing prawn fisheries. In implementing these proposals the Government is of the opinion that, where it can be established that operations by foreign vessels have been carried on for a number of years in the zone that will be protected by the legislation, the practice of permitting a phasing out period adopted by overseas countries should be applied. There is no evidence of any substantial degree of fishing by foreign based vessels having taken place within our 12-mile zone, but the Government considers that in any appropriate case a short phasing out period may be allowed.
With the consent of the Nauruans, Nauru also is included in the scope of the legislation. Provision is made for the Minister for Territories or his delegate, who will, in practice, be the Administrator of the Territory, to issue licences with respect to persons resident in, or boats operating from a base in, any of the external Territories. This will enhance the already flexible administration of the licensing provisions of the Fisheries Act 1952-1966. Provision is also made in the Bill for any licence fees collected in respect of persons or operations based on the Territories of Papua and New Guinea, Norfolk Island or Nauru to be paid to the appropriate Territory.
A further amendment is proposed in the Bill to bring processing vessels - factory ships - within the licensing provisions of the Fisheries Act. At present a vessel used solely for processing fish and not used for actual fishing operations is not subject to licensing. Unless the Act is amended in this way foreign factory ships could operate in waters between 3 and 12 miles off shore provided they were not engaged in the catching of fish. -Also it is proposed to extend the scope of the Act to include Australian factory ships. In view of the rapidly growing interest being shown in the development of our northern prawn fisheries and the increasing use of processing vessels, it is essential to be able to control the activities of such processing vessels if the industry is to be developed along rational lines. Honourable members are no doubt aware of the developments taking place in the north and will recognise the need to encourage the development of land bases to provide permanent establishments, which in turn will encourage settlement in. the north. The uncontrolled activities of factory ships could have a serious effect on the development of a substantial permanent industry in the north. This Bill provides for further protection to our developing fishing industry and recognises specific needs of the external Territories. I commend it to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 19 October (vide page 2129), on motion by Mr Adermann:
That the Bill be now read a second time. Upon which Dr Patterson had moved by way of amendment:
That all words after That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: ‘this House is of opinion that the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967 should be amended to provide that -
– The Australian sugar industry is facing a great crisis. The Commonwealth Government is giving unprecedented assistance m an effort to relieve the economic burden confronting all sections of the industry. The legislation before the Parliament is designed to amend the Sugar Agreement between the Commonwealth and Queensland so that a rise in the price of sugar may be approved. The price rise in fact, came into operation on 19th June last following decisions reached by both Governments.
The Government’s request for approval by Parliament is a machinery matter in view of the concurrence to the proposal by the two Governments involved. Already the sugar industry is receiving valuable benefit from the price rise. Although any rise in prices of commodities that affect the cost of living is regrettable, there can be no denying that this is a justifiable, reasonable and timely decision. The plight of the sugar industry, brought about by the calamitous state of world markets, warrants all possible help from the Australian consumer. Safeguards in the price structure are necessary to ensure that no decline in consumption results from the rise in price. The position is one of simple arithmetic. The rise which we provide by virtue of the Agreement and the legislation approving it is He per lb. This increases the wholesale price by $26 a ton. This increase is of tremendous importance to the sugar producer.
The Opposition has indicated that it supports the proposal. Leading for the Opposition, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) said that the Australian Labor Party fully supported the principle underlying the domestic price arrangements for sugar. In fact, he said it time and again in hi* speech. Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that he may have said it twenty-five times. But having said that I was surprised that he then proceeded to make strong claims that the rise should not have occurred until 3 1st August this year. He said:
Why did the Government not wait until the Agreement terminated on 31st August 1967 and then increase the price of sugar if it wanted to, providing this was ratified by Parliament?
He said that the rise which took place on 19th June was in fact illegal. He said that it was not competent for the Government lo amend the Sugar Agreement. He said that the Government had broken the Agreement and was asking the Parliament to condone its action. One can conclude only that the honourable member is opposed to the sugar growers receiving this increase. If he were not why would he make this charge? It is ludicrous to suggest that the Government’s action is in any way illegal. The alteration of the Agreement has been the result of negotiations between the Commonwealth and Queensland, and both Governments have agreed to the alteration. This is a perfectly normal process and one that should be fully understood by any honourable member representing sugar interests in this Parliament. It is incredible that the honourable member for Dawson should make this charge and many others against the Government and at the same time deprecate the status of the sugar industry and those engaged in it.
Let me turn, firstly, to the action taken by the Government. Clause 4(2.) of the Agreement provides that the increase in price shall operate from 19lh June 1967. In seeking the consent of Parliament it is well understood by the industry, as it is by the Government, that to seek Parliament’s consent prior to the rise in price would cause sugar buyers to rush to buy before the price was increased. What a ridiculous situation would then arise. This would defeat the purpose of the increase, which is to improve returns to the depressed sugar industry. It would also disorganise refining and marketing arrangements. The honourable member for Dawson surely could not overlook these fundamentals when he asserts that the Government’s action has been wrong, that it has been timed wrongly and that the process is incorrect. I hope that the sugar industry will not be misled by the references which the honourable member has made in this regard. How can any reliance be placed on his statements, here or outside the Parliament, when he makes many wild and unfounded claims.
The sugar industry is in a serious position. Nobody associated with the industry is under any illusions concerning the plight of the industry, but does it do the industry any service to accuse industry leaders of lack of support within their industry and to say, as the honourable member said, that the Queensland section of producers had accused the Chairman of the Queensland Canegrowers Council of telling fairy tales?
This is the kind of challenge that does the industry a great disservice. Mr F. J. McEvoy, Chairman of the Queensland Cane Growers Council, is a very esteemed leader of a great primary industry. He has been elected at district level by an overwhelming majority. His status in the industry is so well confirmed that he was unchallenged at district level. He is well regarded as Chairman of the Council. Comparatively recently he became President of the National Farmers Union of Australia. Yet the honourable member for Dawson claimed that he had told fairy tales.
I think we in this Parliament should realise that we are dealing with the interests of a great primary industry, one which sustains about 30,000 worthy Australians. It is up to honourable members on both sides of the House to try to understand the various features of the industry; to try to encourage it to meet the problems which confront it at this time. Parliament is being asked to approve this important development in the fight to save the industry at a time of real crisis- a fight in which the Government has already committed $3Sm. Assistance of this kind means maintenance of a degree of stability for the industry when world sugar prices are at a disastrously low level. The Government’s assistance is designed to help the industry while marketing problems are being grappled with at the international level. Yet the Government’s action has been criticised by the honourable member for Dawson.
The history of the sugar industry is one of dynamic development. The industry began little more than 100 years ago. Production since then has increased in the train of remarkable progress in the industry. The figures speak for themselves. In 1863 the first 20 acres of cane were grown at Ormiston, near Brisbane. In 1864, 2 tons of sugar were produced, followed by 3 tons in 1865. But increase in production in following years was tremendous. By the 1900s we were producing 200,000 tons a year. By 1930 production had increased to 800,000 tons a year and in 1962 production rocketed to 1,800,000 tons. In 1966 we produced 2,200,000 tons, making Australia one of the leading sugar producing countries. This legislation, as is well understood by those concerned with the industry, deals with the home market price. In order to understand this I think we should see clearly that the home market price has expanded less quickly than has our production. Our dependence on exports has increased. This is a factor that is quite obvious from production figures. Our exports to the United States of America and the United Kingdom have remained at about the same level as it was in 1963. Thus 50% of the production that I referred to earlier - some 1,175,000 tons of our 1967 production - must be sold on an unstable and somewhat severely depressed market. Only 36%, or 613,000 tons, of our 1963 production was sold on the free market. This, of course, indicates a very great difficulty in the marketing structure. Prices on the free market have been severely depressed since 1964. The average United Kingdom price over the 9 years to the end of 1964 was only Est*38 4s 6d a ton. Since the end of 1.964 the price has fluctuated around £Stg20 a ton. In September of last year the price fell to £Stg18 a ton. These levels are well below production costs anywhere in the world, particularly in Australia.
Depressed returns have beset the industry for the period since this calamitous fall in the world price. Because we have a great dependence on the free market, the low prices obtainable have produced a very low average earning within the mill peaks, the figure of $86.5 for the 1965 season being the lowest for some 10 years. In 1966 the figure was down to $77.13 a ton, the lowest since 1951. If there had been no home price increase and no Commonwealth assistance the 1967 average result might be even less than the figures that have been indicated. Because of the dependence of the industry on these forms of assistance - the price arrangement that has now been made and the special $35m Commonwealth assistance - the payment to the producer has been at least $8.56 greater than it might otherwise have been.
This is not something that we can treat lightly in this House. This assistance is unprecedented in the history of the sugar industry, but the Opposition has claimed that the agreement is not being presented to the Parliament in a form that is in the best interests of the industry. This, of course, is sheer humbug. The proposition with which we are dealing is one which has the support of the official organisations of the cane industry - the two producer bodies and the millers. It is the result of very careful negotiations between all of the parties involved in the management of this great, efficient and important primary industry. In the face of the world wide problems that confront it what has been done is without a doubt the most effective answer to the difficulties with which the industry is concerned.
There have been suggestions that the Government is responsible for what has occurred. The honourable member for Dawson has frequently made this assertion, but there are other members from Queensland. The honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) and the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) speak in a much more practical way. They talk with some understanding of the industry and some realisation of the factors that are part and parcel of the operation of this great and important industry. I think this is well understood by the industry and by those who represent it at the official level. The criticisms are not soundly based when we hear persons like the honourable member for Dawson criticising the Government for the existence of the situation and then criticising the Government for what it has done to meet the situation.
In 1964 the London price opened at £Stg88 a ton. There was every indication that this level would be maintained for the season. Shortly thereafter this indication was confirmed because the price rose to £Stg93 15s a ton. But then dramatically the price dropped to as low as £Stg24 15s - a fall of over £Stg63 a ton on the opening price in 1964. No country could foresee that development. The world industry was not able to assess the position as likely to arise and accordingly there was no way in which the matter could be grappled with at the international level.
Since then Australia has been in the forefront of the attempts to re-negotiate the world sugar agreement. Every effort has been made by this Government and, in particular, by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) who has spared no effort to try to encourage the rearrangement of a world sugar agreement. The sugar industry in Australia is highly developed and efficient. It is backed by leadership, management and great skill. If it were not for this, the position today would be far more disastrous than it is. However, it is a pity to find criticism in a situation like this. On the other hand, I trust that thinking people will encourage the industry to meet its problems with the very practical and sound kind of approach expressed in this legislation which provides for the pricing of sugar sold to the Australian consumer at a level that will surely mean that there will be no fall in the Australian consumption.
The industry has pitted itself against the gigantic problem that is confronting it. Thanks to Australian leadership it does appear that we will be in a sound position to meet the problem and to be able to participate in negotiations which are being put in hand for the sugar agreement. Of course, statistics are not an issue in this debate. Suffice it to say that of our production of 2,300.000 tons of sugar we sell in Australia about 650,000 tons, lt is in respect of this proportion of the production that the price rise provided in this legislation will apply. We sell to the United Kingdom about 500,000 tons, of which 335,000 tons is sold at a preferred price under the Commonwealth sugar agreement. We sell to North America about 323,000 tons. There is a special preferment in respect of 182,000 tons to the United States of America. Japan, under its agreement with us, takes 597,000 tons, leaving a balance sold to other nations, including New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore, of 273,000. All of these arrangements are the result of almost a lifetime of work on the part of the industry itself and its leaders and of encouragement by governments of all political colours - governments which have been in office in the Commonwealth and in Queensland.
What we are doing in this legislation is to amend the Sugar Agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland. The first agreement came into operation, I think as far back as 1915. Since then a great deal of care has been taken to ensure that the best possible arrangements have been made in the interests of the sugar industry. In fact, no other industry enjoys a provision similar to that which applies to the sugar industry. This is a situation in which the Commonwealth and the States concerned - in this instance Queensland and portion of New South Wales - provide within the Constitution a framework for sugar pricing which is adhered to by the Australian nation. They provide a basis for a sensible arrangement, a negotiated arrangement and an arrangement that cannot be broken. But of course we find the honourable member for Dawson moving an amendment to this important legislation. It is an amendment that proposes nothing of substance and offers nothing to the sugar industry. I deal only briefly with it because the proposition is one that scarcely deserves very much attention.
In the first instance he speaks of the discrimination in the price of sugar against certain sections of the Queensland community and he asserts that the metropolitan area of Brisbane gains an advantage. I say to the honourable member that this is a disservice to the sugar industry. As happens with so many other primary industries, the price near the point of production is very often a little higher than the price on a metropolitan market. This can apply to bananas and to a variety of commodities. There is a good reason for it. It is not one that all of us relish or like to see, but we must be conscious of the fact that the bulk of the consumers are in the metropolitan areas. In Queensland the bulk of the consumers of sugar are in the city of Brisbane and it is important to ensure that this consumption is maintained and that the price attained is the highest possible figure. I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston)The Clerk will ring the bells. (The bells having been rung)
– I regret to have to inform honourable members that, following his collapse in the Senate this afternoon, Senator Hannaford has died. I know that all honourable members would immediately wish to have their sympathy conveyed to his widow and family. I suggest that we suspend the sitting until 8 p.m. as a mark of respect. Tomorrow I shall bring forward an appropriate motion of condolence for consideration by the House.
-I am sure all honourable members will agree that in these tragic circumstances the sitting should be suspended until 8 p.m.
Sitting suspended from 5.7 to 8 p.m.
- Mr Speaker, naturally I regret the reason for the interruption of this debate earlier today. I will proceed now to conclude my remarks on this measure. The amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time was moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and, as I indicated earlier, proposes an alteration in the basis of the costing of sugar prices in the State of Queensland. I believe that this is a very wrong approach to a vital matter concerning this industry. I suggested earlier that everyone would like to see a price that was equalised throughout Queensland, throughout every other State and in every town, village and country centre. But I put forward the view that there is good reason for the present situation. This is, after all, the fact that the metropolitan areas are the bases of the major consumption of commodities such as sugar. Other proposals are contained in the amendment. These include the suggestion that there should be special rail freight concessions and so on.
I fail to see how the Commonwealth Government could propose such suggestions to Queensland. This is a matter entirely for Queensland. When one looks at the record of the Queensland Government in its endeavours to assist sugar producers, one finds an enviable record of contribution directly to the sugar industry. The Government has made provisions during the last couple of years to assist growers through the drought period as well as providing special low interest loans to sugar producers.
Concessions have been provided in a number and variety of fields to assist those who have been hard hit by drought. Other concessions have been granted and these have aided all sugar producers, particularly those who are new in the field of sugar production.
In my own electorate I have farmers who have commenced sugar growing since the extension of acreages and the increase in sugar permits. It is a well recognised fact that those who go fresh into an industry suffer the greatest difficulties. Is it not true of any enterprise that when someone begins anew or afresh in an industry that person is the one who suffers the greatest difficulties? I believe that both in Queensland and New South Wales a great measure of assistance has been given to the new grower. It is well known that taxation concessions have been granted. It is well known respecting drought and flood alike that there are special measures of assistance for these producers. Those in the role of new producers in what might be termed necessitous circumstances derive the maximum benefits. Of course, it would be a great thing if we could give them special assistance over and above that which has been given to industry in general. But this is without a doubt the objective of what has been done by this Government and by State Governments in all fields.
There are many other aspects which seem to have escaped the consideration of those who venture into this issue. The assistance which is given by way of the fertiliser bounty to the growers of sugar cane in Queensland and northern New South Wales amounts to approximately $2 1/4m. This is the contribution by the Government to the industry overall. If we are seriously to consider the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson, all of the aspects of the matter must be taken into consideration. I believe that this great industry, sitting in conference with the Government, has arrived at the most logical decisions possible and has adopted the most practical approach to meet the current problems. I cannot see that any other course of action is practicable at this point of time.
It has been suggested that a stabilisation scheme should be established. Those who are familiar with the industry know full well that the only practical approach con cerning stabilisation is to be undertaken in a climate in which there is a world market condition providing a basis for a form of stabilisation. This condition does not exist today. So, we are faced with the crucial requirement that we must do the best we can in the existing circumstances for this great industry. The measure before the House is to approve an increase in the price for sugar consumed by the Australian community. This proposal will receive the support of every thinking member. It is for another time and in another place for us to deal with other issues. The Government in providing $35m for the industry has clearly indicated that if in the long run the difficulties are not resolved this decision will be reviewed.
The net price as a result of the increase in the Australian consumption price of sugar, together with the contribution made by way of the Government’s repayable loan taken with a realisation on world markets in the various categories, produces for the sugar grower the figure which I referred to this afternoon. This is regarded as a very sound deal in the present circumstances. We should like the Australian sugar producer to receive more per ton for his sugar. There is no practical way of obtaining this increase at the present time. If we are to ensure that in the event of the crisis growing worse, .the Government can adopt even more sympathetic measures, then the circumstances exist for this to be done.
Personally, as one who represents a sugar growing area, I believe that we should support the Bill. The amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson should be rejected. There should be unity on this vital issue in the interests of every sugar producer and of all other persons who are engaged in this vital industry. There should not be a misunderstanding of the basis upon which this new agreement is being negotiated. There should be a realisation of the fundamentals of sugar marketing within Australia and overseas. There should be a realisation of the financial limitations to which the industry is subject. For those reasons I consider that a sound basis exists for us to approach the problems confronting the industry in the future. As 1 have said, I support the measure. I oppose the amendment. I trust that the House will see fit to follow a logical course of action in this matter.
- Mr Speaker, the Australian Labor Party would be breaking away from a long standing tradition if it did anything other than support this measure. On behalf of the Opposition, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has proposed an amendment to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time but it in no way affects the actual increase in the price of sugar or the general purposes of the agreement, which is a renewal of the agreement accepted by this House in 1962. To some extent I can understand the opposition of the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) to the honourable member for Dawson although the by-election for Dawson was held almost two years ago. That by-election resulted in a Country Party seat becoming a Labour seat. But I cannot understand why the honourable member for Cowper has attempted to misrepresent the honourable member for Dawson by saying that the honourable member for Dawson made a disparaging statement about the Chairman of the Queensland Cane Growers Council, Mr Frank McAvoy. In speaking on this measure last Thursday the honourable member for Dawson quoted a headline which appeared in the Northerner*. The honourable member has shown me the newspaper and I have seen the headline. He then quoted the newspaper report of a statement by one of the largest cane producers in the Mourilyan district that the chairman of the Queensland Cane Growers Council, Mr McAvoy, had been accused of telling fairy tales at a meeting of farmers in the Mourilyan mill area a few weeks earlier. It was suggested that even children would laugh at what the producers were being told. This suggestion was made by Dr Dom Rigano. It was he who made the statement to which I have just referred; it was not made by the honourable member for Dawson.
The honourable member for Dawson was quoting from this newspaper report when answering a query by the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Lee) who had asked: Is the position so bad? Why is it so gloomy? Is the industry in such a precarious state?’ The honourable member for Cowper has acknowledged that the industry is in a precarious situation and that there has been a movement throughout the industry, particularly among cane growers, because of its plight. People in the industry feel that something should be done to remedy the situation. The unrest which is evident in the Mourilyan area is becoming apparent also in southern districts. An article in the Isis Recorder’ stated:
A meeting of growers from six of the mill areas was held to discuss the present position of the canegrowing industry and the imperative necessity of improving their financial position. They stated that it is not purely a matter of bettering their position. It has become a matter of sheer and utter survival.
The group intends to make every endeavour to help sugar organisations where possible and urge where necessary.
The article goes on to say that the group is not intended to become a breakaway group. It continues:
It is desired to join farmers In a combined effort to bring the canegrowing industry back to sound business footing. Loans as added debts are not the answer. Constructive moves are being made towards overcoming the growers’ present position.
An advertisement inserted in the same edition of the newspaper by the Secretary of the Inter Area Canegrowers Action Group states that the group was formed to press for immediate positive action by existing organisations, and a request for financial assistance was made. I believe that the sugar industry is an example to all primary industries in Australia.
The original legislation dealing with the industry was brought down in 1915. If should be realised that people who now support legislation for the sugar industry might not have done so at that time. The reports show that when the legislation was introduced in 1915 by the then AttorneyGeneral, Mr Joe Cook said: ‘Come on boys; let’s all get on the Socialist bandwaggon’. It is true, and has never been denied, that the sugar industry is an example of socialised industry. There is control of the amount of production in various areas and there is a guaranteed price. The measure which we are now debating guarantees that the grower shall receive not less than a certain minimum price for his product. It is able to achieve this by guaranteeing the domestic price of 620,000 tons of sugar which is consumed on the Australian home market. The measure also guarantees payments to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee by guaranteeing the payment of rebates to processors of fruit products which are manufactured in Australia for consumption here or for export, provided that the manufacturers of these products pay for their fresh fruit no less than the price fixed by the Committee. The sugar industry, through its centralised control, has been able to ensure that fruit growers who are producing fruit for canneries in southern States, particularly Victoria and Tasmania, will receive a certain price for their fruit. This has very much to recommend it. The fruit growers would not receive a guaranteed price if the sugar industry were not controlled.
It should be borne in mind that control of the industry has been agreed to by all people associated with it. In 1962, when a measure relating to the sugar agreement was last before the House, honourable members also had before them a report from a committee of three which was headed by Sir Mortimer McCarthy. This committee of inquiry into the sugar industry investigated the industry in 1960 and at that time suggested a reduction in mill peaks and a reduction in the domestic price of sugar. Although some time had elapsed between the report being presented to Parliament and the Bill coming before the House, if the Parliament at that time had implemented the report’s recommendations the Australian sugar industry would not have expanded as it did; the industry would have contracted at a time when the sugar industry in all other sugar producing countries was expanding. Honourable members will recall that at about that time there was some trouble in Cuba, where the sugar crop had been lost because of cyclones and economic disturbances. As a result of this situation there was a shortage of sugar on the world market and the Australian sugar industry was able to take advantage of the high price obtaining at that time.
The position has now reverted to one in which we are now selling more than half our production of sugar at world prices. Although only a small proportion of it is sold on the world market, the price we receive in other markets is governed by the prevailing world market price. Because of the expansion in the Australian sugar industry - I do not suggest that the people who are responsible for the expansion did not act in what they thought to be the best interests of the industry and the country at that time - many towns and cities along the Queensland coast and in northern New South Wales depend very much on the economy of the industry. At the time that this expansion occurred some felt that the industry should have expanded a little more slowly and perhaps over a greater period. Others felt that there was no time to lose, because other sugar producing countries were developing their industry at a fast rate. But because of the sugar industry’s greater dependence on the Australian market and because of the depressed price for sugar on the world market, not only the canegrowers and others in the industry are dependent upon the economy of the industry but also the towns and cities to which I have referred are largely dependent upon it.
In my own area of Wide Bay there are two large foundries which manufacture most of the sugar milling machinery used throughout Australia, and they manufacture also for export. In addition, in Bundaberg we have what could be termed the headquarters of the machine harvester industry. Machine harvesters manufactured in that area are marketed not only in Australia but also in other countries. The people who are employed by these manufacturers and in the foundries are also dependent on the economy of the sugar industry. Unless there is a sharp rise in the world price for sugar they face a very serious problem. I would point out that over the years the sugar industry has endeavoured to adopt the latest techniques. It has improved milling methods in order to increase the quantity of sugar extracted from each ton of cane and it has adopted improved farming methods to increase the production of cane per acre. The thirty-one Queensland mills have undertaken considerable capital expenditure since 1961 to improve their crushing rate from 118.25 tons of cane an hour in 1961 to 184.95 tons a 1966. Again, whereas in the 5 years between 1948 and 1952 field productivity was 3.24 tons of sugar per acre it had increased to an average of 4.05 tons in the 4-year period from 1963 to 1966. Honourable members will appreciate from those figures that the industry has done much to help itself by the introduction of improved varieties of cane, better methods of farming and improved milling techniques.
The Bill before us relates only to No. 1 pool sugar which is the sugar required for domestic consumption. It makes provision for a guaranteed price for sugar sold in tha capital cities of Australia and the city of Launceston and here I wish to deal with the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Dawson.
– Come on, liven it up.
– It is a long story and a sweet one. As a Queenslander, the honourable member for Griffith should be very interested in this because here we are considering those people who live in parts of Queensland other than Brisbane. Fortunately, Queensland is not like the other States in that more than half of the population of the State live in areas outside the capital city. In that State there is some degree of decentralisation, and the sugar industry is responsible for a great deal of it. The amendment suggested by the honourable member for Dawson proposes that, in order to end the discrimination against consumers located in central and north Queensland, because of the geographical location of Brisbane in the extreme south east corner of the State, the seaborne towns of Rockhampton and Townsville be included in the base price system applying to Australian capital cities as well as Launceston. If the measure applied only to Australian capital cities, that would be an end of the matter. But Launceston has been included, and this alters the position.
There is in fact a difference in price as between the capital city and other areas. On 8th August, the price of sugar was lc a pound dearer in Bundaberg, where the sugar is grown and refined, than it was in Brisbane. Further north, we find that the price is higher at Cairns than it is at Darwin. The cost of transporting the sugar to the capital cities is borne by the industry. I would point out, however, that this is an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland whereby Queensland acquires the whole of the sugar crop produced in both Queensland and New South Wales and arranges for its marketing. We submit, therefore, that the cost of transport should be borne by the State, not by the cane growers. For this reason we have proposed in the amendment that the costs of any additional freights should be borne by the Queensland Government and not by the industry.
The Labor Party is not alone in its thinking on this matter. The Queensland Cham ber of Manufactures supports our point of view. In fact, it goes even further than does the honourable member for Dawson who suggests that Rockhampton should be the port for central and central western Queensland and that Townsville should be the port for north and north western Queensland. The Queensland Chamber of Manufactures has suggested that capital city or centre prices for sugar should obtain at the ports of Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns. Not a very large proportion of the domestic market of sugar would be involved if that suggestion were adopted.
I pointed out a while ago that something like 650,000 tons of sugar was consumed on the home market. Of this amount, about 12,000 tons would be consumed in the area from Rockhampton north. All of this sugar would be refined at the Millaquin Sugar Company’s refinery, which is alongside its raw sugar mill at Bundaberg. The Bundaberg refinery would refine, and package, in various sized bags from 2 ib upwards all the sugar required at the various centres north of Rockhampton. Th; total amount of sugar involved here would be about 12,000 tons, which represents a very small proportion of the total amount of No. 1 pool sugar, which is about 650,000 tons. Our amendment suggests that Rockhampton and Townsville should be included in the base price system.
Clause 10 of the proposed agreement provides that the State of Queensland shall, on behalf of the Australian sugar cane industry, accept responsibility for any loss arising from the exportation of surplus cane sugar from Australia. We have proposed in our amendment that this clause be deleted as it is meaningless unless specifically defined particularly as substantial losses are currently being incurred by sections of the sugar industry due to the low price on the world free market. We are now selling sugar overseas at less than the cost of production. We therefore believe that, unless there is some special reason about which we have not been told, clause 10 should be deleted from the Bill.
As I. said before, we support the measure but submit that the Government should accept the minor amendments that we have suggested and which have no effect whatsoever on the agreement other than to place some responsibility on the Queensland
Government. Speaking of responsibility, 1 should like to emphasise that if a wheat grower, a dairy farmer or a cattle raiser cares to work a given acreage, that is his own responsibility. If he increases his production, he does so voluntarily and takes the risk that prices may be low when he markets his products. If the market is high, he wins the gamble; if it is down, he loses. The sugar industry is in a different position in that both the cane growers and the millers are under an obligation to produce a certain quantity of sugar. When expansion was suggested some growers were reluctant to participate in expanded production because they remembered what happened in 1960 when the bottom fell out of the market and they were left with half their crop standing in the field. Growers who had this fact in mind did not want to go in for expansion. This applied particularly to growers in the Maryborough mill area, where there were no new assignments whatever. Some growers in that area did not want to participate in the expansion. Other growers agreed to accept increased assignments. The point is that a certain tonnage of sugar had to be produced, and if these growers had said that they did not want to participate in this expansion other growers would have accepted increased assignments. In other words, if growers in one mill area had not accepted increased assignments growers in another mill area would have done so. These growers had an obligation to produce sugar. It was a matter of their participating in the expansion and accepting responsibility to the industry.
The same position applied to millers. I point out that 40% of sugar mills are cooperatively owned. That means that they are owned by the growers themselves. The growers had to find the money with which to provide additional milling equipment. They provided this money knowing full well that there might be certain risks in doing so. But they knew that if they did not do it, some other mill area would do it. As I have indicated, the growers were obliged to produce the sugar. It is only right and proper that the Commonwealth should come to their aid by granting an increase in the price which they will receive for their sugar. The effect of this legislation will be that this year the growers will receive approximately $86 per ton. This is getting very close to cost of production. In fact, at one of their meetings growers stated that $86 per ton is getting back to the 19S1 level. There would not be too many wage earners who would be prepared to accept wages that obtained in 1951.
The money provided under this legislation in no way represents a gift to the industry. The loan of $20m last year, which meant an increase of $8.56 per ton for No. 1 pool sugar, and the loan of $ 10m that is being provided this year will have to be repaid by the industry. We support this measure because it will give some relief to the growers. The people associated with the industry did not make this request for assistance very lightly. They are well aware of the competition they are receiving from synthetic sweeteners; they know the extent to which synthetic sweeteners are being used. They have endeavoured to keep down the cost of sugar to their largest consumers, such as breweries and fruit processors, by selling and delivering sugar to them in bulk. The growers have absorbed costs as much as possible in order to compete with artificial sweeteners and to maintain an increasing rate of consumption of sugar in Australia.
The sugar industry is very important to Queensland. As I have already said, to a large extent it is responsible for decentralisation in that State. It has allowed a greater number of farmers to be concentrated in a given area of land. No other industry would allow such concentration. We have moved an amendment which, as I have said, in no way affects the principles contained in the Bill. We believe that the amendment, if accepted, would bring some measure of justice to the people in northern Queensland. I support the measure and ask the House to support the amendment which we have proposed.
– I am afraid that I cannot approach this Bill with the same degree of interest as did the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen). He said that there is a long story to be told and that it is a sweet one. All I can say from the point of view of Tasmanian industry is that it might be a long story but it is rather inclined to bc one of bitter gall. I am speaking from the point of view of industries in Tasmania but to a lesser degree in Victoria that are vitally affected by any increase in the price of sugar. The Bill proposes simply to extend for 1 year the only form of agreement which has been in operation and which has not been altered substantially since 1923. I suggest that if the purpose of this legislation is simply to extend for 1 year the operation of the 1962 sugar agreement - the extension for 1 year presupposes a change in either the agreement or its effect on allied industries - it would appear to me to be a matter for sincere regret that it happens to be accompanied at this stage by a substantial rise in the price of sugar.
I believe that the time is long overdue when a thorough investigation should be made of the effect increases in the price of sugar have upon the fruit canning, pulping, jam and fruit syrup industries of the Commonwealth. At least these industries should receive the same sympathetic consideration following investigation into their economic position, which we understand has taken place, as is being given to the sugar industry. Sugar accounts for up to 50% of the costs of the jam manufacturing industry. It could be even higher than that. If the fruit industry is forced to use the product of an Australian industry which can have the whole of its economic structure protected, it is entitled to have some form of investigation made into its position whenever sugar prices’ are increased.
The only recourse that the fruit industry has is to throw itself upon the generosity of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, which must take into account the quantity of fruit grown or which is likely to be grown in the various areas in any one season, the stocks on hand and the market prospects, together with other considerations. The Committee then proceeds to fix the minimum prices which will be paid by the processor to the grower of small or stone fruit. The processor may qualify for a rebate if the prices so fixed are paid by him. The processor also has the opportunity to pay further depressed prices by forfeiting the right to receive the rebate. The one objection I have to the position which has applied in the past is that, whilst the price of sugar has fluctuated considerably, the domestic rebate has changed very little.
For instance, in December 1932, when the price of sugar was £36 lis 9d per ton, the rebate stood at £6 5s id per ton. In January 1933 the price of sugar dropped to £32 10s per ton and the rebate dropped to £2 4s per ton. From 1932 until 1960 sugar prices varied from the lowest price of £32 10s per ton to as high as £80 per ton. But from 1933 to 1960 the rebate stood at £2 4s per ton. As a direct result of the price fluctuations for sugar, the cost per dozen 24 oz cans of jam fluctuated by between 3s 2d and 8s. From 1960 the domestic rebate has remained at £5 per ton. Today this figure is £1 5s Id less than that which applied prior to 1932. The honourable member for Wide Bay asked a few minutes ago whether we would like to go back to the wages that were paid prior to 1951. The fruit industry has had to go back to a rebate that is £1 5s Id less than applied in the early 1930’s. This appears to have been the history of sugar agreements over the years and the position today is completely unaltered except that the voice of the fruit industry is becoming weaker and weaker as it attempts to face up to an unequal struggle.
The sugar industry receives the protection of the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments and the production of sugar has increased. Census figures show that the position of the fruit industry - particularly the berry fruit industry - has been deteriorating alarmingly. In 1960-61 Tasmania’s share of Australia’s jam exports was 1,623,308 lb. By 1966-67 it had dropped to 512,544 lb. The partnership between the sugar and fruit industries should be beneficial to both parties. A reduction in the use of small fruit for jam making brings about a corresponding reduction in the use of sugar, and so the sugar industry loses to an extent equal to the loss of the fruit industry. In fact this large internal market may be lost forever to the sugar industry. Means ought to be devised to overcome this problem.
An increase in the price of sugar probably has a more detrimental effect on Tasmania than on any other State, because a much higher proportion of berry fruits production than stone fruits production is used for canning. Of course, the sugar content of jam is much higher than that of canned fruits. My study of the Hansard reports of speeches made over the years on the subject of the sugar industry has led me to believe that that industry is in a unique situation. We hear the argument that the sugar industry is one of the few industries which subsidises another primary industry; that is, the berry fruit industry. This seems to me to be rather strange logic. Perhaps it could be likened to a modern constitutional version of the story of Robin Hood in a socialised society. The honourable member for Wide Bay had no hesitation in saying that the sugar industry is indeed socialised. The Australian public pays more for sugar because of a price fixed by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments in agreement. From this enhanced figure a small amount of the profit thus made is rebated to some of the large bulk buyers. A rebate for bulk buying is not unusual in many fields of Australian commerce today. It is rather interesting that a rebate applies to some of the bulk buyers who use the grades of sugar enumerated in the Sugar Agreement. Only two grades of sugar are mentioned in the Agreement. In respect of other classifications of sugar the bulk users have a right to negotiate the price directly with the sugar industry. One may well be entitled to ask why the fruit industry is singled out for different treatment. The fruit industry considers that treatment to be discriminatory, but the sugar industry maintains that the fruit industry receives no more and no less than a gratuitous handout.
The proposed increase in the price of sugar does not affect brewing interests. I think I could be excused for asking why that is so. I understand that the brewing interests are not affected because an alternative ingredient - glucose obtained from wheat - may be used as a substitute for sugar in the production of beer. Perhaps it is also a cheaper ingredient.
– Who told the honourable member that?
– I was told that on very good authority - one of the authorities who frequently collaborate with the Minister and his departmental officers. I do not think he will mind my saying that he is the chairman of a board which is interested in fixing the price of small fruit. He also represents the sugar industry.
– He was pulling the honourable member’s leg.
– If that is so he succeeded; but I am gaining more success in the bites I am getting from members of the Opposition now. They indicate that I am very close to the point. I have carefully studied the Hansard record of debates on the sugar agreements which have come before this Parliament for ratification time and time again and it seems to me that regardless of the political colour of the person who has represented the electorate I now have the honour to represent he has spoken in terms similar to those in which I am now speaking.
– The honourable member will not represent the electorate for very long.
– I hope I do not remain in this Parliament until I look as old as the honourable gentleman who is interjecting. At no time has it been suggested that the fruit industry objects to the receipt by sugar farmers of a reasonable price for their product.
– The honourable member could have fooled me by what he has been saying.
-That may be so but if the honourable member will listen to me a little longer perhaps he will see the point I am getting at. He is renowned for fighting for the interests of the people he represents. I hope he does not deny me an equal opportunity.
– But the honourable member-
– Order! The honourable member for Moore will cease interjecting.
– I speak for the people in my electorate. It is only reasonable that every producer, irrespective of his field of production, is entitled to a reasonable return for his labours. I think most honourable members who represent rural industries and and other primary producing interests would agree with that proposition.
– That is not what the honourable member says about the basic wage.
– I am referring to people who do not receive the basic wage. The fruit industry seeks the same consideration as is given to other industries; the same sympathetic ear when it comes to an assessment of costs of production over which they have no control. I am making on their behalf what I believe to be a reasonable request. The Hansard record of debates and Press cuttings show that deputations have periodically waited upon the Minister for Primary Industry to put a case for the fruit industry. Honourable members of this Parliament have appealed to the Minister on behalf of the people in the fruit industry who have suffered over the years because of increased costs of sugar. One such deputation met the Minister in 1960. At that time a very interesting editorial appeared in a leading Tasmanian newspaper. The cutting I have is now a little sear and yellow, but the arguments in the editorial are precisely as valid now, 7 years later, as they were when the editorial was written. I believe that the article succinctly covers the situation we are discussing at present. It appeared on 7th April 1960, and it stated:
It goes without saying that if the price of sugar is increased - as seems very likely - there should he a corresponding rise in the rebate allowed to fruit processors. Otherwise new difficulties will be piled on an industry which is handicapped already.
But the problem goes deeper, because it is contended, in the case of the Tasmanian berry fruits industry, that the rebate is too low. The evidence is the estimated drop of about 50% in acreage iri recent years.
Sugar is a rigid cost factor in jam-making. The Australian jam exporter has to compete with an oversea product containing sugar purchased at a much lower price than that available to the Australian manufacturer, even with the rebate. So the processor has to cut his costs somewhere else- in the price paid to the grower.
That is the position today. The editorial continued -
If the Queensland sugar grower has a good case for a higher price because of wage rises and other costs, it may be assumed that the Tasmanian berry grower has a similar claim to a better price for his fruit. In practice the former is likely to benefit, indirectly, at the expense of the latter.
It should be possible to vary the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement sufficiently to protect the berry grower and jam-maker, without imposing an unreasonable burden on anybody else.
– He has been given a concession.
– Yes, he has been given a concession but it is nothing like the concession that he would get if he were able to purchase his sugar at world parity prices. We know that it has been true over the years-
– Do you think-
-Order! The honourable member for Cowper will cease interjecting. He has already spoken in the debate and he has been continually interjecting.
– Only once before.
– Order! The honourable member for Cowper will cease interjecting.
– 1 think that this editorial which appeared in the Press 7 years ago is just as true today as it was at the time that it was written. It is a cogent argument which very succinctly sums up the feelings of all the sections of the industry in the State which I represent. There was another deputation, of course, which waited earlier this year on the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann) who was then Minister for Primary Industry. We waited on him for the purpose of saying if the price of sugar does in fact increase these are some of the offshoots and the problems that will be incurred by the berry industry in Tasmania. Let me hasten to add that I do not want to call upon the sympathy of honourable members present, but many of these people were some of the hardest hit sufferers in the recent bushfires in Tasmania.
It is a great pity that at the time they were persuaded to go back into production and to replant their holdings, which were burnt out and decimated by fire, they were not told that they would possibly be confronted with a $25.60 increase per ton in the price of sugar because none of them would have taken the trouble to have replanted. Perhaps this would have been one of the kindest attitudes the Government could have adopted. At the deputation we were told that the matter could only be resolved by the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. To my mind, this is not good enough. But there is an additional complaint by the fruitgrowers. That is that the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee has not even now met for the purpose of deciding what the price of berry fruits will be for the coming year and the grower has in good faith worked his plantations and his holdings. He now has the crop on the trees. In 6 weeks time it will be harvested and he still does not know how much he is to get for his labour for the year. To my mind this must be altered and it explains the reason why we have such a tremendous reduction in the production of berry fruits and a drop off in a reliable and regular market for the benefit of the sugar industry. This is something that should not be laughed at by honourable members representing the sugar interests because here is a large and, we hope, a lasting market.
I may be considered to be drawing a long bow from the point of view of the industry which is strongly represented in my electorate. In case any honourable members may consider that I am doing this and in case they may be of the opinion that the industry itself has not taken the precautions and actions that it ought to have taken in its own interest when there was the threat of the price of sugar increasing, perhaps I can convince honourable members by reading quotations from some of these responsible people. The first quotation is from a telegram. 1 hope that the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) who spoke earlier will listen to some of these because they speak for themselves. In May, when it was suggested that the price of sugar may be increased, a telegram was sent jointly from the Stone and Berry Fruits Board of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Fruit Processors’ Association in the following terms:
Meeting representing all berry fruitgrowers and fruit processing firms this State seriously alarmed suggestion that there may be increase in the price of sugar for fruit processing and ask that you take all possible steps to protect our industry against any such increase. As you know the berry fruit industry has been in serious difficulty in finding sufficient payable markets Australia for processed fruit products and particularly jam production and requests decrease of present sugar price foi this purpose. Following disastrous fires in Tasmania growers now are rebuilding and replanting and require utmost assistance for creation of stable market for berry fruit production. Almost all berries are processed for jam purposes using equal quantity of sugar and any increase sugar price must seriously affect the livelihood of berry growers in our State. We earnestly ask your assurance no increase in cost of sugar for fruit processing. We respectfully ask your help and protection to our industry.
That is a reasonable request which received the following answer:
Thanks your telegram 25th regarding possible increase in sugar price. If this question arises will ensure your position is taken fully into account before any decision made.
It was taken into account, and this telegram was followed by a letter which was written by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony), who was acting in the portfolio, to the general secretary of the Australian Canners Association in the following terms:
I refer to your letter of 27th June to Mr Adermann requesting that the rate of the domestic sugar rebate be increased by $25.60 to $35.60 per ton to compensate for the recent increase in the price of sugar. The domestic sugar rebate and the price of sugar are established under the Commonwealth Queensland Sugar Agreement and so are not matters subject to control by the Commonwealth alone.
The Commonwealth’s decision to agree to an increase in the price of sugar was taken only after a very close examination of a fully-detailed case submitted by the sugar industry through the Queensland Government and of all relevant circumstances. 1 may say that full account was taken of the representations made by your Association on 20th April. However it was decided that the increase was appropriate in all the circumstances.
The Commonwealth is very sympathetic towards your Association’s members in the difficulties confronting them. However, any relief which they could be given through an increase in the rate of the domestic sugar rebate would impose a heavy additional burden on the sugar industry. For this reason the Commonwealth is unable to recommend to the Queensland Government that the rate of the domestic sugar rebate be increased.
It is all right to get sympathy but men, women and families cannot eat it. They need bread and butter for an occasional change. These people in Tasmania are as entitled to this benefit as is the sugar industry, which has been protected over the years in Queensland. Prior to these telegrams and letters being sent, a fully documented case was sent to the Minister by the canners and She growers of Victoria. I should like to have had this incorporated in Hansard because time will not permit mc to quote extensively from the letter. However, there are at least two passages that are relevant and which I hope to be able to quote in a few moments. But for the moment T want to continue with the telegrams that have been sent to the Minister in the hope that some justice may have been given to another Australian industry. I refer again to telegrams which were sent to the Minister in the following terms:
Reference our telegram 22nd May to you and your reply to us meeting all berry fruit interests this State staggered newspaper report increase price of sugar. Respectfully point out this would cost industry this State about $40,000 and would kill the Tasmanian berry fruit industry when growers in middle of replanting following bushfires. Contrary to newspaper report that 15% increase was consistent with increase food prices jam with large sugar content increased on.’y 7% average since 1962. Impossible our industry exist let alone progress under sugar increase ask your urgent help in seeing sugar available at $166 to our industry by rebate or other means to enable berry fruit industry to survive.
The sympathetic answer to that telegram was as follows:
Reference your telegram dated twentieth June. Am appreciative that increased sugar prices will have an inplication for economics your industry but must emphasise that decision to increase sugar price was taken only after close and careful consideration of all relevant factors. Under circumstances am unable to assist you in your request that sugar be made available your industry at concessional prices.
– Who said that?
– This was sent by the Minister for Primary Industry.
– The previous one.
– The previous one. There have been three Ministers involved in these approaches which have been made from time to time. Time does not permit me to mention to whom each approach was made. This was the decision that was reached. That is the main point. Now we come to this very well documented letter in which it has been pointed out that every lc increase in the cost of sugar would have a detrimental effect on the price of canned fruits and jams throughout Australia. I will quote the two passages of this letter that are relevant and important. Under the heading of ‘Sugar Rebates’ these people made a very trite and proper statement in the following terms:
Over the years the Fruit Industry has had a reasonably happy relationship with the Sugar Industry, and it acknowledges that, through the rebate system the sugar industry has been of assistance, particularly in the export field.
This, of course, is the export rebate, not the domestic rebate. The letter continues:
On the other hand the fruit processors have been of assistance to the sugar industry by providing a sure market for a valuable tonnage of sugar. The plain facts are that the fruit industry would be unable to maintain even its present position without the rebate system, and any deterioration in the fruit industry as a result of sugar pricing policies will ultimately have its repercussion in Australian sugar sales.
To those who want to interject let me say that maybe the Australian public, helpful as it is, will be prepared to see another $35m poured into the sugar industry, but this will never get my support while I am in this chamber, nor will such an unsympathetic attitude by those who do not have any concern for the welfare of the interests of other industries. Another quotation from the same letter reads:
We acknowledge and sympathise with the sugar industry in its problems, but we believe that a transference of any part of the financial difficulties of one primary industry to another primary industry will not, even in the short run, help the overall position of either.
The letter goes on to ask that some sympathetic consideration he given and that is precisely what I ask the Minister to give. Having related from my own personal experience what has happened and what has been the history of this industry over the years, beset with these constant problems that the fictitious prices of sugar have created in Tasmania and which have had such a detrimental effect on the fruit industry of Australia, I believe that the time has come when a proper and more reasonable approach should be made.
I have called the attention of the House to this matter as the member representing the Franklin electorate. It has been done before, no doubt far better than I have managed to do it tonight. This is an industry which, in my opinion, is worth protecting and I think that we should be able between us to find a solution that lies somewhere between the justice that is given to the sugar industry on the one hand and the injustices that occur to the food industry on the other hand. I urge the Minister to set up a departmental and industry inquiry into the whole of the problems associated with sugar and the domestic rebate and that he do so as a matter of urgency. I hope that such a committee could make an immediate investigation and, should it be established that this sugar price increase will detrimentally affect the industry, the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee should then be given sufficient funds to allow it to give a domestic rebate that is in keeping with the price that applied last year.
This surely is not an unreasonable request to make on behalf of the sugar industry. Tt would afford us a breathing spell and the Minister, as a” new Minister in charge of this portfolio, keen to do what he can, I am sure, for every primary industry, would have an opportunity to set up in the new year a full scale inquiry which would be able to take all of these matters into account. 1 believe that this inquiry should, by predetermining the position, be able to establish a formula for the domestic rebate which in the years to come will be directly related to any fluctuations in the price of sugar itself.
This, as I see it, is the only solution that can be found for the welfare of the fruit industry, which provides a large market for the sugar production of Queensland. I would hope that honourable members would see this industry as a ready and large market. If it is killed, as it will be killed surely if this situation is allowed to prevail; the Queensland sugar industry itself will suffer together with another primary industry in the State of Tasmania. I am sure that the Queensland sugar industry does not want to see a situation such as this develop. We do not want to see more people driven off the land in our State. This is a marriage and a partnership between two considerable industries in Tasmania and one should not go to the wall for the sake of the protection that becomes necessary for the other. Thus I argue the case strongly on behalf of the berry industry. It has been argued over the years but as yet a successful solution to the problem has not been found. The honourable member for Wide Bay mentioned the meteoric rise in sugar production. There is also, unfortunately, an equally meteoric drop in fruit production in Australia. Are we prepared to go along content with subsidising under a socialistic system one industry while we murder another one?
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) and ably supported by the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen). I also congratulate the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Pearsall). I do not blame him for sticking up for an industry in his State. Tasmania is not the only State, nor is his electorate the only electorate, that produces canned fruits. After all, Queensland, too, produces and cans fruit. The honourable member for Franklin is flying off the handle about the assistance given to this wonderful industry, the sugar industry, which is good not only for Queensland but also for Australia from an export point of view. He refers to pouring 535m into the industry. This is not so. The amount provided is a loan and it has to be paid back with interest. The Government has realised that the industry as a whole will in the future be able to repay it. Whether the fruit industry could afford to take a loan of this magnitude and repay it with interest is another thing. I do not blame the honourable member for putting forward his case. He did so ably and I hope that I will be able to do the same for the sugar industry.
I listened to the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) with interest, particularly as he is a member of the Australian Country Party who comes from a sugar growing area. I hoped that he would contribute some constructive opinions on the clauses of the Bill, but in his usual style he made a personal attack on the honourable member for Dawson. I do not know why honourable members opposite have such an obsession about the honourable member for Dawson. He seems to be a chopping block, particularly for some of the Country Party fellows, but I can tell them that the honourable member for Dawson has contributed greatly to the debates in this House and in the future he will do a lot more - probably more than the honourable member for Cowper will do. I do not think that the honourable member for Cowper understands the meaning of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson, which seeks to protect the cane farmer and the miller and to make satisfactory prices applicable to consumers, including manufacturers who use sugar.
– And soft drink manufacturers.
– And soft drink manufacturers, as the honourable member for Wide Bay reminds me. Apparently the honourable member for Cowper, who comes from New South Wales, fully supports the Queensland Government’s policy of fleecing and exploiting primary producers and consumers in rural areas outside Brisbane. Is this the contempt which a member of the Country Party has for the cane farmer? It is little wonder that the cane farmer, in Queensland in particular, is just fed up with the ineffectiveness of Country Party members and their lack of sympathy towards the sugar industry.
Having dealt with two Government supporters who spoke on this matter, I should like to have some clarification on two questions. First, who sets the world price of sugar? Is it a tribunal, is it a commission or is the price just set by supply and demand? If it is set by supply and demand, why has not the price of sugar risen? The worst years of the sugar industry were from 1964 to 1965, when production was 67 million tons and consumption was only 60 million tons. Honourable members can realise the effect that would have on the price. However, in 1965-66 63.2 million tons was produced and 63.6 millions tons was consumed. I do not know how this comes about. But what has happened to the prices? Why have they fallen? Again, in 1966-67, 65.5 million tons of sugar was produced and 65.7 million tons was consumed. How does this situation arise? Does the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd. or its stooges in England or somewhere overseas set the market price? Why do farmers have to produce cane for a return below the production cost? Surely the consumption of sugar must be going up. The population of the world is increasing daily, and we should be able to assume that consumption would increase.
The honourable member for Cowper said that new growers in his area are quite satisfied, that they can obtain money and have no problems. I do not know whether this is true or not, but I can assure him that the new growers in the sugar industry have had to pay dearly for their land. These are the farmers who were encouraged into the sugar industry by the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government in order to increase the production of sugar in Queensland. Honourable members may recall that at that time a tremendous amount of money was being paid for sugar. The honourable member for Franklin pleaded for his farmers, and I wish to do the same for the sugar farmers. They are at present greatly handicapped by lack of finance. All the new growers who had to pay a tremendous price for their land put their life savings into the industry. They were people who understood canegrowing and understood the industry. They had faith in the industry. They were encouraged by the governments of the day to go into the sugar industry. What does this Government now expect them to do? Walk off their properties and throw away their life savings? These farmers are trying to hold on by taking other jobs until the price of sugar rises. If this type of producer in Australia does not need encouragement. I do not know who does.
The banks will not loan the farmer money because they say that his equity is already taken up. This may be so at the present time. However, these farmers can be fostered along the way by a helping hand. Although the sugar price to the consumer will not greatly affect the cane farmer in his present situation, and the $35m loan, incidentally, will not directly help him, at least some of this money may come back to help him. Perhaps some sympathetic understanding will be given to the new grower who may have for instance, 1,000 or 2,000 acres of assigned land. He must grow cane knowing full well that he is not going to get back the cost of his labour, let alone the production cost of the cane. He is not allowed to grow anything else. Why cannot he be encouraged by allowing him to grow some other product on half of his assigned area? For instance, he could grow vegetables or some other product from which he could gain a profit. He could use half of his assignment to grow for the mills, although the mills may say that they geared to take a certain amount of cane and that the farmer must grow his assignment or they will not be able to meet their production figures. But if the farmer is not going to get the right price for his cane, why should he go to the trouble of producing it?
Once these farmers get help, however, and if they are encouraged by the people concerned, whether it be the Central Sugar Cane Prices Board or the Queensland Sugar Board, and can obtain a release from their assignments for a short period, the sugar industry will recover. I have always said this. Probably it will take 5 years, but no doubt the industry will recover. The sugar industry, particularly in Queensland, has always been known as a very efficient industry. The industry has been managed well and has kept up with the times. Overseas interests concerned with sugar have sent representatives to Australia, to Queensland in particular, to look at the management of the sugar industry. They have also looked at the processing side of the industry. These people have been astonished by the strides that have been made by this industry, not only on the growing side but also on the processing side.
The expansion which has taken place in the sugar industry is costing the mills millions of dollars for renovations. The standards of the mills can be classed as the highest in the world. They are also keeping up with the latest harvesting methods. I believe that 48.5% of cane in Queensland at present is being cut by harvesters. No doubt the harvester itself is being improved every year. The industry will get over some of the difficulties that beset it at present in regard to cane that has been blown down or twisted by cyclones. This presents a problem at present, but no doubt it will be overcome shortly. As I said before, the $35m is not a grant to the industry. It has to be paid back with interest. The interest is not a slight amount - it represents a big sum of money that the industry will have to pay to the Government in a certain time. There will be no interest payable until 1970, but this is not going to assist the industry much, because the interest is going to start from that date, and the industry cannot overcome its difficulties in a couple of years. It will take 5 years at least before the farmers start to recover, and then they will have to carry on with the repayment of this capital and the payment of interest.
As the honourable member for Wide Bay has said, the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson is supported by the Chamber of Manufactures and soft drink manufacturers. Why is it that two points in Tasmania are classified as base points and yet every other State has only one point? The honourable member for Dawson showed how Brisbane’s geographical situation affected the position in central and northern Queensland. Queensland is a big State. The main provincial centres of population are Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns. I point out that Cairns is 1,000 miles from the capital city of Queensland. I go along some way with the manufacturers that there should be base points. However, I believe we cannot go the full distance with them. I agree with the honourable member for
Dawson that Rockhampton and Townsville should be base points. Of course, I would also like Cairns, which is in my electorate, included in this. Rockhampton is the central point for the western and central areas and Townsville for the north. If these three points were adopted consumers in those areas would be better off. The honourable member for Cowper or some other honourable member said: What about the Brisbane area? It was suggested that Brisbane would be the best centre because it has the biggest population. I suggest that this does not make any difference. The costs will be the same in the other points as Brisbane, but the other suggestion would give the people in the north of Queensland, where the cane is produced, a chance to obtain sugar at a reasonable price. The worst area in my electorate to be hit is Thursday Island, because people there have to pay air freight from Cairns plus road or rail freight from Brisbane to Cairns. So Rockhampton and Townsville should be base points because of distance and population in these areas. I hope that members of the Government parties will take note of this proposed amendment and extend the base price system to two points in Queensland. I do not know how two points came to be established in Tasmania but the precedent has been set and if there are two base points in one State why can there not be two or even three in another State? Neither the grower nor the miller will be adversely affected. Instead, the consumers - here I refer not only to individuals or families but also to manufacturers who use this sweet product - will be assisted. They are the people who are supporting this amendment. This is not a political matter by any means.
– The proposal will decentralise industry.
– That is right. In addition, the price of sugar will be more reasonable, not only in the coastal areas but in the western districts as well. Normanton is 504 miles from Cairns and Thursday Island is a further 454 miles north from Cairns, so the distance the product has to be carried is obvious.
– What about Mount Isa?
– Mount Isa is another centre. The people in those places have to pay freight on the sugar they receive. The growers do not receive anything out of the freight component; the Queensland Railways get it all.
The honourable member for Dawson pointed out- I will repeat it- that the railway system in Queensland is divided into three divisions, the Southern Division, the Central Division and the Northern Division. The Central and Northern Divisions have always shown a profit; the Southern Division has always shown a loss. The profit earned by the Central and Northern Divisions almost equalises the loss in the Southern Division. Is this not an occasion when the Queensland Government should come to the rescue of the sugar industry? After all, the industry belongs to the State. Why does not the Government bear the rail freights to the other centres? Let me digress for a moment. It is strange that although the Central and Northern Divisions of the Queensland Railways are showing a profit the State Government is ripping up some of the lines in those areas. If that is the kind of sympathy we can expect from the Queensland Government, then it is no wonder that the cane farmers look for very little assistance.
– When the debate on this BUI commenced I had not intended to participate in it. Quite frankly, I am not an expert on the sugar industry as are the honourable members for Cowper (Mr Robinson) and Leichhardt (Mr Fulton), but I should like to say a few words in a friendly and non controversial manner about the amendment which has been proposed by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). The amendment, especially the second clause, is intriguing. I shall read it to the House and then point to where its implications lead us in terms of social and political philosophy and the economics of a railway system. The relevant part of the proposed amendment reads: this House is of opinion that the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967 should be amended to provide that -
So the Opposition says - excessive freight rate in central and north Queensland.
– Why have they risen over the past few years?
– We will look at freights in a moment. The implications of that proposed amendment deserve to be explored and I intend to do so because in many ways this is the central theme of the case which has been proposed by the Opposition, and certainly of the case which has been proposed by my good friends the honourable members of Leichhardt and Wide Bay (Mr Hansen). We are interested in the area in which these additional costs will fall. It is agreed in the amendment that there will be additional freights. Of course the Opposition dismisses the additional costs by saying: ‘Yes, but the Central and Northern Divisions make a profit’. As was pointed out by the Western Australian Railway Commission in 1966, any railway commissioner in Australia knows that costs in relation to sections of railway systems cannot be apportioned in any precise way.
There are certain areas where costs cannot be divided. An attempt has been made to divide administration costs. The accountants who are responsible for doing this kind of work know that no attempt has been made to divide costs in relation to central yards of a railway system. I have in mind the central yards at Roma Street and Mayne Junction in Brisbane. No railway system in Australia attempts to divide its functions into areas because it knows that cannot be done in an accounting sense or in an economic sense. But what can be done is this: One can look at the profitability of a railway system in terms of the commodities that are carried. If a railway system is doing rather well overall because certain commodities are very profitable, it is worth while looking at those commodities. We have in mind the long haul of wool, livestock, minerals, coal and so on. If one introduces a system which proposes a reduction in revenue or an increase in expenditure on a section of a railway system which appears to be profitable, one merely increases costs on the commodities which make those sections profitable. That is commonsense. If additional freights have to be borne and if additional expenditure is pressed on a railway system - this has been done - that additional expenditure will fall on those four commodity groups I have mentioned.
I can imagine why the Opposition would not worry about that aspect. After all, the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) and the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) whose electorates adjoin are more concerned about wool and livestock than they are about sugar. The areas they represent are not basically sugar areas. The proposal advanced by the Opposition is this: ‘Let us press the costs on to those commodities which enable the overall railway system to be profitable’. It is worth while examining that proposal in further detail. I do not know whether the Opposition has advanced this proposal in ignorance. If it has, we will give it an opportunity to withdraw the amendment. I think it has been introduced mistakenly.
There is another question. Why has the Opposition chosen to penalise the railway system? Why has it not chosen some of the other transportation systems in this part of Australia? An analysis of the transportation of sugar shows that the railway system is responsible for less than half of the total sugar transportation task over the four basic sugar movements - from the farm to the mill, from the mill to the port, from the port to the refinery and from the refinery to the consumer - and in only one of those four sections do we find the railway system, which members of the Opposition would penalise, responsible for the major part of sugar transportation costs. So the road operators and the ship operators will go scot-free under the amendment proposed by the Opposition. I find this a fantastic proposition from the point of view of a fair pricing system, and
I think I should try to induce those honourable members who have proposed this amendment to realise that if they hit one transportation system, the railways, they should hit the road operators and the shipping operators as well.
I could understand this kind of amendment emanating from people in a party, who may not have been aware of the necessity for fairness as between pricing systems and who may not have been aware of the economics of transportation systems. Let us have a look at the shipping operators who will receive a proportionate advantage from the penalisation of the railway system. Who are they? First there is the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd, with its own ships. There is the Australian National Line, Associated Steamships Pty Ltd, Howard Smith Industries Pty Ltd. These people transport nearly half a million tons of this commodity each year, but no proposal is made in this amendment to cosh these operators. The proposal is only to hit the railway systems - and this is an amendment proposed by a Socialist party. Let us also introduce an element of fairness in dealing with some of the big road operators, who I understand are not completely dissociated from what is known as the Liberal Reform Group, which has a policy similar to that of honourable members opposite. Why does not the Opposition make some suggestions about the freight rates charged by the big road operators - freight rates which are not made public? I cannot understand why the Opposition proposes an amendment which contradicts all the principles which it professes to stand by.
I can get some slight idea of how this amendment came to be proposed when I consider the honourable member who introduced it on behalf of the Opposition. He has not, after all, had a very long history in his Party. In fact he has had a very short history, and he may not understand fully the Socialist tradition of the Party to which he came rather late in life. But that is a matter for him. I hope that he will reconsider the matter, in consultation with the old hands of his Party, so that they may decide whether they should adhere to the proposition that the railway systems should be penalised while the private operators go scot-free. Let us see whether all the other members of the Opposition would say: ‘Let the shipping companies go free and let the road operators go free while we hit the government transportation system*. I remind the House again that the railway system is responsible for only a minor part of the total transportation requirements of the Queensland sugar industry.
It had not been my intention, when this Bill was first introduced, to join in the debate, because I admit frankly that I am most inexpert in matters connected with the sugar industry. On the other hand, however, I think we should show a sense of fairness as between the different methods of transportation, and if either a State method of transportation or a private method is to be hit unfairly 1 will speak out, as I have spoken out on this occasion. I urge honourable members opposite to reconsider paragraph (b) of their amendment and to give serious consideration to withdrawing it. The philosophy into which they have been drawn by the honourable member who led for the Opposition represents a very strange way of thinking, particularly for people who profess to be concerned with decentralisation. Everybody knows that in Queensland expenditure on the railway system represents a bigger proportion of the State budget than is the case in other States. Everyone knows, too, that railway systems are more successful than road or sea transportation systems in promoting regional development and decentralisation, in providing employment opportunities fox people in remote areas. Here we see a Socialist party, some members of which come from country areas, attempting to hurt a government railway transportation system and to reduce the secondary benefits which that system brings. Many a town along the coast, as we all know, depends on the continuance of a viable railway system for its livelihood. lt is for these reasons, which I think are fairly clear and pretty cogent, that I oppose the amendment. I implore members such as the honourable member for Wide Bay and the honourable member for Leichhardt, who have a long history in their Party and who know something of the Socialist tradition of that Party, at least to appeal to the honourable gentleman who led for the Opposition in the debate to withdraw the amendment, so that they will not deny the very philosophy which they have expounded over a number of decades.
19.36] - I note that the Opposition sees justification for the increase in the price of sugar and supports that increase. However, it has moved an amendment which is loaded more with political content than with good judgment or reasoning. Before dealing with the amendment I would like to refer to some of the comments of the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Pearsall), who made a strong and factual speech supporting an important industry which he represents, the berry fruits industry of Tasmania. This industry has not been enjoying what one might call buoyant conditions. Any increase in the price of sugar, which would add to the costs which must be borne by those connected with this industry, naturally causes some reaction amongst them.
The honourable member for Franklin has told us what the effects on the industry will be. He made representations to my predecessor in the position of Minister for Primary Industry, the right honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann), together with the honourable member for Denison (Mr Gibson), Senator Wright, Senator Lillico and Senator Marriott, and expressed concern as to the effect on the berry fruits industry of an increase in the price of sugar. My predecessor said that he could not very well take action at the time as there were certain relevant aspects about which more had to be learnt. He pointed out that the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee will be meeting in November and will be fixing the price for fresh berry fruit supplied to the canneries, and until this price is known we cannot say whether the growers will be unduly hurt. My predecessor suggested that if they decide, after the price of fresh fruit is fixed, that they will suffer undue hardship, they should bring the matter back to the Minister for Primary Industry and ask for it to be re-examined.
As the honourable member for Franklin is well aware, the present domestic sugar rebate of $10 a ton has operated since 1960. Prior to that the domestic rebate was the same as the rate set in 1933 - £2 4s a ton. So in 1960 there was some increase in the rebate. However, it must not be forgotten by berry producers and by other honourable members in this House that there is an export rebate to the canned fruit industry and to other industries which export their products. This rebate enables the industries concerned to receive sugar at the world parity price. However, I would like to say to the honourable member for Franklin and to other honourable members from Tasmania that this whole question will come up at the end of this year when consideration is given to a new stabilisation price. The present stabilisation scheme was extended for 1 year; therefore all facets of the scheme will have to be examined before the commencement of the new scheme in August next year. The domestic rebate is one of the matters which will have to be thoroughly examined before that date or before such time that the berry producers will be affected.
The Opposition has moved an amendment to this Bill. The first paragraph of the amendment is as follows:
For many years the Sugar Agreement contained an arrangement to establish the same maximum wholesale price for sugar sold in specific cities. This system was adopted in order to establish an equitable arrangement between the various States and the Northern Territory. It was designed to ensure that there would be the same ceiling price at base points. To extend the number of base points, as is suggested in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) on behalf of the Opposition, would be unfair to consumers in other parts of the country where this base price did not apply - in the south west of Queensland, for instance, and in the country districts of other States. If Rockhampton and Townsville were specified as base points, there would be an irresistible pressure for free delivery of sugar to all country consumers throughout Australia and the cost of this, as the honourable member for Dawson well knows, inevitably would fall upon the sugar industry itself. As honourable members are aware, the sugar industry at the moment is going through an extremely difficult period. As I mentioned in reply to the honourable member for Franklin, one of the ideas behind extending the Agreement for 1 year was to give us time to look at all the different points involved so that they may be brought up again for debate in this House in 12 months time.
The second paragraph in the amendment moved by the Opposition is as follows:
I think the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) answered this point very well. The fact is that the Commonwealth Government has no right to direct the Queensland Government to allow any freight concessions or to use profits which it may make on one railway line or another to provide a concession to consumers of sugar in the Rockhampton or Townsville areas or elsewhere. Therefore, this suggestion is purely a matter for the Queensland Government and is out of order in this House. In any event, I have never heard of the Queensland Railways making an overall profit. To provide this freight concession would load a heavier burden on to the railway system in Queensland.
The third paragraph of the Opposition amendment states:
This provision has been included in the Agreement since 1923. During the negotiations on the Sugar Agreement of 1962, consideration was given by the Commonwealth Government to the merits of this provision. Its renewal was favoured because it absolved the Commonwealth from responsibility for any losses on exports of surplus sugar. The provision also could assist the Queensland Government in exercising control over production, which is a responsibility undertaken under clause 11 of the
Agreement. The. fact that the State Government and not the Commonwealth Government accepts responsibility for any loss on sugar exports does not mean that the Commonwealth ignores financial difficulties encountered by the industry because of low prices on the free world market. The depressed state of that market and the industry’s increased dependence on it have been among the basic considerations for the Government’s decision to make repayable grants on concessional terms, in order to increase the returns earned in the 1966-67 season, and to agree to the home market price increase for which parliamentary agreement is sought in the Bill we are debating.
Because of the reasons I have stated the Government does not agree with this amendment. Under the Constitution, the control of production is solely within the powers and the sovereign rights of the States. Therefore, the responsibility for any over-production of primary products lies with the State governments. The Commonwealth Government has tried to help the sugar industry. The Government is agreeing to this price increase as one means of helping the industry to obtain a greater return. The Government is making repayable grants to the industry as a. means of ensuring that it will get a minimum return of $86 a ton for sugar this year. People in the sugar industry cannot merely accept that the Government automatically does these things. These are matters which must be given a great deal of consideration. They must be weighed and considered exhaustively. It was only after the Government had fully considered these matters and assessed the likely consequences that it eventually agreed to do these two things to help the industry.
The honourable member for Dawson suggested that by increasing the home price on 19th June the Commonwealth Government had broken the 1962 Sugar Agreement, as approved by the Parliament. He said that the Government should have waited until the Agreement was scheduled to expire on 31st August 1967 and then asked the Parliament for approval to increase the price under a new agreement. There is no provision in the Sugar Agreement Act 1962 or in the 1962 Sugar Agreement to prevent the Commonwealth from agreeing with the Queensland Government to vary arrangements made between the two parties in the 1962 Agreement, although the new arrangement contained in the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967 is not conditional on the ratification and approval of Parliament, as is now sought. It was necessary to increase the home market price in June because, without the price increase and the Commonwealth’s financial assistance, the sugar industry’s foreseeable earnings from the sugar to be produced in the 1967 season, which commenced on 24th May, would have averaged only about the same as, and might even have been less than, the $77.13 a ton earned in the 1966 season - the lowest earnings since 1951. If the home price had not been increased until after the Parliament had approved a new agreement, much of the home market sales of 1967 season sugar would have been made at the old price, with resultant greater hardships for the sugar industry.
The seeking of prior consent by the Parliament to a price increase would have led to exceptionally heavy purchasing at low prices and would have disorganised refining and marketing arrangements and produced speculation and irregularities in trading habits with respect to sugar. Any delay in implementing a decision affecting prices does this. We all know that new tax or excise rates are implemented immediately legislation is introduced and that ratification by the Parliament follows. The same procedure applies in this instance in relation to the sugar industry. If this proposal were to be announced and its implementation delayed, undue speculation would occur and the purchasers themselves would be hurt.
The two Governments, at the same time as they agreed on the price increase, agreed that it would be appropriate to extend the 1962 Agreement for 1 year until 31st August 1968. This will allow a longer period for the re-negotiation of a full new agreement which, to judge by its predecessors, will be a comprehensive one, covering all the facets that have been mentioned by Opposition members and particularly those that have been mentioned by the honourable member for Franklin.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Patterson’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Mr J. M. Hallett)
Majority . . . . 33
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– In order to facilitate the discussion of this Bill in Committee, rather than deal with a number of clauses individually I propose to combine some of the points that I wish to make on the various provisions. I wish to deal specifically with clause 3 of the Bill which gives approval to the Agreement, and with the Agreement itself which is the Schedule to the Bill. Clause 4 of the Supplemental Sugar Agreement 1967 is in effect an amendment of Clause 6 of the principal Agreement. I shall deal firstly with Clause 6 of the principal Agreement because it is really the whole basis of the Agreement. It determines or provides the machinery whereby during the agreed period the State will fix or alter, as the case may be, the price of refined sugar of 1A grade or of refined sugar of 1XD grade.
Some of the points made by the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Pearsall), the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) are very pertinent to clause 6 of the Sugar Agreement. Let me deal firstly with the comments made by the honourable member for Franklin. Prices and freights are germane to the whole Agreement. 1 respect the views that he presented. I would have thought that he might have taken the opportunity to move an amendment if he wanted to give voice in the Parliament to his opposition to the present domestic price of sugar. However, I appreciate his problems in this matter. Nevertheless, the basis of the whole Agreement is the variation in the domestic price of sugar. But also germane to this price is the matter of freights which the honourable member for Lilley and I and other members of the Opposition have raised.
There can be no doubt that the rail freights system in Queensland is vital to the price of sugar. It is vital to this Bill and to the price of sugar being received by the producers. I think the Minister for Primary Industry said that he did not know when the Queensland railways system as a whole had made a profit. It certainly made a profit this year of approximately $4.5m. I have the figures here for everybody to see. In the last 10 years the central railways system - that is from approximately Bundaberg to Mackay - had an accumulated profit of $23m and the northern railways system had an accumulated profit of $30m. But the Brisbane and southern railways system had an accumulated loss of $69. 8m. If we take account of the overheads referred to by the honourable member for Lilley, the cost of office staff, head office buildings and central yards is a small amount compared with the loss in the 10 years of $69,880,000. His point that other industries, such as the wool industry, would suffer if rail freights were reduced is without foundation. What would happen is that rail freights in Brisbane would have to be increased. In other words, the practice of subsidising cheap rail freights and fares in Brisbane would have to end.
The other point that I would make with regard to clause 6 of the Agreement is that under the existing system of rail freights sugar producers are being penalised. Let me cite two examples to prove my point. The Cattle Creek and North Eton mills are being forced to move their sugar by rail, despite the fact that they could move it by road transport more cheaply. If these mills were to use road transport in order to move their sugar the Cattle Creek mill could save $60,000 this year and the North Eton mill $40,000. In effect these two producers are forced to pay $100,000 between them in order to support the railway system, which is already making a big profit. This is not fair. It is an imposition to ask primary producers to pay high freight rates in order to support the railway system, which is already making a profit. The two mills to which I have referred are paying $100,000 more than they would need to pay if they were allowed to move their sugar by road. But the Queensland Minister for Transport, Mr Knox, has refused to allow them to do so. Surely 1 have answered the case advanced by the honourable member for Lilley. I have referred to two specific cases and if required I can give more detailed information to show how more mills could save money.
The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Pearsall) said that the increase in the price of sugar will not affect the breweries. It will affect the breweries. Arguing the matter in economic terms, if you reduced the price of sugar to the breweries they would use sugar. Today the breweries - Carlton United Brewery for instance - are using hydrolised starch as a substitute for sugar. The important thing in this respect is to ascertain the price of hydro.lised starch per ton of carbohydrates or fermentable solids, because this is the only way to ascertain the base price as a comparison with sugar. I agree with the honourable member that because the price of sugar has increased, the breweries have resorted to a substitute. Some are using hydrolised starch instead of brewer’s sugar. So the increase in the price of sugar has had an effect on the breweries. If the price of sugar had not been increased the breweries might be using more brewer’s sugar. 1 have made the point that the railway system is making a profit. I accept the argument of the honourable member for Lilley that overheads in respect of operations at head office and central yards must be taken into account. This matter has been thrashed out before. There can be no argument - Country Party members from Queensland know this - that the rural areas of Queensland - the western, northern and central areas - are subsidising cheap rail freights and cheap fares in Brisbane. Of course, this is a matter of politics, because the greatest number of voters live in Brisbane.
The only other point I would like to make is in respect of clause 10 of thu Agreement, which the Government has rejected. This is a clause which the industry itself wanted deleted from the Agreement. It was the opinion of the Queensland Cane Growers Council that the clause could be a legal impediment to a successful negotiation between the State and Commonwealth governments and therefore should be excised from the new Agreement. The principles involved in this concept should be the subject of a letter of understanding. Perhaps the Commonwealth Government, the State Government and the industry have agreed that the clause is necessary because it absolves the Commonwealth from blame in the event of a drop in the price of sugar. The point that T am making is that the clause is meaningless as it is.
– If it is meaningless why worry about it?
– Why not delete it? The terminology should be revised. If the Commonwealth is to be absolved from blame, that fact should be inserted in specific terms. The industry and everyone else would know what that clause means.
Mr KEVIN CAIRNS (Lilley) £10.1 11 - I wish to amplify the transportation problem. There were two points in my argument appertaining to this. In no railway system can one sectionalise with complete validity. This case is not arguable anywhere in Australia. It is not completely arguable in Queensland. The railways make a profit or a loss in relation to the commodity groups which use the system. If an extra cost is placed upon a railway system that will hurt those commodity groups which enable the system to make a profit. So far as one can tell, the commodity groups which enable the Queensland railway system to operate profitably are wool, livestock, minerals - I only have to mention Mount Isa - coal and so on. If extra expenditure is placed on a railway system to pay for a scheme such as that suggested by the Opposition the cost will be borne by the consignors of those commodities. This fact ought to be realised. I realise, of course, that the areas in which those commodities are produced might not be of as much concern to honourable members opposite as to honourable members on this side of the chamber.
The second point that I made was quite simple also. Why is it proposed to place a burden on one part of a transportation system whereas the road transportation and ship transportation systems, which are quite large in the sugar industry, are allowed to go scot free? Why penalise one as against the others? I have been unable to understand the proposition, especially as it is advanced by the Opposition. It would deprive a government operated transport scheme while private operators, whether they are efficient or inefficient, would receive an unfair advantage. I believe that a fair pricing system between the private operators on roads and ships and the railway system should be established; none should receive an advantage. It is indeed strange that the Opposition should seek to hurt one and allow the other to take advantage of that action.
– On that particular point-
– Order! I intend to rule on whether the honourable member for Dawson can continue to speak on this matter. Both the honourable member for Dawson and the honourable member for Lilley, in the Committee stage, have commented on something that has been referred to in the House and on which the House has made a decision by vote. This matter has been put forward by both honourable members, who have had a fair opportunity to discuss it. For the matter to be discussed further in the Committee stage would be to transgress the subject matter of the Bill. That is my ruling. I call the honourable member for Franklin.
Mr PEARSALL (Franklin) (10.14]- The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) suggested that perhaps I could have moved an amendment in respect of clause 6, which indeed affects most of the subject matter of my earlier discussion. 1 am in a quandary, but I do not hesitate to tell the honourable member that any amendment that I would move would be to increase the domestic rebate in respect of sugar. This would, in turn, obviously have a detrimental effect on the sugar industry. Despite the lack of correct interpretation of my earlier remarks, it is no wish of the industry on whose behalf I am speaking in this chamber tonight to take from a fellow primary industry simply for the purpose of conceding or giving to another. This is not, in fact, the purpose which we have to achieve.
The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) was kind enough to mention one other rather pertinent and very important matter, that is, that we are not yet sure what the fixed price of this fruit will be. However, I have a feeling that the fixed price usually is based upon what the market will be able to return, and for this reason there is a limit to the extent to which the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee finds itself able to fix a price for the purpose and benefit of the small fruit industry. The second objection I have is that the crop is on the trees and all the expense has been undertaken by the people I represent, but they still do not know what returns they wm receive from their fruit. The Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee should meet early. However, there are difficulties associated with so doing because the crop prospects are not known.
I sincerely hope that the ray of hope that the Minister gave in his speech tonight is an indication of the way in which the situation will be approached when the whole of the agreement is renegotiated. I hope that in that process we get back to the position we were in in Tasmania not many years ago when we had a direct voice on the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. Upon his death a very important member, the Chairman of the Tasmanian Stone and Berry Fruits Board, was replaced by a citrus grower from Queensland. We, as very big producers of berry fruit in proportion to the quantity of other stone fruits that are produced, have no direct voice on this Committee at all; yet its decisions affect us materially. If we are to renegotiate and rethink the whole of this agreement and are to have another look at our Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee and the effect it has upon this industry in Tasmania and Victoria, then in the process of so doing I hope we will not detrimentally affect the industry for this coming year. It may be that in time and as a result of mature thought we will be able to get a permanent solution to the problem.
I urge the Minister to have an inquiry made to establish to his own definite satisfaction that an injury is being suffered this year. A grave problem confronts this industry. I hope the Minister will look at the industry with the object of ensuring its future welfare. The industry is a big buyer of sugar and for this reason is important. The Minister should look at it with a long range view. In any renegotiation of the agreement regard should be had to ensuring that for this year at least there is no increase in the price above that which prevailed last year. This would give us the opportunity in 1968 to rethink the whole situation and perhaps to come up with a more just solution of the problem which, I think, we are half way towards solving. At present we have a fictitious price for sugar. While this situation prevails the only means of salvation to which the berry fruits industry can look forward is a direct tying of the domestic rebate to the fluctuating prices of sugar itself, because sugar plays such an important part in the processing of this fruit.
I ask for this because I believe it is the only avenue whereby we can save the berry fruits industry. It is worth saving. It is an important industry - at least in Tasmania - and it plays its part in the overall economy of the nation. Quite apart from other reasons, humane and just considerations ought to actuate the Minister to think in terms of enabling the growers to secure slightly fairer returns. Without some solution of the problem on the lines I have suggested, the industry is absolutely doomed. I would be doing less than my duty if I were not to say so.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Anthony) - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 5 October (vide page 1798), on motion by Dr Forbes:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Speaker, the National Health Bill (No. 2) 1967, provides for the lending of hearing aids to persons in receipt of an age pension, an invalid pension, a widow’s pension, a service pension, a tuberculosis allowance or a sheltered employment allowance. This service will be available also to the dependants of these pensioners. In other words, this Bill provides the same kind of service for these pensioners and their dependants as exists now for children and repatriation beneficiaries who are deaf. It is expected that in the 3 years in which this legislation will operate about 100,000 pensioners and their dependants will be tested or examined and that about 36,000 hearing aids will be fitted. The examinations will be made by a qualified member of the staff of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories and if it appears that the hearing of a person can be improved a hearing aid will be given provided that the pensioner pays a hiring charge of $10. The hearing aid will really be on loan and if the recipient keeps it intact, it will be maintained and adjusted without cost by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. But where the hearing aid is damaged or is lost and has to be replaced a further $10 will be charged. I should like to know whether this means that the pensioner will be charged that further SIO if the hearing aid has to be replaced for him or if it is replaced to the stock of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories.
The Opposition approves of this service and supports it. I should not think that it will take long for the House tonight to debate this Bill. However whilst we approve of this action, support it and welcome it, it is very little. The Government has done very little for pensioners this year. I sometimes think that it is the Government that needs a hearing aid to become aware of the needs of the pensioners and to respond to them. Perhaps it would be much better if the Government were to fit itself with an adequate hearing aid for this purpose. Although we welcome the assistance that has been given in this Bill, we say that the Government has done nothing in a year in which Australia is, according to the Government’s standards, extraordinarily prosperous and in which the nation could have afforded to do much more. So the Opposition does not receive the Bill without criticism and without pointing out that it does a little and only a very little.
Specifically the Opposition would like the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) to consider a few aspects of the legislation in detail and perhaps to answer the questions that arise from a consideration of these aspects. Firstly, the hearing aid remains at all times the property of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. What happens if the pensioner returns if, not requiring it any longer, or if it is returned on behalf of the pensioner, perhaps after his death? Does he or do his dependants receive back the $10 that he has paid?
Secondly, it is quite possible that the payment of the $10 will cause hardship for a pensioner. I personally know many pensioners in need of a hearing aid for whom the payment of $10 would mean considerable hardship. I know that they now go without a hearing aid because they cannot possibly afford the retail price of one. I know that $10 is considerably less than the normal retail price of a hearing aid, but if the payment of the $10 will cause hardship can any assistance be given? Can the required payment of $10 be remitted if payment of this amount would cause hardship to a pensioner?
Thirdly, the pensioner is required to provide his own batteries. The Minister recognised this in his speech. This can involve a very considerable cost. Is it possible for some arrangement to be made for the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories to supply batteries appropriate for the Calaid, the hearing aid that is assembled by the Laboratories, either at cost or at a concessional price? I should think that the provision of batteries will amount each year to a fairly considerable cost for the pensioner who uses the hearing aid.
The New South Wales Department of Social Welfare, I understand, supplies hearing aids free for pensioners in that State. Will those pensioners who have been eligible to receive them in New South Wales now be required to avail themselves of the Commonwealth service and pay $10 for the loan of the hearing aid they receive? Does the Minister know whether the New South Wales service will continue or whether the pensioner will henceforth be expected by the New South Wales authority to avail himself of the Commonwealth service that this Bill provides?
Another question arises from the fact that the pensioner is first required to consult his own doctor. The consultation will cost him nothing because he can use his pensioner medical card for the purpose. The doctor may then refer the pensioner to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories where he will be examined to decide whether he requires a hearing aid. I should like to know what is the procedure connected with the carrying out of these examinations. At how many centres will examinations be made? Again, will pensioners who live in outer suburbs or country areas be required to travel to the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories or some other centre for examination? If they incur travelling expenses in attending for examination or to have a hearing aid fitted, which may require more than one attenddance, is there any provision for meeting the cost of their transport for them?
The last point I make is that the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories do not manufacture the hearing aid; they purchase parts from private firms and assemble the aid, which is called the Calaid. Apparently this is derived from ‘Commonwealth
Acoustic Laboratories aid’. To . date, 20,000 of these aids have been supplied to children and repatriation beneficiaries under the provisions of section 9a of the National Health Act. I have pointed out already that it is expected that over 3 years about 36,000 aids will be made available under this Bill. I should like to know whether the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories have investigated the economics of supplying 36,000 aids over 3 years would justify any departure from the present method of purchasing parts from private firms for assembly by Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories. Has any inquiry been made as to whether it will be more economical for Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories to manufacture the aids themselves? This is not a political ideological question of State enterprise versus private enterprise; it is purely one of the economics of the situation. If it would be less expensive for the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories to manufacture the aids there would be an unanswerable case for the Government to adopt this course. All I am asking at this stage is whether some consideration has been given to this point and whether the economics of the alternative method have been considered and weighed up. In fact, I wonder what it does cost to produce the Calaid. Could it be manufactured for a lower figure than it costs to buy parts and assemble them? If the Minister has not inquired into this, the Opposition asks that he do so and give us the benefit of his inquiries.
There is no further matter of detail that I wish to put before the House tonight with respect to this Bill. The Opposition is pleased to know that at last the Government has agreed to extend this service of providing hearing aids to pensioners and the important point we stress is that whilst we approve the measure we are concerned at the fact that probably a number of pensioners will find difficulty in paying the initial $10 necessary to obtain an aid. We specially want to know whether the Government will consider a way of remitting this $10 where hardship is in fact caused.
– I support this Bill to provide an additional benefit for hard of hearing pensioners and their dependants by supplying them with bearing aids. Since the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories were established in about 1948, hearing aids have been provided to deaf school children, pre-school children, repatriation cases where the deafness is a result of war service and serving members of the defence forces, and some have been supplied as a social service benefit to certain people undergoing rehabilitation training and treatment. The extension of the operations of the Laboratories will now include a service for age, widow, invalid and service pensioners, in addition to those receiving a tuberculosis allowance or sheltered employment allowance. Dependants of these people will also be eligible to receive a hearing appliance under this amendment.
Last year 970 hearing aids were provided to children by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories and a total of more than 20,000 instruments have been distributed under the existing scheme since it began. It is estimated that during the next 3 years approximately 100,000 pensioners will be tested and 36,000 hearing aids will be fitted. This, of course, will necessitate a substantial expansion of the instrumentality to cope with this demand. It will be necessary to increase the staff considerably and to establish branches in suburban and country areas to serve the additional people that this Bill will embrace. The pensioner will be given the choice of two aids, the Calaid E, which is a miniature instrument fitted to an ear mould inserted into the ear, and the more powerful Calaid T, which is a transistorised unit worn on the body.
The pensioner or dependant classified under this amendment will have to seek the advice of his own general practitioner to ascertain in the first instance whether in the opinion of the doctor a hearing aid is advisable. He will then be referred to the Laboratories for an audiometric examination which will assess the loss of hearing to determine whether an appliance would be beneficial. If it is decided that an instrument should be issued a fee of $10 will be required and an individual ear mould will be taken to enable a correctly fitting instrument to be supplied. This will then be subject to free maintenance during the life of the aid and, if it happens to become damaged beyond repair, a new aid will be issued for an additional fee of $10.
In my speech during the debate on the estimates for the Department of Health I referred to the fact that pensioners were restricted by this Bill to one source of supply and I said that only one make of hearing aid is available to them. I suggested that the Bill should allow for a widening of this choice by including suppliers in the industry, thereby giving the pensioner a freedom of choice not only of consultant but also of the type of hearing aid that is to be provided. I still feel that a pensioner could be sent to the Laboratories for an assessment of his hearing loss, if the Government considers that this is necessary, and be supplied with an authority for the supply of an aid, to specifications laid down by the Government, at a hiring fee of $10 or a straight out price which again could be laid down by the Government. I believe also that the person should have the choice of purchasing a more expensive type if he can afford it. The Government could make the same cash allowance in such a case and it could be deducted from the price of a better type of instrument.
The Bill states that the Minister may through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories Act 1948 or in any other way arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids to persons over the age of 21 years who are suffering from defective hearing, being pensioners or dependants of pensioners, and for the maintenance otherwise than by way of provision of replacement batteries, of hearing aids so supplied. The Minister is thus given the necessary authority. I repeat that he may through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories Act 1948 or in any other way arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids to the persons I have stated.
I again urge the Minister to reconsider his decision on this matter and give further thought to future extension of the legislation to include private industry. Private hearing aid consultants have branches throughout country areas as well as in city and suburban centres. They have been rendering a valuable service to the community for many years and appear to me to be geared to handle this work. Many country centres are served on a twomonthly basis, or even more frequently. Agencies are established to supply batteries and to handle any repair work that could be necessary. I am sure that if these people were given the opportunity they could handle the work for pensioners with ease, thereby avoiding the added expense necessary for the government laboratories to increase their staff and to establish additional branches to cater for the extra work generated by this legislation.
I respectfully suggest that the Minister should take all these points into consideration with a view to including private enterprise in the coverage of the legislation, thus giving to pensioners and their dependants freedom to choose their own consultants, many of whom have been treating with complete satisfaction for a great number of years oases of the type covered by this legislation.
– It is not very often that the honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) receives praise from this side of the chamber. I disagree with him on such matters as foreign affairs and defence but I always listen with some interest to his speeches on domestic affairs. It is obvious that he puts into them a lot of thought and preparation of detail and they are certainly well worth listening to. Tonight he has raised the point that where pensioners are unable to pay the sum of $10 as the fee provided for in the Bill, no charge should be made to them. I think most honourable members would agree with his suggestion and I hope that it will be adopted in cases where the need arises. Since the present Liberal and Country Party Government came into office in 1949 much has been done to improve the lot of pensioners. During the debate this year on the presentation of the Budget Papers speaker after speaker produced figures to show how, calculated as a percentage, pensioners are far better off today than they were under a Labor administration. The figures are readily available in Hansard and I do not intend to waste the time of the House tonight by citing them. They are factual.
Many honourable members on both sides of the chamber were disappointed that due to defence commitments and other commitments the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) was unable to see his way clear to raise the rate of pensions in the last Budget. However, in his Budget Speech he foreshadowed what 1 consider to be a very valuable extension of the social services at present available; that is the provision of hearing aids to pensioners and their dependants. As the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has pointed out, there is to be an extension of the hearing aid service at present conducted by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories which supply Calaids on a loan basis to deaf school children and pre-school children, certain repatriation cases, members of the defence services, and social service recipients undergoing rehabilitation treatment. Under this Bill the service is extended to people in receipt of an age, invalid or widow’s pension, a service pension, a tuberculosis allowance or a sheltered employment allowance. The dependants of these pensioners will also receive the benefit. The Government, and particularly the Minister, are to be congratulated on this move. The provision of these aids by the Commonwealth will be of great assistance both physically and financially to the individuals concerned. It will enable them to play a more active and valuable role in the community.
As the Minister has said, it is planned to implement the scheme progressively oyer a 3-year period. It is estimated that during this time approximately 100,000 pensioners and their dependants will be tested and about 36,000 aids will be fitted. The benefit which pensioners will receive from this scheme will be of great value. It will add considerably to the generous health benefits already provided by this Government. No doubt honourable members on both sides of the House have received a letter from the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, submitted on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce of Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, attacking the Government’s scheme to hire hearing aids to pensioners for $10. The Chamber claims that pensioners now comprise from 50% to 70% of the hearing aid industry’s customers and that the present move could bankrupt a large number of hearing aid retailers and importers. The Chamber states that the plan is a duplication of the service already provided and is a large scale interference with the present business. I discussed this matter with the Minister and he informed me that in the opinion of his Department pensioners account for only 20% of the retail market, and that as the Government will buy approximately $500,000 worth of hearing aid components from the industry each year, this will be some compensation to the industry.
The industry states that these orders will go largely to one firm which manufacturers hearing aids and that the retailers will gain no benefit. It has been claimed by some people that the hearing aid industry has a large number of unscrupulous operators and that it has no code of ethics or professional standing. We have been told tales about people who are not in need of an aid being improperly tested and fitted with one at an exorbitant price. This may be true in some cases. But it is also true that there are many reputable hearing aid retailers. I have had representations from one of my constituents who is not a retailer. He is an employee of 17 years standing in the hearing aid section of the Myer Emporium in Melbourne. He is most upset and concerned at the accusations that have been levelled at the industry. I spent some time with him in the Myer Emporium hearing aid department. He stated that never once had he received any inducement or commission to sell hearing aids. He pointed out that many customers of his department at Myers are recommended to his company by prominent and reputable ear, nose and throat specialists in Melbourne. He told me that Myers run a free clinic one morning per week for pensioners and that in all cases prospective purchasers are recommended first to consult their own doctor. In addition, Myers reduce by 10% the price of a hearing aid purchased by a pensioner. I am quite sure that the Myer Emporium will not be one of the firms which could be bankrupted by this legislation, but I am concerned that smaller and reputable retailers - I stress the word ‘reputable’ - will have their business cut by 20%.
I know that the honourable member for Yarra and other honourable members opposite would be most concerned, as I would be, if wharf labourers or any other group of unionists were to have their income cut by 20%. I think it is wrong that Government legislation, as it were, by the sweep of a pen, should be allowed to affect the livelihood of reputable traders who are rendering a service to the community. The fact that a pensioner who previously had to pay from $150 to perhaps $300 for an aid can now obtain one under this scheme for $10 is a wonderful step forward; but I would like to see the system rearranged so that the livelihood of reputable retailers would not be affected, if this could be done without extra cost to the taxpayer.
I have been told that the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories can test a person, assemble a Calaid T from imported and locally made parts, and fit that person with the aid for $22. It can assemble a Calaid E, which is a more expensive and intricate aid and which fits wholly into the ear, for $35. If this is so, one must seriously doubt whether the Calaid T and Calaid E are high quality instruments worthy of the elderly people to whom they are to be provided. I stated that’ I would like to see the scheme introduced with as little harmful effect on the reputable retailer as possible. However, my main concern tonight is with the pensioner. Those who have experience of the British national health scheme, be they British migrants or merely visitors to Britain, have all complained of its defects. They have pointed out that patients under the British socialised scheme are often treated as paupers and made to wait in queues and for long periods for appointments, but as the patients have little or no freedom of choice they can do nothing about it.
Our Australian national health scheme however has none of these defects. Here in Australia the patient has freedom of choice. If the patient does not receive what he or she considers to be proper treatment from one doctor or chemist, he or she is perfectly free to go to another. I was interested in a report in the Press this morning headed ‘British MP likes our Health Scheme’, which reads:
Britain’s Conservative Party parliamentary spokesman on health, Mr P. Dean, MP, said in Canberra that the Australian system provided a balance in health care between private enterprise through the health funds and public enterprise through the Government. With Mr Dean is Mr Eric Roberts, General Manager of Britain’s biggest voluntary health fund, with 1.5 million members. Mr Roberts said that Britons were turning to voluntary insurance because it gave them a choice in health care.
This is the important word, ‘choice’. The element of competition which leads on to service is maintained under the Australian health scheme, but this is not so under the Bill before the House tonight. It departs from the principle laid down in our previous health legislation. Under this legisla tion the pensioner has no choice but to go to the government run Commonwealth Accoustic Laboratories. If, for some reason, he does not get what he considers is the proper or correct treatment, or if he is treated rudely by some irritable or selfimportant individual, he has to accept this if he wants his $10 hearing aid. He has not the right to go elsewhere.
The Minister spent some time in his second reading speech pointing out the personal attention that the patient would receive from the laboratories’ highly trained audiological psychologists, and the psychological after sales service that the patient would receive from the staff of the Commonwealth Accoustic Laboratories. I am afraid, Sir, that the Minister has more faith than I in human nature. Most of us, at some time or another, have received brusque or off-hand treatment from certain self-important doctors or employees in government departments. But under the Australian national health scheme if we are not satisfied we can go to another doctor. Under this Bill this right will be denied to the pensioner. I feel that this is a decided weakness in what is otherwise an excellent scheme.
I believe that it is not impracticable to re-arrange the system to preserve freedom of choice for the pensioner. This could be achieved as follows: Either the pensioner could consult his local doctor and then attend the Commonwealth Accoustic Laboratories as prescribed in the Bill at present, or he could consult his local doctor who could, if he considered it necessary, recommend examination by an ear, nose and throat specialist. Those two visits would, as at present, come out of the pensioner’s medical benefits entitlement. If the specialist decided that the patient required a hearing aid and not an operation, the pensioner could then have the choice of having an aid fitted either by the Commonwealth Accoustics Laboratories or by a reputable retailer - I stress the word reputable’ - approved by the Government, and I stress those words also. It would be necessary for the Government to prescribe a limited number of approved hearing aids and the price at which they were to be supplied, as well as prescribing the approved reputable suppliers. The Government would then subsidise the purchase up to the amount of the true price of the Government’s cost of production of the Calaid T or the Calaid E.
If a pensioner feels that the Calaid T or the Calaid E is not to his satisfaction he should be entitled to purchase a different aid and still receive the Commonwealth subsidy. This method would not cost the taxpayer any more than the present proposed scheme and it would have the advantage of protecting to some extent the livelihood of the small, reputable hearing aid retailer. But above all else, it would protect the freedom of choice and the dignity of the pensioner. I notice, as the honourable member for Grey (Mr Jessop) pointed out, that clause 3 sub-clause 2 of the Bill reads:
The Minister may, through any acoustic laboratory established under the Acoustic Laboratories Act 1948 or in any other way, arrange for the supply by the Commonwealth of hearing aids to . . . pensioners.
I pin my hopes on the words ‘or in any other way’. I feel that these words leave the door open to widen the scheme, not only to lessen the blow to reputable hearing aid retailers but, more importantly, to enable this benefit to be received by the pensioner and at the same time maintain his freedom of choice.
This Bill is not an act of charity. When it is passed the pensioner will receive this service as a right, as well he should. His dignity should be preserved. I commend the Government, and the Minister in particular, on the service that this Bill will bring to pensioners who are hard of hearing. I hope that the door is not finally closed to a scheme which, while extending this benefit to pensioners, will retain their right of freedom to choose. I trust, Mr Speaker, that my appeal for this right will not fall upon deaf ears.
– The honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) has put up a pathetic plea on behalf of the retailers. During my experience as a former State parliamentarian I gained knowledge of the purchasing powers on a collective basis of the New South Wales Department of Social Welfare and I know that it was possible to purchase spectacles from certain major firms for approximately half the retail cost. I would be very interested to hear from the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) precisely what the Com monwealth will be paying for these hearing aids when they are finally assembled. I venture to say that it will be considerably less than the amount that the honourable member for Deakin mentioned in his speech and that there will be a considerable saving of Commonwealth revenue. Of course, we can expect at all times from this Government the principle of winkling out a little from the little man. His money goes in grants in aid under section 96 of the Constitution, it goes under the medical benefit scheme, and of course, the same principle is to be applied in this case. I give the Government credit for extracting the maximum political mileage out of this proposal. We welcome it. But there are many pensioners to my knowledge - I would say at least 30% to 40% of them- who, man and wife, would not be able to raise the $20 that would be required. In any event, why should they be asked to do it?
The honourable member for Deakin has dilated at some length on the wonderful privilege of freedom of choice and made a comparison between the medical benefits schemes in Australia, and in Great Britain. I have the honour to represent an area with a European migrant population of approximately 30,000 to 35,000 people and there are possibly between 50,000 and 60,000 people within my area who were born in the British Isles. I invite the honourable member to come to my electorate and meet the migrants from Britain who are bitterly critical of the present scheme and its imperfections. I invite the honourable member to come to my electorate and meet people from the Continent of Europe - from Germany, Holland, Norway, Denmark, even from Italy - who are critical of the present scheme.
– That is not what the British MP said on the question today.
– He is one man and he can speak for himself, but I will introduce the honourable member to thousands of them.
– Why did they come here?
– They came here for the best of reasons. They hoped to improve themselves and to get out of Britain while the going was good. The point is that they well know the benefits available to them under the British scheme and they well know the imperfections of the present Commonwealth scheme. They are very real indeed. When the national health legislation was first introduced into this House the coverage was supposed to be 90%. It was not 100% because some little percentage of the cost had to be paid by the patient as a deterrent. As for the rest, the propaganda went, the account would be fully covered by the medical benefits fund plus a matching contribution from the National Government. Today not less than 32% of the account has to be paid by the contributor, 32.2% is paid by the Commonwealth and 35.5% is paid by the fund.
Some 8,846,000 people representing 76% of the population are covered by the present national health scheme. Last year disbursements amounted to $43m. As an approximation, $5 a person is being paid for medical services over and above the contribution being made by medical benefits funds. For the average family of five, that represents $25 a year. Let us add to that the contribution that has to be made to get coverage for a bed in an intermediate ward of a hospital. According to the rate schedule of the Hospital Benefits Association of Victoria the yearly contribution is $77.64, the weekly contribution being $1.57. Add to that the $25 which has to be paid for the defective coverage under the present medical benefits scheme and we find that it costs $104 a year or £1 a week to meet charges levied by the doctor and the hospital. None of this is included in the consumer price index. It represents nothing more or less than a diminution of the living standards which are supposed to be taken into account by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission when fixing wages.
Let us go back and see what Dr Earle Page, the then Minister for Health, had to say about this.
-Order! I think the honourable member is getting a little away from the context of the Bill.
– The Bill has a schedule, a matter of some twenty pages, which contains a mass of statistics relating to benefits that are to be paid under this Act. The title of the Bill is ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the National Health Act … in respect of which Commonwealth benefits are payable’. Surely I can proceed having regard to tha title of the Bill.
-The honourable member is quite correct in that, but I do not think this envisages a full debate on tha whole national health scheme.
– I will confine my remarks within the ambit of the measure. The point which I feel I am entitled to make is that when Dr Earle Page introduced this measure in 1953 - this appears on page 157 of Hansard of 12th November 1953 - he stated that full coverage of charges made by doctor and hospital could be obtained for 3s a week. In today’s currency this would be 30c per week or $15.6 per year. Today, $77.64 is being paid. This represents a 400% increase in what the average family has to pay in contributions to a fund to receive coverage. In contrast, the basic wage has increased in the same period by about 80%. That is the point I wanted to make with regard to hearing aids.
One other angle is the cost of batteries for hearing aids. A few people who were privileged enough to be able to secure hearing aids under legislation from the New South Wales Government approached me as a State parliamentarian and were bitterly critical of the racket in respect of the excessive cost of batteries. I believe that the Commonwealth is remiss in its duty in not giving some attention to providing batteries at cost, and by-passing the racketeers.
– I would like to disagree with two points raised by the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor). The honourable member refers to the high incidence of migrant population in his electorate and stated that these people were dissatisfied. I have a high percentage of migrants in my electorate of the sort he mentioned, and I do not find that this situation exists. I do not believe that migrants vary from electorate to electorate. The honourable member for Cunningham also made great play about contributions to the mutual health associations. However, he did not mention that these contributions are deductible for taxation purposes, though I admit that this is a minor matter.
Although I wish to enter only briefly into this debate in something of a critical way, I support the Bill. At the same time, I feel disturbed, because I consider that the Bill has gone very close to being at least Sn some part a socialisation measure - socialisation of the hearing aid industry. I feel compelled to say something about this. But I realise that by opposing the Bill - I went quite close to doing this on these grounds - I would be penalising the people who need to be helped. Nevertheless, I have two or three criticisms that I would like to direct to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) who is at the table. Firstly, I was unable to find any reference in his second reading speech to the hearing aid industry at all or any indication that the industry may at some time in the future be given an opportunity to take part in this measure. Also, I could not find any recognition of the qualifications of audiometrists employed in the industry. I am sure that the Minister would agree with me that there must be as many, if not more, capable audiometrists not employed by the Commonwealth as are employed by it.
I find myself in agreement with the honourable member for Cunningham on another point. This is the question of cost. It seemed to me that there could have been more investigation of the cost scheme. No mention was made, for example, of the cost of examinations and of the cost of the aids themselves. I could find no reference to the actual capita] cost of setting up and staffing the government clinics. We might face the danger here of the operation of Parkinson’s law, with the Department of Health being built up into an even bigger bureaucracy. I do not like the idea of monopolistic, bureaucratic clinics with the inevitable development of the attitude of government charity, with no freedom of choice whatever for pensioners. This aspect was mentioned in detail by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman).
At the same time, I would like to urge the industry to take steps to put itself in order. Certainly it should give consideration to the qualifications necessary to practice in this field. I would like the industry to make some move towards setting up courses at a tertiary level. Possibly these could be given at the institutes of technology. I understand this has been done in New South Wales but only to a limited degree. It was attempted in South Australia but I believe that lack of funds prevented it from being successful. If we could persuade the industry to arrange these courses along similar lines to those established by the dental and other professions, it would be a move towards recognition. At the same time, if and when these courses are established, I would like to see them uniform so that there would be no problem about reciprocity as there is in other fields, such as the medical, dental and pharmaceutical professions. There should be identical syllabuses. I urge the Minister for Health and the Government at least to leave the door open for the industry to act in the future.
The Minister referred in his speech to the way in which a pensioner will consult his own doctor, obtain a prescription and then go to the Commonwealth Accoustic Laboratories for a detailed examination. I would like to see the day come when pensioners have the choice of going to a private clinic instead of a Commonwealth organisation. 1 think the industry would agree to the Government imposing reasonable conditions so long as it provided for this free choice. I admit that this is not possible now but it could be possible in the future. I believe that all practitioners, whether employed by the Government or not, ultimately should graduate from the sort of course I have described. I cannot believe that the services of psychologists are necessary, as mentioned by the Minister in his second reading speech. I believe that the use of psychologists would involve a wastage of professional skill.
I do not wish to speak for too long in this debate but I want to point out the dangers that there are, in my opinion, in the practice of regularly expanding fringe benefits associated with our social services programme. If we expand fringe benefits the opportunity is lost to make direct increases in pension payments because the money is not available. I understand that it costs the Government $73m for every $1 increase in the pension. The more we increase the fringe benefits, such as the one we are discussing, the less we are able to increase the pension directly. I make that suggestion to the Minister and to the Government. There may be some merit in giving pensioners the opportunity in future to decide on an order of priority and not leave this for the Government. I support the Bill. I am glad to have had this opportunity of presenting these minor criticisms.
– I rise to support the Bill, but like the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay), the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) and the honourable member for Grey (Mr Jessop) I want to urge upon the Government some suggestions for improving the method of implementing this scheme. The purpose of the Bill is to assist pensioners by providing them with hearing aids in the manner outlined by earlier speakers. My concern, Mr Speaker, is not merely for the pensioners who will benefit under this legislation but for every person in the community who is suffering from some hearing disability and is in need of treatment, aid and assistance. Tn recent years there have been great advances in the assistance and relief which can be given to those affected by hearing disabilities.
As to the age group which will benefit most from the proposal outlined in the Bill, the commonest complaint affecting the hearing of elderly people is osteosclerosis, which is a disfunction of parts of the middle ear which communicate the sound waves to the inner ear, where are situated the nerve ends which receive and transmit the signals to the brain. An operation known as stapes mobilisation can in many cases restore hearing to those suffering from this ailment. In recent years, with the risk of infection following this delicate operation being reduced by the use of antibiotics, the operation has been performed in a larger proportion of cases than was formerly the case. The cost of the operation in Australia varies but it approximates $200. This includes the surgeon’s fees and the cost of hospitalisation. The actual net cost of this operation to a person covered by medical and hospital benefits funds is of the order of $20. Those who are benefited by this operation do not need hearing aids and so do not have to incur the expense of purchasing batteries. In this way the advocates of the operation have come into direct competition with those who recommend the use of hearing aids for blockages in hearing caused by the ailment to which I have referred.
On the other hand, hearing aids themselves have been improved greatly in recent years, so that today a hearing aid is described by some as an extremely simple piece of electronic equipment. The use of transistors as substitutes for electronic valves has resulted in remarkable progress in hearing aid design. The care of those with hearing disabilities therefore needs comprehensive examination. Various fields of research are open. Various skills are needed to assess a person’s hearing needs. There is a requirement for specialist medical attention - for specialist doctors capable of diagnosing the ranges and sources of hearing difficulties, recommending remedies and providing the remedies if they involve surgery.
In addition to those skilled in the physiology of the ear there is a need for persons skilled in audiology, the psychological discipline concerned with helping persons handicapped by deafness. In this regard one should refer to the Minister’s second reading speech, in which if is stated that of an estimated 100,000 pensioners who will be examined over the next 3 years only 36,000 will be helped by an aid because it will be found that none of the remainder would benefit from a hearing aid. But these people are not helped simply by being told that an aid will not assist them. They need counselling by trained experts, and audiologists are the experts best fitted to advise and assist people suffering from deafness to adjust themselves to their disability. In addition, in assessing a person’s hearing needs there is a requirement for an auxiliary assistant known as an audiometrist, a person who can use an audiometer to make an assessment of the patient’s hearing disabilities. In the main the experience of hearing aid salesmen is limited to the use of audiometers. Some, by experience, are trained in the ability to advise and counsel people. But on the information that is available it is quite clear that the assessment of a person’s hearing requires the assistance of team advice from the medical practitioner, the psychologist and the auxiliary assistant who can use such machines as the audiometer.
Like other honourable members who have spoken in this debate, I hope that private specialists, private psychologists and private audiometrists will be used to assist in this scheme. If the present decision to use the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, firstly, to assess a person’s hearing needs and, secondly, to supply a hearing aid is due to the present position of the hearing aid industry, I hope that the industry will be given the opportunity to adjust to the advances that have taken place in the science of remedying hearing disabilities. Today a hearing aid can be described as a useful tool and the hearing aid salesman can be described as being similar to the salesman of any other similar piece of equipment. I believe that the hearing aid industry itself could produce hearing aids of a like standard to that being produced by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories at a comparable and competitive price.
The honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. P. Cairns) said in his remarks earlier in this debate that if the economics of the situation justified the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories in saying that they could produce the aid as well as assemble it more economically than at present they should enter into the production field. 1 do not agree with that. But that argument can be applied in reverse. If private industry can provide a comparable aid at a competitive price, the Government and the Laboratories should provide aids from private industry.
I urge the Minister for Health to use the power that will be conferred upon him by this Bill to provide hearing aids not merely through the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories but in any other way. I urge him to use that power to allow pensioners the choice of an assessment of their hearing needs by the Laboratories or by private medical specialists, psychologists and audio.metrists, provided that those people are of proven ability equal to or higher than that of the staff of the Laboratories. I also urge the Minister to use that power to allow pensioners the choice of aids from the Laboratories or from private enterprise, provided that those offered by private enterprise are of a standard equal to or higher than that of the aids provided by the Laboratories and are available at a comparable price and on terms under which replacement parts will be available and adequate servicing facilities will be accessible to the people using- the aids over a sufficiently long period, so that the aids have an effective and useful life.
I mentioned in opening that my concern was not merely for the pensioners who will benefit under this scheme but for all people who have a hearing disability. I believe that if the industry, the medical profession and the medical auxiliary services were given the incentive that would be provided by affording them an opportunity to assist in the provision of hearing aids for pensioners and in the assessment of the needs of pensioners, we would find that the standards of hearing aids and of our hearing medical services would rise. The whole community would benefit from the improved standards, and all those in need of advice and treatment for hearing disabilities would receive that advice and treatment in a way that would allow them freely to choose the person or persons to assess their needs and afford them freedom of choice in obtaining exactly the kind of hearing aid best suited to their requirements. I urge the Minister and the Government to consider earnestly the need to use the power to be conferred on the Minister by this measure to raise the standards of hearing aids and of hearing medical services available to the whole community, while at the same time maintaining the spirit of our national health scheme and giving to the patient freedom of choice in selecting his medical specialist.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a few brief observations before this debate closes. The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories have been rightly praised for the work that they have done. The annual report of the Commonwealth DirectorGeneral of Health devotes an entire chapter to the Laboratories and anyone who has visited them or had anything to do with the services that they provide would be quick to defend the quality of their service and to emphasise the appreciation felt by those members of the public who may have received the benefit of that service. For these reasons, I have very much pleasure in mentioning the excellent work that has been done in testing patients who have been referred to the Laboratories and in supplying hearing aids, and particularly do I mention with much appreciation the splendid maintenance service that the Laboratories provide. So no-one can rightly say that my remarks are in any way derogatory of this government service. We are rightly proud of what the Laboratories have done and I have no doubt that the present high standards will be maintained in any service that the Laboratories give in the future. I express my appreciation to the Government for its having undertaken to extend a service of this kind to pensioners suffering from hearing disabilities. I did not speak in the
Budget debate and I now take this opportunity to say that I applauded this decision when the Government announced it. I support the Bill because it is designed to help pensioners.
I now pass on quickly to the reasons why I have taken this opportunity to support my colleagues who have spoken with such intelligence and earnestness and who have demonstrated to the House that they have made a careful study of this measure and all that is behind it. I support those colleagues because they have presented to the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) and the Government a very genuine request that this scheme be considered carefully lest it expand too rapidly into a wider area. My colleagues have said that there are ways and means of doing the things that have to be done and I believe that they have advanced some very sound suggestions. I support those suggestions, because I believe that great care must be exercised lest a government department or some instrumentality of this kind move into a fairly wide field. We are not dealing here with a narrow, circumscribed area. We are dealing with a large percentage of the needy members of the community. When one starts to provide service in a field like this, there is a very great temptation to widen the field still further. I believe that as we move into this fairly wide area we are offering an exclusive service that will be provided by the Government, and virtually by the Government alone, to the detriment of technicians who are already in the field.
I draw attention to the fact that the Minister in his quite balanced speech, which we on this side support as we support the Bill, refers, as my colleague from Sturt (Mr Wilson), mentioned, to the fact that of 100,000 pensioners who will be tested under this scheme some 36,000 will have hearing aids fitted. I ask a question in relation to the differential because I believe that I must be fair and suggest that the people already in the field have had this kind of experience, testing many and not fitting all. The people in the field in private industry today have had to bear the cost of the non-productive testing. There is a temptation, when a government instrumentality is concerned, to say: ‘We absorb all that. As long as we are honest and compare the final cost of the instrument we fit with that criticised cost of the instru ment fitted by the existing industry, we must be fair.’
Representations have been made to me that if the cost of the fitted instrument in the past - and in a moment I will come to the point of admitting that there have been some rackets in this field - has been criticised as being high, let us not forget that nobody else was able to absorb the cost of unproductive testing but the people who were supplying the instrument, having done the unproductive testing.
My friend from Grey (Mr Jessop), who opened the debate from this side of the House with a very fine speech indeed, and also my colleague from Sturt, have drawn attention to the words in the Bill which indicate that the Minister may, through any acoustic laboratory established under this Act or in any other way - and this we underline - arrange for the supply of hearing aids. I am keen that the Minister should give an undertaking, if at all possible, without any amendment of the Bill, because these are the words that will enable him to give such an undertaking, that he will use these words as the authority to consider desirable alternatives to expanding this government instrumentality without some provision for other people.
I make the point, as I promised I would, that I seek no protection for any organisations which may have overcharged, misled, oversold, given poor service or misrepresented the hire purchase cost that might have related to a hearing aid, as they have endeavoured to do this selling or service, and it has invariably been to the pensioner group that the Government now is desirous of assisting. So I carry no banner for an industry that may have been guilty of such action. I believe that my philosophy, which I want to express, is still that which I and my colleagues on this side of the House jealously would preserve, and that philosophy is that government should demonstrate how a service or an industry should operate fairly within a community and should not take over and conduct a commercial operation for all time. It is some restriction on this service, if it is going to be exclusive, that I advocate.
I conclude with an enunciation of these hopes. I hope, Sir, that provision will be made for the hearing aid industry to participate in this subsidised pensioner scheme. I hope that a scheme might be instituted to license consulting rooms already in existence throughout the country but subject to stringent standards to test pensioners and issue a specification for a suitable aid. I hope that encouragement might be given to the industry to become more competitive in respect of the price of the aids that are now being offered not only to pensioners but to the general community. Surely we should try to influence the industry to register an association and set acceptable standards for the registration of audiometrists. This has been said before, and I simply underline the very sound suggestion. With the implementation of this Bill and the operation in future months of this scheme I will be looking for co-operation on the part of the Government along the lines which I have suggested. I will certainly be one member from this side of the House who, with all the meticulous care of which I am capable, will look at the annual estimates of the Acoustic Laboratories as the next 3 or 4 years pass. I will carefully analyse the growth of the Laboratories. There is reference to the proposed establishment of some thirty-nine centres. I will be inquiring as to how many more centres are necessary and the cost of them. I will be looking carefully at the honestly calculated cost of every hearing aid supplied and at the cost of the organisation conducted by the Government to make those hearing aids available to pensioners.
– in reply - I thank honourable members for the support they have given to this Bill. Although some criticisms have been voiced about the provisions of the Bill, everybody is agreed that it will provide a section of our community with something of which they are greatly in need. This is .the reason for the Government’s introduction of the legislation. The Government looked carefully at the problems facing pensioners in the health field. After closely examining all aspects of pensioner health services the Government decided that pensioners most in need of assistance were those suffering from less of hearing. These people suffer not only in the economic sense but also in the social sense. A person affected by loss of hearing who cannot remedy his deficiency loses in a very real sense his contact with others in the social group in which he lives. In other words, he loses the thing that makes for a happy and satisfactory life. A lot of emphasis has been placed on the economic factor. This matter has weighed heavily with the Government but in addition the Government had regard to the very real social benefits that would be conferred on pensioners by this legislation.
The honourable member for Yarra (Dr J. F. Cairns) asked whether a pensioner who returned a hearing aid to the Laboratories for one reason or another would be refunded his $10. The answer is no. We did not envisage this situation. The sum of $10 is a hiring charge for the aid. We felt that it was reasonable that this sum should go to the Laboratories. The honourable member asked whether special consideration could be given to pensioners who established that the payment of the sum of $10 would inflict a real hardship on them. We propose administratively to deal with such cases. Where a pensioner claims that payment of the charge will cause serious hardship to him the case may, at the discretion of the Laboratories, be referred to the Department of Social Services for a determination as to whether the charge should be reduced or remitted. The honourable member also referred to the cost of batteries. Batteries for the Calaid E hearing aid, with which it is envisaged 75% of pensioners will be fitted, are at present obtainable from hearing aid dealers and agents. These batteries cost about 33c each. The total cost of these batteries to the pensioner each year should not exceed $12. The Calaid T batteries can be purchased from retail stores and are not restricted to hearing aid retailers. Each battery costs 15c and the total cost of these batteries to a pensioner in a year should not exceed $4. So, the annual cost for the Calaid E battery should be $12 and for the Calaid T, $4. This would be the average figure. In the view of the Government it is fair and reasonable for the pensioner to bear costs of this order for the replacement of the batteries.
The honourable member for Yarra also asked what will happen to the various - very limited, I might say - State schemes which exist in respect to the provision of hearing aids. All I can say about that matter is that I have advised each State Minister of what we are doing in this sphere but at this stage details are not available as to what modifications to their own schemes the States propose. However, I expect very little difficulty in arriving at machinery for the provision of hearing aids to the best advantage of the pensioners concerned. I should imagine that we probably will discuss this matter at the next conference of Commonwealth and State Health Ministers.
The honourable member for Yarra also asked what would be the position of people in country areas and whether we were going to bear the cost of travel for tests. As I think I have already indicated, it is proposed to establish a number of centres - both permanent visiting centres and temporary visiting centres - throughout the country areas of Australia. These will be selected on the basis of the distribution of the pensioner population. The centres will be reasonably accessible to most pensioners in Australia. It is not proposed therefore that the Commonwealth will meet any of the transport costs which ase incurred by pensioners in going from their homes to testing centres. Here I would point out that, traditionally, State governments have had the responsibility of assisting pensioners where costs are excessive for this type of service. No alteration to this practice is proposed in this case.
Lastly, the honourable member for Yarra raised the question of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories assuming responsibility for all manufacturing and assembling operations in connection with the production of Calaids. This of course has been examined as a normal exercise in prudence by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories but we are convinced that the present method of having assembly operations performed under contract is more economical and efficient than it could be if the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories were to undertake the whole of this operation. Quite apart from that, I would say categorically on behalf of the Government that the Government has no desire whatsoever to enter into this field. Indeed, as I said in my second reading speech - and to some extent this is an answer to some of my friends on this side of the House who have been talking about Australian industry - we hope that with the additional number of Calaids that will be involved under this scheme a greater incentive will be provided for Australian manufacturers to undertake the manufacture of parts which at present are imported and that the assembly operations will provide work also and will attract Australian manufacturers. In other words this is something that, looking at Australian industry in the broadest sense of the word, will benefit Australian industry. I point out that as far as I know the Calaids are the only aids which have Australian components and which are assembled in Australia. All the aids provided commercially are fully imported.
In conclusion I shall answer generally a point made by my friends on this side of the chamber. They expressed the hope - about which I am sympathetic - that we could find a way in which the hearing aid retailers could take part in this scheme. In dealing with the various points made by many honourable members perhaps I should reiterate that in performing its function of providing a hearing aid service for children the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories have developed a first class, integrated service comprising the counselling of deaf persons in regard to the nature of their disability, the extent to which they can be assisted by a hearing aid and, in appropriate cases, the testing of hearing and the fitting of an aid and subsequent maintenance. Many honourable members paid tribute to the Laboratories for this service. All these activities are undertaken by professionally trained persons and are directed not merely to the supply of an aid but to the overall task of giving a person with a hearing deficiency the maximum degree of assistance.
The Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories service is much more comprehensive than that ordinarily given by commercial hearing aid organisations, and for this reason the Government thought that its objective of making the best service available to pensioners could be achieved only by the provision of the service through the Laboratories. At present the supply of hearing aids to the community is not subject to statutory requirements in relation to such matters as the maintenance of professional ethics, the standards of hearing aid performance and requirements for training of personnel for hearing tests, fitting and the maintenance of hearing aids. Statutory requirements in these matters would, of course, be a subject for State legislation. In observing that there are no statutory requirements in these matters, I make h clear that I am not suggesting that in general the standards observed by hearing aid suppliers are necessarily lower than they ought to be. However, the fact that standards in these matters are not laid down in legislation administered by an appropriate authority is one of the factors which the Government had to take into consideration in deciding on arrangements for the supply of hearing aids to pensioners. I assure the House that the standards in force at the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories are fully in accord with the highest standards which might be expected to be applied if legislation in this matter were introduced.
In the course of discussions with me, representatives of commercial hearing aid suppliers have referred to their aspiration that statutory requirements on these lines should be introduced. I would certainly regard it as a worthwhile step forward if this were to happen. In a number of overseas countries special clinics are being developed at hospitals and other institutions whereby the community may secure proper counselling, bearing testing facilities and so on before the expense of purchasing a hearing aid is incurred. This type of development seems to me to be worthy of every encouragement, and I heartily agree with the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) in that respect. I should certainly like to see the general adoption, among hearing aid suppliers, hospital clinics and other interested organisations, of the principles followed by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories in relation to the supply of hearing aids to children now to be extended to pensioners and their dependants. I am convinced that the general adoption of these principles would ultimately prove of tremendous benefit to every person in the community who was troubled by a hearing deficiency.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to bs moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Dr Forbes) read a third time.
House adjourned at 11.52 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
3 and5. In the period up to 1952-53, the formula employed for determining the annual amounts to be transferred from Consolidated Revenue to the National Welfare Fund produced amounts which greatly exceeded the exenditures from the Fund. As a result, the balance in the Fund had increased to a substantial amount ($370.1m) by 30th June 1952. The Government decided in 1952 that, as from 1952-53, the annual amount to be transferred from Consolidated Revenue to the National Welfare Fund should be equal to the amount expended from the Fund in each year. At the same time, the Government decided not to vary the previous practice under which the balance in the Fund was invested in internal Treasury Bills. Accordingly, in the period since 1952. the balance in the Fund has continued to be invested in internal Treasury Bills and has increased each year by the amount of the interest payments on these Bills. If the balance in the Fund were invested in long-term securities instead of Treasury Bills, the effect would be to increase the interest payments to the Fund from Consolidated Revenue and to increase correspondingly the balance in the Fund.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– It has been assumed that the honourable member’s question refers to small country automatic exchanges, that is, those with a capacity of not more than 200 lines. On this basis, the information required is as follows:
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Air, upon notice:
Can he say how many Fill test aircraft have crashed during trial flights?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Two. One FI IIA and one FU IB. See Hansard page 1911, Wednesday, 10th May 1967.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 to 4. There are no provisions in the programme standards of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board applying specifically to the advertising of cigarettes on radio and television. Following a request by State and Commonwealth authorities, a voluntary code governing the advertising of cigarettes on television has been agreed to between manufacturers and television station licensees. The code which came into effect early last year states:
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
Can he also say in which nations the pension or allowance is provided by -
– The answer to the honourable member’s questions is as follows:
In the majority of countries with age pension or retiring allowance systems, the schemes are based on contributions and the benefits are paid free of a means test. In some contributory schemes benefits are specifically related to contributions paid; in others benefits are payable to persons who meet prescribed conditions without the benefits being geared to the contributions actually paid. In certain countries both features are present.
Some countries, such as Britain, Canada and the Irish Republic, provide age benefits subject to a means test as well as non-means test benefits payable under a contributory scheme. In such countries the means test benefit may be for persons in specified age groups, it may be to supplement the non-means test benefit or it may be to assist persons not qualified for the non-means test benefit.
New Zealand has two types of benefits for the aged, both being on a non-contributory basis. Thus age benefit is payable, subject to a means test, to persons on reaching the age of 60 years. Superannuation benefit is paid, free of any means test, to persons aged 65 years and above. These benefits cannot be paid simultaneously.
In both Australia and South Africa provision is made for the aged through non-contributory pensions payable subject to a means test.
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
What total amounts of unemployment benefit were paid in the Sarina-Mackay-Proserpine District of Queensland in the six-month period from January to June in each of the last three years?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Amounts as shown hereunder were paid by way of unemployment benefit from the Mackay Regional Office of the Department of Social Services during the first six months of each of the last three years:
These amounts include payments made in respect of some small centres in the Mackay region other than those mentioned by the honourable member. These amounts cannot easily be separated from the whole, but from experience, they comprise only a very small proportion.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
Will he obtain from the State Governments the information on Commonwealth Aid Roads payments received by local authorities, which he did not give in answer to me on 19th May 1967 (Hansard, page 2479), in the same way as he obtained the information on Federal drought relief payments received by local authorities, which he gave in his answers to the honourable member for Dawson on 1st September 1966 (page 754) and the honourable member for Werriwa on 28th October 1966 (page 2429)?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The drought relief payments to local authorities to which the honourable member referred were financed wholly from Commonwealth funds which were made available, for this purpose, to the two States concerned.
In contrast to this, assistance provided by the States to local authorities in respect of roads is financed partly from Commonwealth funds and partly from the States’ own resources. The provisions of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1964 do not require the States to allocate any specific proportion of the grants received by them under the Act to local authorities and the extent to which roads assistance to local authorities is financed from the Commonwealth grants rather than a State’s own resources differs from State to State. Moreover, a State may choose to provide assistance to its local authorities by direct expenditure itself on road construction in the local authority areas rather than by payments to the authorities. Here again, practices differ from State to State. For example, some States meet the requirement that at least 40% of the Commonwealth grants must be spent on secondary roads in rural areas by paying to their local authorities amounts equivalent to almost the whole of the 40%, while other States meet it largely by direct expenditure on construction of such roads.
Thus, it is not clear that significance could be attached to figures of payments of Commonwealth Aid Roads grants by the States to local authorities. In the circumstances I do not consider that an approach to the States to obtain figures of such payments to individual local authorities would be justified. However, I have set out in the table below the figures of total payments by each State to its local authorities in 1964-65 and 1965-66 from Commonwealth Aid Roads grants, as shown in returns submitted by the States in accordance with the requirements of the Commonwealth Aid Roads Act 1964. I would emphasise that these figures are subject to the reservations indicated above.
Leprosarium at Derby, Western Australia (Question No. 44.1) Mr Collard asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What amount of finance has been provided by the Commonwealth during each of the past five years for the specific purpose of assisting with the general operation and upkeep of the leprosarium at Derby in Western Australia?
If finance has not been provided for this specific purpose in the past, is there any intention to do so in the immediate future?
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
The Commonwealth, however, assists the State of Western Australia, which is responsible for the cost of the operation and upkeep of the leprosarium, by way of financial assistance grants. In addition, under the procedures followed by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in arriving at the special grant which it recommends for payment by the Commonwealth, Western Australia benefits from special allowances which are made by the Commission in respect of the cost of providing public health servicesin the North-West of the State, including the cost of running the leprosarium at Derby.
Moreover, patients at the leprosarium receiving hospital treatment would be entitled to Commonwealth hospital benefits and those receiving nursing home type care attract Commonwealth nursing home benefit at the rate of$2 a day. Age, invalid and widows’ pensions and child endowment are also payable in respect of eligible inmates.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What total amount of interest will be payable by the Queensland Government on (a) the $19 million loan and (b) the $10 million loan granted by the Commonwealth to assist in the marketing of the 1966 and 1967 sugar crops, respectively?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The total amount of interest to be paid by the Queensland Government on the assistance provided by the Commonwealth Government in respect of 1966 No. 1 Pool sugar is likely to be about $5.8m, payable over the 10 years commencing 1st July 1970. This assumes that repayments by the State will bo by ten equal annual payments of principal and interest, in accordance with clause 8 (1) of the Schedule to the Sugar Marketing Assistance Agreement Act 1967.
The final amount of the assistance to be provided to the Queensland Government to enable the State to assist the sugar industry in respect of 1967 No. 1 Pool sugar has not yet been determined. Consequently, the amount of interest to be paid by the State cannot be ascertained at this point of time.
er asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice: in view of:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
An investigation by the Public Accounts Committee is not warranted. This answer is not to be taken as an admission of the correctness of any statement or implication contained in paragraphs (a)-(g) of the question.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
These figures relate to actual expenditure and not the amounts appropriated. They do not include expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth in its contribution to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus which has been as indicated hereunder in respect of the years shown:
These figures include, in addition to members of the Commonwealth Police Force, officers and employees (e.g., clerks, typists, etc.) employed under the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act in the Commonwealth Police Service. They do not include special members of the Commonwealth Police Force who are serving as members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. Forty special members were serving in Cyprus as at 30.6.64 and in subsequent years.
In determining these figures all expenditure under the votes of the Commonwealth Police Force has been taken into account, including expenditure for the Commonwealth’s contribution to the Central Fingerprint Bureau and Interpol, but excluding the Commonwealth’s contribution to the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 October 1967, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1967/19671024_reps_26_hor57/>.