26th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr BENSON presented a petition from certain citizens of the Commonwealth praying that this House will make a survey of the full requirements of pensioners of all kinds and adopt a policy for the progressive liberalisation of the means test, resulting in its removal within 3 years.
– 1 address a question to the Minister for Civil Aviation. In view of international practice and the approaching saturation of facilities at Kingsford-Smith Airport, will the Government consider immediately the construction of another airport outside the metropolitan area of Sydney? Will it consider also the total prohibition of the use of Kingsford-Smith Airport by modern jet aircraft because of their excessive noise in taking off and landing, such noise being detrimental to the comfort and good health of the residents of my electorate, particularly young children?
– At the outset I should correct the impression that the major Sydney airport is reaching saturation point. There are plans for the future development of that airport - firstly, for the development of the main north-south runway, which has been announced in this House and which the Public Works Committee is examining at present and, secondly, for the provision of parallel sets of runways on the existing site, lt is expected that the facilities will be sufficient to enable the airport to serve as the major international airport in Sydney until about 1985 when, on present projections, it may reach somewhere near saturation point. It may last a lot longer than that before it finally becomes saturated.
When we talk of the saturation of these airport facilities, we are talking about something that is in the long term future. Even so, we have to look ahead, and my Department’s planning is based on the development of airport facilities to cater for requirements until about the turn of the century. On this basis we are looking at the prospect of finding sites which would be suitable and adequate for further airport development to serve Sydney and the east coast of New South Wales. But this is something which is projected some distance into the future, and no site has been selected. The study is still proceeding.
The question of noise is one that has been raised quite consistently on occasions in the past by members on the Government side and by the honourable member himself. This situation will be considerably improved, when the runway extensions into Botany Bay are fully opened. These extensions are to 9,100 feet, and with the new flight paths, more traffic can be diverted over Botany Bay, and the approach from the Bay area and the departure in that region will be considerably improved. At a later time, the further extension into Botany Bay will also help in this field.
Recently I indicated to the House that we have a study being undertaken at the present time into the whole question of approach patterns to Sydney. We are doing this to get the best possible effect of flight control in order to alleviate the problems associated with noise, as far as this can possibly be done. The final point on this question concerns engine design. At present engine manufacturers are working on new types of engines for the new series of aircraft which will be developed shortly, and this will reduce considerably the noise factor in those particular aircraft.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Services. Is it a fact that on the first pension pay day following the grant of pension, age and invalid pensioners receive a full fortnightly instalment of pension whereas widow pensioners receive payment only for the odd days between the date of grant and the pay day? If this is so, can the Minister advise the Mouse why widow pensioners are discriminated against in this fashion?
– I must thank the honourable member for Robertson for raising this question, which covers a subject in which he personally has shown a great deal of interest. What he says is, generally speaking, correct. Although there are identical sections in the Act, in the past the Department has treated widow pensioners as being paid in arrears and has treated age and invalid pensioners as being paid in advance. I am happy to tell the House that I have arranged with my Department for this anomaly to be corrected and that in future, on the first application, a widow will receive a full instalment, just as an age pensioner does. This will take the place of the former partial instalment.
Further, I might add for the information of the House that I have arranged with my Department to give special consideration to a woman who is naturally distressed by reason of the recent death of the husband. I have arranged that if the widow asserts that she is in need - and this is something which will be interpreted in the most liberal fashion by my officers - on production of evidence of death the first instalment will be paid without further delay. This is a matter, on which I think a considered Press statement should be issued later in the week, so I shall not take up the time of the House by explaining the details now.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. How often does the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads report to the Minister? What recommendations from the Bureau to the Minister or to his predecessors have been adopted up to the present time? Does a demarcation dispute exist between the Bureau and the National Association of Australian State Road Authorities concerning a federal highway system?
– The Commonwealth Bureau of Roads has been constituted as an advisory body to the Government. It has several functions. The particular responsibility which involves a good part of the Bureau’s time is the compilation of the statistical information necessary to determine the formulation of policy under the Commonwealth aid roads grant legislation. At this stage the Bureau is finalising its recommendations to the Government. During the course of its investigations it undertook, in association with the National Association of Australian State Road Authorities, a survey of estimated road needs in
Australia. There was some dispute, particularly on the part of some country shires, as to the standards set for the purpose of this survey, as they were somewhat less than those previously established, particularly in rural areas in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. However, the findings of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads are to be divulged, as in the past, for the purpose of assisting the Government in formulating policy. The Bureau of Roads is an advisory body for this purpose. It reports frequently to me on particular projects which it undertakes as direct references or as general references in connection with Commonwealth aid roads grants.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. In a speech he delivered recently .did the right honourable gentleman confirm that the Government would continue to be responsible for tariff policy? Is he aware that it. is high costs, chiefly due to tariff protection of secondary industry, and not lower prices for primary products that are causing the prevailing dissatisfaction, uncertainty and in many cases financial embarrassment to primary producers? In order to reduce the gap between the economies of secondary industry and primary industry, will the Prime Minister make an investigation with a view to reducing tariff protection to secondary industry or to introducing substantial price support for primary industry?
– It is undoubtedly true, as honourable members will remember, that not only yesterday but the day before I announced unequivocally in this House that the Australian Government would make policy decisions on tariff matters following the advice of the Tariff Board but not necessarily accept that advice. In regard to the second part of the question, I do understand that it is increasing costs that are causing difficulty to many farmers in some industries, though these are being cushioned to no small extent by the greater efficiency and productiveness being shown by farmers in many industries. In regard to the third part of the question, I would point out to the honourable member that already considerable support and subsidies are given to many sections of primary industry. I need only mention the home consumption price of wheat, the guaranteed price for a quantity of export wheat, and the home consumption price fixed for the sale of butter, sugar and other commodities, to indicate that it would not be right to suggest that no price support and no subsidies are provided for primary industry.
– My question also is addressed to the Prime Minister. Did the document transferring Point Peron from the Commonwealth to Western Australia state that the land should be used for recreation purposes and/or park lands? Has the Western Australian Government disclosed that it is resuming about half of the peninsula’s 464 acres for industry, a sewage farm and an approach to the projected causeway to Garden Island? Has the State Government further stated that the National Fitness Council, the Department of Education and other organisations with holiday camps will have to move from the peninsula? If this is so, is the action of the State Government a breach of the transfer agreement and will the Prime Minister take steps to see that the conditions of the agreement are complied with?
– The answer to the last part of the honourable member’s question is no, I am not prepared to give an undertaking that we will take steps to see that the original arrangement between the Commonwealth and the Western Australian Government in regard to this matter is complied with. Yes, land in that area was transferred by the Commonwealth to the State of Western Australia. It was quite a considerable area of land. There has been put forward by the Western Australian Government what appears to be a perfectly sensible proposal for some of this land to be made available for access to a docking and shipping area which it is planned to be developed in Cockburn Sound. I would have thought that, from the point of view of any honourable member representing Western Australia, it would have been advantageous to have that development at Cockburn Sound. If it is to occur, then there is a need for access across the land to which the honourable member refers.
I could go further and say that if at some time in the future - and I specify no time - Garden Island and Cockburn Sound were to be required for naval purposes for this country, as so many Western Australians have so often suggested, then this access across this land and then across the causeway to Garden Island would also very likely be required. So, I am not prepared to accede to the implied request by the honourable member that these suggestions by the Western Australian Government should be turned down out of hand.
– My question, which I address to the Minister for Primary Industry, refers to the difficulties of the citrus industry in South Australia in particular and to the organised marketing situation as it applies in that State at present. My question is: Firstly, does the Government encourage orderly marketing? Secondly, does the Minister recognise the difficulties of one State so organised if other States are not so organised? Thirdly, does the Minister notice any signs of other States falling into a similar line of thinking? Finally, will the Minister use his influence to try to achieve a national orderly marketing situation for citrus with consequent stabilised prices to growers and better stability in costs to consumers in general?
- Mr Speaker, of course the Government encourages orderly marketing of primary commodities. There is plenty of experience to show that we have been successful in doing this with the wheat industry, the dairy industry and the sugar industry, to name a few of quite a number of industries in which orderly marketing is to be found. But regarding the citrus industry, there is only one State where it is really well organised. This is South Australia. Discussions have taken place within the citrus industry to form a national body and to have some form of stabilisation. Unfortunately there are different opinions within the industry in different States because of the times when crops are harvested and because of the various prices which different producers receive according to the period in which their crops are harvested.
These matters -have been brought up for discussion at the. Australian Agricultural Council. But unless we have unanimity among all the Australian States on this matter there can be no successful orderly marketing arrangements. I will do whatever I can to bring about a successful orderly marketing scheme within the citrus industry If the honourable member nas any specific suggestions on how to achieve this, 1 will be only too happy to take them up.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister and is supplementary to that asked by the honourable member for Mallee. I ask the Prime Minister: In considering the matter of tariffs raised in the annual report of the Tariff Board, will he give thought first of all to the price and profit structure in Australia > as it relates to the actual’ costing system that at present operates within the framework of the Australian civil economy? In doing so, will he have due regard to the fact that the increased cost referred to at the level of production in the main comes from increased profits flowing through to the increased element of the wage structure? Will he, in analysing this situation, .–, at the matter of conciliation and arbitration in Australia as it relates to the wage structure while at the same time examining the cost structure to determine whether some measure of control should be . operating at the prices level’ before the tariff question is really met?
– 1 think this question comes very close to being a question asking about policy, but only close to it. So 1 will give two answers. The first is that it is the business of the Tariff Board, properly constituted as the’ adviser to the Government, to consider all the factors involved in the reference to it before it makes its advice to the Government. When it does make its advice to the Government, the Government will consider that advice and, according to its own policy decisions, accept it or not accept it. In regard to the second part of the question, I do not understand why it is that the honourable member and so many, if not all, of those who sit on his side of the House should without qualification have such an objection to profits being made. If By the use of more efficient and more effective means, of new inventions and the introduction of new ideas goods can be produced more cheaply than they were produced before and yet bring higher profits, ought not those profits to be a reasonable reward for producing goods at a cheaper price?
– I ask the Acting Minister for Trade and Industry whether the Government is doing everything possible to bring to the notice of Australian exporters advice given recently by Australian trade commissioners in West Germany and Scandinavia about the need for detailed market research in order to capitalise on opportunities that exist in those countries.
– I thank the honourable member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. It is upon questions of this nature and general publicity channels that the Department of Trade and Industry must rely primarily to bring to the attention of the people the necessity to meet effective market opportunity by gauging the nature of the market and endeavouring to relate the products sold to the needs of the people to whom they are to be sold. In fact, quite a number of publicity media are produced and distributed by the Department, including a magazine entitled ‘Overseas Trading’. In a recent issue this magazine concentrated on the subject matter to which the honourable member has referred. In addition, a number of specific trade promotions are conducted in countries of the region referred to. For example, there was a trade mission to Stockholm in Scandinavia in June and July of last year. There is shortly to be another display in Stockholm at which about 16 Australians are to present a display of Australian goods. Another one is being staged in Cologne. These displays are frequently being undertaken and manned by Australians, and they provide an opportunity to bring home to Australian exporters the needs of the markets of the region. It will be seen that an effort is made to accommodate all people who have an interest in the area and to bring to them the purport of the honourable member’s question.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister a question supplementary to those asked by the honourable member for Blaxland and the honourable member for Mallee. Is the right honourable gentleman aware that Mercedes Benz (Australia) Pty Ltd has made a profit of 100%, that General-Motors Holden’s Pty Ltd has made profits of over 100% recently, that big emporiums in both Melbourne and Sydney over the last 6 years have made profits of over 40%. and the Caterpillar of Australia Pty Ltd has made a profit of over 100%?
-Order! 1 ask the honourable member to direct his question.
– That is the question, Mr Speaker. Does the Prime Minister regard those as being reasonable profits?
– I have not got at my fingertips, as the honourable member obviously has, the level of profit or alleged level of profit made by a number of industrial concerns. Nor indeed do I see that the question is particularly supplementary to the one asked by the honourable member for Blaxland. The implication in the honourable member’s question was that profits at all times were bad.
– Yes, it was. What I wish to point out is that what one needs to do is to examine the methods by which profits are made and not to make this kind of blanket statement. If by restrictive practices - and this Government has shown that it recognises the badness of restrictive practices - is meant the fixing of artificially high prices to make artificially high profits, then no-one would support that. If, as I said, by the introduction of more effective and efficient methods, by harder work or by the use of new inventions goods are produced more cheaply and higher profits are able to be mode, we are in favour of that.
– 1 direct a question to the Postmaster-General. Is it a fact that the traditional reputation of postal employees was that they took pride in their service and in the efficiency of its operation and believed that whatever the obstacles - fire, hell or high water - the mails must get through? Is it a fact also that in recent times this image is being destroyed and many organisations are driven to the private delivery of their mail? As the present postal strike appears to be growing to tragic proportions, will the Minister take all possible action to bring common sense and responsibility to the service?
– In answer to the first part of the honourable member’s question, I think it is right to say that in earlier days it was believed and was accepted by workers in the postal unions, that the mails should get through. I think the honourable member will appreciate, as every other honourable member will, that in recent years there has been a change in the industrial scene in Australia and other countries and as a result the postal unions have aligned themselves with the general type of activity taking place in industrial unions generally. At present there is a stoppage at the General Post Office in Sydney. Several stoppages have taken place in recent years. Unfortunately more of these stoppages have occurred in Sydney, the capital city of the honourable member’s State, than anywhere else. The Government at all times has done its best to keep people on the job. But unfortunately it is not always sweet reasonableness that prevails in dealing with these situations. I would hope that the strike to which the honourable member refers will be short lived. 1 believe this action taken by the union in Sydney is completely unjustified. I think that the management was entitled to move some employees from a place of slack working to an area where there was an excess of work rather than allow a situation of slackness in one area and pay overtime in another.
– In asking the Prime Minister a question, I refer to the recent call by the Australian Resources Development Bank for subscriptions totalling $10m. The right honourable gentleman will recall that subscriptions offered totalled $80m, of which the bank accepted only S20m. I ask: Does he agree that this happy result gives one encouragement to hope that the development of further investment raising institutions will help narrow much more the gap between our investment needs and domestic savings and thus beneficially diminish to a considerable extent our dependence on foreign investment? What proposals has the Government in hand to develop such further institutions or at least to expand the activities of the Australian Resources Development Bank?
– It is obviously true that to the extent to which loan capital can be raised either inside Australia, or for that matter outside Australia, provided that loan capital is used reproductively, then that reduces the amount by which we have to depend on the inflow of other forms of overseas capital. This year, as I have already announced to the House, there has been a considerable level of loan raising overseas negotiated on behalf of the Commonwealth. Judging by the tenor of the honourable member’s question, I think he would agree that this is good for the development of Australia. As for the plans for ways of attempting to raise more capital through a particular bank or by other means within Australia, that is’ a question directed at Commonwealth Government policy.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, again refers to the vital subject of decentralisation of industry and population throughout Australia, with particular reference to the activities of the joint CommonwealthState officials committee on this subject. I remind the Prime Minister that he took action which resulted in a statement on this subject being issued on 14th June of this year. As a further 4 months have now elapsed, is he in a position to comment on any further progress that the Committee has made or will he take the necessary action to ascertain what further progress has been made and canvass the possibility of another statement being issued?
– I understand that studies have been made by the body to which the honourable member referred. They have involved an examination of the relative costs to firms and individuals in locating in various country towns and so on. These are public costs, as distinct from the costs to the firms, in providing public services in various localities, including cities and small centres. Studies have been made of labour conditions and characteristics. The position is that a draft report has been completed and is under revision by the body concerned. It is expected that the report will be forwarded as soon as possible, but that is about all I can tell’ the honourable member.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Yesterday in reply to a question about the proposed execution of leaders in Indonesia the Prime Minister said that any comment he made would involve Australia in the internal affairs of Indonesia. Does he agree with responsible newspapers in this country that the Indonesian leaders who have been condemned to death were tried by a kangaroo court? Will he, in the name of humanity, ask the Indonesian Government to commute the death sentences imposed on these people? Will he agree that, coming from the Prime. Minister of a friendly neighbouring country, such a request would receive favourable consideration and might prevent further bloodshed?
– I have no intention whatsoever of commenting on the legal processes of an independent government of Indonesia or on the way in which it runs its country as a government and administers law and justice in its country. I can only repeat that I believe any such comment by me would quite properly be regarded as an intervention in the internal affairs of that country.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation whether he is able at this advanced stage to give the House an indication of the date for the completion of the 9,100-foot strip into Botany Bay and its introduction as a fully operational strip, including the instrument landing system at the northern end.
– The engineering work on this runway was completed a short time ago and it is partly in operation at the moment. The work on the instrument landing system is proceeding and we expect that it will be completed some time in December of this year. As soon as the instrument landing system is completed the runway will be brought fully into operation.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral a question. Has he anything further to report about the progress and nature of the amendments to the Australian Capital Territory Companies Ordinance relating to life assurance companies which were announced by the Prime Minister in bis capacity of Acting Treasurer on 22nd September?
– Considerable work has been done on this matter. The honourable member will appreciate that it involves the problem of nominees, a problem that has troubled governments around the world. However, the matter is now proceeding to the draftsman and I hope that at least a draft ordinance will be available at an early date now that actual instructions have been prepared.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister. By way of short preface may I say that the right honourable gentleman is no doubt familiar with the Pavlovian practice by which healthy, intelligent, happy dogs which are given contradictory signals can be reduced to a state of utter confusion and depression. Having regard to this practice and its application to other forms of life, wilt the right honourable gentleman heed the ravaging that has taken place in this chamber and let us all know whether an election is on or off?
– I am aware of the methods which were worked out by that eminent Russian scientist, Dr Pavlov, and which commend themselves so much to the honourable member. One of the methods was to ring a bell and then either feed the dog or give it an electric shock so that it never knew what was around the corner. That is the situation in which the honourable member finds himself, but he will not find himself in it for much longer.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for External Territories. Is it a fact that gross private investment in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea is estimated to be in excess of $S0m per year? Is it planned to allow this investment to increase to $10Om per annum by 1972-73? Can the Minister inform the House of the gross amount of private investment already in the Territory and how much of this comes from, firstly, Asian sources, secondly, Australian sources, thirdly, other foreign sources, and fourthly, sources within the Territory? If not, why not? Further, can he yet give an answer to the question that I placed on notice on two occasions, the first time at least 2 years ago, seeking to ascertain the amount of capital repatriated from the Territory to Australia and to other countries in each of the last 5 years? Finally, does the Government intend to follow in the Territory the same slipshod methods of control of private investment and the repatriation of capital as it has followed in Australia - methods which have been described by the Leader of the Australian Country Party as being like selling a bit of the farm each year?
– It is our policy to promote private investment in the Territory because the Government recognises that future economic advancement depends very materially on such investment. As to the particular points raised by the honourable member, I do not happen to have the information in my mind but I will endeavour to find out and will advise him. As regards local investment, we have made very extensive provision for this. Our policy is to ensure that local investment will represent as large a major proportion as possible of total private investment in the Territory in the future.
– Has the Minister for External Territories seen a special publication by the Australian Conservation Foundation dealing with the conservation of Norfolk Island? Has he seen the recommendations of the Foundation dealing with the conservation of the indigenous fauna, flora and landscape of the island and the suggestions for town and country planning? Has any action been taken on these recommendations? I realise that the report has not long been printed. Will the Minister make a forecast as to future conservation plans for Norfolk Island?
– I have read the report to which the honourable member has referred. I found it most interesting and valuable. The report points out that Norfolk Island is a volcanic island, quite old geologically and uninhabited until recent centuries. All of the flora and fauna of the island have evolved in this isolation, making the island unique from the point of view of naturalist interest. The endeavour of the Australian Conservation Foundation is to seek means by which the natural environment of the island may be preserved for future study. I have referred the report to the Administrator of Norfolk Island and the Norfolk Island Council for consideration and advice. 1 am hopeful that we will be able to give effect to the Foundation’s recommendations.
– I ask the Minister for Civil Aviation a question. I refer to the honourable gentleman’s statement of 20th September last regarding the decision of Ansett-MMA to withdraw its air services from Albany and the Murchison area of Western Australia and to consider withdrawing from other low traffic routes in Western Australia, ls Ansett-MMA arranging to withdraw its services from about 30 aerodromes in Western Australia? Did the Minister or his Department seek the views of local authorities in the Murchison area before approving the change of air service? If. not, why not? Are Hicks Aviation Co. Pty Ltd and/or Civil Flying Services (WA) Pty Ltd to be subsidised in a manner similar to the way Ansett-MMA is subsidised? Will the Minister give an assurance that air fares and freights will not be increased or services reduced under the new arrangements? Finally, if Ansett-MMA is dropping only the uneconomic flights, will the airline be expected to operate henceforth without the benefit of subsidy? Will there be a need to alter the agreement with Ansett-MMA and, if so, in which way?
– Ansett-MMA has announced some changes in services on certain routes in Western Australia. This is a matter of close study between officials of the company and officers of my Department. The honourable member will be aware that the total operations of the airline in the west are subsidised substantially by the Commonwealth. This is done under an agreement which will remain in force until about 1971, when it will be reviewed. Most of the routes covered by the airline are classified as developmental routes and in total they, attract some form of subsidy. Over recent years, with the advent of more sophisticated types of aircraft, it has become obvious that airline operations in the areas under discussion presented very difficult economic problems. Also, the provision of an adequate subsidy was becoming a greater burden to the Government. Ansett-MMA has sought to readjust certain routes within the currency of the agreement with the Government. This is being done in consultation with officers of my Department in Perth. The intention is that the third level service or what is called the commuter type operation will take over in areas where the current service is withdrawn. The only assurance that I can give in relation to the services is that services will be provided. It is not intended to allow MMA to withdraw from any route where a service will not be provided by a commuter operator in the future.
I cannot, at present, give any indication concerning fares or freight rates. These are matters for negotiation when licences are issued to commuter operators and when consideration is given to points that obviously have some bearing on the general economics of the State and the districts. The policy generally has been not to provide subsidies to commuter operators. However in view of the circumstances in Western Australia we will have to examine this situation as a special case. This will be another matter to be studied in the near future. It should be understood quite clearly that services will be provided in this particular region and, whether or not they are maintained at an airline standard or at the commuter level, they should be quite adequate.
– ls the Minister for Primary Industry aware that the owners of some of the larger fishing vessels in the Port Lincoln fishing fleet are considering leaving that area to join in the prawn fishing boom in the Gulf of Carpentaria? What is the main reason for this proposed exodus of fishing vessels from Port Lincoln? There are thirty ships in the Port Lincoln tuna fleet. Apart from these, local fishermen report that twenty-three Japanese long line boats are fishing in the grounds off Port Lincoln. Will the Minister take action to prevent foreign fishing vessels from working in this area in order to protect local fishermen?
– 1 have heard that discussions or negotiations are taking place between some of the tuna fishermen at Port Lincoln and the operators of a large purseine vessel - I think it is the ‘Esperitu Santo’, an American vessel which was purchased by the local co-operative - to go to the Gulf of Carpentaria as a fishing fleet operating with a mother vessel. No doubt these negotiations are related to the poor fishing seasons at Port Lincoln during the last 2 years, when catches have been welt below those of previous years. We do not know why the catches have been poor. This situation may coincide with the two mild winters that have occurred in the southern parts of Australia; but it does not coincide with the good catches that have been taken in the southern areas of New South Wales, where this season there has been a record catch which was almost double the previous record catch. 1 have had no reports of Japanese fishermen fishing within or near the 12-mile limit, although I know that long line tuna vessels are operating in the region. Should any of them come within the 12-mile limit I should be pleased to be informed. I would then take the necessary action.
Fill AIRCRAFT Ministerial Statement
Debate resumed from 26 September (vide page 1580), on the following papers presented by Mr Gorton:
PI 1 1 Aircraft - Documents relating to purchase and on the motion of Mr Swartz:
That the House take note of the papers.
– I move:
We are confronted today with a spectacular display of governmental solidarity on the Fill aircraft purchase. The list of Government speakers could almost be termed a fly past of every senior member of the Government committed to the success of the aircraft. With such an array of accomplished and informed speakers the Government should be able to set at rest foi all time the grave doubts about the Fill project. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) tabled in this House on 26th September 1968 a number of documents related to the FI 1 1 aircraft purchase. These documents were tabled simultaneously in the Senate where the Opposition had forced the Government’s hand by carrying a motion for this tabling. The Government was forced to make some gesture towards meeting this requirement. Very grudgingly it has tabled the meagre set of papers that are at present before the House. Despite the inadequacies of the documents tabled it is possible to gain a clearer perspective of the whole Fill project which has lurched crazily from mishap to mishap.
These papers give tantalising glimpses of the processes which have thrust this vastly expensive weapons system upon an economy and a defence structure which arc not equipped to sustain it or to utilise it effectively. There are many inconsistencies in the rationale adopted by the Government in tabling these papers. The Opposition always made it clear that it did not want the tabling of documents which infringed security requirements. It was a political ploy of the Prime Minister to grandstand about security infringements. Tt was never in question at any time that the Opposition would insist on documentation which contained such information. The Prime Minister also made great play of confidential arrangements between Australia and the United States of America. Again, then: was no point at issue between the Government and the Opposition. We agree that infringements of confidential arrangements between governments are undesirable and should not be published.
Having accepted these requirements, it is impossible to find any logical connection between the documents which the Government has tabled and the immeasurably greater volume of documents which it has failed to table. The Prime Minister has tabled in the House the text of the technical arrangement and the financial arrangement, with some deletions for security purposes but substantially in full. However, he nas noi tabled the co-operative logistics arrangement, apparently on the ground- that this is confidential between the two Governments. It is difficult to understand why technical and financial arrangements are not confidential, but that the logistics arrangewent is.
Another example of inconsistency in the selection of documents tabled is the extract from the minute of 4th May 1967 of a meeting between Secretary Hicks and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kuss on AustralianUnited States co-operative logistics. This extract is an extremely interesting one which raises a number of questions not answered by the other documents tabled. Appended to this extract is a tabulation of comparative estimated costs by the United States Air Force and by the Australian Department of Air. Surely this document has the status of a confidential document between the two governments; yet it was tabled. If it was possible to publish this minute, surely it is possible to publish the minutes of the innumerable other meetings between United States and Australian officials which must be just as enlightening. In view of the documents tabled, there seems to be no reason why the great bulk of the documents available should not be tabled for the illumination of the House.
The consistent theme running through the documents is the deterioration of a programme hastily based on inadequate information and on insecure foundations. The whole picture is one of a weapons system procurement programme completely out of control. The tabling of the memorandum of understanding between Mr McNamara and Mr Townley confirms the criticism frequently made by the Opposition in this House that this was a willy-nilly agreement to buy twenty-four aircraft without consideration of cost or provision for contractual variation. This agreement was formalised in the technical arrangement which binds the Government. The Prime Minister has chosen to give only a tantalising selection of the great range of documents which should have been supplied to the House. Nevertheless, there are a host of unanswered questions arising from the papers he has chosen to supply.
I intend to concentrate my comments on these documents to two main areas. The first is the quality and accuracy of information supplied to this House on the cost of support facilities and reconnaissance conversion over the past 2 years. The second is the provision of a reconnaissance capability for the Fill, which the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) is fond of labelling as an aircraft with a strike reconnaissance capability.
I refer firstly to a table contained as an appendix to the final document tabled - the minute of a meeting on Australia/ United States co-operative logistics held in Canberra on 4th May 1967. This table of estimated costs lists three series of cost data for the Fill. The first is the United States Air Force advised estimate costs as at December 196S. The second is a similar estimate by the United States Air Force as at April 1967. The third and most significant table is a set of cost estimates supplied by the Australian Department of Air. The table is divided into four sections. The first gives the cost of installed items of United States Air Force procurement; the second relates to support items procured through the United States Air Force, the third relates to the cost of the reconnaissance conversion; and the fourth is a contingency provision to cover cost escalations.
This table induces extreme scepticism about the quality of the information supplied to this House on the cost of the Fill programme. In May last year, the then Minister for Air, the present honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson), told the House that the estimated cost of the Fill programme was $US237m. It is significant that at that time the Minister had before him the cost estimates of the United States Air Force as well as the cost estimates of his own Department. Page 2 of the minute tabled refers to the Department of Air estimates attached to it. The minute states:
In compiling the estimate regard has been given by the Australian Department of Air to the differing maintenance support policies of the USAF and RAAF, the remoteness of Australian bases from prime contractor support, the need to provide for deployment facilities and the requirement for a much greater depth of depot and base support facilities than would normally be required by the USAF for a like number of aircraft.
The implication of this paragraph is that the American estimates of Australian requirements were based on American experience. They did not account for the peculiar character of the Australian environment in which the support facilities for the Fill would be required. There is an overwhelming inference that reliance is placed on the Department of Air estimates as being much more accurate, bearing in mind Australian characteristics, than the estimates of the United States Air Force. When the honourable member for Fawkner gave his estimate of $US237m in May last year his calculations were based on the American estimates which, as pointed out in the minute, diverged widely from those of his Department. The honourable member’s estimate included $US153m for the basic cost of the aircraft. This is the ceiling cost which according to the Minister of Defence, cannot be pierced. The remaining $84m comprised support facilities and reconnaissance conversion. The figure which the then Minister for Air gave the House were those of the United States Air Force. The comparable figures from the Minister’s own Department are significantly higher.
The Department’s estimate of support items totalled $113m compared with the American figure of S77.7m. The American estimate of reconnaissance conversion was $6.6m. The Australian estimate was $ 15.3m. The American total was S84m which was the figure given to Parliament by the then Minister for Air. The Australian total was $128m, a difference of $US44m from the Minister’s figures. Add the fly away cost of the aircraft and the American total is $237m which the then Minister supplied to the House. The Australian estimate totalled $282m including the fly away cost. That the Australian estimate was significantly closer to the mark has since been confirmed. There does not seem to be the slightest justification for this numerical sleight of hand. It is impossible to see why the Minister neglected to give the estimates of his own Department to the House, unless he deliberately concealed them for political reasons.
– Read what 1 said.
– The honourable member for Fawkner has a clear duty to explain why he supplied the House with American estimates when equivalent and much more accurate Australian estimates were available at the time. If the Minister had used the Australian estimates instead of the American estimates he would have found a total figure of $282m, $44m more than the figure that he gave to the House at that time, lt cannot be stressed too strongly that the Minister should have given the estimates of his Department to this House. It is shameful that figures were juggled and distorted in this way to conceal estimates made by the Department of Air of the cost of the FI 1 1 purchase.
The validity of these estimates was revealed in May this year, when the Minister for Defence gave a figure of $120m for the cost of support items procured through the United States Air Force. This is much the same as the estimate of Si 13m available 13 months earlier from the Department of Air. Tn May, the Minister for Defence gave a total estimate of around 5300m including $34m for reconnaissance conversion. The estimates by the Depart ment of Air to which I have referred included a contingency figure of 10% for prices increases which brought its total estimate up to $294.6m. Quite clearly, the Government had accurate estimates of a total cost of about S300m for the total cost of the purchase 13 months before this figure vas supplied to the House, lt can only be concluded that there has been an irresponsible suppression of facts which were then available.
The Government seems to have decided that an announcement of an increase to $237m would be acceptable hut an increase to $300m would be politically damaging. Although this figure of $294m was available and has since been shown extremely accurate, the Government decided to disclose the unpalatable facts gradually rather than to confront the Parliament and the people with a gigantic rise of S80m at one hit. There has been a deliberate masking of the rate of cost escalation. If not, why were not these Department of Air estimates revealed by the former Minister for Air in May last year?
Great stress is placed on the divergence between Australian and American estimates in the document, and it is plainly to bc inferred that the Department of Air estimates are the more reliable estimates. However, when it came to the crunch, the Government resorted to the shoddy deception of giving American estimates which it knew to be understated because of lack of familiarity with Australian conditions. The tabling of this document has shown a contemptible lack of frankness in disclosures to the Parliament of the mounting cost of the aircraft.
Sir, the second area of grave concern arising from the documents is the history of the reconnaissance capability of the Fill which is disclosed. Here, it is worth pointing to the great differences in emphasis between the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence when they talk of the Fill. In tabling the papers, the Prime Minister laid all emphasis on the strike capability of the Fill. He gave the impression that it was intended purely as a strike bomber and completely ignored the need for any reconnaissance capability. This is in marked contrast to the Minister for Defence who inevitably refers to the strike reconnaissance capability of the aircraft This reveals the considerable discrepancy between the attitudes of these two gentlemen on what is intended for the FU I.
It is an interesting exercise to trace through the history of the reconnaissance side of the Fill. On 2 May this year, the Minister for Defence rightly said that a reconnaissance element was essential to the effective use of the Fill. There can be no quarrel with the honourable gentleman on this count, lt is a very sound piece of military logic. Because the Fill would be useless without a reconnaissance element, the original agreement provided for the purchase of 18 strike aircraft and 6 reconnaissance aircraft. Included in the original programme cost of $125m were 6 RF111A aircraft. That is the version being developed exclusively to provide reconnaissance capability.
This intention was confirmed in the technical arrangement which states in article II that 18 FI IIA and 6 RF111A type aircraft were to be purchased. However, sub-section 2 of Article II provides that the Australian Government may select on a timely basis with the approval of the United States Government a further 6 FI IIA aircraft instead of the 6 reconnaissance aircraft. It is not explained why this proviso was considered necessary. Apparently the Government chose to exercise this option although when and why this decision was made are not evident’ in the documents tabled. It seems incredible that the Government should have decided to buy 24 strike aircraft with no reconnaissance capability, but it appears that this was the decision.
Then, in 1966, it seems to have recurred to the Government that this purchase would be useless without reconnaissance capability. In July 1966, the then Minister announced that 6 of the 24 aircraft bought would be returned to the United States in 1970 for reconnaissance conversion. The table of estimated costs to which I referred earlier gives two estimates of the cost of this conversion as at April 1967. The United States estimate was $6.6m while the Australian estimate was $ 15.2m. Again, the Minister chose to use the American estimate which, as I pointed out earlier, was incorporated in the misleading figures he gave to the House. A Royal Australian Air Force estimate of $15.2m was ignored by the Minister although it was more accurate than the American estimate.
The most recent estimate of cost of this conversion given by the Minister for Defence on 2nd May was $US34m. The situation now is that if the Fill is to have reconnaissance capability, 6 of the aircraft must be returned to the United States for conversion at an estimated additional cost of $34m. The significant fact is that if it had been decided to proceed with the purchase of 6 RF111A aircraft in the terms of the technical arrangement, this additional cost would not have been necessary. The cost of the 6 aircraft would have been contained within the negotiated upper limit for the aircraft. This indicates a remarkable lack of foresight and decisiveness in defence planning.
The Minister for Defence has said in this House that the Fill is useless without reconnaissance capability. Yet a deliberate decision was made to waive the agreement to purchase the 6 specialist reconnaissance aircraft. Then it was decided to convert 6 strike aircraft to a reconnaissance role. The estimated cost of this reconnaissance conversion has soared quite spectacularly from $6.6m to the latest estimate of $34m. The rate of escalation is much greater than for the whole Fill programme. There must be some very grave doubts about the reconnaissance side of the programme. Originally it was planned that six of the aircraft would be returned to the United States in 1970 for conversion. This schedule provided for the delivery of twenty-four FI 1 1C aircraft to Australia starting in July this year. At the moment all FI 1 1 aircraft are on the ground and there is no certainty that they will be operational again. Under the terms of the technical agreement each plane has to be inspected and certified before Australia takes delivery.
-Order! The honourable members time has expired, ls the amendment seconded?
– 1 second the amendment, and reserve my right to speak to it.
– The offering of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) today indicates how much, with a little distortion and a little overlooking of the facts, one can put a different gloss on a straight story. The Opposition in this chamber is busy supporting its confreres in another place in a cheap attack upon the Government in an attempt to embarrass the Government principally and to discredit the FI 1 1 project for purely political purposes. The demand for additional information which the honourable gentleman has underlined is quite predictable. I simply draw attention at this point to the fact that the motion proposed in this House and the motion proposed in another place by the Opposition contain two different approaches. In this House, by making a virtue out of necessity, the Opposition understands that certain documents are privileged as between governments. In another place no such recognition was given; the Opposition said that only the exclusion of military information was to be accepted.
The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has made it abundantly clear that the Government will not table classified military information. He has also pointed out that in the overall documentation of the project there are papers which must remain confidential as between governments, having reference to matters domestic to the United States and to that country’s relations with other governments. Quite properly, these will not be disclosed. If I may put my views on this matter as clearly as possible, the Australian-American alliance, which the Opposition claims to value, is characterised by the most extraordinary mutual confidence and trust. If we were to accede to the demand for publication of information confidential between our governments merely to assist the Opposition’s cheap political attack, one must expect an end to other than formal and hard business type arrangements as between Australia and the United Slates for the future. The Government is responsible in this matter, and at the moment it is the Government’s exercise of judgment which will prevail. In the light of likely future military developments in our sphere of interest, disclosures of this kind would certainly he as imprudent as they are .unnecessary. The documentation available and the detailed explanation which the Government will offer will satisfy anyone who is seeking to make a purely objective appreciation of the project.
I do not propose to follow the Deputy Leader of the Opposition into his political arguments. They will be dealt with in great detail by my colleagues. I rather want to deal with the facts as I know them and as the tabled documents establish them, for here we are dealing with a major project involving the future defence of this country. There have been technical difficulties with the aircraft. Unfortunately they continue. But there have been technical difficulties with every aircraft ever built. There have been losses in the early stages of flying. This situation, too, has been common to almost every new military type ind new civil types. The losses of F1 1 1 aircraft in the first 10,000 hours of flight were below those of the last series of United States military aircraft. Up to 15,000 hours of flight the Fill continued with its earlier good record. If one begins from the heavily qualified estimated cost in 1963 of St 25m quoted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition quite erroneously, as he knows, it is agreed that the cost of the project has continued to rise. So also have the costs for every developmental project, and nowhere with greater justification than in the Fill concept of a military weapons system which has virtually hurdled what would normally be a generation of technological development.
We in this House have listened with diminishing patience to the Opposition’s constant attack upon the Government over this matter since 1963. Tt fascinates me, as it will my colleagues, to wonder what the
Labor Party would have done in office. In October 1963 the Leader of the Opposition was firm and clear in his demand, which I quote:
The Labor Party believes that the Canberras should be replaced immediately.
He later said:
We- the Labor Party - would acquire a small number of replacements, possibly the Vigilante or the Phantom, to fill the bill until the TSR2, or some other suitable plane, is available is 4 or 5 years time.
The Government agreed with the need to replace the Canberras but it exercised a practical judgment based on the circumstances at the time and saw no immediate demand which would warrant our passing up the possibilities of the best aircraft likely to be produced in the reasonable future in favour of one which barely met our requirements. It goes without saying that Labor’s programme would have cost perhaps $US200m. On the statement of the Leader of the Opposition, they would now be seeking to replace obsolete aircraft. With what? There is nothing anywhere to support a possible Opposition claim that they could have made a better contract. In 1963 the Fill concept was so far ahead of current experience in all fields of military aviation that a tremendous programme of research and development was completely unavoidable. Does the Labor Party now suggest that it might somehow have got a fixed price contract in the light of this research programme of unpredictable length, depth and cost? Impossible!
The Opposition complains because there is no provision for cancellation in the contract. But does the Opposition suggest that this country could honourably undertake even a minor share in a research and development programme of this kind and opt out of it without penalty? I do not have the slightest doubt that we could negotiate our way out of the contract at this stage, if circumstances called for it, just as the United Kingdom is now doing. But there must inevitably be an enormous penalty and we would be left without a strike and, to pacify the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, reconnaissance capacity. Will the Opposition tell us at what stage Labor would have cancelled the project, and, having cancelled it, what it would have done? Does the
Opposition suggest it could now buy the Fill aircraft at any less than we are paying for it? Or would it go on into a dangerous future with the kind of limited strike reconnaissance capacity which the Leader of the Opposition himself condemned so roundly in 1963?
Let me draw comparisons between Australia and the United Kingdom. Coming into the project when so much of the research and development work had been done, the United Kingdom was able to negotiate a stated price subject, nevertheless, to escalation for the increased costs of labour and material after the stated date in 1965. The same terms were forthwith available to us and we could have paid the same price for the Fill as did the United Kingdom. Could there be any more powerful endorsement of Australia’s judgment than the fact that the United Kingdom cancelled its own TSR2 development project, which was then on the point of flight trials, in favour of the Fill? The United Kingdom’s endorsement of our judgment continued when it accepted the range, pay load and performance of the aircraft as adequate to justify its deployment in South East Asia. Only economic pressures forced the United Kingdom to cancel the project to the tune of lamentations from the Minister for Defence in that country over the loss of this strike reconnaissance capability. If we are condemned for selecting Fill, for putting confidence in its builders, for assessing it as suitable for our purposes, and for paying S5.95m a copy for it, then so too must the United Kingdom Government be condemned. Now let me draw some comparisons with the United States. Today, Australia has the nearest one will ever get to a fixed price on a project of this kind. The memorandum of understanding and the technical arangements give us equal priority with the United States in delivery, and undertake that our aircraft will be engineered and inspected to the same standards as for the United States itself. The United States deployed the aircraft for operation in South East Asia and clearly accepts it as suitable for this theatre.
We need to understand our dependence on allied help for our own security in the South East Asian area of the future. It goes without saying that we need to be able to make a worthwhile contribution to a joint defence effort, if that should be needed. We are fortunate to have been able to make such satisfactory financial arrangements and special provisions covering logistic support for the aircraft and other aspects of Australian defence. But the fact is that, if we are wrong in our assessment of the value of the aircraft, or of its applicability to our likely military problems, then so too is the United States of America. Thus, the United States and the United Kingdom - two of the world’s most military experienced nations - have endorsed our judgment about the aircraft, have accepted the price and the performance, and have understood that such difficulties as there are, are all but inseparable from the introduction of new aircraft, particularly of this kind.
Let me now survey the history of the project. From 1959 onward, the Department of Air was concerned about the increasing inability of the Canberra to penetrate modern enemy defences, and the selection of a suitable aircraft to replace the Canberra was a matter of long study. In 1963 an RAAF mission went abroad to examine possible replacements, including the TSR2 in the United Kingdom and the TFX , as it then was, in the United States. The mission’s advice to the Government in August of 1963 was that, of the aircraft evaluated, it was clear that the TFX should meet the Air Staffs requirements in almost every respect and, if considered in isolation, should be the logical choice of aircraft with which to replace the Canberra.
There has been some comment about the alleged undue haste with which the Government made up its mind. There might have been some room for reproof in this matter if the Government had given inadequate study to the replacement, but this is clearly not the case on the record. A decision having been made, firmly based on RAAF advice, the Minister for Defence went overseas to consult with the United States. The result was set out in the memorandum of understanding, which accepted that there could not be a fixed price on a developmental project, that Australia would pay only the average estimated unit cost of development and production based on a total production run, and that cost would not be determined until the time of delivery of our twenty-fourth aircraft. Here again
I pause to state that this is one of the other reasons why the Government has clearly not been able to put down a fixed price for the aircraft.
For those who constantly hark back to the initial figure of Si 25m for the project, may I remind them of paragraph 2 of the memorandum of understanding which states:
The Secretary of Defense advised the Minister of Defence that the general order of magnitude of this total programme cost, based on a production run of 1,500 aircraft, is currently estimated to be approximately $125m.
The use of the words ‘general order of magnitude’, ‘estimated’ and ‘approximately’ must immediately establish that the Government well understood the potential for increased costs in the project. Any reference to $125m as the original price is the most complete and utter nonsense.
The technical arrangements developed in support of the memorandum of understanding set out the conditions under which the aircraft would be produced and sold. They provided that the aircraft and equipment would be fabricated to the same documentation and quality standards as are the counterparts for the United States, that the United States Government would use established Department of Defense contracting procedures, and that production or work for the Government of Australia would be placed on the same terms as contracts for the Government of the United States. Does anyone charge that this is inadequate protection for Australia, in the light of American experience?
The memorandum went on to establish that deliveries would be made on a priority basis equal to that of the United States, and to appoint an Australian projects manager so that every aspect of production should be under Australian surveillance. The United States Government undertook that raw materials, components, intermediate assemblies, and end items would be inspected to the same extent, and in the same manner, as are the counterparts for the United States’ own programme. Having regard to the experience of the United States and its immeasurably greater stake in the project, does this indicate laxity on the part of the Australian Government in protecting this country’s interests?
The United States accepted continuing responsibility after delivery to secure correction or replacement if items were found not to be manufactured in accordance with the documentation and, again, we were to have equal priority with the United States in the provision of support equipment. But I emphasise that quantities will be determined by mutual agreement, based on the Australian operational concept of unit deployment. Quite clearly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) has not read the documents well enough to understand the implications of the two tables that be quoted. If there are some lingering doubts in his mind - I doubt whether there are - they will be dispelled by my colleague, the honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson).
Time will not permit me to undertake an excursion into the financial arrangements. Other members of the Government will attend to that. I pause merely to say that, on request, Australia was given the fixed upper limit provision, equivalent to that in the United Kingdom contract. Our financial commitment for the fly away aircraft was limited to the same figure as that of the United Kingdom - $5.95m a copy - subject only to escalation in the costs of labour and materials, and modifications, in a manner which has been stated to the House on any number of occasions. To the unprejudiced mind, the picture is therefore clear.
The Opposition agreed with us in 1963 that we needed superior strike reconnaissance capacity in the Royal Australian Air Force. There is nothing in the strategic assessment for the future which could give any confidence to a decision now to be without it. The Government accepted, in the Fill, the kind of concept and the reasonable expectation of its production which would give us the capability we needed. That judgment was confirmed by the United Kingdom and the United States.
We entered into a financially open ended arrangement because the essential research and development component of the programme rendered any other kind of arrangement completely impossible. We secured the nearest thing possible to a fixed price, as early as that was practicable. Our aircraft will be built and inspected to the same standards as those of the United States itself. Our deliveries will be on a priority basis equal to that country’s. The financial arrangements covering the purchase have been the subject of generous United States assistance at favourable rates of interest.
The final decision to authorise the then Minister for Defence to sign the memorandum was quickly made, but the decision that this was the right aircraft for Australia’s need was made only after intensive study, and on the recommendation of the Government’s technical advisers in the Royal Australian Air Force, the same people upon whom any government in this country would depend for advice on. the same kind of matter. As to the aircraft itself, its price compares favourably with that of any modern aircraft, even for civil use. But if due allowance is made for the tremendous military power inbuilt into the FI 1 1 with its weapons systems, it must be accepted as reflecting today’s unavoidable costs of modern defence equipment on land, at sea, or in the air. And with prospects of widespread change in the disposition of military power in our sphere of interest, a man would be foolish rather than brave to suggest that we can afford inadequate military preparedness in the air, any more than we can afford it elsewhere.
– The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) has not directed iis attention to any of the three clauses in the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard). The Minister wrote a letter, we now know, to Mr McNamara. It concerned price. It is not stated to have concerned anything else. It is one of the documents which have been suppressed. As the documents which have now been tabled illustrate, this Minister has been more responsible than anyone else for the suppression and distortion of information particularly on the price of the Fill aircraft. He has slithered away from it on this occasion, despite the well documented case put by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the basis of such documents as have been tabled.
The last document in the file, the HicksKuss minute of discussion, contains the clearest indication of the way in which the Government and this Minister in particular have withheld information from the Parliament. I particularly rely on the statement made by the Minister last year during the Budget debate. He will remember the speech. It is the one in which he referred to the Fill as the Cadillac of the air, the greatest thing with wings since angels. This is the speech about which the Government is so sensitive that the present Minister for Air (Mr Freeth) bounded with fury from the studio on the eve of a telecast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission ‘like a thirsty vampire sniffing out its target’. Again I quote from the speech of the Minister for Defence. It is no wonder that the Ministers are so sensitive. The Minister for Defence gave as the authority for his encomium an expert, someone who lives and works with this plane’. It turned out later that the expert was the public relations officer of the manufacturer.
In his speech during the Budget debate last year, the Minister said:
As late as last May the Minister for Air (Mr Howson) made a complete disclosure of the trends in the cost of these aircraft. He pointed out that the figure would be $US237m and warned the House that there was still more to come because the research and development phase was not over.
The Minister went on to say:
The basic reason why we are not able to put down a firm price for the aircraft is because we have not been able to decide the quantity of spares and because some of these unit spares are likely to be affected by research and development that has still to be done. It is estimated that the research and development phase of the aircraft will be completed in 6 months time - certainly by the end of the year - and we believe we will then have a figure for the aircraft. Over and above that there may still be some doubt because we are still plodding through the job of assessing our spares requirement. But whatever may be said about this aircraft, we will be getting our money’s worth, regardless of the cost.
In Adelaide on 16th November of last year, the self-same Minister said that it would be January before the ceiling costs of the FI 1 1 would be known and that the final price was expected to be somewhere above the present estimated price of $US237m and somewhere below the $300m stated by the Government’s critics. There was a Senate election campaign under way at the time. I ask honourable members to take particular note of these dates. The HicksKuss meeting took place on 4th May of last year. In a ministerial statement on 9th May of last year the Minister for Air gave the estimated cost as $US237m. The Minister for Defence stated in August of last year during the Budget debate and again in November in the Senate campaign that it was impossible for the Department or the Royal Australian Air Force to estimate the cost because of the spares problem.
The statement of cost which the Minister was certain would be made’ by the end of the year and then not later than January was in fact not made until his defence statement on 2nd May of this year. He presented an estimate as being the very latest figures on the cost of the project. He went very carefully through a catalogue of equipment. It is quite clear from the documents that have been tabled showing the items and the sequence of estimates that they tallied with the RAAF estimates. The documents show that the estimate of May 1968 was available to the Government in April 1967. The estimates given by the Minister in May were specifically, according to his defence statement made this year, those available in April 1967, at the time the statement was made by the Minister for Air - a statement which the Minister for Defence confirmed in his own speech during the Budget debate in August of last year. They were the estimates of the Australian Department of Air and the RAAF. They are contained in the table of comparative estimated costs in the Hicks-Kuss minute. The Minister has not explained why for 12 months the Parliament was allowed to know the estimate of the United States Air Force alone and was denied the estimate of the RAAF. For an entire year the Government presented to the public the lower figure, the United States figure, as being the best, latest and sole estimate in preference to the far more accurate and far more realistic but higher figure of the RAAF.
The reason the Minister for Defence repeatedly gave for delaying the announcement of the revised estimate was the difficulty that the RAAF had in assessing the cost of spare parts. But the RAAF had already made its estimate and the RAAF estimate has been confirmed by subsequent events. This is the Government which talks about loyalty to the RAAF and pretends that to condemn it for its handling of the Fill deal is to condemn the RAAF. This was a deceitful, discreditable and improper manoeuvre; it was unfair to the RAAF, unfair to the Parliament and unfair to the taxpayers and the electors. It is as clear as anything in this dark and squalid story can be that the RAAF figure was suppressed for a year because the Government wanted to get the Senate election out of the way first.
Today the Minister said that the Government acted on the advice of its technical advisers. The Government’s announcement of Mr Townley’s mission on 11th October 1963 was in these terms:
An evaluation team led by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, recently went abroad to assess various aircraft which might suit the RAAF’s requirement. This, however, was purely a technical mission and Mr Townley will take up with the United States authorities matters outside the scope of such a mission.
The Minister again today has quoted from his defence statement of 2nd May, in which he spoke about the TFX and the report of the RAAF. He omitted the next sentence of his defence statement on 2nd May, in which he said:
However, in view of the production time scale for the Fill then known to the RAAF mission and a deteriorating strategic position it turned to the purchase of another type, the RA5C.
The RA5C is the Vigilante. The fact is now known that the RAAF did not recommend exclusively in favour of the Fill. It did not deal with the financial aspects of the contract. It was never consulted about them.
In essence, such documents as have been tabled bear out in every respect all the suspicions and the charges of the Opposition. We have charged that the original decision was a rushed and ill-considered deal made on the eve of the 1963 election, that the deal was made without consultation with or investigation by the RAAF, the Chiefs of Staff, the Department of Defence, the Department of External Affairs, the Treasury or the Attorney-General’s Department; that for these reasons the Government failed to secure basic guarantees about price, performance or delivery and about Australia’s rights in any of these matters. We have charged that there has been repeated withholding of available information about the soaring costs of the Fill from the Parliament, the public, the electors and the taxpayers - and that the Parliament has been repeatedly misled on the question of costs and repayments. Only this week we have had to enter into a further loan to meet the cost.
– And at a higher interest rate.
– Yes, at a still higher interest rate. An examination of these documents and a comparison with other official documents and statements brings out the whole shabby story about the whole shoddy business. Let me remind honourable members of the timetable. On 15th October 1963 Sir Robert Menzies announced an election for 30th November. On 19th October Mr McNamara submitted the first document. Some time between 19th and 22nd October and over a week-end the Cabinet in Canberra cabled Mr Townley in Washington to authorise the deal. On 23rd October Mr Townley wrote doing so. Clearly the available time permitted none of the evaluation, consultation, analyses, queries and clarifications absolutely necessary for a decision of such magnitude and of such far reaching implications and complications. The largest import deal Australia has ever made, the largest defence contract Australia has ever entered into, was concluded by cable over a weekend.
The Minister now says that talk of a project price of $125m was utter nonsense. In winding up the debate on his defence statement on 8th March last he quoted the Melbourne ‘Age’, a newspaper on which he does not always rely, of 18th November 1963, in which Mr Townley was reported as having stressed that the cost of £56m had been only an estimate. In fact, 10 months after the agreement, less than 3 months before the Senate election, the Government was still proclaiming the same figure. Sir Robert Menzies said in his Budget speech on 25th August 1964:
The estimated total cost to Australia of the 24 aircraft remains at the figure of £56m announced by Mr Townley in November of last year.
So in the Budget debate, when we normally consider appropriations, Sir Robert Menzies was still uttering this utter nonsense. The Minister mentioned the British negotiations. In fact the British were responsible for us getting any limit at all on our bill. Apparently there are references to this in the suppressed letter from Mr McNamara to Mr Fairhall and the letter from Mr Fairhall in reply. But at least we can see from the documents that have be:n tabled that we obtained a condition in relation to our contract because the British had previously insisted on such a condition. We never would have got it unless the British bad got it. Some 2i years elapsed before a basic price was provided, and that was provided only because the British had insisted on it for themselves. The contract was drawn in such a way as to give us no inherent bargaining power. We had to plead that something be done for us because it had been done for others who had come later, more cautiously, more prudently and more thoughtfully into the field. So loosely were the agreements framed that 24 years later there was still wrangling between the two governments even about the interest rate that should be paid, as is obvious from the Vance-Hicks minute. The lack of proper procedures, the absence of carefully written guarantees is amply demonstrated by the highly political plea that Sir Edwin Hicks found himself obliged to make in order to gain his point. The minute records:
Finally. Secretary Hicks emphasised that, apart from the inherent validity of Australias expectations as (o credit and interest rate equality, the Australian Government would find it difficult to gain public acceptance of any changes in such expectations - the Government having already weathered the criticisms evoked by the threatened high balances of the initial plan, the current higher Fill costs and certain features of the United States-United Kingdom Fill arrangement.
Has a distinguished Australian public servant ever been put in a more humiliating position by his government than that in which Sir Edwin Hicks was placed in April 1966, having to plead the political difficulties of his own government, to appeal to the magnanimity of a foreign government, to try to establish on behalf of his government a point on interest rates that should have been clarified and established by Cabinet 24 years before? There is no point in this Government cavilling at the interest rates now. They were not as high as those announced this week for the second loan which we have had to negotiate in order to pay the bill, a bill on which we have already paid over Si 20m, with no aircraft here or in sight.
The real reason, of course, for suppressing the letter of the Minister for Defence to Secretary McNamara of 31 March 1966 is that it would have disclosed that the Minister had had to make the same ignominious, humiliating plea to the United States Secretary, and that it was left to the
Australian official to repeat the plea by 11, Or(. of mouth. This is enshrined in the minute upon which the officials agreed. The evasive reply by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) yesterday as to why these two letters, the McNamara and Fairhall letters, were withheld - these letters which dealt with price alone - merely confirms that this is the reason why they were withheld from the Parliament. The reason is that our Minister would have been even more humiliated than was Sir Edwin Hicks.
There are many lessons to be learned from the whole transaction. There are no signs that the Government itself has learned any. Firstly the people of this country now know that they cannot trust this Government on defence matters. They cannot trust this Government to deal truthfully with defence matters. They cannot trust this Government to make wise, carefully picpared decisions on defence matters. The second lesson is one for this Parliament itself. We now see that we must not permit our right of information and scrutiny of expenditure to be curtailed or cozened from us. We must never again accept that Ministers automatically know best. We must not permit Ministers to hide behind unnamed experts, to conceal things from technical advisers and the Auditor-General. We must not permit Ministers to invoke the names of the Services and use our natural loyalty to the Services to cloak and protect their own selfish interests. We must not again permit Ministers to use the Services for their own political ends. If this Parliament had exercised the same rights of scrutiny of contracts and papers as the United States Congress exercises all the time - and exercised on this contract in November 1963 - the slipshod, slapdash methods of this contract would have been exposed over 4 years ago. Australia would certainly have got a better deal. We might even have got a better plane, one that conformed to the original specifications.
There are some more specific defence lessons that we should learn. The whole episode has shown, and continues to show, the perils of Australia’s increasing reliance on overseas defence purchases and overseas technology. We are letting our own aircraft industry run down. There are aspects of the Mirage purchase that have disquieting similarities to the Fill affair.
For 4i months I have waited for an answer to a question on our rights to use the Mirage in circumstances not authorised by France. Arrangements are being concluded only now for the ammunition for the Mirage to be manufactured here under licence. Sweden will not allow us to import further weapons, spares and ammunition for the Carl Gustav and this is not the only piece of artillery for which we now depend on imported ammunition.
The great overriding lesson is that great defence decisions cannot be made in the atmosphere of an election campaign. This was at the root of our troubles with the Fill. The price we have to pay, and not just in terms of money, is not yet fully known. The Government is soon to bring down a defence review which will cover all our purchases for the next three years. It is a year overdue. Great decisions hang on this review. The Prime Minister told my Deputy a fortnight ago that it hardly mattered that the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr McEwen). the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and the Minister for External Affairs - vital members of the Cabinet defence subcommittee - would be abroad at the very time when this review is supposed to be considered by that defence sub-committee. After all’, he said, ‘there are telephones and cables’. This Fill deal was concluded by telephone and cable. We see today its results. The Government is now creating the same atmosphere which prevailed 5 years ago. Will these people never learn? ls there no end to their irresponsibility and opportunism?
– Once again the Opposition has brought into debate this matter of the Fill aircraft. This issue has been dragging on because the Opposition has been trying to make political capital out of it - has been seeking grounds on which to attack not the aircraft but the politics of it. On every occasion the Opposition has shifted its ground. I think the public, and certainly this House, are getting a little weary of this subject. If any evidence were needed that members of the Opposition are getting a little weary of it, it was provided by a very peculiar message heard over the public address system of this building a few minutes ago in these terms: ‘Opposition members are reminded that their leader is speaking in the House.’ Following that message a few of the honourable gentleman’s supporters did come into the chamber.
Whatever honourable members opposite may say, there are still basic questions which they will not face up to and about which they attempt to mislead the public. As far back as 1963 the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) was saying that we must have a strike reconnaissance bomber immediately. Now that we seem about to get one, he . and his colleagues are asking . what we are to do with a strike reconnaissance bomber. They ask what use will be made of it and where it will be used. .But in 1963 there were no such qualifications; they said simply that we had to have one immediately. In 1963 the Leader of the Opposition apparently did not need to consult any experts on this matter, because he gave the House gratuitously the benefit of his advice. He would have bought a Vigilante or a Phantom for use until about 1967 or 1968, and then would have ordered an Fill. But when would he have expected delivery? He does not say. Perhaps he knew the answer back in 1963, but he has changed his mind since.
So the basic question remains unanswered: Should we have bought the aircraft in 1963? If the Labor Party had been in government would it have ordered the aircraft on the advice that it most closely approached the requirements of the Royal Australian Air Force? Would a Labor Government have taken that advice in 1963?
The next question of importance in this debate is: Should there be confidential arrangements between governments in matters such as this? This is a fundamental issue. Nobody can pretend that a government should disclose publicly areas of military security. The Opposition has never suggested that this should be done. The area of dispute is the matter of the confidential arrangements between governments.
– They cover a lot of sins.
– Of course. The Leader of the Opposition took full advantage of this. The Government has said that there are confidential arrangements which it will not and cannot disclose. Either the Government is telling the truth here or it is not. Without saying that the Government is not telling the truth the Leader of the Opposition suggested, in his usual way, that sinister reasons exist for not disclosing the arrangements other than the fact that the documents are confidential. The Government has revealed the documents which relate to arrangements that can be disclosed and it has said quite categorically that other > arrangements cannot be disclosed. Not one shred of evidence exists, other than the innuendos of the Leader of the Opposition, that there is any other reason for not disclosing the documents. The documents that have been disclosed reveal fully the details of the price of the aircraft. This is another matter on which the Opposition has changed ground from time to time.
The next question is: In the circumstances should we have had a different kind of contract? The Opposition clearly thinks that when an aircraft is on the drawing board in the research and development stage you can go in and order a couple of dozen as you would order a pound of butter across the counter of a grocery store. Nothing could be more stupid. The Opposition has failed to realise that in the beginning there can be only an open ended contract. It is a pity that all this has to be spelled out again for the House. Whenever the United States Government has had to order a new aircraft it has had to go through the same kind of procedures as we went through in this case and commit itself to an open ended cost, because the simple fact is that no manufacturer, however big he may be, can afford to pay the full cost of research and development or take the risk that the entire project will eventually have to be scrapped if it does not please the United States Government. So the research and development must be paid for. Then there must be some guarantee that if the research and development is satisfactory an order will be placed.
We came into this business as project partners with the United States Government when that Government knew as little about the ultimate cost of the aircraft as did the General Dynamics Corporation, the Australian Government or anybody else. The advantage to us of coming in at that stage was that we would get equal delivery with the United States. In the light of our need at that time, was that a wise judgment to take? The Leader of the Opposition has referred to the difference between our contract and the one made by the British Government. He said that the British came in more cautiously 3 years after we did. What had the British done? They had on the drawing board an aircraft of their own. They had committed themselves to a lot of expense in relation to that project. After having done considerable research and development on their own aircraft - to the point of getting one flying - they scrapped the entire project because, they said, the Fill was a better aircraft more suited to their needs. They came in at a later stage and would have taken delivery later than would Australia. They were able to get a firm price for the Fill because at that stage the research and development programme had been carried through to the point where a more firm estimate of cost could be given. So in the circumstances it is quite useless to compare the Australian contract with the arrangements made by the British Government. We received the benefit of the British upper limit price as a concession from the United States - a concession which the United States did not have. This is an example of the generous treatment we have received from the United States Government in relation to this contract.
The next question is: Does the House have the full information available to the Government about the probable cost of the aircraft? It is quite plain from the documents that the House does have this information. I suggest that the answers to the questions that have been raised are plain. But this does not satisfy the Opposition. It is not interested in the problem of getting an aircraft. It is interested purely in getting the utmost political mileage out of this contract. From time to time we have heard all kinds of comments from the Leader of the Opposition. He usually prefers to make them outside this House and seems to get good Press coverage. He said the other day that the RAAF had not been consulted about ordering the Fill, but he should have known that it had been consulted. The other day he spoke again and once more shifted ground. He spoke about the bases from which the aircraft would operate. His remarks were reported in the ‘Australian’ of 1st October. He had a highly critical audience - the Federal Council of Labor Women. I can imagine all those women sitting starry eyed, looking at their leader while he thundered forth his denunciations of the Fill.
He said then that two things were not being done which might never be done. He referred to the preparation and equipping of airfields to handle the Fill and its support equipment and personnel, and to the failure to make the conversions and get the equipment that the aircraft needed to fulfil its planned role both as a bomber and a reconnaissance aircraft. If he had read the documents carefully he would have noted that part of the difference between the American order of cost estimates and the Australian estimates was caused by the need to provide for deployment facilities and the requirement for a much greater depth of depot and base support facilities than would normally be required by the United States Air Force for a like number of aircraft. The plain truth is that this aircraft has been intended by the RAAF to be deployed from Amberley for considerable periods to any strips from which it is needed and from which it can operate. Of course, the honourable member failed to mention Darwin. He referred to Learmonth, Tindal and Boram. I do not know why he mentioned Boram because as far as I am aware it was never intended to operate the aircraft from Boram. However these are the references he made.
He clearly failed to understand that in the equipment we are ordering and in the spares that we are getting we intend to give as much mobility as possible in the deployment of these aircraft. They will be deployed in both exercises and operations, if necessary, from such strips as they will be required to operate from. They will be serviced up to a major maintenance with equipment that is portable and which can be carried by the RAAFs own transport aircraft. Let this be understood, and let us have an end to this sniping for political reasons by members opposite as they shift their ground continuously in trying to find new means of attacking this particular aircraft.
I take a few minutes to deal very briefly - because that is all it is worth - with the attack by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John). From this honourable gentleman emanates an odour of sanctity in this House which is quite nauseating. He has come here fairly recently with all the benefits of his party’s endorsement for one of the safest electorates in Australia, and in this comfortable security he has been quick, very quick, to cash in on every opportunity to secure for himself a headline - always available to any member who attacks his own party He has used this regardless of the political consequences to his own less comfortably situated colleagues. He does this with an air of the highest virtue, always proclaiming bis anguish, as he did last night. One of his best performances in this House was to call a naval officer, who died in tragic circumstances, a drunkard and to demand a royal commission; but because that royal commission did not support his accusations, again with an air of great moral anguish, he attacked in this House the findings of the three learned judges of the commission.
Last night he came in and said that in his anguish he felt that because Senator Symington, a Democrat, had attacked the Fill be, a Liberal, should attack it. He could just as easily have said that the present Secretary of the Air Force, Mr Harold Brown - and not Senator ‘ Symington, the Secretary of the Air Force from 1947 to 1950- had stated:
What the aircraft was supposed to be able to do is to fly faster than any other tactical aircraft and with a larger payload and deliver it more accurately, lt docs all these things better by a substantial factor - a factor of two or three.
Yet the honourable member for Warringah, in his anguish, did not cling to that straw of comfort and quote that in this House. So much for the honourable member for Warringah.
It is quite plain that throughout this long debate the Opposition has been seeking to find some point on which it can claim to have a political advantage, quite regardless of what is the requirement of the Australian defence system and the RAAF for a first class reconnaissance aircraft. I need mention only the attack that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) made in respect of the reconnaissance version of the aircraft. He seemed to think that we had forgotten about the reconnaissance .version and that we left it until about 1966 in order to do something about fitting the reconnaissance system to the bomber. The plain fact - andhe should have known it - is that the American reconnaissance version will not be available for a considerable time after the bomber version is available. It will not be available until 1970 at the earliest because at this stage, having completed the bomber version, the Americans are making an analysis of the optional fitting of the reconnaissance avionic system into the bomber aircraft. This is an option that we have always had. We still have that option and we have announced that we will exercise the option.
– At what cost?
– If we are to get a completely new avionic system then it must be at an extra cost. The other option open to us is to buy additional aircraft - possibly a new modified version of the F111 and possibly fitted with a different avionic system - but probably at a far greater cost than that of the retrofitted avionic system for the reconnaissance version. The honourable member completely misled the House when he suggested that we had forgotten about the reconnaissance version and had only entered into this arrangement late in the piece. This was always the arrangement and it is quite wrong of the honourable gentleman - he should know it - to attempt to mislead the House in this way. We have the widest possible options open to us in relation to this. We may buy the reconnaissance fitting or we need not buy it. We can get additional aircraft if we want them. We can get a different avionic system if we can get one to fit into the aircraft. All these possibilities are open to us, and in the circumstances the Government did the wisest possible thing in keeping its options in relation to the reconnaissance version. I will be interested to hear of any Opposition criticism that could be levelled at the Government in relation to this reconnaissance version once these facts are realised. The honourable gentleman, as I have said, is far more anxious to make political points.
We come back again to the basic question. We bad to have a bomber. What aircraft would the Opposition have ordered if it had been in government? We had to have confidential negotiations. Would the Opposition, if it had been in government, have disclosed confidential arrangements between heads of governments? Perhaps there is more to that question than might be realised, because when in office the Labor Party sometimes had rather odd notions about what was confidential. The House may remember that in 1948 the Labor Government found itself in considerable embarrassment when the Chifley Government discovered that the United Kingdom Government would not give it atomic information because the United States Government thought that the security in Australia was not adequate. That is the measure of the irresponsible attack that is levelled at the Government in trying to pressure it into disclosing confidential arrangements.
Sitting suspended from 12.40 to 2.15 p.m.
– When the debate was adjourned prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch there seemed to be a tendency on the part of the Minister for Air (Mr Freeth) to suggest that the amendment we have moved was an attack on the F111 aircraft. I shall begin by reading the amendment so that honourable members may see what the basis of the attack is. The amendment which was moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) and which was supported by the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Whitlam, is as follows:
That the following words be added to the motion: and that this House condemns the Government for: (1)its failure to secure basic guarantees and safeguards on the cost and delivery of the F111 aircraft;
its suppression and distortion of information on the cost of the F111; and
its continuing refusal to table all documents which are relevant to the F111 contract and costs and which do not conflict with military security or impair allied relationships.
As I suggested, there seemed to be an intent on the part of the Government to want to keep off the text of the amendment and to suggest that what was basically being attacked was the F111 aircraft as such. Of course, in this House there has been some attack on the F111 as such, including the attack last night from the honourable member for Warringah (Mr St John) who suggested that at this stage the Government should cancel its contract with the United States of America. He is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia which gabbles at times about the liberty of expression and the freedom of its members to say what they like. But because he was so incautious asto do that, last night he met the wrath of one of his colleagues from Queensland and this morning he met the rather peculiar contempt of the Minister for Air. It seemed to us on this side of the House a little ironical that this morning the son of the bishop dared to criticise the son of the canon. I would hope that at least it is indicative that there was a little bit more charity in their homes than seemed to be evidenced in this House this morning. 1 for one do not like to see that kind of personal attack made in Parliament, particularly when honourable members opposite pride themselves, when it suits them, that each one of them is not bound by the discipline of a party; that he is free to say what be likes. Apparently the honourable member is only free to say what the Government likes. On this occasion the honourable member for Warringah met wrath and contempt, which I thought was a very poor exercise both last night and this morning, particularly when they were cast in theological terms.
I shall get on to the substance of this question of the Fill and show that there are people in other governments who also seem to share the view of the honourable member for Warringah. I refer to an article which appeared in yesterday’s ‘Australian Financial Review’. It is headed:
Fill ‘appears unbound’. lr refers to Senator Stuart Symington who, 1 understand, was a potential Democratic candidate for the American Presidency about 6 or 8 years ago, and I presume that he is a supporter of the Democratic Government. The article states:
Senator Stuart Symington, former US Air Force secretary, told the Senate on Monday-
That is the United States Senate - that serious consideration should be given to cancelling the FI 1 1 series of aircraft.
If the plane is fundamentally unsound - and that would appear to be the case - its termination would prevent the loss of additional billions of dollars and what is more important save the lives of many pilots’, he said.
Symington said he agreed with a recommendation of the Senate Armed Services Committee that urgent priority be given to developing a new jet fighter superior to the new Russian planes in combat
All I suggest is that while the purpose of this debate is not to criticise the quality of the Fill, nevertheless, views about its quality have been expressed in quarters that might be said to be government quarters. What disturbs me somewhat is the fact that this set of documents can be given to the House as though it reveals everything. It was suggested that the Opposition had sinister reasons for reflecting upon what was missing from the documents. I do not agree that our reasons are sinister at all. I suggest that the reason why certain information has not been disclosed has nothing to do with any sinister motives on this side; rather, the non-disclosure is politically prudent so far as the other side of the House is concerned. When you look at the documents as they have been circulated it seems curious why suddenly, in the midst of them, an odd clause or two can be deleted which, apparently, are supposed to have a tremendous bearing upon military security. I suggest that what have been deleted are arguments and doubts which have been expressed about the capacity of the plane that we have bought.
The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) said he hoped that when discussing these documents the question of the initial cost of $US125m for the aircraft would not be raked up again. In the first place. I point ou’ that in a paragraph on page 288 of the report of the Auditor-General which was tabled in this House only a month or so ago reference is made to this amount of $US125m 1 suggest that most of the documentation that has been tabled is summarised quite succinctly in the observations of the Auditor-General. In my view, there is nothing in the documents that have been tabled so far which reveals anything that we did not already know. The report of the Auditor-General states:
The general order of magnitude of cost, as advised by the United States of America in 1963, was SUS:25,000,000 for the aircraft, associated equipment, initial range of spares and spare paris, training devices and services and accessorial charges.
The Government has tried conveniently to convey that $US125m was only a preliminary sort of figure. This morning the Minister quoted some words out of the text of the memorandum of understanding, but he did not quote all the words. I should like to quote section 2 on page 2 of the document which has been circulated. It begins this way:
The total programme cost-
That is not only the cost for the aeroplanes - for the Australian purchase will include the flyway cost of each aircraft, reconnaissance equipment to the extent agreed, ground support equipment, training and training devices and one year initial spares. The Secretary of Defence -
That is, the United States Secretary of Defence - advised the Minister of Defence-
That is the then Australian Minister for Defence - that the general order of magnitude of this total program cost, based on a production run of 1,500 aircraft, is currently estimated to be approximately $125 million. If desired, munitions may be provided pursuant to special arrangements.
If there had been tremendous inflation in the United States since 1963 - there has not been - the sum of $125m quoted then might have turned out to be $135m now. But nothing has been said to show why that sum of $125m has now increased to nearly $300m. In case some honourable member wants to be pernickety about the figure of $300m I repeat that that figure is also cited in the current report of the AuditorGeneral. That report states:
We are entitled, in 1968, to ask why the Government is trying to justify its actions in regard to the Fill. On the eve of an election in 1963 it was claimed that the total Fi 1 1 programme looked like costing $125m and now, on the eve of another election, it has risen to $300m. The matter under challenge is the Government’s stewardship as custodian of defence expenditure, the largest item of expenditure that it handles.
If honourable members read the amendment moved by the Opposition they would realise what this attack is levelled at. Nothing has been said by either of the Ministers who have spoken other than to justify a bad bargain. I suppose that is all they could do. However, I do not see why they should be arrogant about it. I do not see why they should gloat over what, in essence, has been a failure in a cost performance. 1 do not see how they can claim that it is a bargain. I suggest that when honourable members read these papers closely enough they will realise that the only bargain the Government obtained is that at some point it was able to negotiate an interest rate of 4% on the loan instead of being charged 7%. It seems to me that the astuteness of Mr Hicks was responsible for that.
The final tabulation in the last document circulated with these papers highlights what was said during the debate on the defence estimates; that is that what is suitable in certain conditions in one country is not necessarily suitable for Australian conditions. The big mistake made is that as yet no definition has been given of what the role of this plane is to be in 1969 - if we ever get it. We have paid a Jot of money so far but as yet have had no proof that this aircraft will serve the purpose it was intended to serve. 1 suggest that the Government should outline a little more fully what the purpose of this aircraft is supposed to have been. Now it seems that it will till the combined role of a strike and reconnaissance aircraft.
– The circumstances are a bit different now.
– 1 know that the circumstances are a bit different. That is why I suggest that honourable members on the Government side should not play politics in this matter. The Government has played politics in this matter and has had its fingers burned as well as having thrown the defence of this country into jeopardy. After spending S2,808m in the 3-year defence programme that has just finished, including about $700m for capital equipment, the Government has very little to show The Government is now hoping that the Australian people will entrust it with another 3-year programme that it has not even begun to write. The Government is still landed with the unexpended portion of this appropriation. It has to find a role for these aircraft when it still does not know what its strategy and techniques ought to be. Instead of basing its strategy rationally, the Government is going to base it around the equipment that happens to be available. This is the great danger at the moment. It is a sort of Basil Zaharoff policy in reverse. Whereas Zaharoff used to hawk his ancient munitions to every part of the world, now governments go cap in hand seeking them before they are satisfied with their capacity.
Surely a lesson ought to be learnt. The lesson is made clear in the final pages of the document that has been circulated; it relates to the argument about the cost estimated by the United States Air Force and the cost estimated by the Royal Australian Air Force for adaptation to meet Australian circumstances, which is near enough to a quarter of the final cost. This shows that there were purely political purposes behind the decision to buy this aircraft which was announced during the election campaign in 1963.
The Australian Labor Party put forward a social programme during that campaign. We were met everywhere with the question: ‘Where will you find £56m?’ In the midst of that campaign the then Prime Minister announced this great bargain of the Fill, this great boon, this great necessity in 1963. The aircraft has not even been delivered in 1968. He . said it would cost £56m, or in terms of present currency $A112m or $US125m. As the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said this morning, that figure was carried over into the next Budget following the election in 1963. It is only recently that the figure has been jacked up and up and up. It has been jacked up basically because the aircraft, ordered to meet the circumstances of some other country, was not suitable for Australian circumstances. Does not this point to the necessity to begin to build our own defence strategy based on our internal industrial structure? Surely some of this adaptation could have been foreseen and could have been carried but in the construction units available in Australia.
What has been attempted by speakers on the Government side has been to switch the debate away from the Government’s inefficiency in husbanding financial resources. Surely the Government is not taking the attitude that it would have bought this aircraft if it had known in 1963 that it would cost $300m rather than $125m. Would there not have been a careful assessment of the project and would not the Government have looked at some other aircraft that might have been available? However, the Government at that time was persuaded that it would only cost $125m. I presume that costs rose in the United States because the programme was varied as it went along. The aircraft has not proved itself because - and I use this rather indelicate term - it has bugs in it.
Quite serious voices in the United States have suggested that this aircraft will be a failure whatever purpose it is supposed to serve. There is still no certainty that the purposes it might serve in the United States Air Force are necessarily the purposes that it will serve with the RAAF. That is one reason why serious changes are being made. Apparently the RAAF did want 6 reconnaissance planes. Whether or not it wanted the remaining 18 aircraft at that time I do not know. I suggest that these sorts of things will be found out only when the present Government parties are moved off the treasury bench and the full set of documents can be disclosed. What has not been shown of the Fill documents are not matters of military security at all. I suggest that the matters which have not been revealed would show the bungling and inefficiency of the Government in ordering these aircraft and that it does not want its bunglings of the past or its bunglings of the present to be publicly aired.
I suggest that the House should vote in support of the amendment in order to show its scanty respect for the way in which this significant item of defence expenditure has been handled.
- Mr Speaker, the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has covered a wide field. I know that other speakers have already dealt with, and will deal with, some of the points that he has made in regard to the matter of cost. The first thing I wish to say is that we ordered the Fill aircraft in 1963 and the Fill is exactly what we are getting. The cost of it has escalated over the years. The point about the whole thing is this: We have not made a bad buy. We ordered the Fill aircraft and we are still getting it. The other point that I wish to touch on as far as the speech made by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports is concerned is that the honourable member is advising the Government on its defence policy. I think that he would do very well to concentrate on the defence and foreign policies of his own Party instead of trying to alter the policy of this Government which has appealed to the people for election after election.
As a bit of background, I mention to the House that I recently attended the Interparliamentary Union conference at Lima in Peru. On my way home, by my own decision, I decided to visit the General Dynamics Corporation plant at Fort Worth, Texas, to have a look at the Fill aircraft and to meet senior executives of the company. On my way to Lima, I also went to the General Dynamics factory in San Diego where 8 major parts of 300 major parts of the Fill aircraft are being made. Both plants are most impressive. Without going into a lot of detail, I say there is no question that the Fill is a tough aircraft to build. It is a difficult aircraft to build. The parts that are required call for extremely intricate machinery. I was delighted to find an interest on the part of General Dynamics in having some of the parts for this aircraft made in Australia. The latest information I had was that General Dynamics had decided to ask the United States State Department for approval to shop for 10 of the parts for this aircraft in Australia. I understand that once State Department approval comes through there is a good chance that some of these parts will be made in our own country.
Most of the day that I spent at the General Dynamics plant at Fort Worth was in the company of the President of the Corporation, Mr Frank Davis, the Director of the International Programme, Mr ‘Doc’ Witchell and the chief test pilot for General Dynamics, Mr Dick Johnson. I also was taken on a tour of the plant and saw the Fill actually being assembled. The magnitude of this project was underlined just by a tour around the factory. The area in which the aircraft is being assembled is almost 1 mile long. There are 9,250 people working on it. The executives that I have mentioned have an extremely interesting background. They are all test pilots or former test pilots and are all engineers. Therefore, they are extremely competent men. Mr Johnson, the chief test pilot, was the man that I was really most interested to meet. He is the man who flew the first Fill aircraft. He has nearly 400 hours on the Fill aircraft and 15,000 hours flying time altogether. I asked him the question: ‘What kind of aircraft is this?’
– This is pilot to pilot talk?
– Yes. He said to me: ‘As you would know, no pilot can afford to make false statements about an aircraft because other people have got to fly it after him. If you want my opinion on it, it is a lovely aircraft indeed.’ He went on to say: If you want to check on that statement, go and ask any of the twenty-six Australian crews that have just finished their 6-month course on them. I am sure that they will support my statement.’ I want to quote only one other comment from the conversation that I had with Mr Johnson, the chief test pilot. This was in relation to the flight on which he took the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard). He said: ‘I shall never forget the comment that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made when we finished the flight’. This was the comment: ‘By God, this is a fine aircraft. All we can do now is concentrate our attack on the cost of it.’
– 1 do not know where you got that statement.
– I am telling you where I got it.
– lt is not true.
– I got it-
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. W. Aston)Order! I would suggest to the honourable member for Indi that he address himself to the Chair.
– I am telling the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that I got it from the man who took you on the flight.
– Order! The honourable member for Indi will address his remarks through the Chair.
– I have always maintained about the Fill aircraft that if it was a plane that was not fundamentally safe, the hundreds of pilots who have flown the aircraft would have said so long before now. They are the judges. Do not worry about what is said by a senator in the United States of America, a newspaper man or a member of Parliament. These pilots who fly the aircraft are the judges of whether it is a good aircraft or not. I would rather accept the opinion of the 600-plus pilots who have flown this aircraft than that of the Leader of the Opposition, some opportunist newspaper man or a few political opportunists both in Australia and in the United States of America.
– Repeat what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said.
-Order! Honourable members are warned that interjections are out of order. The honourable member for Chisholm is out of his seat.
– I am quite satisfied, Mr Speaker, that the Fill is a revolutionary and capable aircraft, the like of which no company has ever attempted to build before. It must be remembered that this aircraft has now flown over 15,000 hours in 6,000 flights and has had 11 major accidents in those 6,000 flights. That is to say, it has had 1 major accident to every 545 successful flights.
When this aircraft was ordered what Australia really did was place its confidence in the skill and know-how of American technology, its engineers, its pilots and its tradesmen. This aircraft represents a tremendous step forward in technology. Some of the major advances are: It is the first swing-wing aircraft ever built; it is the first aircraft with an escape module, that saved two people’s lives just recently; the engines are the first fully controlled after burner to be combined with the turbo fan, and il can be modulated to five different stages, something that was absolutely unheard of previously in the engine field; and it has the TFR system - the Terrain Following Radar system - which enables the aircraft to fly at very low heights and very fast speeds, up to 2.1 mach, and accurately find its target and yet prevent the enemy radar from knowing it is coming. It is the first aircraft that can carry any weapon in the United States armoury. No other aircraft has ever had such versatility and, in the opinion of the experts, it will not be equalled for 15 years.
As far as the accidents that this plane has had, it is important to compare the figures with those for other fighter aircraft. A comparison of the Fill accident rate with the accident rate of seven other types of fighter aircraft built in recent years in America shows, according to the chart that I have here, that the Fill is far ahead of those other aircraft in safety with respect to accident losses. In the first 10,000 flight hours, the Fill had only 7 major accidents, including the 3 in Vietnam, and most of the other aircraft had 12 or more major accidents in the first 10,000 flying hours. In fact this aircraft has been flown for almost 15,000 hours and it still has an accident rate below that of five other F type aircraft, which had twelve or more major accidents in the first 10,000 hours of flight. So I do not think it is fair criticism to say that this aircraft has had a lot more accidents than any other aircraft. In fact, it is inaccurate to say that. As a lot of us know from our own personal experience that practically every aircraft in history has had a number of accidents. A lot of us remember the Beau forts, the Boomerangs, the Canberras and the Comets.
There has also been criticism from the honourable member for Melbourne Ports about the time taken to build this aircraft. The chart I have in my possession shows that this aircraft, complex, complicated and revolutionary though it was, took less time to achieve 10,000 flight hours than about five of the eight previous fighter aircraft that had been built. Australia’s delivery was only 30 days behind schedule, although it is fair to say that we have not yet actually taken delivery in Australia of our first aircraft.
I have a number of comments to make about the cost of the aircraft, lt may appear on the face of things that in 1963 the Government entered into an open ended contract which did not give any set price. But I venture to say, Mr Speaker, that had the Opposition been in the same position as the Government it would have acted in the same way. Any sensible person would know that it is impossible to price an aircraft, particularly one like this, before it has flown. When this price was given, this aircraft had not even taken to the air. The flat position is that no one could really tell in 1963 what this aircraft would cost in 1968. There is a tremendous number of problems, particularly engineering problems, to be dealt with. I am sure that the Australian people appreciate that any price quoted in 1963 would have only been a very, very rough estimate. So many other things come into it. I refer to the number of aircraft that are to be built under the programme. My understanding is that 1,708 aircraft were programmed for in the first place and that now the number is down to as low as 1,000. No matter how many aircraft are built the cost of research and development has to be met. The President of General Dynamics, Mr Davis, made what I thought was a pertinent comment about the cost. He observed that in all bis experience there had never been an aircraft designed or built that had not cost a lol more than was at first estimated.
It must be borne in mind when considering the cost that the British Government withdrew from its contract. So did the United States Navy. I specifically questioned the staff of General Dynamics about the United States Navy’s withdrawal and 1 was informed that in the opinion of the company the Navy never wanted the aircraft anyway. I have spoken to these people. They took the aircraft onto an aircraft carrier for 2 days and it was successful in every test they conducted. Then the Navy said that it worked off the carriers all right but it would have to be designed around a certain missile known as the Phoenix. This produced impossible engineering problems for General Dynamics and the Navy abandoned its intention to buy the Fill. The Government would be wise to get some more definite figure for the cost of ground support equipment and facilities, spare parts and so on. It does seem to me that not a definite enough figure has been arrived at yet for the cost of these facilities.
It is not possible for me to cover every aspect of my visit to the plant, but 1 believe it to be a fair summary of the situation to say that the men who are flying these aircraft are happy with them and there is no question of the aircraft’s versatility or performance. I am confident that no nation other than the United States could have produced such an aircraft. As I said earlier, what we are backing is America’s skill and know-how. People like the United States senator mentioned by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports who advocate scrapping this programme ought to remember the position that would exist if this happened. The United States Navy is to design a whole new aircraft and is to spend over $1 billion on research and development, but it will not get the aircraft for another 6 years. If we did this we would be back where we were 6 years ago.
A fault in the Fill developed a couple of days before the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) accepted the first aircraft. A wing carry-through fitting failed in a ground test. It was being subjected to a process called fatigue testing. Some people have asked why all this was not done before the aircraft flew. I am informed that this is impossible. An aircraft must be fatigue tested over a period. The B58 aircraft were fatigue tested for 6 years. The whole aim of this testing process is to keep the testing ahead of the aircraft that has flown the longest. Another pertinent comment that Mr Davis made to me was that over many years there have been plenty of similar failures during the ground testing of aircraft but that this was the first time he has ever known one to make international news.
Wc have had the spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr vvhitiam) trying to climb his way to the prime ministership of this country by condemning the Government for the purchase of a wonderful aircraft that is revolutionary in performance and design, which can carry any weapon in the American armoury and which can fly at 2i times the speed of sound but can also cruise at subsonic speeds for long distances, lt has already flown from the United States to Paris without refuelling. It can take ofl and land at speeds of aircraft of 20 years ago. It has an extremely short landing and take-off run. Ever since I have been in the Parliament 1 have heard the Opposition continually condemning the Government for its defence measures. Only recently it condemned the Government for having out of date aircraft and weapons or aircraft that could not cany modern weapons. The Opposition has criticised the Government for a lack of foresight in ordering weapons and aircraft which are outdated by the time they arrive. Now the boot is on the other foot. The Opposition is criticising the Government for ordering an aircraft which will put us years ahead of any other country except the United States of America. Many people in Australia have told me that they appreciate the Government’s wisdom in ordering this aircraft and its determination to avoid the fiasco experienced in the 1940s when all we had to defend this country were Wirraways and Lockheed Hudson*. Those planes were shot out of the sky without a chance of survival. The Australian people appreciate the fact that we are not going to have a repeat of that tragedy that occurred in the 1940s.
Overall the decision to buy the Fill aircraft was sound and far-sighted. Of course there will be problems in this complex machine, but the comparable performance of this aircraft is the most satisfactory to date. 1 am confident that the average Australian supports this Government’s decision to purchase the Fill. I am confident of America’s ability to overcome the problems that may arise, and I am sure that we will have an aircraft that Australia will be proud to have in its Air Force.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. T claim to have been misrepresented. I deny most emphatically a remark that was made by the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) in relation to myself. Let me say to the House, and particularly to the honourable member, that I did not make the statement attributed to me. I have never used the phrase mentioned and would not use it under the circumstances referred to. 1 think most honourable members would appreciate and clearly understand that when I came back to Australia-
-Order! The honourable member may not proceed to debate the subject.
– I do not intend to debate the circumstances at all. But I have far too much respect for the chief pilot with whom 1 spent H hours in the Fill aircraft to believe that he would say that I had made the statement that the honourable member for Indi has attributed to me. I emphatically deny having made that statement. The expression mentioned is one which I have not used in the past and which I am not likely to use in the future.
– The General Dynamics Corporation has done as good a job on the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) as it has done on the honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson), who was previously Minister for Air, the present Minister for Air (Mr Freeth) and the present Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall). The speech that the honourable member for Indi has just delivered is virtually one that I have read in handouts distributed to all members of this Parliament by General Dynamics. The honourable member could have described the FI 1 1 in the elaborate language that was given the imprimatur of the Minister for Defence on 22nd August 1967 when he described the aircraft as the Cadillac of the air and the greatest thing with wings since angels. Or the honourable member could have said, as the General Dynamics handout says, that the machine can stop on a dime and carry a crew of humans in shirt sleeved comfort. He could have quoted United States Air Force Brigadier-General Ralph Taylor, who said: ‘We have nothing but good news; this plane is an unprecedented success’. The headline over a magazine article which I hold in my hand and which was distributed by General Dynamics is: ‘Ready for any war’. The Americans have tried the FI 1 1 in Vietnam. But the remaining machines there were grounded after two or three had crashed.
The Opposition does not say that there are grave difficulties in developing a plane of this type. What we say is set out in an amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard). It is in these terms:
That the following words be added to the motion: and that this House condemns the Government for:
Its failure to secure basic guarantees and safeguards on the cost and delivery of the FI 11 aircraft.
its suppression and distortion of information on the cost of the Fill, and
ils continuing refusal to table all documents which are relevant to the Fill contract and costs and which do not conflict wilh military security or impair allied relationships’.
To those three points I wish to add another two which to me mean more than the points set out in the amendment. My first point is that the Government has ignored military advice. My second point is that there has been lack of honesty and of frankness towards this Parliament and that contradictory statements have been made by Ministers and supporters of the Government on this topic.
I claim that the Government has ignored military advice in arriving at a decision to purchase twenty-four Fill aircraft. The former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, in a speech made on 24th October 1963, said:
We sent the evaluation team overseas and in due course received its report, lt was clear that, subject to problems of the timetable and of payment and of interim provision to supplement if necessary the Canberra force, the evaluation team regarded what was then called the TFX in the United States as the most modem and complete answer to our requirements.
But the Minister for Defence, on 2nd May this year, said:
However, in view of the production time scale for the Fill aircraft, then known to the RAAF mission, and a deteriorating strategic situation, it turned to the purchase of another type, the RA5C.
He went on to say:
The government of the day took the view thai the urgency for the replacement of the Canberra was not such as to deny procurement of the aircraft best suited to our needs.
So at the time when Sir Robert Menzies said that the TFX or the Fill was the best aircraft, the Government had before it a report from the Hancock mission recommending the purchase of the RA5C aircraft. On top of this, apparently, the Hancock mission had never reported on any interim replacement for the Canberra bomber. One has only to turn to the papers tabled the other night to see the position. The text of a letter, dated 3rd June 1964, from the late Senator Shane Paltridge, who was then Minister for Defence, to the United States Ambassador in Canberra states:
The Government has now concluded that because of the formidable problems which the introduction of the B47 would pose to our Air Force it is noi able to accept your generous offer to loan these aircraft to us. We have reached this decision after much serious consideration and in the light of the latest advice of our military experts which emphasises the undesirability of the very considerable disturbance which would be involved to the RAAF in acquiring the B47 and the limited period during which this aircraft would be operational with us. In addition our advice indicates that the safe fatigue life of the Canberra could favourably cover the presently estimated period required for the introduction of the F111A aircraft into squadron service.
But on 15th October 1964, only a matter of 4 months after this letter had been written indicating that we did not want the B47, Senator Paltridge, speaking in the Senate, said:
The review in June was carried out against the background of instability in South East Asia which shows no indication of improvement today nor in the foreseeable future. This is the area of direct strategic importance to Australia.
Nowhere in that speech, or in the statement made in June 1964, did Senator Paltridge mention to the nation that the B47 interim replacement offer was not to be taken up.
Less than a month later, on 10th November 1964, Sir Robert Menzies, speaking in this House, had this to say:
At present, important questions arise which require frank answers. They will, I regret to say, indicate that there has been a deterioration in our strategic position since the review which I presented to Parliament last year.
He went on to say: lt must be conceded, therefore, that the risks of our situation in this corner of the world have increased.
So at the very time when the Government rejected the offer on loan of B47 bombers, it told us that our strategic position in this part of the world had deteriorated. The Government changed the Defence Act to allow for the establishment of emergency reserve forces. Senator Paltridge, in a speech on 15th October 1964, made no mention of these matters, though he did mention conscription. He said:
Should it be necessary to declare a state of war then the whole nation would be mobilised - by conscription.
I say that between 8th and 24th October 1963 this Government made a political decision, not a military decision. The Government did not confer with its Air Force advisers on the question of whether the B47E replacement bomber would be suitable or otherwise. How else could members of the Government have changed their minds between October 1963 and June 1964 and decided that the B47 bombers were completely unsuited to our needs? As they talked about the dangers to Australia in mid and late 1963, how could their subsequent decision to refuse the loan of these replacement bombers have been anything but a political one? This is not the only time that this Government, just prior to an election, has made a political decision rather than a military decision. 1 have quoted from the speech made by Senator Paltridge on 15th October 1964 at the time of the proposal to amend the Defence Act. Just prior to that, on 20th August 1964, the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), who was then the Minister for the Army, said that the unanimous advice of the Government’s military advisers was hot to introduce national service training. On 15th October the late Shane Paltridge made no mention at all of national service training. The then Minister for the Army went to the National Congress of the Returned Services League in Hobart,
Tasmania, and reiterated publicly that the Government had unanimous military advice that selective national service training should not be introduced.
Just prior to the 1963 Federal1 election and prior to the Senate election at the end of 1964 the Government was worried about the problem of the confrontation of Malaysia by Indonesia.. Every honourable member on the other side at that time spoke about the downward thrust of Communism. On two occasions between October 1963 and November 1964 the Government made political decisions on matters, affecting the defence of Australia rather than decisions based on military considerations. That is why the Opposition criticises the Government so heatedly now over the purchase of the Fill aircraft.
Hansard of 8th October 1963 contains a question asked by Mr Galvin, who was then the member for Kingston. He addressed the following question to the PrimeMinister:
Has the Government of the United States of America offered to supply Australia, on loan, the latest American bombers as replacements for the obsolete Canberra bomber? Has the offer been made to give Australia some defence protection while the Government makes up its mind on a suitable replacement?
Sir Robert Menzies replied:
I am nol aware- of any such offer and therefore no such offer has been refused, but we are still concentrating very much on this problem which is great, and not without its urgency and also, as the honourable member will understand, is extremely complex. The answer to the question is, ‘No’.
On 8th October 1963 Sir Robert Menzies knew nothing about an offer to lend the B47 bombers or any other bombers to Australia. But on 19th October 1963 the late Athol Townley signed a memorandum of understanding which contained an offer to lend the B47 bombers. In June 1964 the offer was rejected out of hand. The question asked by Mr Galvin was followed on 15 th October 1963 by a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) who was then the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Apparently by this time Sir Robert had decided to give a little further information to the House, but he used the excuse of policy to cover most of the faults. I could give illustration after illustration to show that this Government had made decisions and has failed to give information to the Parliament about the purchase of the FI 1. 1 or about the cancellation of the offer to lend the B47E bombers to Australia.
I now turn to some of the contradictory statements that have been made. On 22nd August 1967 the present Minister for Defence said that he had ‘all the faith in the world in American technology, which has been completely vindicated’. On this basis he accepted claims that had been made about the aircraft. On the same day the honourable member for Fawkner, who was then the Minister for Air,’ said:
All the predictions of the RAAF made 4 years ago have been borne out in present day operations.
The only place where the aircraft have been in actual combat operations is in Vietnam and they have been unsuccessful there. They are grounded now because of another fault that has been found. On 2nd May 1968, the present Minister for Air said:
I suppose it can be said that the aircraft had not been completely tested.
That is one of the contradictory statements. On 15th August 1968 the Minister for Defence, in answer to a question that I had asked referring to a committee that had gone to the United States to ascertain the reasons for the crashes of the Fill, said:
The committee came away completely satisfied that all areas of doubt, after the most careful scrutiny, have now been eliminated.
On 5th September 1968, when he knew that fatigue tests had revealed a new fault in the aeroplane, he said that General Dynamics had turned out a fine weapons system with performance beyond anything that aviation had known and that the performance would completely destroy criticism. The next day he said that we could not take delivery until all the faults had been ironed out.
I claim that the veracity of several Ministers in this place is very much in doubt. The failure of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) to table in this Parliament all the papers of a non-confidential nature also leaves ground for further doubt. The Australian Labor Party believes that the defence of Australia is not a secondary consideration; it is the foremost consideration. Honourable members need only refer back to 1941 to see why the people of Australia turned to a Labor government at that time.
I come now to some of the statements about the delivery dates for the FI 1 1 aircraft. The documents that have been tabled show that the earliest date that they could be delivered was between July 1967 and July 1968. If we were to wait until after the early test data had been obtained, delivery would be between July 1968 and September 1968. On 24th October 1963, when the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, announced that we would purchase the Fill, he said that delivery would be from 1967 onwards. When he made his statement in November 1964 he said that the Fill would be flying before the end of the year. The honourable member for Fawkner in October 1966, when he was Minister for Air, gave the House a categorical assurance from the Managing Director of General Dynamics, which he had received in the previous week, that the production and delivery of these aircraft would be in accordance with the contract. He added:
We need have no doubts whatever that we shall receive these aircraft on the contract date.
On 21st September 1967 the same honourable gentleman said that the first delivery would take place in July 1968, further deliveries would be made at monthly intervals and the final delivery would be made by December 1968.
The present Minister for Defence on 29th August 1967 said that the Fill would be in service in the following year. On 2nd May 1968 he said that delivery would be from July to December and the aircraft would be flying in Australian skies in September. On 19th June 1968 he said that delivery would commence at the end of August, with final delivery in December. On 5th September 1968, when he took delivery of the first Fill aircraft from the United States Government, he said that the Fi ll would be flying westward by the end of the month. He made that statement after having been told that a new fault had been revealed by fatigue tests. There is still no indication as to when delivery of this aeroplane will be made. It was ordered in 1963 when our strategic position was supposed to be dangerous and when, in the words of Sir Robert Menzies, Indonesia was likely to cause a war by its confrontation of Malaysia. We have waited from 1963 to 1968 for these aircraft; yet the Minister for Defence, who was in the United Slates only at the beginning of last month, cannot say when they are likely to arrive in Australia. It is a matter of this year, next year, some time, never.
If we turn to the price, we find again that contradictory statements have been made. I will quote one in particular. On 28th October 1963, Sir Robert Menzies was asked a question and in reply said that he was unable to give precise figures because he had not yet conferred with the Minister for Defence, the late Athol Townley. On the same day in answer to another question he said:
After all, you must remember that he has been negotiating this deal and it may well be that for some reason or other it is not thought wise to announce the precise figure.
Whatever the Government says now about the precise figure of Si 25m, Sir Robert Menzies at that time thought that that was the price for which this plane was to be delivered.
I am sorry my time has almost run out. I conclude with this statement: The more the circumstances surrounding the purchase of the Fill are examined the more convinced one becomes that the Government could nol make a success of a rummage sale. The saying: ‘Marry in haste, repent at leisure’, keeps running through my mind with a slight variation: ‘Marry and purchase in haste and repent at leisure’. Now that the honeymoon is over it is easy to judge who has been the bridegroom.
– As the first part of the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) dealt with the original agreement between Mr McNamara and Mr Townley I think it would be wise to go over the history of the arrangements which led up to that agreement. For some years the Royal Australian Air Force had been looking for a replacement aircraft for the Canberra. At that stage most of the available aircraft, either flying or on the drawing board, had been designed in the cold war situation which then existed in Europe. Nearly all, therefore, had been designed for the European theatre of operation. It was not until the TFX, now the Fill, came on to the drawing board that we had an opportunity to obtain an aircraft with potential for operating in this part of the world rather than in Europe.
In this connection I want to quote some performance specifications from ‘Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft’. The ferry range of the Phantom and the Vigilante was at that time, and still is, 2,300 nautical miles. The range of the Fill as shown in that book is over 3,800 miles, an increase of more than 33% over the range of the other two. As the wings on our aircraft will be longer than on the original version the ferry range will be even greater than 3,800 miles. The actual figure is classified. So for the first time Australia had available to it an aircraft with a range much greater than that of any aircraft that had been available to it in the past. This enabled Australia to take advantage of something that was completely new and completely revolutionary in our theatre of operations. The Royal Australian Air Force said: ‘Here, for the first time, we have available on the drawing board an aircraft that fully meets our specifications’. That is the very first point that must be realised by the Opposition. After the Hancock mission returned to Australia in August 1963 it made this recommendation to the Government: ‘There is only one aircraft that we have looked at which fully meets our specifications and if we can get it within the time required for the defence of Australia we recommend that the Government buy it’.
After the Government had had 2 months to examine the report it was quite obvious to it that the one aircraft we needed for the defence of Australia was the Fill. The Government asked the then Minister for Defence, Mr Townley, to go over to America and see how quickly he could get this aircraft which at last met our specifications. In the talks that the then Minister for Defence had with Mr McNamara, the American Secretary of Defense. Mr McNamara said: ‘Yes, we are designing an aircraft that meets your specifications. We think that we can guarantee you delivery of the first aircraft in late 1967, but if you are prepared to take delivery from the production line a little later we can guarantee that more of the earlier production difficulties will have been ironed out. But if you need it in 1967 we can deliver it; if you can wait until 1968, so much the better.’ He said, further: ‘We will guarantee you delivery as favourable as the United States Air Force deliveries. We can guarantee you performance, and we will go into this as a joint project, you bearing your share of the cost and we bearing ours.’ This was a joint project. We were both paying identical costs for identical aircraft. As he said at the time: ‘We do not know what that cost will be’.
In dealing with the matter raised by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) let me alse quote from the annex to the agreement. It begins:
The principal purpose of this annex is to provide general order of magnitude data and estimates considered by the Ministers on this date. Cost data provided is for illustrative purposes only since the Ministers agreed on the principle of cost reimbursement rather than the actual costs themselves, which are not yet precisely known.
These cost data were available to the Australian taxpayers just as they were available to the American taxpayers. We both went into the venture as a joint project, sharing the cost equally. I ask any member in this House: At a time when we needed an aircraft of the performance of this one could anybody have got a better deal from the Government of the United States than Mr Townley did? I stilt believe this was a magnificent deal at the time and it has stood up well.
– What about performance?
– 1 will deal with performance in a moment. I want to turn now to some matters raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who accused me this morning of misleading the House. He dealt first with the total cost of the project. On each occasion on which revised costs have been made available to us by the United States I have announced them immediately to the House and 1 have said quite clearly on each occasion that they were United States estimates. The last estimate I made known was announced on 9th May 1967. I think what I said then should be quoted for the benefit of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I hope that he is here although it is unlikely that he would be. After making an absolutely unwarranted attack on me this morning he does not come here to listen to my reply. On 9th May 1967 I said quite clearly that matters concerning costs were frankly discussed with the United States representatives in Canberra who themselves had said that the total estimated cost at that time was S237m. 1 went on to say that I believed it was clear that there would be even further increases in the cost of this project, and 1 repeated again that we would be unable to say what the final cost was until’ our estimates were complete. 1 continued:
The increasing costs of the Pill continue to bc a matter of very considerable concern to the Government. We arranged therefore with the United States representatives last week to continue those discussions in late June or July . . in Washington, and at those discussions wc shall review our operational and support policies.
I made it absolutely clear to the House that the cost announced in May 1967 was a United States estimate, that we thought the cost would bc higher and that we were conducting negotiations in order to resolve our differences. Those matters are clearly significant. lt has been made quite clear in the documents presented in this chamber last week by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) that there was a divergence of opinion between the United States Government and this Government, and that until we had resolved our differences it was not possible to disclose what the final cost of the aircraft would be. On every occasion so far on which new estimates have been made they have been made clear to the House. I have been completely straightforward on every occasion when announcing the figures as soon as they became available to us. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also dealt with the reconnaissance version. Here also, quite clearly, he has not read his documents. The original agreement provided that we could lake 18 aircraft of the strike version and 6 of the reconnaissance version or 24 of the strike version, sending 6 back to the United States later to be retrofitted. The option expired in September 1965. We exercised our option to take all 24 aircraft of which 6 would be retrofitted later. At that stage, or very soon after, I made it clear to the House that the cost of retrofitting those 6 aircraft would be $8m. That cost has been clearly set out in the documents. If the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had read the documents he would have seen that the cost of retrofitting has not changed to any extent throughout the history of this matter. The other costs relating to the reconnaissance version are shown in the documents as S15.2m and a contingency item of S 1 O m, making a total of about S34m as announced to the House by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) earlier this year. We have been completely straightforward in making all these costs available to the House. The cost of the reconnaissance version has not changed to any great extent since 1 first announced it 2 years ago. The figure of 38m may have increased to Sl Om but part of that is accounted for in the contingency item for which we made allowance some time ago.
In another respect the Leader of the Opposition demonstrated that he has not read the papers. He said this morning that Sir Edwin Hicks had made an ignominious plea about interest rates. If the honourable gentleman had turned the page of the document he would have seen that the ignominious plea was made by Secretary Vance, who was asking that we pay 51% interest instead of the 4% which wc now pay. So again honourable members opposite have shown that they have not read the documents and have not therefore carefully examined the present situation.
I think it is important to examine not where we were in the past but rather where we are today. Firstly, we need this aircraft. In 1963 the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr Whitlam), who is now Leader of the Opposition, said: ‘We are glad that an order has at last been placed.’ lt’ he was glad in 1963 that an order had been placed for some aircraft, how much more pleased he should be to know that today wc are getting an aircraft. We have no V bombers in this theatre of operations, as we had in 1963. Britain is pulling out of South East Asia. There are question marks surrounding what the Americans will do after the war in Vietnam is over. More and more we are becoming on our own in this part of the world. If we needed an aircraft in 1963, as the Leader of the Opposition said we did, how much more do we need one in 1970. So. firstly there is a need for this aircraft. The second matter is the matter of performance. Every pilot of the Royal Australian Air Force who has flown the aircraft confirms that it meets the specifications laid down by the RAAF 5 years ago. I can confirm these statements from my own experience, having, as honourable members know, flown the aircraft. 1 rely not only on my judgment but also on the judgment of experienced pilots in the RAAF who have confirmed that the aircraft meets the specifications laid down by the Air Force.
The failures that have been experienced with this aircraft have not been unexpected. The failure rate is lower than that of earlier aircraft designed to do a similar job. In every case in which an FI 1 1. has crashed the fault has been diagnosed and rectified. Furthermore, the United States Government has guaranteed that if any further faults are discovered within 12 months of our taking delivery of an aircraft, those faults will be rectified at the expense of the United States Government. We have been assured thai we will take delivery of each aircraft within the contract ceiling price of $US5.95m. I think we can rely on the honour and reputation of the United States Government to see that we get an aircraft that meets our specifications. Every Air Force officer who has gone to Washington has had full access to everything that has been available. Nothing has been held back. We have been provided with every facility to examine what we are getting and to make certain that it meets our specifications.
No better aircraft than the Fill is on the drawing board, in production or even envisaged, anywhere in the world today. No aircraft is better able to meet the specifications laid down by our Air Force experts than is the Fill. Here is an aircraft that has demonstrated its value in operations. Quite clearly in its operational role in Vietnam it met the demands made of it. It was able to carr)’ out missions in fog at night and to drop its bombs within a small radius of the target without even seeing the target. No aircraft has been able to match that performance.
Could we today get an aircraft of the performance of the Fill for a lower cost? I emphasise that we are getting the Fill at today’s market price. The price that we are paying is the same as the price being paid by the American taxpayer. Nobody could place an order for this aircraft today and get it for less than we are paying. The British could not buy it cheaper today. The British had a fixed price of $US5.95m. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) referred to this fact. I emphasise that we are paying the same ceiling price as was offered to the British, but in our case, if the price should fall below SUS5.95m when we take delivery of the aircraft we could get it for a lower price. The British contract contained no such provision; it had a fixed price. We have a ceiling price with the possibility of paying less than the ceiling price. To that extent we got a better deal than did the British. We can do no worse than could the British, and we have the possibility of doing better.
The main thing is that we are getting an aircraft that meets our specifications. We are getting it for the same price as other people will pay. It is designed for the theatre of operations in which we must play our part, not for a theatre of operations in Europe, as the Phantom, the Vigilante and the TSR2 were designed for.
Finally I should say something on the reason for the figure of $US125m increasing to $US300m. An examination of the documents will show that the main reason for the increase is the cost of spares and ground handling equipment. The Americans based their requirements for spares and ground handling equipment on the knowledge that they were close to the factories and could get replacement parts quickly. They also could send the aircraft back to the factories if maintenance and overhaul were required. We, on the other hand, desire to operate the aircraft in Australia, so we needed a much greater range of spares and ground handling and testing equipment. Bearing in mind that there are 70,000 items of spare parts and more than 160 black boxes or items of avionics, until such time as the aircraft approached the final stage of production how could we have estimated accurately the amount of spares and testing and ground handling equipment required? It is in this area that the vast difference in estimates and final costs took place, as will be obvious from the documents. It was not until - these differences had been ironed out that it was possible to tell the House the full extent of the total cost of this project.
What I do say now is that we should be grateful to Mr Townley for negotiating a deal which, in retrospect, has been of inestimable value to Australia. We are getting an aircraft in relation to which we were promised much more rapid delivery than would have been available by any other means. The United States Government said to us: ‘Come into this as a joint project. We will share things equally. We will give you delivery equally with ourselves and we will bear the costs equally between us.’ Australia, which was concerned about confrontation in 1963, should be tremendously grateful for the wonderful job Mr Townley did for us 5 years ago. I predict that we shall be grateful for the next 10 years for having an aircraft that will meet our specifications and our needs rather than an aircraft that might not be available to us for 5 years to come.
– The honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson) referred to the arrangements made with the former United States Secretary of Defense. Mr Robert McNamara. I remind the House that Mr McNamara was translated not very long ago to a much higher post in circumstances that are, to say the least, under a shadow. This plane was essentially his brain child. He wanted commonalty. He wanted a plane that would suit all three armed Services. In the words of the Manager of General Dynamics Corporation, he was asked to provide a plane which would be like a Volkswagen for economy, a Ferrari for performance, a Rolls-Royce for appointments and a Mack truck for carrying ability - an almost impossible assignment.
There is an unfortunate aura of uncertainty around this plane; equally, it seems to be the kiss of death for anyone associated with it. As I look around me here today, and without reflecting on the capacity or integrity of the three men concerned, I see three former incumbents of defence portfolios who have been demoted to the back benches. The hot seats in Australia today are the defence portfolios, and more men will fall by the wayside as public opinion and resentment need to be appeased.
A fortnight ago documents relating to the FI 1 1 transaction were tabled in this House with bad grace by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). It is a miserable apology for the commitment of the Australian people in respect of what is a notorious transaction. For good measure the Prime Minister accompanied it with the defiant and truculent attitude that no additional documents could, would or should be expected from him. His arrogant defiance was not unexpected, nor was the insult of 5 ounces of paper, culled grudgingly from 5 tons of document associated with this transaction, flung in the faces of the representatives of the Opposition as a full summary of the transaction. The Government’s attempt to brazen out its errors of judgment and their consequences for the Australian defence structure and strategy have placed it in an impossible position and destroyed its credibility in the eyes of the Australian people. The Government, in relation to this aircraft, has literally jumped from funkhole to funkhole. It has prevaricated, dissimulated, bluffed and evaded. It is a secretive government striving desperately to conceal the truth and rendering itself ridiculous in the process.
It is a far cry from the announcement, with great flourish and eclair, by former Prime Minister Menzies 5 years ago and 5 weeks prior to the 1963 Federal election - I stress this - that most favourable arrangements had been made, on financial terms entirely satisfactory to Australia, to purchase two squadrons of the celebrated Fill aircraft or, as it then was, the TFX aircraft. Sir Robert, the august gentleman, assured the House that the highest technical advisers had recommended this purchase and that the then Minister for Defence had been sent to the United States to finalise this remarkable transaction the negotiation of which had resulted in a very substantial saving to Australia as against the original estimates of its cost. Where are those original! estimates? Why are they not being produced? What are the facts? What is the cold hard truth? The recommendation of the special Royal Australian Air Force mission which went overseas earlier that year was for the purchase of the Vigilante. That was conveniently forgotten. No documents were produced to the House, and complaisant Government supporters cheered the oracular announcement to the echo.
The first Fill was not completed by the General Dynamics Corporation at its Fort Worth plant until 16th October 1964, almost 1 year to the day after the original announcement. It flew for the first time on 21st December 1964, and then began the long, sorry record of trial, error, crash, redesign, obmutescence and the grilling and probing of all associated with the project by successive United States congressional committees. The post electoral euphoria of the Government had sufficiently subsided by 18th June 1964 for an open-ended financial arrangement to be entered into at a nominal price of Si 25m with provision - and I quote from the documents: . . for the respective governments to consult at appropriate times with a view to effecting revisions of the estimated total payment . . . which revisions were to be predicated upon the United States Government’s cost experience, as of that time, in the performance of its obligations under this arrangement
It is small wonder that the following evidence was given at a United States congressional committee’s investigation of the Fill general contract. Senator Mundt, a member of that committee, was addressing a Mr Gilpatric, who was the representative of the then Secretary of Defense. The record stated:
Senator Mundt. Just what kind of contract do you have with Australia? Are they going to buy the planes willy-nilly? If your figures are off $2m and the cost is $7im apiece, are they going to buy them for Slum? Have they any top limitation, or do they simply say: ‘We will take two dozen planes at whatever price they are’?
Mr Gilpatric: That is the way the agreement reads. It is a government to government agreement and I don’t know how you would enforce such an agreement other than by the goodwill and the comity of the two countries involved, but that is in the agreement.
Senator Mundt: I wanted to find out what it was but apparently we made the sale without finding out the price.
By 21st August 1967 costs had soared to the point where Mr Sutherland, First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Air, in giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee of this Parliament said:
We are completely in American hands on this. We have asked for more than 3 months for accurate forecasts of the yearly payments, so far without response. The Americans were unable to give us any assurance that future estimates would be better.
The simple truth is that the rush decision to buy the planes in 1963, after 4 days of alleged deliberations, was purely political. The government of the day wanted a spectacular defence weapon in a hurry to impress the Australian electorate and it plunged ahead with scant regard for the possible consequences. The presumably cabled report of Mr Townley giving details of the memorandum of understanding of 19th October 1963 between himself and Mr McNamara would provide most interesting and informative reading. It has not been produced. Did it ever exist? The reply of the Australian Government to the cabled information is also missing. Did it ever exist? Or did the Minister for Defence have his full riding instructions before he left Australia? Were written instructions ever given to the Minister prior to his departure to guide him in his negotiations? If so, why are they not produced? In the absence of their production, all Australians are entitled to believe that obviously the alleged negotiations were humbug of the highest order. On 23rd October 1963, after the Australian Government had at most 4 days to consider the offer, Mr Townley advised Mr McNamara that the offer would be accepted. There was not, it would seem, time to worry about the trifling details of what has grown into the most tragic, the largest and certainly the most extravagant purchase in Australian defence history.
According to the tabled document the Department of Air estimated in April 1967 that the total cost of the Fill and equipment would be $US294.6m. The Government stated, in May 1967, that the estimate was $US237m, plus, as a saver, some other unspecified costs. It was not until May of this year that the estimate .of the Minister for Defence reached $A266m, which is approximately equivalent to $US300m, or about the figure arrived at by the Department of Air 13 months earlier. Why? The reason is obvious. On 2nd May 1967 we were honoured with a visit to Canberra by Mr Henry J. Kuss, the United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence, who revealed more about the controversial aircraft in 5 minutes in this capital than the Government had revealed to the people of Australia in the previous 7 years. This hotshot arms supersalesman proved the most acute embarrassment to the Government in its history. He spoke frankly and volubly, and as he warmed to his task he gave full details of the problems of. financing and supplying United States defence equipment. Until his arrival the Government had refused to give any comprehensive details of Australia’s financial commitments or defence equipment generally - and this aircraft in particular - other than the sketchiest details in the annual defence report which, of course, is notorious for what it omits rather than for what it contains. lt was then that the honourable member for Fawkner, who I notice has just left the chamber-
– No, I am here.
– I am sorry, he is not in his place. It was then that the honourable member for Fawkner was sent in to bat in the House, to play down, if he could, and to take the steam out of the situation. He did his job quite well, according to his lights, and was able to smother up a good deal. Of course, he assured the House at the tune that the Fill was ‘a damn fine aircraft’. Let that pass as a little flight of his imagination. But this is very significant. At a small private luncheon in Parliament House the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) is reported to have bluntly told Mr Kuss that he had embarrassed the Australian Government. Mr Kuss did not receive the fondest of farewells at the Fairbairn airport when his lightning visit terminated. He was promptly dubbed ‘the Opera House mouth’ by sarcastic Ministers, and Australia is still experiencing the impact of his visit. He actually conned this Government into believing that it could get a share of the defence supply contracts for United States defence forces in Asia and other parts of the world.
– You are talking rubbish.
– He conned the Government into it. The follow up came only in September of this year when the Minister for Defence himself, with a $7Sm gap to be bridged in the ever escalating price of this aircraft, went to the United States to take delivery and quietly put the acid on the American Government to see whether we could still get something in the way of a quid pro quo for the sale of Australian exports to the United States as an offset for the crushing burden of debt that we had incurred. The answer he received was a simple one: ‘Our contracts have to be negotiated in a hurry. They are advertised and they close within 10 days. If you can come in within that period, yes, we will have a look at your offers’. The Minister for Defence had his moment of truth last month when he went to the United States to take delivery of these aircraft. I might add that the United Kingdom in its commitment, which was subsequently cancelled, for the purchase of fifty of these aircraft cannily stipulated for reciprocal exports partly to offset the cost of these aircraft. Our softheaded and softhearted leadership even deposited SA20m with the initial arrangement as a gesture of good faith. To buy in haste is to repent at leisure, and in this case the present fiasco, apart from its devastating effect on Australia’s defence strategy, has serious implications for the drain on our limited reserves of foreign exchange.
The Government having won the 1963 Federal election with the Fill gimmick, a further election stunt, to be based on the presence in Australia of the first six Fill planes, backfired at Fort Worth in Texas early last month. The Minister for Defence went personally to America to take delivery of a plane described by him as ‘the greatest thing on wings since the angels’. Perhaps he should have said: ‘The quickest way on wings to meet the angels’. When he went to America to take delivery of the aircraft he was greatly embarrassed because at the time of the ceremony it was revealed that there were defects in the first of these planes which had been certified - presumably by inspectors of the United States Government - as being fit for delivery. Australia has already paid in cash a total of $120m towards the cost of these planes, and not one has yet been received. In fact, every one has been grounded and is still grounded since the last crash, in which Australian Service personnel were involved. At least we can console ourselves with the knowledge that the ejector system will work with reasonable perfection during an impending crash. A line of credit amounting to $80m was arranged when the cost really started to escalate. This was to be at a 4% rate of interest. The final gap, following the knockback on the export deal, was bridged, and it was announced in this House a few days ago that a further loan of $US75m had been negotiated to pay the balance of the cost of these planes. It was also announced that the loan would be at 6% interest, repayable over 7 years, and presumably with annual rests. So there is a little matter of an additional $16m being added to the staggering cost of these planes.
So much for the cost of buttoning in to the defence system of a major power. So much for the cost of buying strategic aircraft which may be suitable in a squadron for land operations on the continent of Asia but which are not of much use to Australia with our specialised defence requirements. This Government, as always, takes refuge in sinister insinuations of security being in jeopardy. As for military security, as the honourable member for Fawkner to some extent admitted, major details of the performance of these planes are readily available in overseas technical journals. He referred in particular to Jane’s ‘All the World’s Aircraft’. In the minds of the Ministry, military security and political security are synonymous. The blusterings of this Government cannot conceal the use of this cowards’ castle when under attack on this issue. Every major specification of the plane and its performance are readily available. At a time when Australia’s balance of payments is under attack - it was only saved last year by a miraculous inflow of hot money - we are being confronted with a swingeing bill of costs for an aircraft df questionable usefulness, even if its flying performance and other defects can be remedied. I. quote the words of one of Washington’s most experienced defence correspondents: ‘Probably it is a great airCraft. But what the hell are your people going to do with it?’ That is the question I ask this Government to answer.
The Fill has been correctly described as being little more than a fancy status symbol, useful only for flying past visiting VIPs unless there is a major holocaust. To compound the Government’s embarrassment, the Boeing Corporation in the United States is switching from swing wing to fixed wing construction for America’s Supersonic airliner, after tens of millions of dollars have been spent by it on unsatisfactory experiment and research. During its experiments on the swing wing principle, the same two problems were encountered by it as during the development of the Fill, namely, weight and stability. One Fill type was between 4 tons and 5 tons over the weight ceiling specified by the United States Navy, leading to the cancellation of its production last month.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I listened with a great deal of interest to the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor). In one or two places he made what I thought were grave mis-statements of truth. 1 do not say that he did this intentionally. The fact is that one of the great disadvantages experienced by the Opposition today - I think it will accept this point of view - is that, because of the time this Government has been in office, it has no-one on its front bench who has had ministerial experience.
– I believe the-
– The honourable member should just wait a second. If the Labor Party bad been in office between 1961 and 1963, as it could well have been as we succeeded by only a very small margin, it would now have some ex-Ministers sitting on its front bench. If that were so, I believe amendments such as the one we are now debating would not be moved. It is only lack of knowledge as to how governments conduct their business that leads to such amendments being moved. As 1 proceed I will try to enlarge on my reason for making that statement.
The honourable member for Cunningham referred to Mr Kuss and said that he came to Australia at great embarrassment to the Government. If the honourable member looks at the papers that were tabled he will see an extract, referring to the FI 11, from an agreed minute of a meeting between Deputy Secretary Vance and Secretary Hicks. If he looks at that part where interest rates are mentioned he will ascertain which government was embarrassed by what Mr Kuss said when he was in Australia. There was certainly no embarrassment to the Australian Government for his disclosure that we were getting rather favourable treatment in regard to interest rates. The embarrassment occurred in Washington. If the honouable member does a little more research he might find out that the embarrassment was shown by Mr Kuss when be returned to Washington. It certainly was not shown by the Australian Government. The honourable member for Cunningham, in the last blow that he struck, asked: ‘What the hell are you going to do with this aeroplane?’ I hope later on to give my views on this point, for what they are worth to him.
I want to come back to the amendment. This debate has ranged over a fairly wide field, and it goes back to the tabling of some papers by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) which deal with the Fill contract. Following the tabling of those papers there was an attempt in another place to have all documents tabled. The Government, through the Prime Minister, stated categorically that it would be prepared to release certain documents, subject to agreement by the United States Government and provided there was no breach of military security about things that could be classified. The Opposition has worded its amendment to the motion very craftily. Incidentally, the first and second points of the amendment have been covered quite well by the Minister for Air (Mr Freeth), the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall), the honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson) and other honourable members, and I do not want to refer to them. Those two points related to the basic guarantees and safeguards on the cost and delivery of the aircraft and to the suppression and distortion of information about the cost. 1 want to deal with the third point of the amendment which states:
. this House condemns the Government for:
We had the word of the Prime Minister, when he tabled these documents, that they met that condition - that they did not breach any security and did not impair allied relationships. This section of the amendment casts doubt on the credibility of the Government. If one were to look back on matters of security and were to consider whether a trustworthy attitude had been adopted by Australian governments, I believe this Government would be found to have had a far better record in its 19 years of office than the previous government had with the American Government in the 6 years after World War II. The last persons to ask for matters relating to military security to be tabled in this House are those who sit on the Opposition side.
Obviously, honourable members opposite have not read the papers that have been tabled, although all were supplied with a copy. If we look at the specific document which contains the text of the technical arrangement between the Department of Defense of the United States and the Department of Defence in Australia relating to the sale of these aircraft, we find this statement in Article X:
The Government of Australia shall not, without the prior express consent of the Government of the United States, transfer, or permit access to, or use of, the aircraft, equipment, services, or documents or information relating thereto which are provided by the Government of the United Slates under this Arrangement, except to an Australian officer, employee, national or firm engaged in the implementation of this Arrangement.
Clause 2 of Article X states:
The Government of Australia shall undertake such security measures as are necessary to afford classified articles, documents, or information substantially the same degree of protection afforded by the Government of the United States in order to prevent unauthorised disclosure or compromise.
What the Opposition is asking, in effect, is that we tear up a scrap of paper. If honourable members opposite realise the implication of what happened 54 years ago as a result of such action, they will realise what this Parliament is being subjected to now. We have before us an agreement, signed on behalf of two governments, to do certain things in the interests of the security of both nations. Yet what the Opposition has done has been to come into this House and move an amendment asking us to forget this agreement and to table everything, although the amendment does include an airy-fairy phrase to cover documents which ‘do not conflict with military security or impair allied relationships’. The Opposition already has the assurance of the Government that the papers that have not been tabled do conflict with military security. It would be a poor thing for Australia if the people who moved this amendment gained control of the treasury bench and endeavoured to negotiate with the United States over the security of this nation. The Opposition has adopted a cavalier attitude towards a properly drawn up and signed agreement which affects our security. As Australian citizens, members of the Opposition should abide by this agreement and should not come here to try to make cheap political capital out of things that affect Australia.
– Does the honourable mem ber not remember Mr Curtin?
– I remember a lot of things. I hope to remind the honourable member about them. Many honourable members in this House were on the receiving end of incomplete preparedness a few years ago. That unpreparedness probably could be excused because in those halcyon days we believed that we were under the protection of the British Navy and the British Commonwealth. We thought only about the capacity of Great Britain to protect us. We visualised that if we were engaged in any sort of world warlike operation it would only occur on the continent of Europe. That did not concern us very much.
– We had pick handles in the early days of World War II under your crew.
– If the honourable member does not listen all the time I do not expect him to understand what I am saying. As I said, we were caught in a sort of unpreparedness that maybe we can be forgiven for. But surely the Opposition should not be criticising the Government now because it is attempting to equip the Australian forces with the type of equipment that will enable them to take some independent action in this part of the world and will not make Australia entirely dependent on people who live many thousands of miles away. If the honourable member for Cunningham, who is so eager to talk about what we had in 1941, saying ‘We had pick handles’, cares to look at the Hansards of this House he will see that the late John Curtin, in the first statement that he made when he took over as Prime Minister of Australia, said that this country’s equipment was the best that could possibly be had; that the Army was at a state of readiness; that the Navy was at its stations; and that the Air Force was a great air force. If the honourable member for Cunningham looks at Hansard he will see that that is what John Curtin said when he took over the Prime Ministership.
– That is why your Government lost office.
– We in that situation saw a change brought about by the Japanese who had other ideas about our security.
We were to learn this to our sorrow. Australia went very close to being invaded. But we have learnt that in future we must have some sort of capacity that we had not envisaged in the past. The fact is that obtaining that capacity was going to cost us a lot more than we had spent in the past on our armaments. Therefore it is ridiculous for people now to criticise what we have done in this respect. I come back to what the honourable member for Cunningham said. He asked: ‘What are you going to use it for?’ Even if we never use it, if we get this first class equipment in each of our Services and if we can protect ourselves to the extent of stopping any attack or outbreak, we have not wasted a penny of what we have spent in this field.
I think that there is too much tendency on the part of the Opposition and some people in Australia - fortunately I believe that it is not the majority - to look at the question of the Fi l l in complete isolation. First of all, we have an aeroplane that has been in the spotlight because we have ordered it. There has never been any talk of the other military aircraft of the present day tike the Phantom, the F104, the F86 and the F100, all of which have gone through their testing times. The honourable member for Indi described in some detail how the record of the Fill is a far better one than any of these aircraft that are now accepted and are in service. But, of course, we are not purchasing those aircraft. The spotlight was not put on them by every member of the Parliament and by every newspaper writer in the country. Because we have contracted to purchase these aircraft, everything that happens to them, whether or not it is entirely due to pilot error which, after all, will occur in any air force with any aeroplane, is highlighted as a failure of the weapons system that we are purchasing.
Not one of us here is completely pleased about the bugs that are being ironed out of the Fill. There is not one of us who does not wish that the solution to these problems will be found quickly. But at least the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) has stated in this House that we do not propose to accept any more aircraft until! the position is made clearer. We have every hope that the technological skill of the Americans will enable those difficulties to be ironed out.
As I have said, the FI 1 1 is always looked at in isolation. I invite honourable members to look at the record of this Government in respect of its purchase of defence equipment from overseas. Take the DDGs. J know that the Prime Minister, who is at the table, was instrumental in ordering these against great opposition from the other side of the House. Honourable members opposite had some strange idea that we could build a similar ship. We have taken delivery of these ships at a price almost to the SI of the price at which they were ordered. No censure motion was ever launched about that purchase. I refer to the Oberon class submarines that we ordered at a certain price. They were delivered at that price. Australia has purchased other aircraft such as the Neptune which has been used for anti-submarine purposes and has had a highly successful period of service. The Neptune is now being phased out of service by the Orion aircraft. These aircraft were in the same category; no criticism was offered of their purchase.
We have been moving into a new sphere of naval operations with Tracker and Skyhawk aircraft. These have been purchased in the same way. A contract price has been agreed upon and it will be paid. But a word has never been raised about these purchases. The whole idea of the Opposition is to try to devote days in this Parliament in defence and other debates to keep making this matter into a sort of political gimmick from which it believes it can gain. What the Opposition will not realise is that the Australian people need and know that they need some sort of protection in the form of a strategic strike bomber.
Some misguided people say: ‘Forget this project’. If we do this, we must look for an alternative. If we look for an alternative, we will find ourselves in a great deal more difficulty than we are in at the present time. After all, as I said in this House last year, honourable members opposite should look at the position of their colleague in the United Kingdom, the right honourable Harold Wilson. What did he do? He booted the British aircraft industry once and for all by his cancellation of the TSR2 project. His Government then ordered the Fill. Opposition members have said: ‘Ah, but he had the wisdom to cancel the contract’. It was not wisdom which caused him to cancel the contract. The economic situation in Britain was such that he could not meet the payments on that contract.
What we should be doing here is praising the foresight of those who guide the economic life of this country which has placed us in the position of possessing the best weapons system in the world today whether it belongs to the Navy, Army or Air Force. I have spoken about the DDGs, the Trackers, the Neptunes and the Orions. But we should not forget that we purchased this aircraft not as the Fill but as the TFX which was the American description for tactical fighter experimental’. It must have been known to everybody that this was something in the experimental stage and that we in Australia not having the resources to develop our own front line aircraft had to be prepared to pay for some of the research and development of this American project. I believe that we have got out of it at a pretty reasonable price regardless of all this talk about a skyrocketing escalation of price. As the honourable member for Fawkner said, what we have is an off the shelf price at this stage. Any country moving into the field of this type of aircraft for its defence services will have to meet a payment much higher than the Australian payment per aircraft if it wants to arm itself sufficiently to protect itself.
So, Mr Deputy Speaker, 1 come back to the stories about the mismanagement by this Government of its defence procurements. The honourable member for Cunningham was eager to tell me what a wonderful change came over our war efforts when a Labor government was in power. I think that it is pretty safe to say that if a country fights a war for 4i years it will finish that war with very few exceptions with the material that it ordered at the start of that war. Let that sink into the heads of some honourable members opposite. I could refer to some of the equipment that was ordered by the then Labor Government and which had not been ordered before it came to power. Let me mention one aircraft. I refer to the Vultee Vengeance. What a magnificent success that turned out to be! If it had been a peacetime situation in this country and had we had a number of people who were using weaknesses in defence equipment for their own political gains, there would have been some nice old debates here. I think that if anyone moved for the tabling of the papers in connection with the purchase of the Vultee Vengeance, there would be some very red faces in the ranks of those connected with it in those days.
So, we are asked to define the role of this aircraft. We are asked to define the enemy. This is a new system. In the old days we did not have to define anything. We were not allowed to canvass the possibilities of being attacked, for instance, by Japan in case that country proved a little unfriendly to us as a result of our suspicions. So we went along merrily until December, when the Japanese emissaries were . in Washington taking peace, and there was an attack on Pearl Harbour. This attack was almost a crippling blow not only to America but to us in the Pacific. Even if it hurts a little, even if it means pulling the belt in a hole or two, or even if it means not being able to do some of the things we would like to do to gain political favour with the ordinary people, the Government is determined that we will never get into that situation again. The Government will devote part of our resources to giving the men who fly these aircraft - they have not complained - the men who drive our ships and who man our Army battalions the sort of equipment they are entitled to have to put them in a position to defend the country if the need arises. Nobody on the Government side hopes that that need will arise or that we will get to the stage where we will have to define that sort of situation. With our help the armed Services will be able to defend this country in the way we believe they should. I get a little bit tired when this sort of thing is used as a political football to be kicked about in the hope of winning a few votes. If and when an election comes, in whatever year it may be, I will not mind any member of the Opposition coming into my electorate and debating this question with me on any stump he likes.
– Look at the honourable member for Perth (Mr Chaney). He is so beautiful and pious that one could not imagine his Party being critical of the Labor Government during the last war. It would not have thought of doing such a thing. The Liberal Party claims to be non-political, selfless, nationally directed, beautifully precise and all the rest of it. It is supposed to be devoted and dedicated to the national need. We can go back to copies of Hansard and find some of the things that former colleagues of the honourable member said. He and his colleagues have been condemned by two factors they have introduced into this debate. First of all the honourable member for Perth told us, as indeed we have been told before during the day, that the Fill aircraft was in the experimental stage when Australia decided to purchase it. Of course, buying something that is in the stage of experimentation must involve some disability. The cost may rise or the project may take longer to complete than expected.
We have been told that at the time this decision was made a state of confrontation existed between Indonesia and Malaysia. Those of us who were here at the time remember it clearly. There was a great deal of ferment in this part of the world and we were supposed to be under a potential threat from Indonesia. However, most of us realise now that the capacity of Indonesia to threaten anybody is very meagre indeed. At a time of potential threat, at a time of urgency, and at a time of confrontation we ordered an aeroplane which was to take at least 5 years to be built. It was only in its experimental stage. The Government decided to experiment with young Australian lives and the security of Australia but it would not experiment with Australian technicians and scientists so they could develop their skills. As far as I can determine from this debate today, from copies of statements I have, and the disappointing document tabled by the Prime Minister a week or so ago that is supposed to display the conditions of the purchase, the Government is not attempting to equip us with anything. It has not attempted to give an explanation today. Instead every member from the other side of the House who has spoken has attempted to dodge the issue and to cover up. What has the Government equipped us with and of what use is it? As my friend the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) said, when we use the word ‘use’ we use it in a tactical, strategic and national context. Where does this aircraft fit into Australia’s national defence scheme? What capacity does it give us? If we do not know these things, the people to answer for that ignorance are the people who sit opposite.
After all, the decision to purchase this aircraft was made on behalf of the Australian people and they are entitled to know about it. As far as one can tell from what has been said about its performance and capacity it is irrelevant to Australia’s strategic needs.
The honourable member for Perth said that we on this side of the House do not know how governments conduct their business. Wc do know how governments conduct their business; we have been watching this Government for a long while. We know that this Government will try to conduct its business in the utmost secrecy, that its members will pay as little respect to this House as possible, that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) will spend as little time in the chamber as possible and will take as little part in debates as possible, and that except on occasions such as this when he is going to sum up himself he will not be in the place. Apparently he has not read the standing orders yet and does not know that he may take part in debates. The honourable member for Perth said the Opposition should not do anything to impair Australia’s relationship with America and our security. We do not want to impair the security of Australia. I think it is fair enough that they look at us in the same way.
The section of the schedule that the honourable member for Perth read and which states that the Government of Australia shall not without the prior express consent of the Government of the United States disclose information and documents about the aircraft is reasonable enough. But has it been reasonable to conceal so much? Has it been reasonable to conceal the cost? Has it been reasonable continually to attempt to dodge the issue and to give to the House, if not false information, then misleading information? The document that was tabled after a fanfare of trumpets was very disappointing. We have heard very little during the day from the other side of the House. This is a parliamentary occasion and a defence occasion. It is a parliamentary occasion because we want to know what we are in for and what objectives we are attaining with the expenditure of $300m. We want to know what the nation is up for and where this aircraft fits into our defence scheme. We want to know this on behalf of the nation. The nation is entitled to know. How much are the people of Australia and its Parliament entitled to know? How much is the Government entitled to conceal? In my belief, except for some very fine areas of defence, the Government is entitled to conceal very little.
Last year we had a classic battle over our right to know how much it cost to run the VIP fleet. That battle went on for a long, long while. Eventually, of course, the details were explained and exposed. Why did it take so long? It was principally because the Ministry thinks it has a proprietary right over Australia, its Parliament and its government. From its pronouncements about people in the Public Service who stand for election to the Parliament, one would think that it owns the public servants body and soul. The motion before the House today deals with the rights of the Parliament, which are almost as important as the defence of the country.
The second item in the amendment moved by the Opposition is very important because it deals with the suppression and distortion of information about the cost of the FI 1 1. What rights does the Government think the Parliament has? What duty does the Government have to explain to the Parliament? The second part of this debate is about our defence requirements. One might say that this is a defence occasion. What are our defence requirements? Defence is our largest single commitment, as 1 understand it. It is regarded as being important enough to bring the Prime Minister into the debate. I understand that he will come back into the chamber if I do not sit down too soon. We on this side of the House, despite the sneers of the honourable gentlemen opposite, have put forward a systematic attitude on defence in this debate. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) demonstrated the systematic confusion of the Government. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) laid out the cost fantasy which has developed over the Fill project. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) spelt out the continuing deceit with which the Government has placed the facts, or lack of facts, before this House. The honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) spelt out what a successful public relations operation has been carried out by the
General Dynamics Corporation. The honourable member for Cunningham demonstrated the deficiencies of the documentation. We have suffered from suppression and distortion of information about the cost of this aircraft. It can be seen from Hansard that the honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson) knew months beforehand, when he was the Minister for Air, that the cost would rise and there would be a delay in delivery but he failed to explain that under questioning in this House until he was hard pressed. So the cost, performance, use and the date of delivery apparently are all part of the variable geometry which is supposed to be the contribution of this aircraft to Australia’s defence. I want to ask the Prime Minister a few questions because no one has produced an ounce of proof that the initial guarantees of performance have been reached. Will this aeroplane conform to the specifications which our Air Force technical experts had in mind when they were sent abroad? What were the specifications for which they were looking? Does this aeroplane fit them?
It is my impression, from the reading one can make of the situation, that we are probably getting 75% of the aircraft we were looking for at perhaps twice the cost. The Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) has sat in the chamber all day - as indeed he should - and the Parliament is grateful for that. I believe the Minister adopted a very superficial approach to this matter. The Minister for Air (Mr Freeth), as usual, adopted a political approach. The honourable member for Fawkner, a former Minister for Air, was decently apologetic. He said that there was no other aircraft which met our specifications. Is it too much to ask what the specifications are?
– That is classified information.
– Is it? Is knowledge of where we stand in this part of the world to be regarded as classified information?
– I have given an assurance ten times that the machine meets Air Staff requirements.
– It meets Air Staff requirements and the Minister has given us that assurance ten times, he says. What are the Air Staff requirements that this aircraft meets?
– These aircraft have been used in Vietnam.
– That is right; these aircraft have been in action in Vietnam. What are the specifications that the Government is looking for? I am not asking for specialised electronic information. How far can the aircraft fly? One can go to the Parliamentary Library and find out how far other people’s aeroplanes can fly and ascertain their offensive capacity. Are we to terrorise our enemies by ignorance? Has the defence review that we have been promised for so long been held up because so many political gimmicks have been used for the last 18 years that the Government cannot find the answers? It seems that the Government has to have an election before the gimmicks are totally exposed. Is Australia still under threat? Is Indonesia dangerous? Is the claim about the downward thrust of Communism still valid and are Australian troops still to be based in Asia? All that I can hear on the other side of the House is continual concern to perpetuate the Menzies mystique on defence.
– The threat varies according to the proximity of an election.
– The threat, as the honourable member for Cunningham points out, grows according to the proximity of an election. The Minister for Defence apparently is obsessed by the idea of maintaining the defence posture that he has adopted for so long, despite the efforts of the current Prime Minister to change this posture. Of course, this aircraft is part of the continuing gimmickry of Australian defence thinking. Its purchase continues the pattern of buying off the hook because something is available. As the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) has said, this is part of a pattern of thought that has produced the Vietnam commitment and week by week is taking Australian lives for no military purpose and without any national advantage that one can determine. What are our strategic aims? Why are we buying off the hook? What were the RAAF investigators looking for? The Minister for Defence has said this is all classified information. But the expert team looked at various aircraft, lt looked at types such as the Vigilante and the Mirage and at the potential of the TSR2. What speed or versatility did we want? Did we just want a status symbol? As far as one can determine, this is what we are getting.
Back in 1963 we had two elements in the situation - the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia, and a pending election. At that time there had been consistent attacks upon the Government for its failure to re-equip the Air Force with an adequate bomber strike capacity. At one time it may have been necessary - as in 1963 - to do this, but it is possibly irrelevant or not necessary now. Because a political objective was paramount in 1963, was it an accident that one of the largest expenditures by an Australian government was incurred by a decision that was taken over a few days? On 19th October 1963 the memorandum of understanding was sent off. On 23rd October, only 4 days later, the former Minister for Defence wrote to the United States Secretary of Defense confirming the arrangement. A few days later the Minister for Defence received a reply from the Secretary of Defense. Within 4 or 5 weeks the whole operation was questioned in the American Senate. The Americans wondered what sort of people the Australians were when they let themselves in for this. The honourable member for Cunningham read an account of what took place. The Assistant Secretary of Defense was asked: ‘Just what kind of contract do you have with Australia? Are they going to buy planes willy-nilly?’ The answer of course was: ‘Yes’. He was also asked: ‘If your figure is off $2m and the cost is $7.5 m, are they going to buy them for $1Om? Have they any top limitation or do they simply say that they will take 2 dozen planes at whatever price they are?’ The answer of the American official was: That is the way the agreement reads’. Of course, we would not have had this debate today if these circumstances had not been dragged into the light of day by our own Senate,
The Government does not intend to inform us about what it describes as the confidential arrangements of another government. But to what and to whom are governments responsible? It is my belief - and I think it is fair comment - that this Government is much more secretive about many things than is the American Government. In fact, we have embarked upon an exercise that is a threat to our economic stability and is placing extraordinary demands upon our overseas credits. In view of this project’s relationship with the other requirements of our defence, it is possibly a threat to the whole of our defence system because we have had to divert so much of our resources to buy these planes. Is it true that the cost of buying these twenty-four planes could equal the cost of an aircraft carrier with eighty planes, as I read somewhere? It is true that the cost of the planes is equivalent to about one-third of the total cost of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme. How many other things could we have purchased that may well have been more relevant in this context?
As I understand the position, we looked in the first instance at the Vigilante, the Mirage 4, the Phantom and the TSR2. Glancing through the record, one finds many misleading statements made about the British plane. I understand some of the British machines did fly, though the former Minister for Supply said in 1967 that they were not even on the drawing board. I know that in 1964 they were almost ready to fly at the Farnborough Air Show which I attended. Would it not have been possible to have made an agreement with the British in a closely co-operative way with less expense and more satisfaction? We do not know. We have heard a lot of criticism from honourable members opposite. What is the performance of this plane? Is it true, as I have read - I will be pleased if it is not true - that its total range is about 1 ,000 miles out and 1,000 miles back, making a total of about 2,000 miles? What aerodromes will it operate from if that is the case? The Minister for Air said that it would use aerodromes at Darwin, Tindal, Learmonth and Townsville. Presumably, bases at Pearce and Williamtown, in the south, and any others that are available will be used also.
– And all the civil strips.
– That is right. But can we operate this plane effectively with all its necessary mechanisms? What are the implications of an operating radius of only 1,000 miles? If the machines operate from a base near Brisbane, we will be able to deal with our enemies so long as they are no further away than New Caledonia. If the planes operate from Townsville, we will have to provide strips somewhere in our island territories before we can come to grips with an enemy. If the planes operate from Darwin, what places could they reach with a range of 1,000 miles? Do honourable members know? Have they looked up an atlas? If they did they would know that Surabaya or Southern Borneo would be about the limit.of the range. If the machines operate from Perth, or Adelaide, will all the Great Australian Bight be within their range?
In fact, .what the Government has bought in the Fill is something that is completely valid for the Americans,, who have widely scattered bases and a tremendous background of support. Australia is in a completely different strategic position. The closest potential aggressor is probably 3,000 miles from the nearest point on the Australian mainland. This could change, of course. Any machine that cannot fly from Australia to Singapore and back is a waste of money. Anything that will not cover that range is useless in the geographical context in which we find ourselves. Will this plane be able to provide all the support that Australian troops could need? Could the Fill be operated out of Butterworth successfully? Can we provide there all the necessary staff, support elements and specialised procedures? We do not know and the Government does not know, because it has bought the plane blind.
This Government lives in a world of abstractions. We have only to look at the chaos it has created. We heard one Minister talking about avionics. Do members of the Government know what this word means. They will find it in Webster’s Dictionary but will not find it in the Oxford Dictionary. In this context, it means something sophisticated that will improve the defence strength of the free world. That is what we are told. It has notably failed to improve our defensive strength at the moment. Perhaps it will assist in the forward postures about which the Minister for Defence talks. If the Government abandons its world of abstractions and, like the Fill, gets down on the ground and takes a look at the situation, it might do more for Australia.
The Prime Minister might answer these questions: What rights has the Parliament in these matters? Why has it taken him so long to do what he should have done months ago? What in fact is the strategic appreciation upon which the purchase of this apparatus is based? When will we get a defence review so that we will know whether the Government’s decision on this matter is valid? The debate today is critical and political. But what we are asking is this: On what bases have the decisions been made? The Parliament itself wants to know exactly what it has let itself in for, whether we are getting our money’s worth, whether this aircraft will be a substantial contribution to Australia’s defence and whether the decision to buy the aircraft was, as I belive it was, a political gimmick for the 1963 election.
– I had thought and expected that, after all the reverberating noise that we have heard from the Opposition on the subject of the Fill aircraft, there might have been today at least some kind of an attempt at a trenchant attack upon the Government over the aircraft or over the way in which it was purchased. No such attack has even been attempted. The Opposition has had for a fortnight, or more than a fortnight, the documents for which it asked relating to the arrangements entered into financially for the purchase of these aircraft. Opposition members have had time during that period to go through the documents with a fine-tooth comb and to dredge from them anything upon which they may have thought they could have built a case. They have not in fact been able to do anything of the sort. Instead what we have heard today in this House is a repetition of the kind of debate that has occurred here before - the same sort of threadbare arguments advanced by Opposition members and the same sort of shoddy criticism. The only difference has been that on this occasion those threadbare arguments and shoddy criticisms have been advanced with a sort of bored, listless, lackadaisical air by honourable members opposite. This more than anything else shows that they realise there is no real validity in what they have been saying. Indeed, there has been so little new in this debate and it has been so flaccidly presented that I do not propose to take the time of the House for very long in replying to it.
– We did not think you would; you never do.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. W. J. Aston)Order! The honourable member for Wills will cease interjecting.
– Is this a bit of a lullaby?
– Why I should be asked that by an honourable member who is constantly asleep, I am unable to say. I heard the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) when he spoke. His speech fitted into the category I have described. I was asked by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), who spoke before I did, a number of questions. One of them was: Do we need a strike bomber of this kind at all? The answer I would give to that is an unequivocal yes, we do need to have a strike bomber in Australia and we need to have it for the same reasons as were advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) when we were years ago being urged to acquire a strike bomber. If we need a strike bomber, as we do, we need to have the best available strike bomber that we can get anywhere in the world. I am asked a second question by the honourable member for Wills. It is: Why has it taken me so long to do what I could have done months ago? I do not know what he is referring to.
– You had to be prodded to table the papers and now you have not tabled all of them by any means.
– To participate in a debate.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills will cease interjecting. I remind honourable members, especially those who have already spoken in the debate, that interjections are out of order.
– I do not know precisely to what he is referring. He cannot be asking why it has taken me so long to participate in a debate because I have already participated in one. If he is asking why it has taken so long to table papers which I could have done months ago, the answer is that I was not asked months ago. I was asked by the Leader of the Opposition only weeks ago and quite shortly after being asked, given a reasonable amount of rime to go to other people interested in the documents, I presented what I was asked to present. Then I was asked the further question: What is the strategic appreciation on which the requirement for a strike bomber is based?
– That is a political one.
-Order! The honourable member for Wills will cease interjecting. I have requested him to do so on a previous occasion and I suggest that he now cease.
– The strategic appreciation is the same military advice that was given to previous governments and to this Government, and that is that we need in our Air Force aircraft that can be fighter aircraft, anti-submarine aircraft, communication aircraft or strike bomber aircraft. If the honourable member for Wills believes we do not need such an aircraft in our armoury he is out of step with, I believe, most of the honourable members on his own side of the House and all the honourable members of this side of the House and he is out of step with the advice given by the Government’s military advisers.
A few key points have emerged in this debate. One I have dealt with was whether we need a strike bomber. Yes, we do. If there is a doubt about it, honourable members should look at what the Leader of the Opposition himself said some years ago when he was urging that a strike bomber should be acquired. This was about the time that this bomber was acquired. Was the strike bomber that was ordered in this case one that met the expert advice? Yes, it was. It was the one which, being reported on after some months of investigation by expert personnel of the Royal Australian Air Force, was said to be the one the specifications of which most nearly met those which the Air Force required. May I pause here for one moment to say that it has been alleged that this aircraft was bought suddenly, hurriedly and without proper examination. It was, and indeed it is admitted that it was, the subject of examination over months by the expert advisers of the Australian Government and as a result of that the decision to buy was taken.
Then there is some suggestion that we should not have sought to get a bomber that was in a developmental stage, that was on the drawing board and that was going to be the next generation of weapons carrier, but rather we should have bought some aircraft in existence that did not meet the specifications laid down by our military advisers. That may be arguable. But for my part I believe that it is not unwise, when the Air Force already had, as it did, a bomber aircraft of the Canberra type that would run for some years, to seek to acquire as a replacement aircraft one that would fly far into the future and would be of its kind the most modern available. So we did seek to get the next generation of bomber rather than a bomber then existing. By some strange alchemy the honourable member for Wills accuses us over this of buying something off the hook. Just how precisely he works this out no doubt he will be able to explain to me in writing.
Some question was raised that there was no fixed price laid down at which this aircraft would be bought. Of course there was not. As has been pointed out time and again one cannot, when buying an experimental aircraft, an aircraft which is on the drawing board, which requires research and development, which is being worked out, make more than an estimate of price. Estimates have risen in this case as they have risen in all other cases where such research and development costs of new aircraft are involved. I have no doubt the House has already heard that the research and development programme for the TSR2 aircraft - the aircraft on which production ceased and which we were urged to purchase by the Opposition but which we did not - was expected to cost £Stg50m, and at the time of cancellation of the project the cost was nearly £Stg300m. We have heard how the research and development programme for the Anglo-French Concorde civil aviation plane was estimated to be £Stg130m and it is now £Stg500m. Escalations do happen. They have happened here, but they have not happened here as an isolated instance. They happen in all cases of research and development of new and experimental aircraft.
It has been suggested that we signed a contract that bad no escape clause. It does not have an escape clause; neither did the British contract have such a clause. I do not know of any such contract in fact that does, but if that is to be the accusation then let it not be said that this Government, and this Government alone, signed a contract that had no escape clause, because that other government signed precisely the same kind of contract.
These are the only points that I can see which have been advanced this afternoon, or even before this afternoon. When I am asked - as I have been - what is the role of a bomber of this kind, I recall words that I have heard before from the Opposition and say: The role is to protect Australia from attack; in fact, to attack before attack is delivered to us, should that be necessary; to seek to prevent the approach to this country of ships on the sea or under the sea, of aircraft or bases from which aircraft might attack us’.
Would there be any member of the Opposition who would really believe that we did not need an aircraft capable of that function? Is there any member of the Opposition who can say that, provided the present difficulties are overcome, this aircraft will not fill that function better than any other known aircraft? Is there any member of the Opposition who can genuinely say that it is unusual and unexpected for research and development costs to rise during the development of new aircraft? Is there any member of the Opposition who can really claim that an escape clause should have been provided, and level an accusation because it has not been provided? Is there any member of the Opposition who, having read the documents showing the safeguards Australia has as to inspection, as to acceptance, as to having its own representative over there while these aircraft are being built, can honestly say that we did not get all the technical protection possible during the construction of these aircraft? If the Opposition cannot say this genuinely - and I do not believe it can - then that explains the listlessness of the attack sought to be mounted today.
That the words proposed to be added (Mr Barnard’s amendment) be so added.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. W.J. Aston)
Majority . . . . 30
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Nixon)- by leaveagreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent a motion being moved to vary the resolutions agreed to by the House on 25 th and 26th September relating to the electoral redistributions for the States of New South Wales and Victoria respectively.
Motion (by Mr Nixon) proposed:
That the resolution of the House relating to the redistribution of the State of New South Wales into electoral divisions, agreed to by the House on 25th September 1968, be varied by substituting the name Chifley for Grose, and that the resolution of the House relating to the redistribution of the State of Victoria into electoral divisions, agreed to by the House on 26th September 1968, be varied by adding the words ‘and the name Scullin be substituted for Darebin’.
– The Opposition supports and welcomes the motion. We appreciate the fact that in another place the Government accepted, and now the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) has sponsored, a motion which will have the effect of commemorating two former Prime Ministers of whom all Australians are proud and of of whom, naturally, members of my Party are particularly proud.
– I desire to make a few remarks about the proposal to change the name of Darebin to Scullin. The old seat of Scullin has been divided among the seats of Melbourne, Wills and Batman. I would not want to see the name of Batman erased from Victoria’s Federal electoral role, but since 7,000 of the present electors of Scullin will, under the redistribution proposals, go into the electorate of Batman, the logical thing to do would be to substitute the name Batman for Darebin and to substitute the name Scullin for Batman. But for some reason the Senate never does the obvious thing. I am always intrigued by the way members of Parliament do things which the ordinary individual would never think of doing. Naturally I am pleased to know that the name of Scullin will be perpetuated, just as I am pleased to know that the name of Burke of Burke and Wills fame will again appear on the electoral role for Victoria. I once represented the seat of Burke. It was in the area now known as Scullin. The new seat of Burke will be on the other side of the seat of Wills. I cannot understand why the redistribution commissioners should give the name of Burke to a seat that has no relationship with the area formerly known as Burke. The commissioners were required to pay regard to existing boundaries, existing populations and other matters. In deciding to give to certain electorates the names of Scullin and Burke I cannot understand why the Senate and the commissioners did not pay some regard to the areas that were formerly known by those names.
I have made a mild protest against the illogicality of attitude of members of another place. But I congratulate them on retaining the name of Scullin and of giving to a seat in New South Wales the name of another famous Prime Minister.
– The honourable member for Scullin (Mr Peters) paid a tribute to the man after whom his present electorate is named. He said also that in his view the name of Batman should be retained as the name of a Victorian electorate. If we are to retain the name of Batman I think we should retain also the name of Fawkner, because Fawkner was as important to Melbourne in the early days of Victoria as was Batman. The best solution might be to substitute the name Fawkner for Melbourne Ports. In this way we might honour the memory of a great citizen whose name will be removed temporarily from the electoral roll as a result of the redistribution proposals that we have agreed to.
– As successor to the late Ben Chifley as the member for Macquarie it gives me very great satisfaction to express my personal appreciation and the appreciation of most people in the community and the electors of Macquarie at the signal honour that has been done to a good and great Australian in renaming the Grose electorate Chifley. Ben Chifley’s name, record and reputation in this nation are unsullied. He won the highest praise from all sections of the community. I have yet to hear one person say an unkind word about my predecessor; he was a man of outstanding merit and virtue. The fact that this afternoon the Parliament has seen fit to approve a decision made in the Senate certainly will win great praise throughout Australia. The decision affects not merely the electorate of Macquarie and the people Ben Chifley formerly ‘represented, but all the people in Australia who have a high regard tor the name Chifley.
By preserving his name in this fashion the Parliament will unquestionably win the approbation of all people.
I believe that the names of the people who pioneered Australia - people like Grose - should be preserved in some way or other. The name Grose has been preserved in New South Wales in the name of a river, two villages and in other ways; consequently that name will not die. That link with the early settlement of New South Wales will be preserved in a real and lasting way and consequently the change that has been submitted to the Parliament this afternoon has my personal approval. Furthermore, I approve the change that has been made in the Victorian electorates. I know that Australians who remember the late J. H. Scullin will appreciate that the name of that kindly gentleman, who was once the Prime Minister of Australia, has been remembered.
– I support what the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) said about a former Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. I appreciate the fact that he is to be remembered in having an electorate named after him in this redistribution. There are only five of us in the Opposition now who were here when he was the Prime Minister. The proposal has special significance for me because he was the Prime Minister when I came into the Parliament in 1946. I learned something of his great qualities as a man and leader during his final years as Prime Minister. It is an excellent thing to remember Australian Prime Ministers in this way. Most of them have been remembered; but before they are remembered they have to die. So I would rather not have an electorate named after me.
Sydney has remembered Mr Chifley in a special way - in Chifley Square. In Launceston there is a Chifley Street, in the electorate represented by the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard). It is not far from where I live. There are not many other references to Mr Chifley in Australia. I can think of a Chifley Place in Maryborough, a sub-division of Chifley in Kingsford-Smith, and a suburb of Chifley in Canberra. However, today we are honouring a great man and I thank those who thought of remembering him in this way.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Act so as to enable the Commission to enter into joint ventures or arrangements with other Australian or foreign enterprises, and to establish, maintain and operate shipping services of a kind which it is now empowered to operate only in its own right. Although the amendment will allow it to do this in respect of coastal operations, the main purpose is to allow the Commission to engage with other interests in providing overseas shipping services to and from Australia. At the same time the Commission will be empowered to act as agents in Australia for either its associates or others engaged in overseas shipping services.
This measure will enable the Commission to enter into associations with overseas principals and, provided that proposals envisage that the association will be for the purpose of carrying out a function which the Commission now is authorised to carry out under section 15, the Commission may hold shares or stocks in an incorporated company, or may enter into a partnership or an arrangement for sharing receipts. The proviso that the functions of the proposed association must not go further than those held by the Commission is necessary for constitutional reasons. For the same reason, it is necessary that a provision be inserted in the Act to ensure that if the memorandum or articles of association of a company in which the Commission holds stocks or shares is changed, so as to enable the company to extend its functions beyond those held by the Commission under the Act, the Commission shall as soon as practicable dispose of its shares or stocks.
Although, in practice, by obtaining and keeping sufficient voting rights it should not be difficult for the Commission to prevent such a change taking place, this ensures that the Commission does not retain its association with an incorporated company the functions of which go beyond the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth. If similar circumstances should arise in connection with the Commission’s association in a partnership, the Minister would terminate the arrangement by withdrawing his approval, required under the Act, and insisting on the withdrawal of the Commission from the partnership.
To obtain cargoes at overseas ports and to obtain the use of facilities in other countries, which are essential if overseas trading is to be conducted on a commercial basis, there is without any doubt a clear advantage to be able to enter into an association with another operator who either has these facilities or has access to them. It also follows, as part of the association, that the line should be in a position to act as agent in Australia for its associate in the joint venture. Similarly, in order to obtain a share of the trades between Australia and other countries, and to operate at an economic level, there is in most circumstances no alternative but to enter a conference and accept its system and method of rationalisation and agreed operation in the particular trade.
Entering a shipping conference will involve the Commission in agreements with other shipowners for the fixing and charging of uniform freight rates. This makes essential clause 4 of the Bill, which modifies the provision in section 18 of the Act which requires the Commission to make its shipping services available at the lowest possible rates. The necessary amendment has been related only to overseas shipping services, and the obligation to continue the lowest possible rates of charges is still binding on the Commission in relation to its coastal operations. The amendment to section 19 takes account of this modification in regard to overseas trade by laying down the manner in which the Minister shall approve of rates of charges fixed by the Commission in these circumstances.
So far as any arrangements or agreements which may be negotiated by the Commission are concerned, in particular those relating to joint ventures within a shipping conference, the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1965-1967 will apply in the same way as they do to and in relation to any other persons. The Third Schedule of the Act has therefore been amended to include reference to the Trade Practices Act 1965-1967 as an Act applicable to the Commission.
While it may seem that the amendment in relation to rates of charges amounts to a departure from the Commission’s existing role of providing shipping services at favourable rates, I feel sure honourable members will agree that as the Commission, since its establishment in 1957, has made such a substantial contribution to the Australian coasting trade, not only by the efficiency of its operations but also by the lead it has taken in the development and construction of modern vessels, it can confidently be assumed that the Commission will demonstrate the same efficiency and sense of responsibility in its overseas operations. Its influence on overseas trading and conference operations will, I am certain, be to the benefit of Australia. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Whitlam) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Sinclair, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill seeks the approval of the Parliament to an agreement between the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales and South Australia. The agreement embodies arrangements for construction of a new standard gauge railway between Cockburn and Broken Hill. The Bill also seeks the authorisation required for expenditure for the purposes of the agreement.
Honourable members will know that the proposed new railway is the final section of a through standard gauge link between the east and west coasts of Australia. This standard gauge link will enable revolutionary changes in the transport of passengers and freight between east and west. As far as the Western Australian end is concerned the physical linking of the standard gauge railway between Kalgoorlie and Perth with the Trans- Australian line east of
Kalgoorlie was celebrated only a few weeks ago. However, much work remains to be done and through freight trains will not operate from Port Pirie to Perth until about November. Passenger trains will run direct from Port Pirie to Perth from about next May. In South Australia, work on the new standard gauge line is well advanced. The main line track from Port Pirie to Cockburn is expected to be substantially complete by the end of the year, although signalling and facilities in the major yards will not be completed until the second half of 1969.
The new line covered by this Bill will be the final link in the east-west standardisation project. The new route selected will be about 5 miles shorter than the existing narrow gauge route which deviates from the direct course to serve the former mining town of Silverton. The need for a railway service to Silverton has long since disappeared. It is therefore possible by the use of a more direct route to take advantage of operating savings resulting from a shorter line distance. Another important advantage of the new route is that it will enable the elimination of twenty-one open level crossings in the Broken Hill area. To assist the House in considering the matter, I have circulated a sketch map illustrating the proposed route.
The preparation of the agreement now before the House involved complex negotiations between the three Governments concerned. These arose because the line will handle traffic basically of interest to the South Australian Railways, although construction of the railway will take place in the State of New South Wales under the statutory authority of the Government of that State. Many of the fundamental questions of planning and control affected the interests and legislation of New South Wales.
The agreement covers two groups of work. The first group deals with the new railway itself and the new standard gauge facilities which will be required at Broken Hill to handle traffic which at present uses the narrow gauge railway. The opportunity has also been taken to provide in the new agreement for a second group of items which the Commonwealth Government is prepared to finance as part of the Port Pirie to Cockburn standard gauge project, but which it is believed are outside the scope of the 1949 agreement under which that project is being constructed and financed. This second group is covered in sub-paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) of clause 3 (1) of the agreement. In brief, they cover certain items of rolling stock which probably could not be provided under a proper interpretation of the 1949 agreement, and also contributions towards the cost of converting certain privately owned sidings and tank cars which the Government has agreed could reasonably be met from Commonwealth funds.
Most of the work will be carried out under the control of the South Australian Railways Commissioner. An exception is the work to be done in the New South Wales Railways marshalling yard at Broken Hill, which will of necessity be arranged by the New South Wales Commissioner for Railways. The target completion date for all the work is 1st October 1969. The financial terms of the agreement are those generally adopted for rail standardisation projects. The Commonwealth provides the whole of the finance required for the work, and the beneficiary State - in this case South Australia - is to repay 30% of the total cost, with interest, over 50 years. The detailed terms of the agreement follow the usual lines for standardisation projects, and include provisions to ensure the necessary co-operation between the States and the Commonwealth in respect to the planning and supervision of the work and the control and audit of expenditure.
The opportunity also has been taken in the agreement to record the rescission of clause 23 of the 1949 agreement. This clause provided that the Commonwealth should take reasonable steps to acquire the Silverton Tramway and vest it in the South Australian Railways Commissioner. The decision to build the new line on a direct route, which I mentioned earlier, has made the clause redundant. Honourable members will no doubt be concerned at the effect of this action on The Silverton Tramway Co. Ltd. While legal advice indicates that there is no obligation to compensate that company it was recognised that the new line will substantially affect the business of the company. Accordingly the company was offered an ex gratia payment of a sum of $1.25m. The company has at this stage declined to accept the offer. The future course of the matter is in the hands of the company and it accordingly would be inappropriate to make further comment.
As I indicated earlier, construction of the new railway under the provisions of this Bill will complete a revolutionary development in Australian transport with widespread benefits to a large number of industries and individuals. Although detailed timetables and freight schedules have not yet been completed, freight costs between Sydney and Perth are expected to be reduced by around 12½%. Even more importantly, the time it takes to move freight by rail across the continent will be cut from the present 8 or 10 days to less than 4 days. Moreover passengers will be able to travel from Sydney to Perth without changing trains, and the overall time for the journey will be considerably reduced.
The increasing volume of freight and passenger traffic gives prospect of reasonable economic utilisation of the trans-continental facilities. At a time when methods of freight handling are undergoing such radical change, and when people are both able to afford and have the inclination to travel about Australia, it is particularly opportune that this final section should be undertaken. The advantages to be gained are such that the three Governments are determined to work for the earliest possible completion of the project. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Whitlam) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The intention of this Bill is to fulfil the Commonwealth’s role in providing for a further period of orderly marketing and stabilisation for the wheat industry. As in the past, complementary State legislation will be required to make the arrangements effective. The wheat season will begin on 1st October and a new marketing year will commence on 1st December. It is essential that the arrangements proposed be made effective so that all wheat of the 1968-69 season will be covered.
This season, 1967-68, is the last of the fourth consecutive 5-year stabilisation plan. In the course of the third and fourth stabilisation plans, but more particularly in the last 5 years, there have been dramatic changes in the Australian wheat industry. In 1960 the area planted to wheat was about 13.5 million acres. This year it is about 26 million acres. In 1960 production established a new record of 274 million bushels; 2 years ago production was up to 467 million bushels; this year the indications are that if the seasonal conditions continue to be favourable the harvest will be more than 500 million bushels. This upsurge in production is associated with prosperity in the wheat industry and with the security offered to wheat growers by the stabilisation scheme. Last year the Bureau of Agricultural Economics carried out an economic survey which showed, among other things, that the average net income of wheat farmers was $9,400 per year in the 3 years, 1964-65 to 1966-67, one of which was a drought year. The survey confirmed that land prices had been soaring.
These developments have taken place in a period in which average export returns for wheat have not increased to any extent. It was not the attraction of very high export prices which induced growers to plant more and more land to wheat. Nevertheless, wheat growing must have been an increasingly attractive proposition. It can only be concluded that stabilisation plans which assured growers of a firm home consumption price and of a highly remunerative return for a large proportion of their exports played a great part in encouraging expansion.
I have mentioned that the survey disclosed average net farm incomes of $9,400 over a period of 3 years. Of this sum Commonwealth subvention to the industry averaged $330 per farm per year or about 3% of net farm income. A similar survey 5 years earlier had disclosed average net incomes of $7,700. However the cost of the scheme to ‘the Commonwealth rose steeply as farm incomes rose. In this financial year we have budgeted for the payment of $43m to the Wheat Prices Stabilisation Fund. Over the 5 years of the present plan the cost to the Commonwealth will be $95m. Total Commonwealth payments to the industry by the end of this year will amount to $156m.
This is a considerable sum to pay out to one of the most prosperous rural industries and would be sufficient justification for changes in important features of the stabilisation plan, but there are other good reasons for change. One of them is the snowball effect of increasing land prices. As these prices rose so also did the notional farm investment and with it the imputed cost of interest on investment. As this went up so, under the formula used in the present and past schemes, did the cost of production, the guaranteed price and the home consumption price. As they went up wheat growing became more attractive. The price of land was bid up further and the cost to the Commonwealth of maintaining the scheme also increased further. In other words, the very existence of a stabilisation scheme increased the cost of production under the formula and the cost of the scheme to the Government.
In these circumstances the Government, when it came to consider arrangements which would be appropriate for the next few years, could not continue the existing arrangements with regard to cost movements. Nevertheless, as will be seen when I mention the details of the new scheme, we do recognise the importance of covering the movements in cash costs incurred by wheat growers. There is no good reason for anyone to suggest that the Government did not have the interests of the industry very much in mind in framing the new plan. There is little need to dwell on the importance of the wheat industry, whether as an export income earner or as the basic enterprise of more than 50,000 farms, or the prime source of prosperity to many towns and regions. It is the mainstay of rural development for many reasons.
Australia has indeed been fortunate that this, its most important agricultural industry, has been prosperous. We would be remiss, however, if we were to ignore the fact that it has had, and will have, major troubles in the uncertainty of production and the unpredictability of world markets and prices. In consecutive seasons we have had drought in New South Wales and Queensland; an all time record harvest; and drought in
Victoria, South Australia and again in parts of New South Wales. This year we may well have yet another record crop but the main harvest is still weeks away and no one can know what the outcome will be.
In the 5 years of operation of the current plan the f.o.b. equivalent of ‘the Wheat Board’s c.i.f. quotations has fluctuated as much as 23c per bushel. This has been reflected in pool accounts which show average export realisations of 142.9c per bushel for 1963-64 and 133.8c per bushel for 1964-65. For the current pool the average export price is estimated at 135.5c per bushel.
There is no way of avoiding these problems of fluctuations in supply and price. They can be mitigated to some extent. The Government has recognised this and has shaped arrangements for future years which offer the industry a prospect for stability such as it has never before experienced. In particular, it has recognised the growth of the industry by increasing the quantity of export wheat covered by the guaranteed price from 150 million to 200 million bushels from any crop.
The - main features of the stabilisation proposals in the Bill are as follows: The period of operation will be 5 seasons commencing with the 1968-69 crop. The Australian Wheat Board will continue as the sole authority for the marketing of wheat in Australia and for the export marketing of wheat and flour. The guaranteed price for 1968-69 will be $1.45 per bushel for fair average quality bulk wheat free on board vessel. In subsequent years it will be adjusted according to movements in cash costs, including interest actually paid, and in rail freight and handling charges, calculated by index methods. The guaranteed price will apply to exports up to a maximum of 200 million bushels from the crop of any season.
There will continue to be a Wheat Prices Stabilisation Fund. It will have a ceiling of $80m. It will be financed from an export charge which will apply when export returns exceed an amount equal to the guaranteed return plus 5c per bushel. Thus in the first year, 1968-69, the export charge will apply only if, and to the extent to which, the export returns are in excess of $1.50 per bushel f.o.b. It will not at any time exceed 15c per bushel. If export returns for a season are less than the guaranteed price then the deficit, on up to 200 million bushels, will be made up from the Fund. If the balance in the Fund is insufficient or if, as at present, there are no grower moneys in the Fund the deficit will be made up by the Commonwealth.
It is the prerogative of each State to fix the home consumption price under legislation. For 1968-69 it is proposed that it will be $1.70 per bushel for fair average quality bulk wheat free on rail at ports plus an amount to cover the cost of shipment to Tasmania. The base price has been determined by reference to a cost of production structure. The home consumption price will apply to all domestic sales of wheat whether as stockfeed or for products for human consumption or industrial use. It will be adjusted annually by the same amounts as the guaranteed price is adjusted. There will continue to be a loading on the home consumption price to cover the cost of shipment of wheat from the mainland to Tasmania. For the year beginning on 1st December it will be lc per bushel. It will be subject to variation as may be necessary in subsequent years.
There are substantial changes from previous arrangements. The most notable is that the principle of an assessed cost of production is no longer to be used as the basis of the guaranteed price and annual variations in price. Perhaps the simplest explanation of the need for this is that for fifteen consecutive seasons average returns to growers have been less than the assessed cost of production. Yet the industry has expanded at an unprecedented rate. It is demonstrably prosperous. There can be no doubt that the returns from wheat marketed have been remunerative.
The Government recognises, however, that growers are faced with changes in the costs of materials such as fuel and fertilisers, of other inputs such as labour, of interests on debts and of freight, storage and handling. It is therefore proposed that annual adjustments be made to take such changes into account on an index basis in determining annual variations in both the guaranteed price and the home consumption price. The Government has also recognised that there is a need to establish prices which are at once fair to the consumer and reasonably remunerative to the grower. The home consumption price of $1.70 per bushel, plus the freight loading to Tasmania, represents an increase of Sic per bushel over that of the current season. In considering this, it is well to bear in mind that this price is based on a cost structure ascertained from the Bureau of Agricultural Economics survey to which I have referred. It is well to remember also that for a number of years in the earlier days of stabilisation the home consumption price was heavily in favour of the consumer.
Whilst a primary objective of the stabilisation plan is the avoidance of hardship to wheat growers, the interests of the consumer and of the economy as a whole must be taken into account. As I have said, Government subvention to the industry has been heavy. Proposals put forward by the industry would, it is estimated, have cost something like $250m over the next 5 years. This would have been intolerable. Such costs to the Treasury would not be justified. The industry is not in need of such assistance. Payments of this order would have had anything but a stabilising effect. As it is, what has been offered to the industry by the Government is quite likely to result in payments of at least $68m to the industry over the next 5 years, if the cost experience in that period and the level of export prices turn out to be much the same as in the last 5 years. I shall have more to say later of benefits to the industry. For the moment I shall touch on benefits to the community.
For the consumer there is the prospect of assured supplies at a stable price. This is not an empty gesture. The increase of Sic in the home consumption price will affect the cost of the wheat content of a 2 lb loaf of bread only by one fifth of a cent. Livestock feeders can draw on Wheat Board stocks on a hand to mouth basis. The value of this becomes apparent when it is realised that in 1964 sales of wheat for stock feed were 12 million bushels. In the next year they were 27 million bushels, but wheat prices, unlike the prices of other grains, did not reflect the changed demand situation. Similarly, in last year’s drought in three States, the Wheat Board maintained adequate supplies to meet all domestic demand at the home consumption price determined under the legislation. Other user industries benefit also by not having to carry large stocks of wheat. It could be argued that they would derive further benefit from a lower domestic price for wheat The price proposed is reasonable to all concerned and a wheat industry stabilisation scheme is not properly the source of assistance to other industries.
Comparison of individual aspects of the Bill with features of the present stabilisation plan is not likely to be rewarding. Each aspect is a part of a package and it is necessary to look at the whole to appreciate it. Once that is done it will be apparent that growers stand to gain by its implementation.
First, I take the level of returns to the industry. Home consumption sales, normally about 60 million bushels a year will return the grower $1.70 per bushel f.o.r. The freight to Tasmania loading does not affect grower returns. The guaranteed price of $1.45 f.o.b. will return about $1.41i per bushel f.o.r. on 200 million bushels. This means that on 260 million bushels of any season’s crop growers are provided with a rninimum average return of just over $1.48 f.o.r. per bushel or an aggregate of $385m and this will be so whatever the state of the export market. In the first year of the current scheme the return to growers was just over $1.44 - 14s 5d in those days - per bushel f.o.r. on 210 million bushels, an aggregate of $303m. So in 1968-69 growers stand to gain 4c per bushel over the first year of the present scheme and the return from domestic and guaranteed export sales will be $82m higher.
Similar arithmetic will show that the return from domestic and guaranteed export sales in the coming year must be $41m more than in the current year. It can also be demonstrated that if the cost and price experience of the S years of the present scheme were to be repeated grower incomes in the next 5 years would be higher than they have been during the period from 1963-64 to this year. The contributory Wheat Prices Stabilisation Fund is to be continued but with some important changes. In the first place growers will not be called upon to contribute to the Fund unless export returns for a season are more than Se above the guaranteed price. In the first year, then, they will not be called upon to pay anything unless export returns exceed $1.50 per >bushel f.o.b. and then only the excess up to a maximum of 15c per bushel. On the other hand, if export returns are below $1.45 per bushel f.o.b. the deficit will be made up from the Fund on exports up to 200 million bushels. There are no grower moneys in the Fund and any deficit will have to be met by the Commonwealth. The ceiling on the Fund is increased from $60m to $80m in keeping with the increase in the quantity subject to guarantee. This provision, however, would become significant only if export prices were significantly higher for a sustained period than they now are.
The breaking of the link between the home consumption and the guaranteed price is recognition of a fact of life. The domestic and export markets are distinct. They have long been so. In the first stabilisation plan, which started in 1948, domestic consumers derived considerable benefit because the home consumption price was below the export price. More recently the home consumption price has continued to edge up while the export price has not. The guaranteed price proposed is not significantly out of line with world market prices. It is higher than current export prices and higher than the minimum set by the International Grains Arrangement. It is high enough so that in conjunction with the home consumption price, growers can look forward to a return on 260 million bushels of $1.48 per bushel. It has been the practice in the past to adjust the guaranteed price and the home consumption price, exclusive of the Tasmania shipping adjustment, to the nearest cent. It is proposed that in future they wilt be set to the nearest one tenth of a cent so that problems of over and under estimation will be avoided.
This Bill is intended to bring about a very significant development in the orderly marketing of wheat. The Wheat Board has long been a model of what can be achieved with Commonwealth, State and industry cooperation. It has, however, had the disadvantage that its effective operating life has been limited to the duration of a stabilisation plan. This has meant that its ability to take advantage of market opportunities has been restricted. It could not commit itself in any way beyond the last season of the plan. For these reasons this Bill provides for the extension of the marketing provisions for two seasons beyond the duration of the stabilisation plan. The purpose of this is to enable continuity of the Wheat Board’s operations to be maintained. At the present time, late in the final season of the stabilisation plan, the Board is in a very difficult position as far as the receiving and marketing of new season’s wheat is concerned. The proposed change will remove this difficulty. Moreover it will put the Board in the position that it can enter into contracts with overseas buyers for the supply of wheat over a period of, say, 3 years. It will therefore be in a much more favourable position to meet competition from other exporting countries and to take advantage of market opportunities which occur from time to time. Although it would have been possible for it to have entered into 3 year contracts in the first year and second year of a 5 year stabilisation scheme, its inability to renew such contracts as they expire would have put it in a disadvantageous position.
The experience of the past few years has disclosed that there are loopholes in the provisions of the Act debarring trade outside the Wheat Board. Changes have been made in order to close these loopholes so that the Board will have adequate authority to carry out its responsibilities. It has also proved necessary in the light of experience to clarify provisions of the Act relating to determination of the average price which of course is the basis of determination of the amount needed to make up any deficit below the guaranteed price on exports up to 200 million bushels. There is also included in the Bill a number of machinery matters dealing with the powers of the Board.
I have now described the main provisions of this Bill and the reasons behind the changes from previous stabilisation plans. The new scheme has been accepted by the Australian Wheatgrowers Federation, the recognised spokesman for the industry. Passage of this legislation by the Commonwealth Parliament and of complementary legislation by the States will permit a continuation of an important factor in our economy. I conclude by reminding honourable members that wheat stabilisation is significant to producers and consumers. It protects the producer from the vagaries of the market and provides him with one of the world’s greatest orderly marketing arrangements through the existence of the
Australian Wheat Board. It gives the consumer the assurance of his wheat requirements at reasonable prices. Through these things, wheat stabilisation strengthens the economy and the nation. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Anthony, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is complementary to the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill 1968, and is intended to give effect to one aspect of the proposed stabilisation arrangements. It has been a basic feature of each stabilisation plan that in seasons when export prices have been higher than the guaranteed price growers have contributed to a Wheat Prices Stabilisation Fund. When export prices have been less than the guaranteed price withdrawals have been made from the Fund to build returns on specified quantities of exports up to the guaranteed price. Should the Fund be insufficient to meet the demands on it or should it be exhausted, as it now is, the Commonwealth has a commitment to meet the guarantee from Consolidated Revenue.
The principle of a contributory charge has long been accepted by the wheat industry and is a reasonable arrangement for sharing between growers and the Commonwealth the risk of loss through fluctuations in prices. The application of the charge will vary from previous practice. This Bill imposes a charge on wheat exports to the extent that export prices exceed the level of the guaranteed price plus 5c per bushel. Thus for wheat of the 1968-69 crop, for which the guaranteed price will be $1.45 per bushel f.o.b., the export charge will apply only to the excess above $1.50 per bushel f.o.b. The maximum payable in any season will be 15c per bushel, as it has been for a number of years. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr Patterson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Bury, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I propose to deal with this Bill and the complementary States Grants (Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave) Bill 1968 and Excise Tariff Bill 1968 together. They provide for the raising of additional revenue to meet increased costs of long service leave for employees in the black coal mining industry. Long service leave for employees in the black coal mining industry is provided on an industry basis. Payments for leave taken by miners are made by employers who are recouped, in effect, from a trust fund set up under the States Grants (Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave) Act. The costs of the administration of the scheme, which is handled by the States, are also met from the trust fund. This fund derives its revenue from an excise on black coal - or in respect of coal the property of a State, a payment equivalent to the excise - and interest on moneys invested.
From 1949, when the long service leave scheme was introduced, until 1961 the excise was levied on all coal, whether home consumed or exported, and the rate was varied from time to time according to the needs of the fund. In 1961 when the funding arrangements were last amended, because of the healthy state of the fund the rate of excise on coal for home consumption was reduced from 5d or 4.17c to 4d or 3.33c per ton and it was also decided to remove the excise on coal that was exported as an encouragement to the development of export markets.
From the outset, the financing of the fund has been on a cash commitment basis. Essentially a cash commitment arrangement involves planning finances over a period, in this case generally 5 years, to ensure that liabilities expected to fall due within that time are met by revenue earned. At the same time the fund’s reserves have to be sufficient to cope with any sudden and unexpected increase in the drawings on the fund. Estimates made by the Commonwealth Actuary indicate that expenditure for long service leave and administration purposes for the period from 1967 to 1972 is expected to be of the order of $7.2m. On the other hand excise on the present basis would only raise just over half this amount and the level of the fund, $2.8m at 30th June 1968, cannot be allowed to fall significantly if it is to cope with possible sudden, and unexpected, heavy drawings. In brief, the only alternative is to increase revenue.
When the present excise exemption in respect of export coal was introduced in June 1961, exports were below 2,000,000 tons per annum, or less than 10% of the total Australian production. Currently they are 10 million tons, or more than 30% of all black coal produced. By 1971 coal exports are expected to exceed 15 million tons, or more than 40% of the output, and the indications are of further growth. In other words, the section of the industry producing home consumption coal - a relatively decreasing proportion of the industry - has been carrying the entire cost of long service leave since 1961. Expenditure from the Trust Fund has, moreover, exceeded revenue in each year and the cost of leave entitlements is rising with liberalisation of long service provisions, and in particular, the reduction of the qualifying period from 10 to 8 years in October 1966, and increasing wage rates. If locally consumed coa] only were to contiune to carry the entire cost, the excise would have to be increased from the present 3.33c to about 6.5c a ton.
The Government considers, in the light of all the circumstances, that all coal producers should share the cost of long service leave for those employed in the industry. Accordingly, it is proposed that an excise of 4.4c per ton be levied on locally consumed coal as from 1st November 1968, but to cushion the financial impact on pro*ducers for the export market, the present export exemption will not cease immediately but will be phased out over a period of some 4 years. The effect of this will be that the rate on export coal from 1st November 1968 will be only 1.1c a ton, virtually the same as the increase on home consumed coal, rising to 2.2c per ton from 1st July 1969, 3.3c from 1st July 1970. and finally 4.4c on 1st July 1971.
The Excise Tariff Bill I have foreshadowed provides for an excise of 4.4c per ton to be levied on all coal while the phasing out arrangements for exports are covered in the other two measures. Thus, clause 4 of the Coal Excise Bill provides that remissions of part of the full rate of 4.4c will apply; so that the actual rates payable over the phasing out period will not exceed those I have mentioned for the respective years. This will ensure that an exporter does not have to outlay more than the actual duty payable at the time the coal is exported. Similarly clause 3 of the States Grants (Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave) Bill provides for reimbursements to be made to the owners of coal on which the full duty has been paid where the coal is subsequently exported.
The amendments proposed in the Coal Excise Bill provide for the collection of excise by the Department of Customs and Excise on all black coal, by removing the provisions which exempted coal that was exported. They also provide for the remissions of duty I have just mentioned and some consequential amendments to the machinery provisions.
The Bill amending the States Grants (Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave) Act provides for the reimbursements I mentioned a few moments ago. It is proposed that all the legislation will operate from 1st November of this year. I commend the Coal Excise Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Luchetti) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Bury, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of this Bill, the operation of which is proposed to commence on 1st November 1968, is to fix the rate of excise duty to be paid on coal on and from that date. The amendment, by amendment to Schedule 2 to the principal Act, provides for an excise duty of 4.4c per ton on all coal. I outlined the reasons for the duty increase when I introduced the Bill to amend the Coal Excise Act. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Luchetti) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Bury, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Act which this Bill proposes to amend provides for the setting up and operation of the Coal Mining Industry Long Service Leave Fund. It will be administered by the Department of Labour and National Service. I have already outlined the reasons for introducing the measure, and its content, and I commend it to the House accordingly.
Debate (on motion by Mr Luchetti) adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6.1 to 8 p.m.
Bill presented by Dr Forbes, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of the Bill is to widen the national health scheme to provide extra financial assistance in three areas of special need. Firstly, the Bill removes the financial burden which up to now has fallen on those who, although adequately insured, have had their hospital benefits reduced, under the rules of the hospital benefit organisations relating to pre-existing or chronic ailments or long term illnesses. Secondly, the Bill provides for a supplementary benefit of $3 a day to be paid in respect of patients in nursing homes who require and receive intensive nursing home care. The supplementary benefit will be in addition to the existing nursing home benefit of $2 a day. Thirdly, the Bill provides for a benefit of $1.50 a day to be paid in respect of handicapped children residing in handicapped persons homes conducted by religious or charitable bodies. These new provisions will operate from 1st January 1969.
The Bill also contains two other measures. One authorises the Minister for Health to make arrangements for the supply of measles vaccine. As is now the case with poliomyelitis vaccine it is intended to issue measles vaccine free of charge to State governments who undertake campaigns for vaccinating children against this illness which, whilst normally not of itself dangerous or unduly distressing, nevertheless can have a number of serious complications and after-effects. The remaining measure will provide that persons who have lost pensioner medical service entitlement may join a benefit organisation without being subjected to the rules relating to the initial waiting period of 2 months.
The proposals contained in the Bill are part of the Government’s social welfare programme which aims at identifying, and providing for, those in the community who are in greatest need of assistance. To evaluate these community needs and to devise ways in which those needs may be met, the Government has established a permanent welfare committee of Ministers. The Bill before the House is a tangible result of early deliberations of that committee on certain aspects of national health welfare. Additionally, the Government is currently exploring, with State governments, ways of strengthening and extending domiciliary welfare services within the community. These are the services which are aimed at helping the sick, the frail and needy, especially older people, in their own domestic environment which, in many cases, is to be preferred to the institutional environment of hospitals and nursing homes. The Government will assist the States financially to achieve a balanced and extended domiciliary care programme.
Whilst these highly desirable activities significantly reduce the number of people who would otherwise need hospitalisation or other care in special accommodation, the problem of the financial burden of long term illness or incapacity would still remain unless special steps were taken to ensure that adequate financial assistance is available for all in-patient care. The Government, recognising that other improvements may be necessary in the insurance areas of the national health scheme, has appointed an expert committee led by Mr Justice Nimmo to conduct an independent inquiry. In the meantime this Bill provides great measures of relief in the three particular areas of need to which I have referred. I would now like to outline in more detail each of the measures. Hospital benefit organisations can only provide cover to an extent that is actuarially sound and therefore it has not always been possible for them, at the level of premiums charged, to provide fund benefits at the full insured rate in cases where an illness was known to exist when a person joined a fund, in cases of protracted illness for more than, in general, 3 months in a year, or in cases of chronic illness. To assist cases such as these the Government in 1959 introduced a scheme whereby such contributors could receive an insured fund benefit usually at the ‘standard rate’ of benefit. These benefits were underwritten by the Commonwealth through the medium of special accounts in organisations. The standard rate is, of course, additional to the Commonwealth benefit. Currently the standard rate is $3 a day and the Commonwealth benefit $2 a day.
The Bill now provides that where necessary the Commonwealth will underwrite through the special account system, the full insured benefit entitlements of a patient for the whole period of hospitalisation. The level of payment in these cases will, however, be limited so that benefits payable do not exceed the total hospital bill including the normal additional charges such as for theatre fees and drugs.
Up until now, many special account contributors have been eligible for benefits only at the standard rate of $3 a day. There is normally a 2 months waiting period to be served on transfer to a higher benefit table before the contributor is eligible for benefits at the higher rate. To give special account contributors an opportunity to be eligible for increased benefits immediately these new arrangements come into force on 1st January 1969, clause 27 of the Bill provides for the normal waiting period on transfer to be waived for special account contributors who transfer to higher tables in the period ending 31st March 1969.
This extension of the hospital benefits insurance scheme ensures that all persons who are insured to an appropriate level need have no fear of the burden of the cost of hospitalisation should serious illness ever occur. The scheme is expected to cost $6m in a full year. This estimate is, however, based on the current situation. The transfer of large numbers of contributors to higher tables could, of course, increase the cost.
The second measure concerns nursing homes and recognises that some nursing home patients need considerably more nursing and other paramedical treatment than others and that this more intensive care adds greatly to the cost of treatment. Patients in nursing homes who are classified as in need of ‘intensive nursing home care’ and who receive such care will attract a supplementary benefit of $3 a day in addition to the existing benefit of $2 a day payable in respect of all patients in approved nursing homes.
The definition of ‘intensive nursing home care’ is in sub-clause 7 of clause 15 of the Bill. The term ‘intensive’ is related to the degree of nursing care or paramedical treatment that the patients in the nursing homes need and receive. Patients who will receive the supplementary benefit will include those whose disabilities make them virtually bedfast, who are wholly or substantially dependent upon nursing care or who are undergoing comprehensive nursing aimed at improving their health or their independence and are thereby dependent on nursing care. I must make it clear that patients who receive such treatment away from their beds will not be debarred from receiving the supplementary benefit. In other words I am concerned that this new benefit should not have the effect of confining a patient requiring comprehensive nursing care to bed when it is in the best interests of the patient to receive medical or paramedical treatment away from the bed. The scheme requires payment of the supplementary benefit, like the existing nursing home benefit, to the proprietor of the home who is required to offset it against the amount of the nursing home charge.
In planning the administration of this new benefit, the opportunity was taken to review the legal requirements as to certification by medical practitioners for the purpose of paying the present nursing home benefit. Currently the Act requires that applications by proprietors of nursing homes for payment should be accompanied by a monthly medical certificate for each patient. It is now proposed that for payment of the ordinary benefit a medical certificate shall be required only on admission and then each 6 months thereafter. So far as the supplementary benefit is concerned, it is proposed only to require a medical certificate for the purpose of approving the patient for the benefit. The additional benefit is expected to cost about $ 15m in a full year.
The third scheme, in providing a benefit of $1.50 a day in respect of handicapped children, breaks new ground in the Commonwealth social welfare programme. The Government in making this benefit available has had regard to the fact that the extra financial assistance will materially assist religious and charitable organisations in their efforts to care for children who are unfortunate enough to need special care in a sheltered environment. The benefit recognises that handicapped children in their formative years need constant medical or nursing supervision as well as specialised education and training. The benefit which is payable to the proprietor of an approved handicapped persons home, in respect of each handicapped child under the age of 16 years who is accommodated in the home, must be offset against any charges made by the home, and approvals are restricted to homes conducted on a non-profit basis by religious or charitable bodies. The new benefit will apply both to physically and to mentally handicapped children and is limited to those up to 16 years of age, being the age at which persons in handicapped persons homes are usually entitled to an invalid pension. The scheme is expected to cost $600,000 in a full year. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns) adjourned.
– I move:
That in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1913-1966 the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report:
New hospital complex- stage 1- Gove, Northern Territory
The proposal involves the construction of five buildings on a 19½-acre site in the Gove township, comprising administration block, services block, a three-storey nursing unit, a two-storey nurses home accommodating fifty-three nurses, and a bulk store. Eight staff residences also will be erected. Construction will be phased to provide accommodation of 10 temporary beds by the end of 1969 and the full capacity of 64 beds by mid 1971. The estimated cost of the proposal is $5m. I table plans of the proposed work.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Nixon, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Bill which I have just introduced provides for amendments to the Excise Tariff 1921-1967 by inserting a new item to provide an exemption from excise duty on ships stores, and exempting from excise duty spirit used for scientific and industrial purposes. The first of these amendments, which is contained in the First Schedule to the Bill, arises from the Government’s decision to exempt from customs and excise duties ships stores consumed on overseas ships.
Honourable members will recall that when the original Excise Tariff Proposals on this item were first introduced it was pointed out that the Customs Act provided authority to exempt from customs duty imported goods used as ships stores. The Excise Act, however, contained no such authority and therefore, as a matter of expediency at the time, a new item providing the excise duty concession was inserted in the Schedule to the Excise Tariff. This action was to be of a temporary nature until such time as the provisions of the Customs Act and the Excise Act governing ships and aircraft’s stores could be brought into line. The amendments necessary to achieve this were introduced in another place on 26th September this year and honourable members will observe that provision has been made in the Excise Tariff Bill for the new item to cease to operate when the appropriate amendments contained in Excise Bill (No. 2) 1968 come into force.
The amendments contained in the Second Schedule to the Bill stem from the Tariff Board’s report on essential oils and other substances. The Excise Tariff has for a number of years provided concessional rates of duty on spirit used in the manufacture of scents, toilet preparations and essences provided such products contained certain minimum quantities of Australian essential oils. The Board stated that the Excise Tariff was not the appropriate vehicle for assistance to essential oil production and recommended that assistance, where warranted, should be accorded by means of protective duties under the Customs Tariff. The Government accepted this recommendation. As a consequence of this decision, and the fact that about 95% of industrial spirit usage is free of excise duty, it was further decided to remove the excise duties from that balance of spirit used for scientific and industrial purposes, the bulk of which is used in essences, scents and toilet preparations. The repeal of items 2 (K), 2 (L) and the amendment of item 2 (M) in the Schedule to the Excise Tariff provide for this change. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns) adjourned.
– by leave - In September 1965 the Government announced certain policy decisions regarding the use of Australian indigenous crude oil. Those decisions were a reaffirmation of the policy that the Government was determined that local refineries use all the crude oil produced in Australia, and an announcement that the price to be paid by refineries for Australian crude would be $A3.14 a barrel at the customs port at the refining centre nearest to the producing field. Any amounts of money that I shall mention during this speech will be in Australian dollars and cents. Included in this price was 67c a barrel as an incentive payment. This arrangement was to finish on 17th September 1970, and no decisions were announced as to what would happen after that date.
At that time the Moonie field was the only one in operation. The production of the Moonie and Barrow fields was and is comparatively small and the extra cost resulting from the crude oil they sell at $3.14 a barrel, together with freight costs paid by them around the Australian coast or through the pipeline is already included in petrol prices in Australia. Subsequently, very extensive oil fields were discovered in Bass Strait by Esso-BHP. Oil from these fields should begin to flow in March 1969 and by September 1970 it is expected that the fields will be producing at over 250,000 barrels of crude oil a day. During that period the fields may well produce in the vicinity of sixty million barrels of crude oil. The prospect of such large quantities of oil which refineries had to buy at a price so much higher than the price of imported oil obviously created a new problem and led to forecasts of considerable rises in prices of petrol and other petroleum products to the Australian consumer. Because of the effects that this would have throughout the economy generally the Government has most carefully studied the various problems raised and I have for some time been engaged in a series of negotiations with Australian oil producers and refiners.
I now wish to inform the House that the Government reaffirms its policy that for a period of 10 years beginning on 18th September 1970, refineries in Australia are to be required to process Australian crude oil in order to provide the full requirements of the Australian market for petroleum products. This is, of course, subject to the need for sufficient imports to meet the requirements in Australia for bitumen, lubricants and fuel oil in excess of quantities that can be realised from the Australian crude, which is deficient in these quantities but which is so rich in the lighter distillates - petroleum,, kerosene, dieselene and so on.
Secondly, the Government announces as policy that for a period of 5 years after 17th September 1970, when the present policy arrangements terminate, the price that refineries will be required to pay Australian producers will be import parity. Import parity is defined as the posted prices of overseas oil as of today, less the discounts allowed off those posted prices as of today, plus overseas freights at the most efficient and economic rates prevailing today plus wharfage where applicable. To this price will be added a sum for quality differential worked out by the modified Nelson method, this quality differential being added because of the richness of Australian crude in the lighter distillates. From the import parity price so arrived at there will be deducted a sum representing the average freight cost of delivering Australian oil to the refineries from the port of delivery by the most economical means possible. This will mean that as from September 1970 for a period of 5 years the price payable for Australian crude oil should generally be neither higher nor lower than the price now payable today for overseas oil, except for the effect of Australian coastal freights, if any. This in turn should mean that as from that date the price of petrol products produced from Australian crude oil should not be higher than the price payable today for products produced today.
I now come to the period between March 1969 and September 1970, during which the present arrangement operates, during which the presently applying high prices for Australian crudes were agreed to be paid, and during which, as a result of that, significant increases in the cost of petroleum products have: been suggested. I have already said that the cost of oil from Moonie and Barrow at those high prices has been absorbed in existing petrol prices, and no alteration is to be made to the prices payable for oil from those fields until, after September 1970, when the import parity prices which I have described will apply. In the’ case of the oilfields discovered by EssoBHP we have agreed by* negotiation that there will be a reduction in the prices Australian refineries are required to pay up to September 1970. Our agreement is that Esso-BHP will altogether forgo the 67c a barrel known as the incentive allowance. In addition, Esso-BHP will allow refineries a further discount of 5c a barrel. The result is that between March 1969 and September 1970 the price to be paid for oil from this field will be reduced from $3. 14- a barrel to $2.42 a barrel at the. customs port at the refining centre nearest to the- producing field. After September 1970 the price payable for this oil to Esso-BHP will be import parity as already explained, and this,, of course, will reduce the price still further. - To sum up, the new arrangements made will mean that the large newly discovered quantities of Australian oil to be used between March 1969 and September 1970 will cost 72c a barrel or a little over 2c a gallon less than was previously anticipated. After September 1970 the price payable for Australian crudes will be, as I have said, no more than the price of imported overseas crudes today except for any extra costs involved in coastal transportation, and will be still less than the price payable between March 1969 and September 1970. This will not, between March 1969 and September 1970, in itself prevent any increase in the price of petrol for other products but it will undoubtedly very materially reduce the size of any rise that might take place, or that would have taken place had this agreement not been reached.
I have so far spoken only of the pricing policy for Australian crudes and of the Government’s requirement that the Australian market should be supplied from such crudes. But we need to discover more oil in Australia and- the Government is therefore currently studying the separate question of the need for incentives for oil exploration in the period after 17th September 1970. Various proposals are under examination and we will in due course announce the form of incentive, if any, which we will adopt. In the meantime the arrangements I have just announced will provide a firm basis upon which the refining industry can plan ahead for the use of Australian crudes and will materially reduce any possible future rise in the price of petroleum products. I present the following1 paper:
Australian crude oil - Use and Price - Ministerial Statement- 10 October 1968 and move:
That the House take note of the- paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Connor) adjourned.
Consideration resumed from 9 October (vide page. 1794).
Proposed expenditure, $298,247,000.
Department of Social Services
Proposed expenditure, $28,819,000.
– Tonight I want to- relate my remarks to the repatriation estimates and first to direct the attention of honourable members to a statement that was made by the Returned Services League and which appeared in the annual report of the League. This statement originated from the 52nd Annual Congress of the RSL. It requested, as one of the matters to be placed before the Government Members Repatriation Committee, the establishment of a select committee to review pension rates, hospital benefits and general conditions. Before the Government decided that repatriation measures should be declared to be money Bills it was possible for the Opposition to move amendments seeking the appointment of a committee to examine the legislation, to investigate some of the complaints that had been made by the RSL, and to recommend to the Parliament amendments that ought to be made to the Repatriation Act. The RSL has been adamant about the appointment of a select committee. The Opposition agrees with the RSL’s contention that an investigation is necessary, in view of the fact that the last investigation into repatriation matters was made by a committee appointed by a Labor Government in 1943 - a quarter of a century ago. The RSL’s claim for the appointment of a select committee of the Parliament should have the support not only of the Opposition but of every member of the Parliament.
In making its claim, the League had a number of matters in mind that it believed ought to be investigated. First, there was the question of repatriation benefits. This is an important consideration for the RSL, and it is extremely important for the recipients. Secondly, the RSL referred to hospital benefits. It believed that a number of amendments ought to be proposed to and examined by a select committee. These amendments would benefit our exservicemen.
During the debate on the Repatriation Bill 1968 I referred to pension rates generally. I do not want to deal with this subject at great length now but in view of the attitude that has been adopted by the Government in relation to the League’s recommendations and submissions to the Government’s Members Repatriation Committee, I believe I should briefly, mention the rates that are now applicable. An increase of $3 a week in the rate paid to the totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen still leaves that rate far below the amount that was payable in 1950 as a percentage of the basic wage. I point out that 1950 was the first year that this Government had an opportunity to adjust repatriation pensions. In that year the TPI rate was equal to 101% of the then basic wage. In 1968, following the passing of the amending legislation which granted an increase of $3 a week, the pension represented only 89% of the minimum wage. This point has been made by the RSL. It is one of the reasons why the League believes that a select committee should be established by the Parliament.
The Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) has consistently suggested that our repatriation pension rates are very generous if measured against the repatriation rates that apply in some other countries. Let me refer very briefly to the amounts that are paid in the United States of America. According to the 1964 edition of the United States Code - these are the latest figures available to me - the amount paid to a special rate pensioner in the United States 4 years ago was higher than the amount that is paid by this Government now. Indeed the United States pensioner was paid SUS250 a month which, converted to Austraiian currency, represents $A54 a week. Even if we allow for the higher cost of living in America it can be seen that the special rate pensioner in the United States is immeasurably better off than his Australian counterpart. The Minister for Repatriation would do well to consider the amounts that are paid to American veterans. There is a graduated scale which applies to the repatriation pensions of veterans in that country. For example, a veteran who is totally deaf and blind as a result of war injuries receives a weekly compensation equivalent to $11*8 a week. Compare that rate with the rate of $33.50 a week which is paid by this Government to a totally and permanently incapacitated ex-serviceman.
When I was dealing with the- Repatriation Bill when it was before this House I pointed out that only- a percentage of the totally and permanently incapacitated exservicemen would benefit from the increase of $3 a week promised by this Government.
I said then that this was a sleight of hand trick. Undoubtedly many TPI pensioners in this country have already realised that when the Government decided to grant an increase of $3 a week it knew that there would be many special rate pensioners who would benefit only to the extent of $1.50 a week, because if a special rate pensioner was in receipt of a part service pension or if the wife of a special rate pensioner was in receipt of an age pension or a part age pension, that pension would be reduced by $1.50 a week.
A great majority of special rate pensioners supplement their income by means of the service pension. So one can appreciate immediately that this Government has not moved in the way in which the RSL believes that it should move in its treatment of the special rate pensioners. Their pension, when considered as a percentage of the basic wage, is still far below that which was paid by this Government back in 1950. As I pointed out, again in my speech on the Repatriation Bill, the 100% pensioner is in a far worse position today than he was in 1950. In 1950 the TPI rate was 101% of the basic wage. Today it is 89%. In 1950 the general rate pension was slightly less than half the basic wage and in the intervening period it has declined by no less than 19%. The same position applies to the rates of all other repatriation pensions in this country. In every instance there has been a decline in the rate paid to recipients of repatriation pensions as a result of this Government’s attitude during its period of office.
I said a few moments ago that the Government should appoint a select committee to examine repatriation rates and other matters. What are some of the questions that the Opposition has raised consistently in this Parliament? There is the question of the application of the onus of proof provision - section 47 of the Repatriation Act. I am not suggesting that tribunals do not apply that provision, but the suggestion has been raised consistently in this Parliament, not only by members on this side of the House but also by members on the Government side, that the provision is not being applied in the generous way in which this Parliament intended so many years ago that it should be applied. This is another subject which a select committee of this Parliament could investigate when considering matters affecting our ex-servicemen.
I turn now to the question of the automatic acceptance of cancer as a war caused disability. This is another question that has been dealt with in this Parliament, again by members from both sides of the chamber. Amendments have been moved by the Opposition in this respect. We have pointed out that the RSL has submitted that cancer should be automatically accepted as a war caused disability. Time will not permit me this evening to deal with the reasons for this submission. They are well known to the Government, but it has consistently ignored the representations which the RSL has made on this matter. Then I refer to another question that has been raised frequently by the RSL, that is, the hospital treatment of ex-servicemen from the 1914-1918 War. When I was dealing with this during the debate on the Repatriation Bill I pointed out that there are only approximately 22,000 ex-servicemen left who served in the 1914-18 War and that if this Government provided hospital and medical treatment for these 22,000 ex-servicemen - whether a disability was war caused or not - it would cost no more than $2.5m a year. That is not a very great amount, but again the Minister for Repatriation, who is the spokesman for this Government on repatriation matters, rejected this request out of hand.
The Opposition believes that these are reasonable requests. Whether the Government believes that a select committee of the Parliament or an independent committee of inquiry should be appointed to consider these matters, surely it must concede that if such a committee were given the opportunity to investigate the matters to which I have referred tonight and which have been frequently placed before it by the returned servicemen’s organisations the committee could report back to the Government on the way in which it believed the Repatriation Act could be amended for the benefit of our ex-servicemen.
The honourable member’s time has expired.
– We have listened to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) making a speech on the section of the estimates which has to deal with social services and repatriation. Since there is a possibility of an early election it is perhaps not surprising that he should choose an area in which he feels the Government to be vulnerable and in which, he feels, some kind of embarrassment could be caused to the Government if he were to direct his attention solely to that particular sector. But tonight I want to range more widely than he did. There is an unprecedented list of speakers after me from this side of the chamber who wish to address themselves to this very important factor of social welfare and social services in the nation. I want to range a little more widely than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did in restricting himself to particular sections of repatriation benefits, not that these are unimportant, as the measures which the Government included in the last Budget demonstrate.
The scene in which we find ourselves today in Australia is one where there is a particular challenge with regard to the provisions for the welfare of the aged sector of the community. This problem must be seen in the light of the nation as a whole. Today there is an enormous expansion of demand on the coffers of governments. It is easy for anyone in opposition to come forward from time to time with a piecemeal proposition with regard to the appointment of a special committee here or a special committee there or a body to inquire into this or that, without having regard to the overall requirements of a nation which is developing and growing as fast as Australia is. There is perhaps not a field which should demand more in terms of facilities and the capacity of the nation to provide finance than education should. Then, of course, there is the field of defence. No nation without adequate defences is worthy of any consideration with regard to its planning.
But there is a special demand in the field of social services, because our nation is growing out of the past. There are people in our midst - a number of aged persons who are receiving social service benefits or who are on fixed incomes from superannuation sources - who have framed and formed the nation as we know it today. These are the people who have borne the heat and burden of the development of Australia unlimited. This nation Ls growing apace although its resources are sorely taxed. Anyone who sees the requirements in the fields I have mentioned, let alone a host of others, must realise that there is a demand for these persons in particular to be given a new deal.
Happily - I stand here this evening in a mood of optimism - we have reached a new day with regard to social thinking and social service planning. With the coming to office of the new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) there has been a new acceptance of responsibility. A new principle has been recognised. Whereas from 1949 onwards a rather arbitrary point has been taken as the basis of the social service pension, for the first time in the history of Australia we have heard a Prime Minister telling the nation that he believed that the age pension should be such as to provide a living capability for an old person who is living frugally. This has never been admitted before. It has never before been thought of before. Never before has this thought been related to this particular social need.
– Then why did he not give a bigger increase? Why is it no better than in 1966?
– Am I to be allowed to speak? The honourable member for Stirling will have his opportunity to speak before long. The present Prime Minister has set in train new machinery. He has formed a Cabinet sub-committee to handle social welfare. His speeches have indicated to the nation a new thinking. New provisions are required. In other words there is to be a scrutiny of the basis on which increases to the base rate of the pension are granted and the way in which the means test is applied.
No-one has spoken more vociferously or violently over the last few years about the anomalies of the means test than I have. I point out again the need for a revision of the particularly anomalous provisions of the means test. Let us take the situation that arose out of the last Budget. I will take the case of a single age pensioner. Taking into consideration the fact that he has no other income he will get some pension if the value of his property or capital assets is less than $12,800 in toto. In addition to qualifying for some pension he will also get some fringe benefits. If he has property to the value of only $5,600 he will get a full pension. If we accept that a reasonable rate of interest on investments for such a person would be of the order of 6%, then his income on $5,600 would be $336. If this were added to the full pension of $728 he would have an annual income of $1,064. At the other end of the property spectrum in order for a man to obtain an income of $1,064, it would be necessary to have capital to the extent of $19,200 invested at 6%. From the standpoint of income, there is no difference between the person who has capital amounting to $19,200 and the person with property valued at $5,600. To put it in another way, if a person has no dependants and does not wish to leave some kind of benefit to other persons after his death, he might as well squander $13,600. He would be just as well off for the term of his natural life.
A married man and his wife can have property and assets worth a total value of $9,600 and still obtain the full pension of $1,300. If they had the maximum amount of capital allowable and invested it at 6%, they could receive $576 in addition to that sum of $1,300, or a total income of $1,876 per annum. To get $1,876 per annum from capital invested at 6%, a sum of $31,200 would be required. Under the provisions of the present means test, with the application of a 100% penalty on income or capital over a certain amount, a married couple with $31,000 is no better off than a married couple with $10,000. In short, if a couple does not wish to leave money to anyone else after their death they might as well get rid of $21,000 during their lifetime; they would not receive a lower income.
To me, and to the vast majority of Australians, this kind of arithmetic does not make sense. We must add the fringe benefits. Persons at the lower end of the scale would receive considerable fringe benefits which would probably be worth more than $200 a year. For a married couple this figure would be inflated still further. This situation calls for a rethinking of the fundamental provisions which govern the age pension. It is not sufficient to say that we must think in terms of a pension that will be adequate in itself to provide for a person who has no private income or for a person who, by some mishap, may have arrived at a position of penury. It is not sufficient to say that we must change the basis of the pension in order to provide for a person to live frugally on the resources of the pension alone. There would still remain the anomalies that destroy the incentive to save and the initiative to join in superannuation schemes - anomalies that now encourage people to play fast and loose with everything over certain minimum savings that will provide them with a recognised substratum of income.
In applying the means test as we know it today we are penalising some of our best aged citizens. There are persons just beyond being able to benefit from a pension. I refer to people who are in receipt of superannuation and who formerly held offices of dignity and responsibility in the Public Service or as school teachers. The alternative - I have looked at it very hard at times and have felt inclined to adopt it - is the total abolition of the means test. Today, at the lower end of the income scale, we see persons who find it extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to maintain the bare essentials of nutriment and habitation. We see the vicious spiral that operates as a result of three levels of government exacting their pound of flesh. I refer to those people whose taxes and water rates have gone up not by 5% or 10%, but in my own electorate by even 50%, 60% or 80%. There are people who are finding for the first time that having a home of their own as a millstone around their necks because of exorbitant increases in their council rates and water rates. Some of the persons I have in mind may not be home owners. As the Commonwealth raised the basic rate of the pension by $1, the New South Wales Government chose to raise the rent of houses let under its own housing scheme by the same amount. So the pensioner finds that any kind of provision to meet an increase in the cost of living is absorbed in this way.
These are the problems of a Federal system. They are the problems of Australian democracy as we know it today. The three levels of government must increasingly be geared together in their thinking about social welfare provisions. Nevertheless, we do feel on this side of the House in the Government a sense of optimism about the future because the hopes are there for very considerable new development. I find myself not only looking to the Cabinet SubCommittee on Social Welfare but also to our Prime Minister who has shown himself in the forefront of new thinking. Only recently he came to a lunchtime conference with backbenchers of this Party who constitute the private members’ committee for social services. This committee is led by my colleague, the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and the very industrious honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) from South Australia who, instead of trying to keep up with the Jones, has been developing new thinking and bringing forward ideas which have been of tremendous value. So, 1 have high hopes for a new deal. When it comes I believe that it will go far beyond this one field of social services, lt certainly will have to come in stages. But I feel completely confident that this Government is moving towards a modern and very satisfactory new day in the whole of social service matters.
- Mr Chairman, I think I should congratulate the Government backbenchers on having the distinguished privilege of being allowed to speak with the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton).
– Why does the honourable member not try it?
– J would say that it was a change for the Liberal Party-
– Order! 1 suggest that the honourable member might discuss the subject matter before the Committee.
– 1 thought that the luncheon was on social1 services and that this was relevant to the debate. The main matter that 1 rose to discuss tonight is the actual pension rises which were announced by the Government in the Budget but which have been denied to a large number of persons who had hoped that they would receive them. 1 refer especially to those pensioners in receipt of repatriation benefits. TPI pensioners, for instance, were granted a rise of $3 per week. Much was made of this rise during the presentation of the Budget and the subsequent debate and a considerable amount of play was made of it even by the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) who has just resumed his seat. The facts are that the Repatriation Department did pay $3 per week extra to TPI pensioners but the Department of Social Services has deducted $3 per week from the wives of TPI pensioners who are in receipt of a social service benefit. This also happened with other recipients of repatriation benefits. In some cases, including pensioners in receipt of the 100% pension down to the 75% pension, pensioners were granted the extra S3 per week by the Repatriation Department but it was taken back by the Department of Social Services. This is a sleight of hand trick. Those pensioners did not receive a true $3 per week rise.
Yesterday in this Parliament, 1 asked a question of the Prime Minister about this matter. He said that he would give the matter consideration. I now ask that the matter be given consideration because I hope that it is a matter which in the piecemeal considerations of social service benefits and the non-integrated discussions which do take place - and obviously took place in this case - was overlooked and it was not realised that the wives would suffer. If this is not the case, I can say only that the Government should be fully ashamed of itself for such an underhand trick.
– The old thimble and pea trick.
– I do not think that it was as honest as that. If the matter can be corrected - I do not know whether it can - it should be corrected immediately because 1 believe that no-one deserves this benefit more than these people who have served this country and who, as a result of their service, have become totally disabled so that they are no longer able to work. They are entitled therefore to a proper level of compensation from the people of this country. If they are to be treated in this manner, all I can say is that it is a pretty shabby and barefaced trick. 1 wish to raise one other matter relating to repatriation also. It appears to me that no matter how impartial the appeal boards are - they are said to be impartial - a number of people are being denied repatriation rights when reasonable grounds exist for believing that they should be granted. I refer to one particular case which came to my attention recently. A member of the defence forces served approximately 400 days in the Australian Army and was passed Al when he enlisted in the Australian Army. He was discharged from the Army because of dyspepsia which is not acceptable now as a war caused disability. I repeat that when this man entered the armed forces he was passed Al fit. Two years later he was discharged medically unfit with a complaint which he is not allowed to claim now as being war caused or war aggravated. This suggests - and I put this seriously - that if this man had not joined the armed forces he would have been so medically unfit to this extent after 2 years.
This is a presumption that I do not think any doctor is capable of making, lt is a presumption that I do not think should be made in order to prevent a man obtaining repatriation benefits to which I think he is clearly entitled. I have referred this matter to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and he has said that nothing can be done about it; the man must appeal again. This may be the way in which the Act is written. If it is, the Act should be amended because, quite clearly, cases like this one should not result in men being prevented from obtaining repatriation benefits. 1 believe it is time that the Government made it possible for all First World War ex-service personnel to have their disabilities accepted as war caused for repatriation benefit purposes. There are serious impediments to these ex-servicemen providing proof - and despite what the Act says they must provide the proof - that their injuries or disabilities are war caused. Medical records are not available. Their comrades at arms no longer are alive, and many of the men no longer are in a state of health which would enable them to carry on a fight against a government department in order to obtain repatriation benefits. These men have done their work for this country in industrial and other fields as well as in service to their country in wartime. J believe that no difficulties whatsoever should be placed in the way of these people obtaining repatriation benefits.
I refer specifically to one case which came to my notice some time ago. It is the case of a man whose doctor himself said that the man had been ‘unofficially’ gassed. He was gassed during the First World War in an area which was not declared to have been a gas area. His own story was that he felt sick at the time when he was in battle. It is not the normal thing for Australian soldiers to desert their mates in the front line even if they do feel a bit bilious at the time. This man stayed in the battle. He did not go on sick parade. When this disability came against him some 40 years late, he was unable to prove that there had been gas in the area. Apparently it had evaporated in the meantime! Yet that was the only way in which he would prove his case.
This man was dented his repatriation rights as are many others. This is not necessarily all the fault of the Government, lt is the way in which the Act is written and it is the way in which precedents and practices have grown up in a semi-legal way. 1 ask that this case be examined and, indeed, that the whole matter be examined. I believe that it should be examined in a non-political, impartial way. Most likely the people who have brought to their attention the greatest number of these cases are the members of this Parliament and those people in the Returned Services League and other service groups who deal regularly with the problems of ex-servicemen. 1 ask the Government to make a full inquiry into the disposition of repatriation and the workings of the Repatriation Act so that anomalies which are working against people who are genuinely entitled to receive the benefits of the Repatriation Act can be removed without political hullabaloo or anything else. I do not think that this is really a matter which should be subject to political debate.
One other important request I make is that consideration be given to providing special assistance to the children of social service or repatriation pensioners who are entering upon secondary and tertiary education. These children are placed in an almost impossible position. For instance, it is not possible for a widow to pay for school uniforms and so forth to get her children into high school. I recently had drawn to my attention the case of a woman who had undertaken to look after five children who had been deserted by their parents. She was told that one of the children, a 1 6-year- old girl, either had to have a school uniform in the next week or she would have to quit school. Most likely this girl needed a high school education more than a lot of those who could afford it in order to lift herself and her children when she married out of the rut that she might well drop into. She was being denied secondary education not because she could not go to school and learn but purely and simply because her foster mother could not afford uniforms and books. The State governments do make some provision in this field but it is limited and does not meet the requirements.
The responsibility for social service and repatriation pensioners rests with this Government, if not directly, then by implication. Something firm should be done very quickly because every year in which this is neglected is another year in which children leave school and go to work, not because they do not have the ability to obtain an education but because they do not have parents who are sufficiently well off. Special Commonwealth scholarships could well be made available to these children. They would not cost very much. The benefit which would be gained in the future by providing education for children who would otherwise miss out would be greater than the cost.
The honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) said a few minutes ago that a new day bad dawned in relation to social services and that an area of hope was developing. I think ‘hope’ is a very proper word in this case. Pensioners did not receive more than they should have m this year’s Budget. In fact, they received a lot less than they should have. A great number of areas of social services were untouched. This is most likely one of those things that will continue to happen, lt would be ridiculous to say we could put up all social service benefits overnight. The emphasis must be on hope because in this year’s Budget, although a lot of adjustments were made, very little in fact was done. The cost of one aircraft rose more in 2 years than did the cost of Australia’s social service bill.
The money is available if the priorities are established by the Government of the day. In 1967 the priorities were such that people who have to depend on this Government wholly and solely for their incomes missed out because there was just not enough money for them. As a result of this year’s Budget benefits were silently removed from a lot of people. In the period prior to the adjustments there had been some deterioration in the value of money but no adjustment lo the means test. So persons whose real incomes have remained stationary have had their level of social service benefit reduced. The actual money income of some persons may have slightly increased but the real value of those incomes has not altered. There has been no adjustment in the means test to meet this situation. If the means test remains stationary and if the value of money continues to deteriorate at the rate it has for a number of years - it looks like continuing to deteriorate over the years - the means test is tighter in its effect. lt is not relaxed when pensions are increased by 1 0% every second year. All that happens is that the value of pensions remains at the same level. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the position which has been created by the deterioration in the value of money and the failure to adjust the means test to meet this deterioration.
– The Committee is dealing with the estimates for the Repatriation Department and the Department of Social Services. I do not wish to retard the approval of the proposed expenditure, but for a few minutes I would like to express some opinions on what organisations in my area feel about the Repatriation Department and the Department of Social Services. I will not traverse the area already covered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard). He dealt very thoroughly with pensions, and he was supported by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). I wish to pay a tribute to the officers of the Repatriation Department, particularly in Queensland, from the Deputy Commissioner down. They have always been courteous and helpful, but of course they are hampered by the restrictions of the Repatriation Act and the regulations.
I particularly want to mention officers whom I refer to as field officers and who were appointed by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) when he was the Minister for Repatriation. They have gone out into country areas and have visited people who think they may be entitled to some benefit but most of whom possibly could not understand the application forms they had to fill in. I believe that quite a number of people have received attention from these field officers. These officers have been most courteous. Messrs Ken McLeod, King and Miscamble and all those other officers who visited these areas made their headquarters at the Returned Services
League. They have been really very helpful to a number of people who had never received any assistance at all although they were entitled to it, mainly because they were ignorant of what they were entitled to and sometimes because they were frightened by the papers that were presented to them to be filled in.
The main grievance that the RSL has, particularly in my area - I think it is reflected throughout Queensland - is not against the officers of the Department but against the appeal tribunals. They are not happy with the manner in which the tribunals are handling cases. I know personally of a lot of cases - these can be confirmed by the Secretary of the RSL - in which people have been taken from as far as Thursday Island and Cairns down to Brisbane to be examined by a tribunal at the expense of the Repatriation Department. There is no grumble about that. But when such people come before a tribunal they are not allowed to say a word. They are not even asked to speak. When they try to speak the tribunal chairman says: We have your case before us. There is no need for you to say a word’. This makes the appellants very mad indeed. They are very disappointed because they go there trying to plead their case. At least out of courtesy and decency they should be allowed to talk, even if they are not believed. They should be allowed to say their piece and to explain why they think they are entitled to something. They do not have any say whatsoever, and many times even the advocate is not allowed to talk on their behalf. The proceedings are too abrupt. The members of the tribunals want to get rid of the appellants and to get back to their homes. This is the attitude adopted towards these people. I think that the Minister should take note of this and try and straighten out the tribunals. This is the worst section of the Department at present. At least, if these people were given a bearing they would go away happy. They would be able to say that they had told their story and that if it was not believed it could not have been good enough. At least we should give them the opportunity of explaining their case.
The other point 1 wanted to mention in regard to the Repatriation Department concerns the 100% rate pensioner. The present position is not a happy one for this class of pensioner. There are many cases - I will quote one or two in a few minutes time - of people who receive a 100% rate pension, yet cannot work. In my opinion these people should be classified as totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. A 100% rate pensioner is usually regarded by a doctor as being capable of performing light duties. I have never known a doctor to tell me what light duties are and where a job can be obtained for such a person. The Department cannot find light duty jobs in its own organisation for these people. Just where does a person find a light duties job?
The Commonwealth Employment Service, in the Department of Labour and National Service, does not know where to find such jobs. A doctor - a young doctor, in most cases - determines that these people are capable of performing light duties. When this suggestion is put forward, the patient usually says: ‘What do you suggest I might do?’ In answer, the doctor says: Take a job operating a lift’. But where can a man get a lift job today, when most lifts are automatic? Yet doctors have the temerity to tell people who live a way out in the never-never on Cape York Peninsula, or in Cairns, that they should go down to Brisbane in order to find light jobs. Do the doctors mean that a fellow should uproot his family and go down to the city, which is already overcrowded and where costs are very high? Do they expect such a man to re-establish his family in a city such as Brisbane? This is ridiculous. The fact is that there are no light jobs available to people on a 100% rate pension. Yet the Repatriation Department will not class this class of pensioner as a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner. The Department still expects 100% rate pensioners to obtain light jobs, though light work cannot be found for them by the Department or by the Department of Labour and National Service through the Commonwealth Employment Service. This is the sort of thing that really riles these unfortunate people.
I would now like to mention a particular case. I refer to one fellow in particular who, I believe, will not mind my mentioning his case. He has been before the repatriation tribunals and his file is growing fast. The stage has been reached at which I will soon have to burn it or tell him that I cannot do anything more for him. This man, who worked with the Postmaster-General’s Department, was dismissed because of his disability, which was war caused. It was accepted that his injury was war caused but he is still regarded as a 100% rate pensioner and is supposed to find a light job. He has found light jobs but is forced to give them up after a short period because of his disability. At one stage he had a job cleaning but within 3 weeks he was in hospital. His own doctor and the hospital doctor have said that he cannot work. I have statements to this effect in writing from the doctors. When this man went before a repatriation tribunal one of the doctors present called him a malingerer. That made him so mad that he wanted to punch the doctor in the face. I said: ‘Do not do that. It will not help your case at all’. Such unfortunate people should not be called malingerers. As I mentioned before, this man had taken several jobs. Every time he took a job he had to go into hospital. He wants to work; he does not want to depend on a TPI pension. But although he wants to work he just cannot. The position of the person on a 100% rate pension should be looked at in a more affirmative way. People who depend on this pension should be given some relief. If a man on the 100% rate pension cannot work and obtain a job, he should bc transferred to the TPI rate. This is all I wish to say on the Repatriation Department.
I would now like to say something about the Department of Social Services. I believe that all branches of pensioners organisations consider that the basic rate of pension should be equal to the basic wage in the case of a single pensioner and half the basic wage for each partner in the case of a pensioner couple. Also. I would like to point out that a basic wage earner is given a tax zone allowance to reduce his tax and help compensate for the high cost of living in particular areas, whereas a pensioner does not get any consideration on this account.
I have often heard honourable members on the Government side of the chamber compare what the pensioners received during the days when the Australian Labor Party was in office and what they receive now. But it is very difficult to compare the situation at one time with that at another.
Comparisons between pensions and the basic wage in earlier times do not take into consideration the costs with which pensioners are faced today. Fares on all forms of transport have risen, quite apart from rises in the price of the bread and butter items that contribute to the high cost of living. Also, not all local government authorities are in a position to give relief from rates and taxes to the pensioner who owns his own home. A pensioner’s rates may be cut by half or a quarter, giving him a little relief. But pensioners are supposed to keep their houses in repair and respectable. Although local government authorities have to appeal to pensioners to keep up the standard of their homes, the pensioner usually does not have the money to do this. He has still a struggle to pay rates, even when they are reduced. The relatively high level of rates in some areas makes it very hard for pensioners to live in some communities, even if they pay only half rates, and sometimes they have to live off charity. I believe it is the responsibility of this nation to maintain pensioners in livable conditions for the remainder of their lives. Pensioners have contributed to the development of the affluent society that we have today. This fact has been mentioned many times. Pensioners are entitled to a little of the wealth that this nation now has at its command. If pensioners did receive reasonable assistance they would not be so up in arms at all their meetings. A large number of these cases that are put up to honourable members are genuine.
I suppose we could say that some superannuated persons are in a worse position than pensioners are in. This is so particularly in the case of people who are now about 76 years of age. One superannuated person whom I know retired from one of the Services on a pension of £18 a week. Today he has to keep a wife as well on this amount. Also, he does not receive the benefit of free medicine. After all, when a person is in the 70s he requires more medical attention and possibly more drugs than he needed earlier in life. A superannuated person does not receive free passes to admit him to picture shows or other forms of enterainment. He does not receive a free rail pass every year. When all of these things are added up, it can be seen that the superannuated person is pretty badly off if he does not retire on a high pension. 1 appeal to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) to look at the cases that are put up by pensioner organisations to see whether something can be done to assist pensioners to keep their dignity in their local community, particularly by affording them relief from rates and taxes. The Government pays supplementary assistance to people who pay rent. But what about the person who owns his own home? A pensioner’s home is usually not elaborate, but it may have been his home for most of his life and he has no wish to sacrifice it. We should endeavour to provide some sort of assistance that will enable pensioners to maintain respect and dignity within their own community.
– What I have to say on the estimates of the Department of Social Services will not take long. But 1 hope that my remarks will be listened to and their significance recognised. Firstly, 1 would like to say how much 1 appreciate the attitude of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) towards social services. He has stated publicly that he wants to have them reviewed. I appreciate his attitude; I think a review is overdue. I should also like to commend the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth), who is at the table, for the work he has done and the interest he has shown in his Department since he has held the portfolio. I really mean this compliment. If the Minister can continue in this way, we will see an improvement in social welfare.
I want to mention a matter that I have raised here before. I thought some recognition of this need may have been reflected in the Budget for this year, but it was not. Let us try to have it recognised in the next Budget. I refer to age pensioners. Every year, when a budget is being prepared, these old people become political footballs. They are feted and in some instances they are wined and dined by aspiring politicians and others who try to win their votes by promising that the age pension will be increased. If the pension is increased, there is a howl because the increase is not big enough. If it is not increased, the Government is criticised and we are told that it is a shocking government. This has been going on year after year ever since pensions were first introduced in the early 1900s. These people should not be used in this way. 1 agree with the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) that they have helped to make this an affluent country and have made it possible for us to enjoy the advantages, that we now have. They have done their bit. They have paid their taxes and they have been good citizens. But when they reach the pensionable age, they must struggle to live on the pension. These old people had to rear their families during the depression years. I am speaking now of people like my parents and relations and ‘ the relations of many other honourable members. We should be looking for ways to help them and we should not use them as a political football.
I fail to understand why we cannot arrive at a basic figure for the age pension and relate it to the basic wage, a cost index, .a price index or some other index so that, when such an index is raised periodically to meet the increased cost of living, the pension would be raised automatically with it. Such a system would stop all the haggling over pensions at Budget time when politicians woo electors and all sorts of promises that we know cannot be met are made. We should stop thinking in terms of a hand out for pensioners. They are people; they are my people, my parents, my relatives and the relatives of other honourable members. I do not like to see them treated as they have been. I do not like to see them merely getting a hand out when it is thought that the economic situation is good enough, for this to be done. This is the wrong approach and we should change it. I hope that when the next Budget is being prepared the age pension will receive the consideration it deserves. We should treat our old people with respect and allow them to retain their dignity.
I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about another matter and that is the lack of consideration shown to the dependants of age pensioners. Let us look at the situation of a man who reaches the age of 65 years. He has worked hard at his job all his life. He has made his contribution to the country’s progress. He has paid his taxes and he has been a good citizen. Each year when he has submitted his income tax return he has been able to claim a deduction for his dependant wife. But the day he reaches 65 years, his wife is no longer regarded as a dependant, if she is under 60 years of age, although she is still dependent on him. The husband may be 6, 8 or 10 years older than his wife. Both of them must try to live on the one pension that he receives. If she is not an invalid she cannot receive the invalid pension. She does not receive any social service benefit.
For the purposes of the illustration, let us assume that she is 57 years of age and must wait for another 3 years before she receives an age pension. She may be quite fit and healthy. But who will employ a woman of 57 years of age? We have the spectacle of the pensioner husband trying to support himself and his wife on the pension that he receives. Their children have grown up, but they should not have to look to the children for support. In all probability, their children have their own families to support and cannot afford to give money to mum and dad. I can, of course, speak only of my own area, but I know it very well and I have seen the situation I have described on many occasions. This is a serious business. There must be thousands of people in this category. I know of a hundred or more in Townsville alone, and there are many others in the remainder of my electorate. The wife tries to earn a little money by doing cleaning work. I employ the wife of a pensioner to clean my place. I -do not need this service, but I try to help her. People in this position will do anything to get a little extra money. If they cannot find work, they must try to live on the one pension. This is another matter that I hope will be considered compassionately when the next Budget is being prepared.
I want to refer now to another grave problem. I crave the indulgence of the Committee to be parochial on this subject. I can do no more than give the facts as I know them and I obtain the facts in my electorate, where I live and work. The matter I raise now relates to seasonal workers in the meat works and the sugar industry in north Queensland. When the meat works close and the sugar season finishes at the end of the year, the employees must obtain the unemployment benefit until they can find work again in the sugar industry in May or at the meat works in March or April. For all these months, the men are on the labour market, but there is no market in this area for their labour. The work they do is seasonal. They are skilled in their own occupations as boners, slicers, slaughtermen, cane cutters, mill workers and so on. But they are not skilled in other trades. Unless they become a builder’s labourer or work for a carpenter, plumber or electrician, they are unemployed and must try to exist on the unemployment benefit for the months that they are out of work.
We could remedy the situation with a little thought and a bit of action, employment could be found for these seasonal workers. The place to start is the Commonwealth Department of Works, the State Department of Public Works and the local government authorities. These instrumentalities should be able to provide employment for the men during the slack season with a little juggling or a little better arrangement of their works programmes. Some of the major public works could be held back until the slack months when the seasonal workers are looking for jobs. If they could find employment as labourers on public works, not only would the Commonwealth be saved the expense of paying unemployment benefit to them but these men would be engaged on works that are needed in the area. They would retain their dignity instead of having to apply for unemployment benefit every fortnight or 3 weeks and clutter up the offices of the Commonwealth Employment Service every Monday morning. There are about 2,000 of them doing this at the moment in the one little centre I am speaking about. If work could be provided for these people in what is now the slack season this would be a tremendous step forward. Our local people could be gainfully employed for a major part of the year.
I do not think it would be difficult to do what I suggest. I know that when the north was first developed seasonal unemployment was accepted as inevitable. It has been so accepted ever since and not one government has tried to alter the situation. There is talk of industries being established in these areas. Various schemes have been proposed. But I think that if we could get our works authorities to undertake their major projects in the slack months this would be a really progressive step forward. I know that it would be really appreciated, especially by the families which exist, as they nave done for generations, on seasonal work.
When I first submitted this scheme, after talking to the Minister for Social Services about it, I was told that the weather would beat us. What ridiculous nonsense. We may get our 52 inches of rain a year but we get practically all of it within 3 weeks, and throughout the whole of the monsoonal area the weather would not represent any great disadvantage. One big employer said that a man’s output of work is less in the summer months in the north than it is during the winter months and that therefore my scheme would not be profitable. What a lot of nonsense. This man already employs men for the whole year. This sort of talk is ridiculous rubbish. I think this proposal could- be very well looked- at without any harm to the country or without anybody losing any skin off his nose or hair off his chest I am sure that if the three suggestions I have made were looked at we could find a solution which would be very profitable for this country.
– I was interested to hear the honourable mem-; ber for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) attacking the Government for allowing unemployment to become rife in Queensland, but I think perhaps this is a matter that would have been better dealt with during the debate on the estimates for the Department of Labour and National Service. In addressing myself to the estimates of the Department of Social Services 1 take the opportunity of expressing my appreciation to the previous Minister and also to the officers of the Department in Perth for the rather prompt and effective action taken in relation to my suggestion that officers of the Department should visit the country towns of Kalgoorlie and Geraldton, and perhaps smaller country centres, to make themselves available to people seeking information or advice as to entitlements, or obstacles in the way of pensions, or other matters covered by the Social Services Act. I am pleased to say that officers of the Department have now visited Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and Boulder this year, and while I have not received any official report I understand that a fairly substantial number of people - in fact, more than were expected - took advantage of the visits to sort out some of their difficulties or queries. No doubt it was a fairly useful exercise all round, both for the Department and for the people concerned. I assure the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) that not only the visits themselves but also the courtesy and assistance of the officers concerned were very much appreciated by the people who called on them and also by me. I trust that until such time as officers of the Department are permanently stationed in both Kalgoorlie and Geraldton - and I hope this will not be too far in the future - these visits will continue and that visits will be made to the smaller towns as well.
On the subject of stationing permanent officers in Kalgoorlie and Geraldton, from my own experience I am quite certain the officers would find their time fully occupied in looking after the requirements of the people and the affairs of their Department, not only in Kalgoorlie and Geraldton but also in other centres nearby. In fact 1 think that it would not be very long before they found they required some assistance. They might also require a typist each, and I suggest that this would be a very good thing. Better services would be .available to the people and we would be taking a positive step in the direction of decentralisation.
I do not know whether any investigation has been made of the need for having permanent officers in the centres 1 have mentioned, but if there has been one even as recently as 3 or 4 years ago and the appointment of such officers was not considered to be justified then, I want to point out that the situation is different now, not only because of the growth of the district but also because the Minister for Social Services is now also Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs. I realise that there are many aspects of Aboriginal affairs which do not come within the scope of the Social Services Act, but by the same token there are many which do, and, as the Minister would know, there are quite large numbers of Aboriginals in and around Kalgoorlie, many of whom, I feel, could be assisted by an officer of this Department on social service matters. There are also some Aboriginals .around Geraldton but in nothing like the same numbers as on the goldfields.
There has not been very much change recently in the entitlements of Aboriginals under the Social Services Act. I refer to the machinery rather than to the benefits. If the appointment of a Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs was a genuine attempt on the part of the Government to improve the standards of the Aboriginals - and I think this was certainly the intention of the Minister, and it is a great pity that Cabinet apparently takes delight in spiking his guns - I am sure that the Minister will find there are several areas within the field of social services in which Aboriginals should be given a fairer deal, and that an officer of the Department, on the spot, so to speak, could help them considerably. I do not think it is necessary for me to spell out the areas in which assistance could be given, because 1 think the Minister would know them, but I direct particular attention to the unemployment and sickness benefits provisions of the Act. We now have officers in Kalgoorlie and Geraldton dealing with problems of unemployment and sickness benefits, and they are fully occupied with this task. But the point I make is that no Aboriginal, or for that matter any other person, may receive an unemployment or sickness benefit unless he or she suffers economic loss from unemployment or sickness. In this respect the Aboriginal should be given different treatment. 1 do not have any airy fairy ideas about Aboriginals and work. I am well aware that many of them will not look for work - that many do not want to work - but I do not think that in most circumstances they should be blamed, criticised or abused for their attitude towards work. This is a natural attitude for them to adopt, particularly those whom we describe as bush natives. In fact, it is wrong to say that the bush native will not work; he just does not know how to work and he sees no reason to work. I am not concerned with this category of Aboriginal, because I do not think that these people can be dealt with adequately under the unemployment benefit provisions of the Social Services Act. Even if these people were willing to learn a job, and registered for employment, few of them would be given work. So I do not have any airy fairy ideas about that matter either.
However, there are a number of Aboriginals who do work. They are happy in employment and they want to continue to work, but they receive only a very small wage in return for their labour. If they were to fall sick or to become unemployed they would be denied unemployment relief payments even if they registered for employment and applied for the unemployment benefit. In a number of cases if those people were paid the full unemployment benefit, meagre as it is, they would be better off than if they were working, but I see no reason why that state of affairs should be an obstacle to their obtaining the full unemployment benefit. It should not be a case of whether they are better off in receipt of the unemployment benefit but rather a case of whether they are being properly paid when in employment. We are denying the unemployment or sickness benefit to people whose standards we claim should be raised. We are denying to them any opportunity to raise their standards. Our action is a declaration that, notwithstanding their willingness to work, these people ar: not worthy of the benefit. Our action shows a complete lack of concern for these people and a complete lack of any desire to see that they receive justice. Something should be done to help these people where the Act permits account to be had of the circumstances to which I have referred, lt is in this sphere that an officer of the Department of Social Services, working on the spot, could help considerably. If an Aboriginal or anybody else is being paid less than the appropriate rate for the work he is doing and if that work is not covered by an award, often a Stale’s Shops and Factories Act or some other piece of legislation or a determination could be taken as a guide to decide what is a reasonable wage. If that person, bc he an Aboriginal or somebody else, becomes unemployed or sick, he should be as entitled to register for employment and to receive the benefit as if he were receiving the correct rate of pay. This is only just and proper. I know that officers of the State Department of Native Welfare and many mission and station people are doing a good job in helping the Aboriginals, but many are still not receiving their proper entitlement, simply because they are ignorant of their proper entitlement and do not know how to go about getting it. In this sphere again an officer of the Department of Social Services could do quite a bit of good.
I turn now to repatriation. Under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act a seaman who served in the Merchant Navy in a war zone and who is now receiving a pension for injuries received during war service has no right of appeal to a tribunal. If he is not satisfied with the decision of the pensions committee all he can do is go to the Commissioner, who may affirm, vary or annul the determination or assessment of the Committee. This is a very unsatisfactory and unjust situation. It is completely wrong that any man who served in any capacity in any war zone should be denied the right of appeal to a tribunal. I was surprised - indeed, I was shocked - to find that when
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Fox)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I make an urgent plea on behalf of pensioners residing in the north. My major concern is for pensioners residing in the Northern Territory, but anywhere in the north of this continent is a far more expensive place to live than down east, as we say - anywhere east of Oodnadatta or south of Cloncurry but certainly in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or similar places. I referred to this matter in my speech on the Budget. Obviously if one lives 2,000 miles from the major eastern seaboard capitals money does not go as far as it does in those capitals. In fact,- in the north money would go only two-thirds as far as it would go in Sydney or Melbourne. Pensions, war service loans, housing commission loans, homes savings grants and fixed incomes do not go nearly as far in the north as they do in other parts of the continent to which I have referred. A pension in the Northern Territory is worth only two-thirds of a pension paid down south. The Northern Territory pensioner pays almost one-third more for everything he buys. He gets no benefit from the taxation zone allowance. The age pension of $25 paid to a married pensioner couple is worth $16.50 in money value in the Northern Territory. The single pension of $14 is worth $9.30. The wife’s allowance, even with the proposed $1 increase from $6 to $7, is worth about $4.65 in the Northern Territory. So it goes on all the way through pension rates. People have to live on these pensions, but they are faced with a real problem as the money value just vanishes in the Northern Territory.
Many people who live in the north may take another job, but a pensioner cannot do this. My wife could work and 1 could get another job elsewhere but when a person reaches the pensionable age he is not able physically to work but must live on a set income which in the Northern Territory is decreased by about one-third. It is probably not worth as much as formerly now that the cost of freighting goods into the Northern Territory has increased because of industrial trouble on the Darwin waterfront. It takes 48 days to unload a ship at Darwin when it should take only 16 days. This is reflected in the living costs of people in the town. The person who is hit hardest is the pensioner, because he cannot go out and take a job, nor can bis wife. I make a strong plea on behalf of northern pensioners and persons on fixed incomes. I ask the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) to take a long, hard and sympathetic look at the situation and to investigate the possibility of establishing some sort of differential for the people in the north so that their pensions will be of the same value as pensions in the south. Please give them the same money value for their pensions as the people who receive the same amount of pension down south. A pensioner living in the north is just as entitled to a fair go as is anyone else. 1 hear that they have a hard battle down south, but it is a darn sight harder up north where the incomes are worth only two-thirds of southern incomes.
In the Northern Territory there is a great lag in the provision of housing for pensioners. Admittedly in Alice Springs we have the Old Timers’ Homes. This scheme is a beauty and the homes are doing a magnificent job in catering for pensioners. However, further north in Katherine I have have had numerous instances of aged people who have been forced to seek admission to the hospital in order to be accommodated. In Darwin there is Tuckwell Court. The establishment of this organisation was a good idea but it is now overcrowded and there is a shortage of homes and flats. I ask the Minister to look at the position and to try to make available some housing for pensioners. Peter Spillett, who is the great supporter of pensioners in the Northern Territory, has done a fantastic job but still in Darwin and in the tropical north there is a great need for housing for aged people. I. urge the Minister to consider a zone allowance for northern pensioners and to try to provide adequate housing in the north for pensioners.
– I believe that the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) raised a good point when he asked for special consideration for pensioners in the northern taxation zone allowance area. He referred to the particular disabilities of the area. It might be argued that these people are not compelled to stay in the area but, after all, when a person has lived all his life in an area where his friends are he does not want to be shifted elsewhere just because the cost of living is cheaper. I and I am sure all other honourable members have seen instances of elderly people having been settled in what their relatives regarded as comfortable homes, but the elderly people have not been happy because they have wanted to be with the people they have known and with whom they have lived all their lives. I think that there is a case for special consideration for northern people. But T do not agree with the honourable member when he tries to attribute the high cost of living in the Northern Territory to industrial disputes on the Darwin waterfront. If he wishes to make such a claim he should also outline the reasons for the disputes and indicate just who are contributing to these disputes. It would take me more than the IS minutes allowed me to debate this matter. If a member wants to introduce such a subject he should do it when the matter can be debated fully.
The honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) spoke forcefully about the elimination of the means test. I know that this subject is dear to the heart of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). But let us remember that in 1949 the then Leader of the Liberal Party, Robert Gordon Menzies, promised as part of his Party’s election platform to eliminate the means test. I submit to the pensioners of Australia that almost 20 years is a reasonable time in which to fulfil an election promise. If a promise has not been fulfilled within 20 years then those pensioners who have been voting a certain way should consider changing their vote and seeing what they could derive from supporting the Australian Labor Party. In 1966 our then leader, the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), proposed that a base rate pension should be paid to all pensioners over the age of 70 years. Let us be quite frank about it; very few of us will ever reach the age of 70. I know it is not a happy thought, but how many members from this chamber will reach 70 years of age?
In the field of repatriation I want to touch on the question of service pensions. Many years ago the Government, in recognition of the service of men who were prepared to offer their lives and go overseas in the armed forces, allowed ex-servicemen to draw at the age of 60 years a service pension which was equivalent to the old age pension. But I do not think there are many World War I Diggers left at this time. How many of these ex-servicemen have been able to take advantage of this service pension at the age of 60 years without incurring some hardship? How many of their wives have also qualified for an age pension. How many ex-servicemen at the age of 60 years have been deterred from accepting this recognition of their service because their wives did not qualify for an age pension or because they had family responsibilities? I believe there is very good reason for saying that if a service pension is granted to an ex-serviceman an age pension should also be granted to his wife, irrespective of her age. lt may be argued that this could increase child marriages or what is usually called the January and December type of marriage. 1 do not believe that people get married in order to receive a pension. I do not believe that any young girl would be prepared to offer herself in marriage - no matter how much she cared for a particular person - in the hope that she would receive a pension for the rest of her days. I do not think that anyone looks forward to a life on the pension. I do not think that the present rate of pension would encourage any person to look forward to receiving a pension for the rest of her life.
The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) referred to the number of people who are unemployed. He said that the money which is spent on unemployment benefit would be better used if it were given to works departments so that they could provide work for people who are receiving unemployment benefits. I do not think there is anything more degrading or demoralising than for a breadwinner to come home, after having gone out on Monday and put in a green slip to show what his income has been for the previous week, and to have to say to his wife: ‘We will have to look forward to another week on unemployment benefits’. There has not been any increase in the unemployment benefit since 1962, and we all well remember the reason why the rate was increased in supplementary legislation immediately after the 1961 election when the Government was returned with a majority of one. The Government saw that there was an army of unemployed within Australia and realised that something would have to be done for them. It increased the rate of unemployment benefit, not by much but by a little. That increase was made in 1962, more than 6 years ago. I respectfully submit that the cost of living has increased between then and now. 1 think that even the Government has recognised that the cost of living has increased in that period, since it has given some miserly increases to pensioners.
It may be argued that if the unemployment benefit were increased too high, people might be encouraged to remain on unemployment benefit. I think that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) once stated that seasonal workers in Queensland were not interested in working in the off season. He said that they were prepared to make money during the sugar cane crushing season and go fishing during the slack season. This is not true. With the introduction of harvesters the days of cane cutters making big money in the crushing season have gone. The days of the cane cutter are numbered. But unemployment benefit is not paid only to people in Queensland. It is paid to people throughout Australia. I have endeavoured to ascertain how many people are permanent customers of the Department of Social Services, if I can put it that way. The Minister for Labour and National Service told me that figures relating to this are not available from him and that perhaps 1 could obtain them from the Minister for Social Services. I contacted the Minister for Social Services, (Mr Wentworth) who provided me with figures for one town.
I believe that there is a move in the Department of Social Services to put persons off social service benefits for a period of time. There are ways of doing this, particularly to people who are unemployable. In some coastal towns in Queensland there are 300 or 400 males who are unemployed for the greater part of the year. Employers in these areas must be selective in the type of person they engage. I suppose that each and every one of us in their position would select the best applicant - and nobody is more selective than the Commonwealth Public Service. In fact, if applicants cannot pass a medical examination they are unable to gain employment with the Commonwealth Public Service. People who suffer from mild forms of epilepsy or who are diabetics have been refused admission to the Commonwealth Public Service because they cannot qualify for entry to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund. The Commonwealth is selective. It selects the applicant whom it considers is the best person it can acquire to fill a position, and it leaves private industry to take the applicants who are left. If private industry finds that there are a number of applicants in the field, it also can bc selective. Who is to accept responsibility for people who. because of lack of educational qualifications or other disabilities, are unable to obtain employment? I say categorically that the Commonwealth has a responsibility in this regard.
The Commonwealth attempts to find employment for some of these people through the Commonwealth rehabilitation service. In answer to a question on notice yesterday I was informed that 3,420 case records were reviewed by officers of the Kingsholme Rehabilitation Centre in Brisbane and that 465 were admitted to the centre. A smaller number again were found employment. I am not quarrelling with the work that the rehabilitation service is doing, but I think that it could do more. After 3,420 case records were reviewed in Queensland in the 12 months ended 30th June 1968, only 465 of the people concerned were admitted to the Kingsholme Centre.. 1 understand that in one month 585 case records were reviewed. What is the position? How many of these people who lived outside Brisbane were taken to Brisbane for an interview and how many went back on the next train? This is what 1 would like to know.
The Commonwealth is responsible to the Queensland Government for providing money for the rail fare for these people and for their hotel expenses while they are in Brisbane awaiting an interview at the rehabilitation centre. Could not the officers of the centre satisfy themselves as to whether these people, before they are taken to Brisbane, would be acceptable for rehabilitation? Would it not be cheaper to send an officer to the major centres in Queensland to interview people rather than give them what amounts to a trip to Brisbane, a night’s board at a hotel, if they stay overnight, and a return trip. Not sufficient is being done. I know there are limitations to the availability of light work in country towns and provincial cities. 1 think my colleague the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) touched on this subject. I know that outside Brisbane there are limitations on the number of lift drivers who can find work. There are very few positions available. I would like to see more done in the field of rehabilitation. The present methods are not good enough.
I say once again that the Liberal-Country Party coalition has had almost 20 years in which to implement its promise to eliminate the means test, yet nothing has been done. 1 think the Australian Labor Party did get
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I have listened with interest to the speech of the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen). Although I am not a great advocate of the removal of the means test 1 believe there is some reason behind the argument that a person should be eligible for a pension at the age of 70 or 75 years without having to qualify under a means test. Tonight I want to speak more generally, but briefly, about the age pension. Since I was a boy a great deal of progress has been made with the age pension. I can remember aged people, widows in particular, who were faced with grave hardship and great difficulty because of poverty. Since then there has been a remarkable growth in social services. This is clearly shown by the steepincrease in expenditure on benefits under the Social Services Act in the last 18 years. in 1949-50 total expenditure on social service benefits was $170m. The figure for 1959-60 was $467m; for 1967-68 it was S793m; and the estimate for this financial year is $856m. This is an astronomical figure. These figures represent an increase of 403% since 1950; 83% since 1960; and 8% since last year. This gives an indication of the activity and interest of this LiberalCountry Party Government in social services. The benefits now provided cover a very wide field indeed. They are listed in Statement No. 2 which accompanied the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr McMahon).
In the brief time available I may be able to deal only with the main benefit which is, of course, the age pension. Many people, including some honourable members opposite, loudly contend that the age pension has not kept pace with the rising cost of living. It is easy to say this but those who do say it cannot produce any sound evidence to support their arguments. The best yardstick we have for measuring the changes in the cost of living is the con
In June 1963 the consumer price index was 124.5 so the rise since then has been 16%. But the pension has increased by 33% since 1963 - more than double the rise in the consumer price index. We must remember also that approximately 130,000 age and invalid pensioners receive supplementary assistance, mostly at the rate of $2 a week. There are also many fringe benefits such as free medical and pharmaceutical benefits, free hospital treatment, reduced fees for radio and television, State government assistance with fares, a hearing aid service and rate concessions provided by local government councils.
I want to say something briefly about the means test. The Government is always in trouble over this problem. It is disturbing to hear of the methods adopted by some people to get rid of their money in order to qualify for a pension. The means test is one of those irritants we have to live with. The means test has become far too complex. The departmental experts should be able to devise a less complex scheme and at the same time make the results comparable with the present rates. People complain about the empire building which occurs within the civil service. However, I once worked within the administration and I know that one of the prime reasons for acquiring more staff is the complex nature of legislation presented to this Parliament. I believe that one of the basic duties of a Minister is to insist that legislation be as simple as possible, consistent with establishing a reasonably fair scheme. I am sure that the Department of Social Services suffers at present from this problem of complexity. Clerks working at the desks would save themselves a lot of time and trouble if we had a much simpler scheme. Nearly all honourable members - the exception, perhaps, would be the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) who is a Rhodes Scholar and has become expert in this field - would need to go to the Department to get advice on each occasion that a pension problem is presented to them.
The merged means test seems to lean more favourably towards an applicant who owns property, including cash in the bank and so on. I note from the 1966-67 report of the Director-General of Social Services that a married couple who have no income apart from income derived from property, such as interest, ‘may each receive the full pension if the value of their combined property, other than their home, etc., is less than $9,640, and each remains eligible for some pension until their combined property reaches $21,880, whilst one of the couple may continue to receive some pension until their property reaches $23,160 in value’. These figures may represent hard cash in the bank. When we remember that the value of the home, which may be up to any limit, and the value of a motor car and other personal effects are disregarded, these limits are very generous indeed, and they will be higher under current legislation.
I often follow the publications of the Institute of Public Affairs, which comes down firmly in favour of the view that the means test should not be abolished until our society ensures that every poor person is able to get by on what he receives from the pension. The Institute states:
In today’s increasingly affluent society, government assistance should not aim to provide benefits for all but to assist the small minority in real need.
Therefore 1 am not a strong advocate for removal of the means test while severe pressures exist on poverty stricken people, whatever may be the cause. But I would think that it would be preferable to grant some benefit for very old people, say over 75 years of age, to lifting the ceiling of the present combination of income and property. This may not be regarded with favour by the economists, but I make the suggestion that complete removal of the means test could well be granted to people in the older age groups at only moderate cost. It seems to me that people who have continued to maintain themselves without government assistance for some years after the normal retiring age should be the first group to benefit by any relaxing of the means test. I would prefer this to the raising of the ceiling of the means test.
Canada accepted this principle some 14 years or 15 years ago when it provided an age pension free of means test to all persons over 70 years of age whilst retaining the means test for men between 65 and 70 years of age and for women between 60 and 70 years of age. Last year, Canada introduced a scheme of retirement pensions related to past earnings. J understand that it was the intention then to reduce gradually the age for the payment of the pension free of means test. New Zealand too has abolished the means test for all persons 65 years and over, whilst retaining the means test for men aged 60-65 years and women aged 55-65 years. If Canada and New Zealand can do this, it should be possible in Australia but, I repeat, not at the expense of the very poor people who have little else but their pension on which to live.
The Minister for Social Services has indicated his leaning towards some removal of the means test. 1 suggest that he might consider starting with the higher age group even if only at 75 years of age to begin with. The cost would be comparatively small. I believe that estimates of the cost of the removal of the means test based on the number of people in the particular age group would not be reached because quite a number would nol bother to apply at (hat age especially if the means test free pension was treated as income for income tax purposes. J suggest that this approach would be much preferable to the other approach of an across the board easing of the means test.
In the few moments that 1 have available, I wish to mention another matter. 1 think that I have time to make a few comments. I refer to the scheme by which grants for buildings to accommodate elderly people are made under the Aged Persons Homes Act. In my opinion, this is one of our finest pieces of social legislation. I am pleased to note that the Government is providing $10m for these grants for 1968- 69. I understand that approximately halt of this amount will go to religious bodies and I feel that the churches and other organisations are to be commended for their interest and their activity in this field and in raising at least one-third of the total cost of these buildings from their own people.
I have been looking at the approvals for the month of September. These have just been published. 1 see that ten organisations have been helped in this month. Indeed,
Mr Chairman, I hope that in the electorate of Lalor some of the churches, returned servicemen’s organisations and local councils will take it upon themselves to avail themselves of the finance provided under this Act. I note that to the end of June 1967 an amount of $69,498,897 has been granted under the Aged Persons Homes Act to various organisations in the following manner: religious organisations $39m; charitable and benevolent organisations, $26m; ex-servicemen’s organisations, SI. 25m; and other organisations, $2m. This is a very worthwhile project and one which has already benefited many aged and lonely people.. 1 congratulate the Minister for Social Services and his Department on this work in a very difficult field.
– In rising to speak on the estimates for the Department of Social Services, I want to draw attention to one or two matters very briefly at this late hour. First of all, I wish to support strongly the remarks made by the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) in regard to relief work. 1 think that this is something that we have not given nearly enough attention to. It is something that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) might take up quite seriously with the Treasurer (Mr McMahon). So far I and others have been unable to impress on the Treasurer the necessity for assistance to be provided in country areas unci towns where there is a great deal of unemployment as a result of the drought-
Much good work has been done in country towns by the provision of funds for relief work. In the towns in my electorate the small farmers are in a most desperate position. In Young, normally one of the most prosperous towns in New South Wales, they have had a particularly bad season. There have been tremendous losses of cherry and prune trees. These are the small farmers who, if they have a crop failure, cannot expect an income for another 12 months. Some have lost up to 40% of their trees, and it takes 8 years to bring a tree into production. You cannot grow them in 12 months as you can breed a flock of sheep. How much belter it is to have these men doing some useful work in the towns rather than put them on relief which is demoralising to any man, particularly the married man with a family. Most men prefer to work. I know that you could not make the few no-hopers work no matter what you did but you should not penalise the genuine people who are out of work through no fault of their own and who need assistance.
I have tried to impress upon the Treasurer that it did not rain dollar notes when the drought broke. It takes a long while for money to circulate in a country town. A lot of good work has been done but there is a need to extend the assistance for a little longer. The Mayor of Young said that he had never had better work done than was done by the men on relief, many of whom are farmers who are used to work anyway. One of the most encouraging moves today in the field of social services is the setting up of the social welfare committee comprising the Minister for Social Services, the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes), the Minister for Repatriation (Senator McKellar) and the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin). I do not think any of these departments can be separated into watertight compartments because their work is interwoven to such a large extent. The committee will give much better results in the future than has been the case in the past.
There is pressing need for special consideration to all aspects of dental health. I know that dental health comes within the ambit of the Department of Health but I believe it is tied up with social services. Many of the towns in my electorate are railway towns and railwaymen who do not receive very high wages have been crippled financially in meeting the dental needs of their children. Only the other day 1 had before me the case of a man who had a bill for $450 for dental treatment for one of his children for 12 months. Much of the amount involved was not recoverable because the benefit fund claimed that the particular dental surgeon was not eligible. This is the kind of thing that co-operation and collaboration between Ministers could iron out.
One of the best steps taken in the licit! of social services has been the attempt to help widows rehabilitate themselves, to undertake some new kind of employment, to do a refresher course in something they may have done in years gone by or perhaps to learn a new skill. I commend the Minister for his thoughtfulness in setting out to help these people to help themselves. It is important for the Government wherever possible to do all it can to help people to help themselves. They should be encouraged to rehabilitate themselves because a person employed is a much happier person. This applies largely to elderly people, if there were some kind of superannuation scheme, national insurance, an easing of the means test on a sliding scale - call it what you like - which would allow people as they reach maturity to ease off in employment and to work part time, they would be so much happier and healthier.
In my own electorate I am actively interested in senior citizens clubs. I know how much happier these people are when they have something to do. We say to these elderly people: ‘You have more time than those of us who are engaged in earning a living. You have more time to look after those who need assistance. Some of you have motor cars. Can you pick up your friends and bring them to your social functions?’ We have had a tremendous response. They have helped in all sorts of social activities and relief work, and they are much better for it. There is no doubt that anybody who is living a busy life is living a happy life.
I commend the Minister and the officers of his Department, particularly those in country towns. In my electorate 1 constantly come in contact wilh social service registrars in the large towns, and I must commend them for their tremendous assistance. They never fail to give all the courteous help they possibly can. I am looking for great things from the Minister and the new Welfare Committee of Cabinet. I do commend the Minister for the work he has already done.
– My colleague, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Pettitt), commended the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) and the officers of his Department. I would like to join with him in commending the officers of the Department of Social Services not only for the assistance they have given to honourable members but more so for the work that they do in the community, particularly for the elderly, the frail and those in need. This year has been a most significant year for national welfare. We need only look at the estimates that we are discussing at the moment to see that we will be paying out of the National Welfare Fund this year the highest amount of rooney that we have ever paid in history for this purpose. It will be about Si, 160m. What has been brought down in the current Budget reflects the work of the Welfare Committee of Cabinet that was set up at the beginning of this year by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). I would like to commend the four Ministers on that committee.
The Minister for Social Services, in his first 9 months in office, has introduced some very significant and important changes to the legislation for the benefit of the people who are in need. Earlier this year the Prime Minister gave a definition of the Government’s intentions in this field. Its twin objectives are to assist preferentially those most in need and at the same time to avoid discouraging the thrift, self help and self reliance of the people of Australia. In this year’s Budget there have been some fairly major changes as indicated in the Governor-General’s Speech and in other speeches by the Prime Minister and senior Ministers. For instance, in the health section of the Budget there were some new and important changes which have a relation to social services because of the interrelationship between the pensioner medical service and the general welfare programme. This year’s Budget provides that an insured hospital patient suffering from chronic, preexisting or long term illness will be paid, regardless of the length of stay in hospital, the full amount of benefits, including the Commonwealth hospital benefit, for which he or she is insured but the amount so paid will not exceed the hospital charges. This will replace the present benefit of $5 a day and will operate from next year. This is of importance to those who have a chronic or long term illness. We also have the supplementary benefit for patients in approved nursing homes who are medically classified as in need of intensive nursing care. This again will be payable from 1st January of next year and will add $3 a day, to make the total benefit $5 a day for these people regardless of length of illness. In addition, we have the increased emphasis on home care. We also have a new benefit for children under 16 who are accommodated in homes for handicapped persons. These are important philosophical changes which have been recommended by honourable members in this place and which have resulted from the work done by the new Welfare Committee.
In the field of social services itself, we have some fairly major and important changes resulting from the current Budget, the estimates for which we are discussing tonight. For example, we have an increase of $1 a week in the standard rate of age and invalid pensions, bringing this to $14 a week exclusive of the $2 a week supplementary assistance. We also have an increase of $1.50 a week in the combined pensions of a married couple. This raises their basic rale to $25 a week. We have increased by $1 a week the rate payable to class A widows, bringing the basic rate, including mother’s allowance, but excluding supplementary assistance and payments for children, to $18 a week. We have provided an increase of 75c a week in the pension payable to widows without children, which brings their basic rate to $12.50 a week exclusive of supplementary assistance. We have increased by $1 a week the payment for children of widows and age and invalid pensioners, making the weekly payment $2.50 for each child. We have provided an increase of Si a week in the rate of allowance for a pensioner’s wife. This is something for which many representations have been made in the past, and I am delighted to see some action taken in this field. This will bring the basic rate of this allowance to $7 a week. There is also the introduction of a special payment of the equivalent of two pensions or six fortnightly instalments, to be payable to the survivor when one of a married pensioner couple dies. This again is a matter of great importance. Elderly people have been asking for assistance in this way for some time. Another benefit has been the removal of the residence qualification for widow’s pension where the couple were permanently residing in Australia. We have also provided an increase of $1 a week in the rate of rehabilitation training allowance, bringing this benefit to $4 a week.
Those are but some of the major changes that have occurred as a result of this year’s Budget. They are changes of which the Minister can be proud and in which the Government can take great pride because they make for significant improvement in the lot of the elderly and those in need. I believe that over one million people in Australia will benefit from the changes that I have just mentioned. These benefits are of great importance to the people in Australia who are affected by them, and they also bring us nearer to the stage at which, 1 believe, we have to have closer collaboration with the States because, as the Minister said in one of his recent speeches, there are three or four major groups involved in assisting the aged and the needy in the community. These are the Commonwealth Government, the State governments, local government bodies and charitable or church organisations, each of which plays a part in this work. As I have stated when discussing the Budgets and estimates of previous years, there is a need to bring these four arms of assistance to the elderly and the needy closer together. I believe that there is a need to define the areas of responsibility and the priorities of responsibility more precisely than they are defined at the moment. I think that what has happened this year with the establishment of the Welfare Committee of the Cabinet has been of great importance. This in itself will be a major step towards achieving the closer cooperation to which I have referred. But we do need to solve some of the matters in this field because they are directly related to some of the financial problems and arguments that arise in our Federal system. It is not just purely a question of giving more money to the States to spend as they wish or will; it is a question of defining who is to look after which area, which needs, so that there will be a closer definition in relation to financial statements and discussions that go on between the two major sections of government and consequently affect the minor form - local government. Also, we can ensure that the most effective use . is made of the vast and important charitable instincts in our community. On this point I once again commend the Minister for Social Services, the Government and, in particular, officers of the Department of Social Services and other departments in the national welfare field.
Finally I suggest that we need to look at one or two matters. Last year I mentioned the question of rehabilitation. I made reference in particular to questions related to workers compensation and the rehabilitation of people not only injured at work but in motor car accidents. I believe that this is a field in which far greater use could be made of the facilities available within the country. I think there is a need to look at legislation both’ at a Commonwealth and State level to see whether or not our philosophy is correct. I was most impressed when in Canada to see the way in which the Toronto Workers Compensation Board operates. 1 believe that the adoption of some aspects of this Board’s activities would improve, to a considerable extent, the Australian system. The improvement of workers compensation legislation will need very close co-operation between the Commonwealth and the States. 1 commend the moves that have been made this year to raise pension rates, the new matters that have been brought in and the changes that have been made. I believe that these are of significance and are the start of a new era and a new philosophy in national welfare in this country.
Mr DONALD CAMERON (Griffith) [J0.53J - 1 do not intend to speak for more than one or two minutes tonight. I would like to endorse the remarks made by many earlier speakers tonight when they complimented the new Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) for his approach to this rather complex subject. A great deal must be done in the years to come, but I think all honourable members realise that there is only so much money in the community and many of the things that we would like to do will have to wait. We have to set priorities and I believe that the Minister has his sights set well and truly on the middle of the target of relieving many of the present hardships. 1 would like to speak briefly on the Aged Persons Homes Act. Recently I became aware that some local government authorities and city councils were imposing certain conditions upon the organisations building aged persons homes and that these conditions were spiralling the costs. In particular I make reference to the requirement of provision of parking space. I draw this to the Minister’s attention tonight in the hope that he, through his Department, will be able to initiate discussions with the various local government bodies to see whether this problem can be investigated and figures be tabulated as to past usage and requirements so that something may be done to lessen the cost which these organisations have to carry.
I refer to the War Widows Guild of Australia and to some of its projects in my home town of Brisbane. At Kelvin Grove it has a block that is occupied by twelve tenants. Not one of those people owns a car. At Toowong it has another block, with eight tenants. Again the number of cars is nil. At Vasey Court in the suburb of Nundah, in the electorate of my friend the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns), there is 1 car for 15 people. At Milton only 1 person out of 15 has a car. At New Farm only 1 person out of 38 has a car. In my electorate of Griffith, on the south side of the Brisbane River, a beautiful new building has been constructed at Highgate Hill. Out of the 34 tenants only 4 have a car.
I wrote to quite a number of organisations in Brisbane asking them to set out the situation about parking provisions and requirements. At times the Brisbane City Council has shown a reasonable and fair attitude on this matter. 1 believe that the requirement to provide parking space for one-half to one-third of the number of tenants is a little high. Some of the organisations to which I wrote advised me that they have homes, etc., controlled by shires and councils other than the Brisbane City Council. They referred to the sometimes tough provisions that are imposed. Because the garages at these homes do not attract assistance from the Commonwealth they cannot be provided easily although they are so wonderful for many elderly people. I again ask the Minister to investigate the situation.
In conclusion I refer to the excellent work done by the people who run the homes and by the organisations which arrange the finance and set up the machinery so that the units, etc., can be built. Not all the tenants are happy. Not everyone can be satisfied with what he or she is given. Some people would prefer to return to their old environment, but the majority are very happy. These widows have lost their loved ones at some earlier stage and have lived a lonely existence. By moving into these new apartments, etc., they find fellowship and friendship with many of the other people living there. The Government can proudly claim to have initiated this scheme, which I hope will be improved as the years go by.
– I refer to one or two repatriation matters. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) raised a couple of matters. 1 think he repeated what he said in a second reading speech on the Repatriation Bill. He referred to the Opposition’s repatriation proposals and to a request which he slated came from the Returned Services League that a select committee of the Parliament be appointed to give Parliament the opportunity to further investigate repatriation matters. This proposal had been examined and rejected. The reasons foi its rejection were given on several previous occasions. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition tried to imply that the House did not have an adequate opportunity to debate repatriation matters. I point out that each year, when the Budget is being framed, the Government undertakes a review of repatriation matters. Also, representatives from the RSL national headquarters have discussions with Cabinet each year. Then there is the debate on the Estimates and on legislation associated with the Budget. The Opposition is free to originate urgency debates. Also there is the debate on the motion for the adjournment each day and the opportunity to ask questions during question time. I do not see how the Deputy Leader of the Opposition can imply that no opportunity is provided for repatriation matters to be debated here.
He again criticised the long title of the repatriation legislation that was introduced during this sessional period. He tried to show that, because of the title, the debate on the Bill had been restricted. A study of Hansard will show that no restriction was placed on the debate and that, on this occasion, as on a similar occasion last year, it covered the whole range of repatriation benefits and associated matters, f am sure that the Committee will agree that the title of a bill should describe its purpose and the subject with which it deals. As the Bill was introduced for the purpose of implementing Budget proposals, it is only reasonable that it should include a provision to enable the higher pension rates to be paid. 1 am sure that the argument of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on this point has no foundation.
I want to refer to only one other point raised tonight by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and that is his contention that repatriation benefits have lost their value between 1949-50, when the. last Labor Government was in power, and the present time. He also compared the repatriation benefits with basic wage standards over the same period. It is very interesting to look at some of the facts. I will take the special rate as an example, because this is the benefit that he mentioned. In 1949-50 a special rate pensioner and his wife could receive war pensions totalling between them only $13 a week. Today, subject to the means test, the total payment to a special rate pensioner and his wife by way of war pension and service pension is $43.75. This is an increase of 236%, compared with an increase of 1 17% in the consumer price index, which is a measure that is just as legitimate as the basisused by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. This shows that there has been a substantial upward movement during this period.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also said that the majority of special rate pensioners will not receive the benefit of ihe total increase that was granted recently. The figures show again that this claim is completely erroneous. Of the 25.000 special rate pensioners - that is, people in receipt of the total and permanent incapacity pension - only abour 5,800 are receiving a means test pension in addition to the special rate pension. In other words, by far the greatest proportion of people in receipt of the total and permanent incapacity pension will receive the full benefit of the increases that have been granted. A number of other matters were raised by the honourable members for Corio (Mr Scholes), Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) and Leichhardt (Mr Fulton). They range over several fields and I assure them that the points they have raised will be referred to my colleague in another place.
– 1 will not detain the Committee except to thank the honourable members who have taken part in the debate, lt was a constructive debate and ranged from major matters such as the means test and the problems of seasonal workers to minor matters such as the provisions made for the parking of motor cars at aged persons homes. I assure all honourable members who have taken part in the debate that what they have said will receive full attention. Their remarks are recorded in Hansard. Officers from the Department have been sitting in the chamber and have heard the debate. In passing, I thank the honourable members on both sides of the chamber who have referred to the excellent work done by the officers of my Department. Not only will the contributions of honourable members, some of which from both sides of the Committee have substance and force in them, be recorded in Hansard and seen by officers of my Department, but they will also be considered by the welfare committee that has been set up to look at the whole range of social services.
I believe that this matter of social services is one in which the Government depends very largely upon members of the House. We are in contact with our electors through members of the House, and whenI say members of the House I refer to members on both sides. I know that very often representations are made by members on behalf of their constituents, and of course this is the proper thing. When these representations are made they receive proper attention from my Department and from myself. Apart from this,I at any rate will be looking for members of the House to make suggestions on matters of principle in relation to social services. After all, members are in contact with people who are in need of social services and it is the aim of the Government to use its money in the most efficient way possible, to use its available funds in the way which will bring the greatest satisfaction and happiness to the people who receive social service benefits. I thank those honourable members who have taken a constructive part in this debate. I will be only too happy to receive suggestions from them, no matter which side of the House they are on. Of course their suggestions cannot always be accepted, but they will always be considered, on matters of principle as well as on matters which affect the interests of particular constituents.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Motion (by Mr Swartz) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-I want to refer to an article which appeared in the West Australian’ newspaper headed ‘Australia Awaits Final Ruling in Water Polo’. 1 do not think Australia is awaiting anything of the sort. What is happening is that the water polo team from Australia is awaiting a ruling.I do not profess to understand most of the things that happen in this country. One of the things I cannot understand is the attitude the Australian Olympic Federation has taken in this matter, because it seems to me that by its actions it is saying in effect that anybody in this country who tries to help himself will be penalised. The article, which bears a date line from Mexico City, states:
If ‘X’ stands for Australia, the long fight by the Australian water polo team to compete in the Olympic Games has ended and it has been included in the draw.
Manager-coach Oscar Charles, who attended the draw, said he viewed it with mixed feelings.’We are still in the dark,’ he said.
The article goes on to say:
Sydney lawyer Bill Berge Phillips, president of FINA, the world swimming body, said last night he had not given up hope that the team would take part in the games.
The position at the moment is that we are still discussing the matter with the International Olympic Committee,’ he said.
Told that the IOC had ruled that Australia’s entry would not be accepted to replace ‘X’ - unless ithad the backing of the Australian Olympic Federation, Mr Phillips said: ‘We have not been told of that’.
The Australian Olympic Federation will not recognise the water polo team as part of the official Australian team, although the water polo team’s application to play in the Olympic Games has been backed by FINA, the world governing body of amateur swimming. The International Olympic Committee was asked to make a ruling on the FINA application on Monday. The Committee’s ruling appeared to end the team’s hopes. The Secretary of the Australian Olympic Federation, Mr Tanner, said that the IOC decision was final. But
Berge Phillips, who is President of FINA, said that the team was not out of the Games. Obviously a few honourable members are not interested in giving me a fair go. I thought the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Curtin) would be, actually, from his comments in this House on various occasions.
– I used to play water polo.
– You are wet enough to play it, anyway.I wish to outline the record of the Australian water polo team which, by its efforts, has sought to take part in the Olympic Games. In 1965 the team paid its own way to the West European championships and defeated West Germany, Holland and Greece, and it drew with Spain. All these teams had qualified for inclusion in the 1964 Olympic Games without having to go through any elimination events. In 1967 the Australian team again paid its own way to the European championships and finished in eleventh place, which qualified the team for the Olympic Games without requiring them to take part in any elimination events. Since paying its way to Europe and then on to Mexico the team has been successful against West Germany, who rank seventh in the world, Yugoslavia, who rank ninth or tenth, and Cuba, whom they beat last week. The Australian team drew with Spain four all after leading by four points to one at three-quarter time. Of course, Spain was one of the leading countries in water polo in Europe this year.
It seems to me that there is something strangely wrong with the whole set-up. Here is a team that has proved its worth in world class competition and that has gone over to Mexico at its own expense but which is excluded from competing in the Olympic Games because of the attitude of the Australian Olympic Federation. I know that the Commonwealth Government subscribes towards the cost of the Australian team to the Olympic Games. I believe it is an absolute disgrace that young fellows who have raised most of the money to send themselves to these Games should be barred from competing because of the vote of an Australian body when the international swimming body gives them every support. I raise this issue here because I believe that in much the some way as the House passed a resolution in regard to the invasion of Czechoslovakia to raise Australia’s voice in protest, I can raise my voice in protest at the treatment of these young fellows who, by their own efforts, have done something that is pretty rare in Australia today.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.15 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
How many deferred telephone applications are there in each electoral division?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Records of deferred applications for telephone services are not kept by electoral divisions as the divisions do not coincide with telephone exchange areas. However, the following table related to 28th August 1968, is an attempt to express deferred applications by electoral divisions and gives the approximate position on that date.
A considerable amount of work is involved in attempting to associate deferred applications with electoral division boundaries, particularly when a telephone exchange serves paris of more than one electoral division. This means that deferred applications must be checked according to individual addresses and then associated wilh particular electorates.
Because Departmental records of deferred applications are kept according to telephone exchange areas, it would be simpler to provide, in respect of each electorate, a list showing deferred applications for -
If this would conveniently meet the need* of the honourable gentleman and other honourable members who ask for sImilar information from time to time, it would be helpful if they phrased their questions in this way.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
What has been the (ti) dale, (b) nature and (c) result of the proposals and decisions by the Commonwealth and Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia concerning port incinerators since his answer to mc on 2nd November 1967 (Hansard, page 2753)7
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The offer to provide the full capital cost of installing incinerators at ports was extended to the Stale of Western Australia on 30th July 1968 in terms similar to those offered to all other States. Victoria and Queensland have not yet accepted the Commonwealth’s offer and negotiations with those Slates are continuing.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
What were the (a) details and (b) values of goods sold lo the Republic of China in each of the last five years?
– The Minister for Customs and Excise has furnished the following advice in regard to the honourable member’s question:
The Commonwealth Statistician has supplied the attached table showing descriptions and value of goods exported to the Republic of China (Formosa) in each of the- last five-financial years.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions areas follows:
Invasion of Privacy by eavesdropping,
Control of Stock Exchanges,
Reciprocal Enforcement of Foreign Judgments,
Convention on the International Sale of Goods,
Sale of Firearms,
Pollution of the Sea by Oil, and
Control of Shipping Lanes.
Committee felt that it was a question for each State to decide whether to introduce legislation on this topic and the discussions took the form of an exchange of views. I have the matter of legislation for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory at present under consideration.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The answer is not available from any official source within my Department. The only relevant material in my Department is a report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations entitled Parental Rights and Duties, Including Guardianship’ prepared at the request of the Commission on the Status of Women and published earlier this year. Part of the report deals with the right or duty of parents to consent to or to arrange the marriage of their minor children. The following information emerges from the report (which covers only 43 countries).
Many legal systems provide that minor children may not contract marriage without the consent of one or both parents.
In some civil law countries (e.g., Spain) the father’s consent is necessary for the marriage of a child who is above the minimum age for marriage but is still a minor; the mother’s consent is required only when the father is dead, absent or legally incapacitated. “ In other civil law countries (e.g., France), the consent of both parents to the marriage of a minor is necessary. In some of these countries, the father’s view prevails if there is disagreement.
In common law countries, the consent of both parents is usually necessary before the marriage of a minor child, who has not been previously married, can take place.
In the Scandinavian countries, minors whohave not previously been married need the permission of both parents in order to contract marriage. There is provision in some Scandinavian countries for consent to be obtained through the courts where either or both parents refuse consent.
In the Republic of China and Japan the consent of both parents is required.
Under Moslem law, a minor may be given in marriage only by a ‘matrimonial guardian’, that is the father, paternal grandfather, if the father is dead, etc. According to Hindu law, the consent of the ‘legal guardian’ is necessary for the marriage of a minor son, whilst the marriage of girls under eighteen, including widows and divorcees, cannot take place without the consent of the guardian (who is normally the father).
In most of the systems mentioned above, the age of majority is twenty-one years though there is provision in some countries for emancipation prior to that age. For example, in Moslem countries the age of majority coincides with puberty, whilst in India the age of majority is eighteen years.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
How much has a person had to contribute to (a) registered medical benefits organisations and (b) registered hospital benefits organisations to obtain the maximum benefits for himself and his dependants?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The tables below set out the weekly family contribution charged for maximum insurance by the major registered organisation in each State.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
What Imperial, Commonwealth and State statutes and proclamations determine jurisdiction over the islands in Bass Strait?
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Attorney-General has advised me that the relevant instruments relating to the islands in Bass Strait are referred to in the Appendix to Volume 6 of the Tasmanian Statutes, 1826-1959. That volume is in the Parliamentary Library. I refer the honourable member, in particular, to the instruments reproduced on pages 868 to 894 of the volume. The Letters Patent constituting the office of Governor of Tasmania are to be found also at page 5344, Volume V, of Commonwealth Statutory Rules 1901-1956. See also page5330 of that Volume for the Letters Patent constituting the office of Governor of Victoria.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1 and 2. Three thousand five hundred and six hundred respectively. These strengths include both local and Australian Service personnel
HM AS Tarangau Manus Island (PNG Division of RAN)
Murray Barracks (HQ, PNG Command)
Taurama Barracks (I PIR Battalion)
Goldie River (PNG Training Depot)
I gam Barracks (Local HQ and Command Support Units, PNGVR Headquarters)
Moem Barracks (2 PIR Battalion)
Detachment of 2 PIR
A detachment of No. 38 Squadron (3 Caribou aircraft)
asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply, upon notice:
– The Minister for Supply has provided the following answers:
Weapons Research Establishment
– On 29th August, the honourable member for Bonython (Mr Nicholls) directed a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Supply concerning long range employment opportunities at the Weapons Research Establishment.
The Minister for Supply announced on 16th May 1968 that a new arrangement had been concluded with the United Kingdom Government for the continued operation of the Joint United Kingdom/ Australia Project for the next four years.
The new arrangement includes two major objectives. Firstly, it is the aim of the Government to re-organise the scientific and technical organisation at the Weapons Research Establishment, Salisbury, to enable us to deploy valuable technological resources to important tasks for the Australian Services. Secondly, it is the aim of both Governments to retain a viable Range at
Woomera to meet weapons testing and space requirements.
The re-organised establishment at Salisbury will undertake tasks for the Australian Services using many skills in modern technology. Increased emphasis will be devoted to what is commonly termed ‘software’, including scientific investigations into military environments leading to the specification of military equipment requirements and the optimum operational use of equipments. This function provides some contrast with the present needs of the Joint Project which draws support from Salisbury in the development and production of ‘hardware’ necessary for the support of trials programmes at Woomera. Consequently, there will be a need for some adjustments in the work force to meet the new situation developing at Salisbury as programmes for the Australian Services are progressively evolved. The redeployment of resources at Salisbury is proceeding as planned and the Government is confident that there is longterm employment opportunity in the area.
asked the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1. (a) Payments made to registered hospital benefits organisations by their members during the financial year 1966-67 amounted to $79,956,615. Figures for 1967-68 are not yet available.
The average amount of Commonwealth benefit paid per claim during 1967-68 was $16.62.
Information to permit a calculation of the percentage of claims refused for each of the reasons mentioned is not available. However, the total number of days for which Fund benefit was refused represented 2.5% of the total days for which Fund benefit was paid. 7. (a) The aggregate reserves of registered hospital benefits organisations, including provisions for outstanding claims, were $65,824,502 as at 30th June 1967. The 1 967-68 figure is not yet available.
The operating expenses incurred by registered hospital benefits organisations for the financial year 1966-67 amounted to $9,477,969. This represented 11.8% of contribution income. The 1967-68 figure is not yet available.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answers to the honourable member’s questions are as follows: 1. (a) Payments made to registered medical benefits organisations by their members during the financial year 1966-67 amounted to $64,109,206. Figures for 1967-68 are not yet available,
The average amount of Commonwealth benefit paid per claim during1967-68 was $1.47.
Information to permit a calculation of the percentage of claims refused for each of the reasons mentioned is not available. However, during 1967-68 the number of individual services for which no Fund benefit was paid represented only 1.19% of the total individual insured services. 7. (a) The aggregate reserves of registered medical benefits organisations, including provisions for outstanding claims, were $36,146,378 as at 30th June 1967. The figure as at 30th June 1968 is not yet available.
The operating expenses of registered medical benefits organisations amounted to $9,386,970 in 1966-67 and represented 14.6% of contribution income. The figures for 1967-68 are not yet available.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 October 1968, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1968/19681010_reps_26_hor60/>.