27th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 10 a.m. and read prayers.
– Are there any petitions?
– Mr Speaker, may I draw attention to the fact that there is noone sitting on the Labor front bench and no-one sitting at the table on the Opposition side.
– 1 would ask the Prime Minister to withdraw that statement because in fact I am here on the front bench.
– Yes, but you were not there at the time I made that remark.
– Order! Are there any petitions?
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members ot the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth humbly showeth:
That the undersigned believe . . .
That hunger, illiteracy, abject poverty and injustice are intolerable anywhere in the world.
That the knowledge, skills and resources to change these unjust conditions now exist.
That to obtain justice among peoples, world financial and trading systems can and must be changed.
That Australia has the capacity to play a more significant part in enabling the developing countries to achieve improved social conditions for all their people.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that:
Australia’s Official Development Assistance in 1972-73 be increased to at least $240 million.
Australia’s aid policies be reviewed so that aid given provides maximum benefit to the peoples of developing countries.
Australia’s trade policies be reviewed to provide more favourable conditions for developing countries. by Mr Lynch, Mr Bury, Or Gun, Mr Kennedy and Mr Turner.
The Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of citizens of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
That we, the undersigned, protest against the action of the Commonwealth Government in letting the contract for the advertising rights for the Victorian Pink Pages Telephone Directories to an American Company, General Telephone & Electronics Corp. U.S.A., trading in Australia as Directories (Aust.) Pty Ltd.
That this will mean that the American Company now controls the Telephone Directory Advertising in all but one State of the Commonwealth.
We respectfully request that this contract be revoked in the National interest, and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Peacock, Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Brown, Mr Bury and Mr Duthie.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the recent salary offer to the Manipulative Group (typists, stenographers, steno-secretaries and machinists) by the Public Service Board fails to recognise their work value.
That the promotion structure for this group ls minimal.
That there is insufficient recognition that: clerical tasks are specified as basic duties in the Position Classification Standards Manual; typists and machinists can do clerical work, but clerks cannot perform the Manipulative Group’s jobs without months of special training; today’s sophisticated business world needs secretaries who are highly trained, educated and responsible.
That many competent secretaries are forced to leave this structure and become clerks or clerical assistants for economic reasons, and conversely it is becoming increasingly necessary to classify secretaries as clerks and clerical assistants in order to get competent staff.
That many school leavers, especially in Canberra, are unwilling to spend time and money training as secretaries or keyboard operators when they can get easier and more highly paid positions with only their school leaving passes.
That there is an increasing number of graduates interested in secretarial work but at present there is no scope for them within the Public Service, and therefore they must seek employment in industry although their basic degree may be more suited to the Public Service.
That there is naturally going to be a high turnover of staff within this group while these conditions persist.
Your petitioners therefore most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to:
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Clyde Cameron and Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectively sheweth:
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will restore to the Australian people true religious freedom, which can exist only when Church and State are legally separated both in form and substance.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Duthie.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Sales Tax on all forms of Contraceptive Devices is 27½ per cent. (Sales Tax Exemptions and Classifications Act 1935-1967). Also that there is Customs Duty of up to 47½ per cent on some Contraceptive Devices.
And that this is an unfair imposition on the human rights of all people who wish to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And furthermore that this imposition discriminates particularly against people on low incomes.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Sales Tax on all forms of Contraceptive Devices be removed, so as to bring these items into line with other necessities such as food, upon which there is no Sales Tax. Also that Customs Duties be removed, and that all Contraceptive Devices be placed on the National Health Scheme Pharmaceutical Benefits List.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of residents of the Division of the Australian Capital Territory respectfully showeth:
That the National Capital Development Commission have advised us of their ‘intention to develop the entire western side of Melrose Drive with flats and town houses.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the aforesaid strip of land on the whole western side of Melrose Drive be reserved for development as parkland. Your petitioners are concerned that such a development will place an excessive strain on the schools of the area, and will result in a diminution of the land available for recreational purposes, and will create traffic hazards.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of residents of South Australia respectfully sheweth:
That permitting kangaroos to be commercially exploited when permissible cropping rates are unknown and the means of enforcing controls or protective laws are completely ineffective in this land, is allowing this unique animal to follow the path to rarity or extinction, along which all wild animals have gone when subjected to exploitation in similar circumstances.
Estimates show that kangaroos alive in their natural habitat as tourist attractions are worth $200 million more to the Australian economy over a 9-year period than dead ones exported as pet food or toys over the same period.
We Australians have the right to see kangaroos in reasonable numbers on the landscape; we find the commercial slaughter to be abhorrent and unjustified.
We your petitioners, therefore humbly pray that you will:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That Lake Pedder, situated in the Lake Pedder National Park in South-West Tasmania, is threatened wilh inundation as part of the Gordon River hydro-electric power scheme.
That an alternative scheme exists, which, if implemented would avoid inundation of this lake.
That Lake Pedder and the surrounding wilderness area is of such beauty and scientific interest as to be of a value beyond monetary consideration.
And that some unique species of flora and fauna will be in danger of extinction if this area is inundated.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Federal Government take immediate steps to act on behalf of all Australian people to preserve Lake Pedder in its natural stale. All present and particularly future Australians will benefit by being able to escape from their usual environment to rebuild their physical and mental strength in this unspoilt wilderness area.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Grassby. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in Parliament assembled will move to make available to the Tasmanian Government a special grant for the express purpose of preserving Lake Pedder in its natural state.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Dr Gun.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether his Government has endorsed the Bathurst-Orange growth centre proposal announced by the New South Wales Government. As Federal financial support and co-operation will be required effectively to promote the project, will the Prime Minister say whether adequate financial assistance will be given by the Australian Government? Finally, will the right honourable gentleman tell the House what measures are to be adopted to assist in the establishment of the first growth centre in New South Wales?
– Both the Deputy Prime Minister and I have given answers to this question already and I will make sure that those answers are made available to the honourable gentleman. I should make it clear to him that the statutory authority has not yet been established. Until it is established no request can be considered or feasibility studies carried out.
– I ask the Minister for Defence: Is it a fact that the shadow Minister for Defence recently visited Holland for the purpose of inspecting defence equipment. Will the Minister inform the House whether he gave any assistance to the shadow Minister with his arrangements while in Holland? Will the Minister inform the House of the purpose of the visit?
– 1 am informed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition-
– I rise to order. The Minister for Defence is responsible for his Department and for any assistance which he may have given, but the purpose of the visit is purely the responsibility of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The last thing that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would want is advice from the Minister for Defence on how to conduct his visit.
– Order! I uphold that part of the point of order relating to the purpose of the visit. The other part of the question relating to whether the Minister facilitated the visit can be answered.
– I rise to order. I do not know where we are going with this. If we are to allow honourable members to ask Ministers questions about where people went, who they saw and what they did there might be some very interesting questions asked about some honourable members on the other side of the House.
-Order! There is no point of order. I pointed out that the part of the question relating to the Minister’s Department facilitating the visit is in order. The other part of the question is out of order.
– Neither I nor my Department was informed of this proposed visit by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs was informed but that it had no idea of the purpose of the visit. I am informed also by the Department of Foreign Affairs that during the 4 nights and 3 days that he was there the Deputy Leader of the Opposition saw the Chief of the Naval Staff and the Defence Minister and spent 2 days at the Royal Schelde shipbuilding yards in Holland. But I was not informed of the visit and have no knowledge of what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition went to see. It is of interest that this is the shipbuilding yard which builds the Dutch DDG destroyer, which was one of the classes of destroyer under consideration when we decided to build 3 additional destroyers. I do not know how the Deputy Leader of the Opposition went to Holland or who paid for his visit but it does appear that he undertook this visit to try to assure himself that the Government had made the right decision. We believe that we made the right decision to build the modified DDL destroyer in Australia. If the Opposition, should it become the Government, were to replace this destroyer with the Dutch destroyer it would mean that there would be a close down of work going to the Williamstown dockyard. It would be a direct purchase-
– Mr Speaker, in respect of my point of order-
– This seems to be unpopular but I will conclude by saying that this would be a direct purchase from Holland. It would eliminate all the upgrading, employment and work which would proceed at Williamstown.
– Mr Speaker, you ruled that the purpose of the visit overseas by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not the concern of the Minister.
-Order! I allowed the Minister-
– There is just one final matter and that is that the Australian-
-Order! I suggested earlier to the Minister that this part of the question was out of order.
– Mr Speaker, I am discussing a matter of defence.
-Order! The Minister will confine himself to that part of the question which earlier I ruled was relevant to his Department.
– This is defence involvement.
-Order! The Minister can talk on this matter only in relation to that part of the question that I ruled to be in order, namely, the involvement of his Department in arrangements for facilitating the overseas journey of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– I shall conclude-
– Mr Speaker, I rise to order. Since the Minister has raised this question perhaps he will be good enough to inform the House that the Prime Minister knew of my visit. The Prime Minister had been informed of it and I think that if the Minister will show any signs of decency at all he will at least inform the Parliament that the Prime Minister knew of my visit.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not present when I said that the Department of Foreign Affairs had been informed of the visit. I conclude by saying that a team from the Department of the Navy and the Department of Defence is at present in Holland attempting to negotiate the purchase of some equipment for our DDL vessels. If there is any possibility that Australia may still take the Dutch DDG vessels this will considerably interfere with the negotiating ability of the Australian team.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. In the light of the recently introduced Bill on urban and regional development, will he take early steps to assist the Victorian Government to make Bendigo the site of Victoria’s fourth university as I suggested several months ago in representations to the Victorian Government?
– I will communicate with my friend and colleague the Premier of Victoria and ask him to examine the proposal that the honourable member has raised.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Navy. Was the large fullscale advertisement extolling the virtues of the Dutch DDG and also the design capacity of the shipbuilding consortia interested in building it which appeared in a defence supplement to the ‘Financial Review’ paid for by the Dutch consortia involved or by some agency of the Dutch Government?
– I did notice in a supplement to the ‘Australian Financial Review’ of 9th October a large advertisement adverting to the Dutch DDG inserted by several companies assisting with the building of that ship. It struck me at the time as being strange that as the Australian Government had decided to design and build an Australian ship, the DDL, the Dutch should go to the extent and expense of a full page advertisement with subsequent editorial comment. This occasioned considerable concern in my Depart ment. This has been reflected at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. It would seem that the Dutch at least are under the impression that there is now an area of doubt whether the firm decision of the Australian Government to build the DDL in Australia will be implemented. I believe that the House and the nation have a right to know whether there is a connection between the coincidence of the visit to Holland by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Minister for Defence, and the appearance of this propaganda inside Australia for another type of vessel. I think these matters are germane and indeed I feel that it would be good if the Deputy Leader of the Opposition could explain to us the purpose of his visit because I feel that this also would be helpful.
– I can give the honourable gentleman an assurance that he will be given all the time he needs immediately after question time.
– Be decent about it.
– Order! Both honourable gentlemen will resume their seats.
– Why does the Prime Minister not accept the challenge?
– Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. There ought to be a little decorum in the House on both sides. It was impossible for me to hear what was going on across the table. Nobody was addressing the Chair. I do not know what the situation is now.
– I moved that so much of the Standing Orders–
– Order! I do not know what the situation is now.
– I have moved a motion.
– After you moved your motion something went on across the table. As far as the Chair is concerned at this stage the question is that the motion be agreed to. Is there a seconder?
– I second the motion.
– I second the motion.
– Does the honourable member for Wills give way?
– Yes. The Leader of the Opposition will make a mighty good job of seconding the motion.
– Leader of the Opposition) (10.17) - In seconding the motion 1 want to point out that the only satisfactory way of countering these statements which are volunteered in answer–
– Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will have an opportunity to speak before the motion is either carried or defeated.
– In order to ensure that the business of the House is not totally disrupted-
– Is the Prime Minister speaking by leave, or what?
– I will ask for leave.
– I am speaking to this motion, Mr Speaker.
– You have no right to stand up and make a statement.
– I raise a point of order -
– Order! Just let me handle it and honourable members will find that the position will become a little clearer to them. Does the Prime Minister wish to have the indulgence of the House to make a statement?
– Yes. I thought I was speaking to the motion, but with the indulgence of the House-
– I rise to a point of order.
– Order! Let me handle this. Is leave granted to make this statement?
Opposition members - No.
– Leave is not granted.
– I take the point of order that a motion has been moved and seconded. I would think that the Prime Minister wishes to speak to that motion briefly.
– He is entitled to do that.
– Is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition forgoing his right to speak as mover of the motion?
– I reserve my right to speak.
– You cannot do that when you move a motion.
– We are going to agree to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition making a statement.
– In that case I will not speak to my motion.
– There is no need for the Prime Minister to speak in opposition to it in that case.
– Again you are making a ghastly blunder. You are determined to put your foot into it.
– Order! I am afraid that the House is being confused. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has moved a motion. It has been seconded. The question now is that the motion be agreed to. Does the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wish to speak to his motion? If not he is forfeiting his right.
-I wish to speak to the motion. I would like an indication from the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) or the Leader of the House (Mr Chipp) that if the motion is defeated, immediately following question time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) will be given leave to make a statement. This assurance would seem to me to conform both with the basic principles of parliamentary government and certainly my understanding of fairness. If that assurance is given and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is provided with an opportunity to make a statement I am sure that the motion could be withdrawn.
– The matter can be treated in one of 2 ways. We are agreeable to either. The matter will be dealt with in whichever way the Opposition wishes it to be dealt with. If the Opposition wishes it to be dealt with immediately we will agree to that. However, the Opposition might prefer - I think this is the best course that can be followed - to wait until the end of question time. I repeat what I said before. I hope that the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) heard me. We will give ample time to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to state his case after question time.
– I ask for leave to make a statement.
– Is leave granted?
– Since an assurance has been given by the Prime Minister that I will be given leave to make a statement immediately after question time, I accept.
– I rise to a point of order.
-I will deal with one thing at a time. Will the Deputy Leader of the Opposition seek leave to withdraw his motion?
– I seek leave to withdraw my motion.
-Is leave granted? Leave is granted.
– May I now raise my point of order?
– During that discussion, as occurs almost hourly on the Opposition benches, there was reference to the Prime Minister as being a liar.
-Order! There is no point of order. I have not heard it and the point of order should have been taken at the time.
– Respectfully, Mr Speaker, I would suggest that something be done about it.
– When the House is ready to continue question time, we will do so.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it a fact that he has laid down firm guidelines before consenting to be interviewed on Australian Broadcasting Commission television programmes? Do these guidelines include the power of veto over the interviewer, and the right to approve an interviewing panel and the questions that its members want to put? Did he communicate with the General Manager of the ABC informing him of those conditions, which has had the effect of reducing staff morale to its lowest point in years?
– We seem to have got into a world where more furphies have been created than I have ever known in my parliamentary history. I think I should issue the caution immediately before an election campaign that I have never known so many incorrect and totally wrong statements to have been made in my long parliamentary history. 1 come now to the specific questions asked by the honourable gentleman. He asked 5 questions and the answer to each of them is no. I have laid down no guidelines whatsoever. (Opposition members interjecting)-
-Order! I will not allow question time to be continually interrupted by the front bench of the Opposition. I am not referring to all members of the front bench, but I suggest that the honourable member for Hindmarsh restrain himself.
– You will not call me to ask a question.
– Order! The honourable member for Hindmarsh will restrain himself.
– I rise to a point of order. Mr Speaker, I do not know whether you are to hear every interjection before action is taken but the honourable member for Prospect, who is out of bis place, called the Prime Minister a liar.
– Hear, hear! So he is. He should be decorated.
-Order! I suggest that that type of expression is completely unparliamentary. If the honourable member for Prospect did say that I request him to withdraw it.
– Because of parliamentary rules I will withdraw it, Mr Speaker.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Trade and Industry and I refer to beef exports to the United States of America. Is it a fact that the United States of America has lifted quotas on Australian beef imports to the end oi 1972? If so, can the Minister say whether negotiations have been carried on between his Department and United States officials in regard to Australia’s position in 1973? Can he inform the House of the position regarding Australian beef exports for the year 1973?
– I answered a question on this subject in the House while the honourable member was away. I said that the restraints on exports of Australian meat to the United States of America had been lifted in June or July and that until about a month ago we had exceeded the initial quota that had been given to us for this year, which was the highest quota we have ever received. We still have 2 months to go. The indications are that a record amount of meat will be exported to the United States this year. In regard to the position for 1973, preliminary discussions are taking place at the moment between officers of my Department and the United States Administration, but it is quite impossible to say what decisions the American administration will make for 1973. Between now and next year there will be a presidential election, and if there were to be any change in the Administration the new administration might have some policy changes to make. With meat prices in the United States rising, even with the heavy increase of imports to that country, the portents are that there may not be any restraints next year or that, if there are restraints, Australia will receive a very substantial quota.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question for the third time about a wrong statement that he made well before this election campaign commenced - in fact, on 18th February last year - in answer to the honourable member for Mitchell. As I am still waiting for the present Minister for Foreign Affairs to give me the information on the Jetair Australia Ltd deal which I sought from the Prime Minister 2 weeks ago and which the Prime Minister told me 2 days ago he would ensure that the Foreign Minister gave me, 1 ask whether his erroneous answer about the date of the deal with Cambodia, in answer to the honourable member for Mitchell on 18th February last year, was made so as to tally with the instruction which the papers disclosed he gave to his Department on 12th February last year that the Press release concerning the deal should be redrafted so that it would not appear to be a new project. I also take the opportunity to ask him whether the Leader of the Government in the Senate has consulted him about the tabling of the documents on this deal from the Department of Civil Aviation and the Auditor-General, which have also been sought in the Senate, and what decision he has given or when he expects to make a decision.
– The answer to the last part of the honourable gentleman’s question is: No, there have been no consultations. Again the honourable gentleman’s assumptions have turned out to be wrong. As to the first part of the honourable gentleman’s question, he asked me about this and I subsequently referred this problem to the Minister for Foreign Affairs who is responsible for it. I asked the Minister this morning before coming into the House whether he was in a position to give a reply to the honourable gentleman. He is not yet in a position to do so but I have asked that the matter be pursued as quickly as possible so that a reply can be given to him. If my memory holds good - I have to rely upon my memory - what I said was that negotiations had been commenced. If the honourable gentleman looks at those words I think he will find the answer to his question. Nonetheless, I will ensure that a reply is given as quickly as can be done. I will look very carefully to see whether the relevant cable, which is classified, can be made available to the honourable gentleman. Provided it is treated as classified and under confidential conditions I am willing to let him see it.
– I address my question to the Minister for External Territories. It refers to the distress regarding starvation in some regions of New Guinea. While I acknowledge the anxiety which the honourable gentleman holds, could he inform the House of the steps that are being taken to ensure that the distress is reduced to a minimum?
– I will answer the question. I took the initiative- (Opposition members interjecting)-
-Order! I think you have to realise, gentlemen, that it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to intercept and answer a question which affects bis responsibility as Prime Minister. I cannot see anything funny in this.
– In anticipation of a request being made by Mr Somare, and before discussing it with my colleagues, I instructed the relevant departments to look into the problem of providing assistance to Papua New Guinea if a request was made by the Chief Minister. Yesterday I again discussed the matter with my colleague, the Minister for External Territories. I can assure the House now that we have already made arrangements for Royal Australian Air Force aircraft to be provided to give assistance. I have assured the Minister that financial assistance will be made available if it is requested by the Chief Minister. Therefore, the matter is now being looked at. The only question is the amount involved. I should be able to obtain an answer on this some time today.
– I ask the Minister for External Territories or the Prime Minister - whichever is relevant on this subject - whether, with the consent of the Government of Papua New Guinea, it can be guaranteed that Australian action will be so effective that nobody can starve. The statements being made are that between 50,000 and 130,000 people are likely to starve. I feel that the concern of the House is not about assistance but about starvation and whether the action proposed can prevent any such disaster occurring to anybody.
– I should like to be in a position to give a guarantee; but, as the honourable member would know, on a strict interpretation it is impossible to give the guarantee for which he has asked. The question is far too hypothetical. He has my assurance and the assurance of the Prime Minister that we are .treating this matter with the utmost sympathy and concern. I have had discussions with the Chief Minister over the past few days and well before that when the frosts were deemed to be serious. We have been talking last night and today about this problem. The discrepancy as to numbers is in the minds of those who may misinterpret what has been put to them. An estimate has been made that 30,000 to 40,000 people are at present wihout adequate food. If further supplies are not sent in, the number could reach 140,000 or 130,000- in that vicinitywithin 4 weeks or so. So the time frame is between now and then. We are doing all we can to ensure the sort of situation that I know is implicit in the honourable member’s question. As for a guarantee, he knows that I cannot give it. But as for assistance, financial and otherwise, we are considering it and, of course, food supplies already have been dispatched from Sydney. Further food supplies will be sent with the assistance of the Royal Australian Air Force. We can ensure that the difficulties of communication in Papua New Guinea are surmounted by the utilisation of RAAF aircraft as well as the commercial aircraft that are there.
– Does the Minister for Trade and Industry agree that if the oil refinery employees do not return to work at 6 a.m. tomorrow the city of Brisbane and surrounding areas will grind to a halt? In view of the fact that we have been unable to assist Brisbane or Queensland by providing any technically qualified Army people to run the refinery, what is proposed in the event of the refinery employees not returning to work?
– I was informed first thing this morning that the union members had decided to hold a stopwork meeting at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning. If that meeting is held and there is a favourable vote to go back to work, Mr Macini, the Commissioner, will stand ready to continue the discussions relating to the cause of the problems that brought about the stoppage. I believe that the matter is proceeding satisfactorily and I hope that the men will go back to work soon.
– In the absence oi the Minister for Education and Science I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that with the proposed fiat rate Commonwealth and State per capita recurrent subsidies to pupils in non-state schools plus taxation concessions on educational expenses of up to $400 per child, student children of parents in the upper income group will be receiving up to 85 per cent of the equivalent costs of educating a child in a State government school. Where, as can be confidently predicted, many of these students also receive a large share of the Commonwealth senior secondary scholarships, will the amount of government support be over 100 per cent of comparable government school costs. By contrast, will private school student children of lower income parents-
-Order! The honourable gentleman is giving a great deal of information. I suggest that he complete his question.
– I shall. By contrast, will private school student children of lower income parents without a scholarship attract about 47 per cent or less of the equivalent government school costs? Finally, how can the Government reconcile its stated objectives of equality of educational opportunity-
-Order! The honourable gentleman’s question is far too long.
– I am just finis’hing it.
– I suggest that the honourable gentleman either put his question on the notice paper or complete it in a single sentence.
– I am just completing it. How can the Government reconcile its stated objectives of equality of educational opportunity with this situation whereby private school student children of wealthy parents receive so much more government support-
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– I desire to direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. 1 ask: Is there a danger of wool pricing itself out of the market? Can the Minister explain the reason for the violent price fluctuations? Does he see a threat to wool from competition from synthetics under the present situation? Will the Minister explain the position as he sees it?
– For all of us who have lived through the traumas of last year and the collapse of the wool market there is certainly a great deal to be said for the very marked improvement in the tenor of the demand at the present time. The concern that I have expressed has been rather directed towards the degree to which processors naturally will tend to turn to competitive fibres if wool should move completely out of line with competitive fibres, and consequently wool could suffer in the long term. Indeed, I believe that the price levels that were reached about a fortnight ago were levels which would have ensured that there would be no long term difficulty in marketing wool. Nonetheless, I think it is premature at this stage to expect, as a result of the increase in demand today, that there will be a complete collapse in demand either in the next season or after the present immediate demands for raw wool have been absorbed. But I think it is true that the result of the last few weeks of escalating demand in the auction room and outside has demonstrated the need for some greater stability in the market, both from the point of view of the wool grower and that of the wool buyer. lt seems paradoxical that so many people last year were saying that wool would never again reach the equivalent of 40c a lb. It is quite obvious today that the price levels are demonstrating a genuine reflection of the properties and the ability of wool to compete with other fibres in the textile industry. The field in which there is the most fear of competition at the moment is, of course, in the lower grade and carpet wools. I believe that the price levels which now obtain do give the wool growers some reasonable opportunity of meeting escalated costs and overcoming the difficulties which the wool industry has faced in the past few years. From the point of view of the Government, it is hoped that the present limits can be maintained and that consequently wool will not lose its place in comparison with other products.
– I ask a question of the Prime Minister. He will recall that in his statement on overseas investment in Australia one of the critical criteria involved the determination of the percentage of foreign ownership in particular areas even if held by a number of separate parties. I ask the right honourable gentleman how it is proposed to ensure the disclosure of shares held by nominee companies.
– This problem as to the disclosure of the ownership of nominee shares has not been raised.
– In directing a question to the Minister for Social Services I refer to the fact that the Budget proposals on social services, which came into effect on 27th September, made many people eligible for pensions for the first time. I ask: What is the position in regard to persons whose earlier applications for pensions had been refused but who have now become eligible? Should they put in fresh applications for pensions if they consider that they are now eligible under the new concessions which have been introduced by this Government or will their previous applications suffice?
– It is true that many people who were not eligible for pensions earlier have become eligible for at least a part pension under the legislation introduced by this Government in association with the Budget. I know that the House will appreciate that my Department is inundated with applications and that my officers are working under great strain. I want to take this opportunity to say how well I believe they are sustaining this extra burden. May I say that in the last week applications for pensions have exceeded the normal applications by some 300 per cent. The practice is this: Where people become eligible under the Budget, their applications are held undealt with from the time of the introduction of the Budget until the time of the passing by the Parliament of the necessary implementing legislation. This practice has been followed.
With regard to applications made prior to the delivery of the Budget Speech, we have in New South Wales and Victoria large computers and we are able to have a list of people who have applied during the preceding 6 months. Those people will be recontacted because their circumstances may well have changed during that 6 months. In other States we do not as yet have the same computer facility. So although my officers will do their best to ensure that justice is done and pensions are payable as soon as possible my strong advice to anybody in doubt as to his pension eligibility would be to get a form and reapply. No harm would be done by doing this; he may advantage himself. I suggest very strongly that anybody who thinks that he may have a pension entitlement under the new legislation, who is not receiving a pension and who has not made a recent application would be serving his own interests by reapplying and getting his application into the hands of the Department as soon as possible. If I may use a phrase which I used on television recently, when in doubt get the forms, fill them in truthfully and bung them in.
– I refer the Prime Minister to the statement made by his predecessor to the Five Power Conference held in this Parliament House on 19th June 1969, when the right honourable member for Higgins said that the Australian forces in the Malaysia-Singapore region have ‘the objective of assisting - and I emphasise the word “assisting” - in defence against external aggression or subversion which can be clearly seen to stem from without the region and can be clearly seen to be supported by external regimes. And our forces are there for no other purpose’. I ask the Prime Minister: When did the Government make the decision to depart from the policy on the role of the Australian battalion so unequivocally laid down by his predecessor in that statement?
– I think this matter is getting to fanciful proportions. On the Opposition side of the House we find people who are determined to take the Australian forces out of Malaysia and Singapore. On this side of the House there is determination that those forces will remain in that region as long as the governments of Singapore and Malaysia want them to do so. The second point to be made is that we have made it clear to the Malaysian Government that there has been no change whatsoever in the arrangements that were made by my colleague in London relating to the Five Power arrangements. Nor is there any difference whatsoever in the communique issued by myself and Tun Razak relating to the presence of the Australian forces at Butterworth. So this matter is getting to fanciful proportions. There has been no change in our policies. I stand exactly by what I said, and I can now confirm that there has been no statement whatsoever received from the Malaysian Government about the statement I made on television on Monday night.
– Is the Minister for the Interior aware of the disorganisation and dislocation that have occurred when computers are first installed? Is he satisfied that every precaution has been taken to ensure that the computerised electoral rolls are correct and that persons have not been disfranchised? Will he protect the staff of the Divisional Returning Officer from the regular statement when errors occur that the computer was fed the wrong information?
– I am not aware of the high degree of disruption that may have occurred as a result of ‘the decision made by the Commonwealth and the respective State governments to have computerised electoral rolls. Rolls for the forthcoming elections in all the States, except Tasmania, will be computerised. I would expect that on this occasion there would be fewer inaccuracies in the computerised rolls than there have been on previous occasions. In fact, I would expect the rolls to be far better than they have been in the past. This is because of the degree of checking that has been done by the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff. I am sure the honourable member would be interested to know that the check began early this year. So, far from there being more inaccuracies, I would expect there to be far fewer inaccuracies on this occasion than in the past. The supplementary rolls will be printed with the issue of the writs on 2nd November in all States excluding South Australia and Western Australia where the main rolls will be printed with the issue of the writs on 2nd November. With respect to any subsequent changes that are advised, hand changes will be made to the main rolls in the booths. Every effort has been made by the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure that there will be fewer inaccuracies on this occasion than there have been in the past. It has been a mammoth task to switch over to the computerised rolls for the coming election and I believe that the officers have done a tremendous job in completing this task for the election.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether he has seen the report of the Sydney Metropolitan Public Hospitals Planning Liaison Committee which indicates that by 1980 there will be an overall deficiency of 4,020 beds in the suburbs of Sydney and that the western suburbs will be the worst hit with a deficiency of 2,471 beds. Of course, the Prime Minister represents a western suburbs electorate. Has he also seen a report that the New South Wales Liberal Minister for Health, the Hon. Harold Jago, has appealed to the Commonwealth for urgent financial assistance to help overcome this crisis in our hospitals? Will the right honourable gentleman give an undertaking to this House, preferably before the election, that urgent consideration will be given to the provision of special financial assistance to New South Wales to help overcome this crisis?
– I have seen statements in newspapers but I have not received copies of any reports. I did see a reference to a statement made by Mr Jago, a very reputable and intelligent member of the New South Wales Government. I expect that soon that Government will be making representations to me but up to the moment I have received none.
– I direct a question to the Minister for External Territories and preface it by saying that I noticed the latest figures he has given the House on the shortage of food in certain areas of Papua New Guinea. Will he take note of the fact that there exists in the canned fruit industry a surplus of canned fruit? Will he agree that it would be a good idea to consult the Minister for Primary Industry on the possible use of food of that type as part of the dietary make-up of any shipment of food to these unfortunate areas?
– I will certainly take note of the information contained in the honourable member’s question and naturally will be discussing the matter further, as I implied in an earlier answer, with my colleagues, including the Prime Minister, and will take steps to ensure that the Minister for Primary Industry also is involved.
– In the absence of the Minister for Repatriation I address a question to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners have now ceased to have a pensioner medical service entitlement and have been told to join a medical benefits fund? Has the Australian Medical Association advised the Government that it is not prepared to treat the wives of TPI pensioners under the pensioner medical service? If so, will the Government enter into immediate negotiations with the AMA to restore these entitlements? Irrespective of any agreement with the AMA, will the Commonwealth give an assurance that it will continue telephone rental and radio and television licence concessions to the wives of TPI pensioners?
– I will ensure that immediate investigations are made into the matters raised in the question asked by the honourable member and that he gets a written reply.
– 1 ask the Minister for Supply: Is it a fact that this Government, following its return at the forthcoming election, is to reduce the Commonwealth car pool and transfer the heavy transport section to private enterprise? Is the implied reduction of employment yet another Australian Labor Party inspired election furphy?
– I have heard comments made to the effect mentioned in the honourable member’s question. I mention that the central authority which is conducted by the Department of Supply provides passenger and goods transport for most Government departments. There has been a steady increase in its activities in recent years - a small increase per annum. It is mainly in the weekly hire self-drive fleet of the Department. Recently I took the opportunity to announce the ordering of a replacement of some 1,650 motor vehicles. In general, there has been a small growth in the passenger fleet and a slight reduction in the long haul goods transport section which will be met by a corresponding increase in goods transport vehicles. There is no foundation for the suggestion contained in honourable member’s question.
- Mr Speaker, I ask leave to make a statement.
-Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– This morning a question was directed to the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) in relation to a visit which I made last week to Holland. There was nothing sinister about the visit which I made because it was subsequently reported in the Press. By way of point of order, when the Minister for Defence was replying to the question, I indicated that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) had been informed of my visit to Holland. Let me inform the House of the circumstances under which the Prime Minister was informed of my visit. As Deputy Leader of the Opposition I have always regarded it as my responsibility - indeed a very important responsibility particularly as I am the shadow Minister for Defence - to keep myself informed of circumstances in relation to procurement orders for defence supplies from overseas countries. I remind the Minister why the Opposition should look at defence procurements. I remind him of the situation in relation to the Fill aircraft. The Minister for Defence knows that this Government in 1963 placed an order for 24 Fill aircraft to cost $125m. Nearly 10 years later those planes are still lined up on the tarmac at Fort Worth in the United States of America. The original cost of $125m has now risen to $400m and more than $300m has been paid out so far by this Government. When a sophisticated weapons system is under consideration by this Government surely the responsible member in the Opposition should regard it as his duty, not only to this Parliament but also to the nation, to look at the circumstances surrounding the involvement of purchases for or the building of the DDL programme.
The Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay) is probably the first Minister who has been prepared to provide me with some information in relation to the DDL programme. I acknowledge that and thank him for it. The Minister for Defence himself has had no discussions with me in relation to any matters of defence and this is not unusual because, quite frankly, I do not think the Minister is informed of the situation himself. One must take the opportunity - 1 repeat that I regard it as my responsibility - to look at the procurement of a sophisticated weapons system. Does any honourable member believe that the building of 3 destroyers at a cost of $355m under the DDL programme is not a matter that should be carefully considered by this Parliament and not only by the Government?
It has been suggested that there is something unusual in the Deputy Leader of the Opposition making a visit to another country to look at a sophisticated weapons system. Because I have been the Deputy Leader of the Opposition I have had the opportunity to do this on many occasions. As the Minister for Defence would well know, I have been to most countries in Europe where weapons systems are under consideration. As the Minister for Defence would know, I visited Sweden, for example, to look at the Viggen aircraft. Will the Minister for Defence deny that the Viggen has been under consideration by his Government? Of course it has been under consideration and indeed is still under consideration. Therefore the Minister ought to say why the shadow Minister for Defence, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament, ought not to have the opportunity to look at a weapons system of this kind.
Secondly, he knows that I had the opportunity to visit the United States of America, where I spent some time looking at the Fill aircraft. Indeed, I had the courage to fly in it, and at that time there were very few people who had done that. The Minister for Defence suggests, apparently, that there was temerity on my part when I suggested that I ought to look at the question of the destroyer programme in this country. I remind him of the situation in relation to the Fill. I am determined as the shadow Minister for Defence - I expect at the end of this year to be in a position to have some final responsibility on this matter - to ensure that there is not a repetition of a situation in which a government can blindly enter into an agreement to cost the taxpayers of this country $125m and find after nearly 10 years that the cost has risen to $400m.
Perhaps the Minister can explain why this escalation should occur. Perhaps he cao give an assurance to the House that there will be no escalation in the cost of the DDL programme.
Let me speak about the DDL programme itself since this was the basis of the question that was directed to the Minister for Defence. I acknowledge - and I have acknowledged publicly - that the Royal Australian Navy will need destroyers. The provision of 3 destroyers has been suggested by the Government, but the Minister for Defence is well aware that the final order will not be for 3 destroyers. Indeed, the Royal Australian Navy has indicated that it will need no fewer than 9 destroyers. If the Minister wants to know where my information came from in relation to this matter, let me assure him that I have been in the fortunate position of being able to have discussions with senior members of the Royal Australian Navy. I acknowledge that I had these discussions with the full knowledge of the Minister for the Navy. Therefore, if the Royal Australian Navy itself believes it should be informed in relation to the programme, surely I am entitled to inform myself. During those discussions I took the opportunity to discuss with the senior officers of the Royal Australian Navy the offer that had been made by the Dutch authorities. The Minister is fully aware of this. Our discussions were quite frank. I regret that I cannot fully divulge to this House the nature of those discussions because I must acknowledge that they were largely confidential. So I am not free to divulge fully the information.
– You have my permission.
– The Minister now says that I have his authority to divulge the information. Let me inform him, this Parliament and the nation that during the consideration and discussion which I had with Admiral Peek I pointed out to him that there had been some suggestion that the Government had discussed with the Dutch authorities building in Australia a Dutchdesigned ship, and he and Commander Loxton, one of his chief advisers, told me that they had considered this proposition and they regarded it as a very good one. Indeed, before the final decision on the DDL programme was arrived at and the programme was accepted by the Government, the Dutch proposition was the last one to be excluded. This was the information conveyed to me.
I come back to the point that $355m is the price for 3 ships. This is before the design stage has been reached. Surely members of the Opposition and indeed everyone in Australia have every reason to be concerned about the possibility of escalation of costs. I have suggested in this Parliament that the final cost will be much higher than S335m. It was with all these things in mind that I decided that 1 ought to have a look at the Dutch proposition and visit Holland. That was the only thing to do. As I said this morning by way of interjection to the Minister for Defence, 1 wrote to the Prime Minister and raised this matter because the question of the expenses had been raised by the Minister for Defence in an extremely snide way. 1. wrote to the Prime Minister and asked him whether, since I would be going overseas on a matter which I considered to be a matter of parliamentary business in relation to the Opposition, he would agree to allow me the normal travelling expenses to which 1 would be entitled in Australia as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The answer that came back from the Prime Minister was: ‘Emphatically no’. Quite frankly, I was pleased because it meant in effect that I had no obligation at all to this Government. Whatever expenses I incurred on my visit had to be met by me. So I tell the Minister for Defence and this Parliament that I went to look at the destroyer programme in Holland at great expense to myself and no expense to this Parliament or the taxpayers of Australia. I am much better informed following my visit. lt is not my intention at this stage to go through the whole of the situation in relation to the visit to Holland, but let me say that all I did was to meet people that the representatives of the Minister for Navy had met in Holland. The Minister will recall that Admiral Peek and Commander Loxton undertook a similar visit on behalf of the Minister for the Navy. They had the opportunity to meet the same people as I did. They talked to the same people and they were given the same information. Perhaps H had one advantage in that I saw one of the destroyers very nearly completed. The Minister’s representatives may not have been in Holland at a time when they could have seen one of the destroyers in that situation. 1 was able to talk to people. I was fully informed on the programme. As I said, I do not think that I ought to state at this time what I believe ought to be done about this matter except to say that if destroyers are to be built for the Royal Australian Navy - I want to make this perfectly clear - our policy is that no destroyers will be purchased or built unless a programme is undertaken to build the vessels in Australia. That is a firm assurance that 1 gave to those who spoke to me in Holland, and I give that assurance to the people of Australia. If we are responsible for the matter the vessels will be built in Australia, whatever programme is adopted.
– What design?
– The Minister will have an opportunity to reply in a moment. They will be built in Australia. Why have I said this? After all, members of the Opposition were the people who first pointed out to the Government the money that we were spending on sophisticated equipment overseas. In this House I led the attack on the Government because of its refusal to enter into offset agreements in relation to procurement overseas. I will certainly not place myself in the position, as the responsible spokesman for the Opposition on defence matters, of agreeing to a situation in which costly ships will be purchased entirely overseas without Australia’s participation in the programme.
An assurance was also given to the Minister for the Navy and therefore I assume to the Minister for Defence that if the Dutch agreement to build ships was accepted, they would have been built in Australia. So one wonders why this matter was raised at question time this morning. I have not suggested or given assurances to anyone that the programme would be amended but I believe that the Opposition, the Parliament and the nation are entitled to be told whether there is a better proposition by which Australia would not be disadvantaged in terms of manpower requirements, expertise and the knowledge that would be gained by Australians in a programme of this nature. One has to look at the matter not in the context of 3 ships costing $355m - and the cost will not remain at $355m. One has to look at it in terms of 6 to 9 ships at a greatly escalated cost. I remind honourable members that the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury) when discussing this programme said that the cost of it frightened him. He is fully aware of the situation and would appreciate that any member of this Parliament should have the opportunity to look carefully at the programme.
Is there anything unusual about a member of Parliament making a visit to another country to inform himself about matters with which he is particularly concerned? I do not believe that the Government is in a position to criticise members for visiting other countries because the propaganda organ of the Taiwan Government, for one example, showed that 3 members of this House visited Taiwan as guests during the last recess. The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) and the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) were guests of the Taiwan Government. I do not know whether they were expected to meet some of their own costs but they were guests of the Government. I hope that they took the opportunity to inform themselves on matters that concerned them. The criticism by the Government of my visit is hard to understand because 3 of its supporters went to Taiwan during the Parliamentary recess. As I have said, one would assume that they went for the purpose of keeping themselves informed. Yet there is criticism because I, as a responsible spokesman for the Opposition, believe that a further investigation ought to be made in relation to the DDL programme.
I will summarise by saying, firstly, that I have acknowledged in this House that the Navy must have additional destroyers. It is the responsibility of the Government that the Navy has been allowed to run down to the extent that it has in terms of equipment. Secondly, I believe that a full investigation of the cost of the destroyers ought to be made. No-one would argue against a proposition that if improved opportunities are open to this nation to provide an equally sophisticated ship at a lower cost, constructed in Australia, they ought to be taken.
Thirdly, the Minister for Defence has agreed that members of his own Department have already had an opportunity to keep themselves informed on the Dutch programme. Is there any reason why I should not have sought a similar opportunity? I did so. No assurances were given to the Dutch authorities. I talked not only to the people who would be responsible for building the destroyers in Australia if an agreement of this kind was accepted but also the Admiral of the Dutch fleet. I believe that as a result I am much better informed on the requirements of a frigate and what would be expected of it in Australian waters. In addition, I had an opportunity to talk to the Dutch Minister for Defence. They were very profitable meetings and, as I said, I am much better informed as a result.
I come now to my final point which has, let us say, a parochial basis for me as a Tasmanian. The House will recall that in 1965 a major shipbuilding company in Holland applied to establish a shipbuilding yard in Tasmania. I refer to the Verolme company. A licence was refused by the Government. On 26th October 1966 I proposed that it be discussed as a matter of public importance. My recent visit presented me with an opportunity to talk to the directors of the Verolme company. As a result of those discussions I was able to make some arrangements in relation to the establishment under different circumstances of a shipbuilding yard in Tasmania. Naturally, this matter should have been presented to the Tasmanian Government before I raised it in this Parliament, but since it has been mentioned I have been left with no alternative but to indicate one of the reasons why I took the opportunity to visit Holland. The Minister for Defence will be quite aware of the matter because he was a Minister at the. time that the application of the Verolme company was refused by the Government.
My visit to Holland was prompted by 2 reasons and in each area concerned I am much better informed. If the Minister for Defence believes that I have usurped his authority or that of the Parliament he should explain to the House <why he feels that way. I gave no indication to anyone in Holland that we would deviate from any programme. I said that I was there to inform myself and I did that. I believe, that the DDL programme needs a thorough and searching investigation. If the Minister can give the nation an assurance that there will be no escalation of costs above $335m there will be no problem.
The Minister knows that there has been a difference of opinion in Australia and elsewhere about the size of the destroyers. I have consistently advocated smaller ships. The Minister has come down on the side of larger ships. One has a responsibility to consider and investigate these matters. 1 repeat that my visit was made at no expense to the Government. Any costs that had to be accepted in the main were accepted by myself. I believe that on behalf of the Opposition I undertook a journey that made me much better informed in relation to the destroyer programme, the responsibility for which we will have to accept later this year.
– by leave - I thank the House for granting me leave to speak on this matter and 1 thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) for confirming the fact that he did go to Holland to look at the destroyer programme. He had, as he said, a perfect right to do this. He compared this with seeing the Viggen aircraft. No decision has been made in regard to the Viggen or any other aircraft. It is perfectly within the competence of any member of Parliament to look at everything available and to hold views on it. The different situation in this case is that the decision has been made and announced by the Government that it will be building a modified DDL at Williamstown. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has confirmed that he was looking at this matter with a view to seeing whether that decision could or should be changed. 1 am glad, if he can speak for his Party, that he has confirmed that, whatever decision is made, the ship will be built in Australia.
But the question is not only that of building an overseas design in Australia. We are also anxious to see that there is local design as well as local production. The embarrassing situation for the Government is that a very senior person in the Opposition who, with a change of government, could expect to have a ministerial portfolio, has gone overseas and looked at alternative plans at a time when we have a team in Holland negotiating for the purchase of some equipment. If the Dutch believed for one moment that we could still buy from them the modified Dutch DDG, of course they would not make available to us the equipment we are seeking. I think all honourable members know that our programme in the destroyer field is to have a modified DDL - an Australian built hull, Rolls Royce propulsion, and some of the fire equipment being the Mark 92 fire control system which the United States Navy intends to fit into the patrol frigate but which is of a Dutch design being made under licence in the United States. At the present time we are seeking permission to have this made under licence for us either in America or here. I am not certain of the position.
– And you will have it.
– We do not have it and we have been informed in writing that they have refused it. At a time when negotiations of this sort are going on, if the Dutch believed there was still a chance of our buying their ship they would hesitate to make this available. That is why I say the Deputy Leader’s visit came at an extremely awkward time. It is erroneous to compare his visit with the visit of 3 backbench members to Taiwan. They did not go there to look at great amounts of equipment which the Australian Government could or might purchase. They went there just to see the country generally. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will not feel that I am seeking to make this a political matter, but I believe there are some very unusual features of the situation. First of all, it would have been normal courtesy to have informed me or the Department of Defence of the visit. Not only would we have been able to assist in the arrangements for the visit but we would also have been able to assist with briefing notes. I know that the Minister for the Navy (Dr Mackay) has gone out of his way to see that all honourable members have been briefed. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in particular was briefed fully on the DDL proposal. I believe that at the time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was satisfied, because he did not say anything to me afterwards. To the best of my knowledge, he said nothing to my colleague. He did not say that he was dissatisfied or that he required further information of any sort.
Suddenly we found that he had made a trip overseas. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said today that he had informed the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). Certainly a letter was written to the head of the Prime Minister’s Department which just said that he was going overseas on business connected with his position as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It was just, as the honourable gentleman has said, a request for travelling allowances when he was overseas. I suppose it is true to say then that the Prime Minister knew, but certainly no information about the purpose of the visit was given. The Government is constantly chided by the Opposition for having secrecy in government. It seems to me that this is a case of excessive secrecy in opposition. This whole matter has been cloaked in secrecy. For one thing, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not even go through what I would regard as the very normal process for any senior persons when travelling overseas, and that is that when they go along to inspect anything they take with them a person from the Australian embassy. The honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison) did this during the entire time he was in South East Asia. As a result, the embassy had records of the discussions. Important parts were sent back to Australia so that they were available to us. In this case we have no knowledge of any sort.
There have been some very unusual procedures in this case. The Government made a very careful assessment before it made its decision, and it made its decision because it believed that the modified DDL could be designed and built in an Australian shipyard and that by doing so Williamstown could be updated and modernised and would then have the opportunity for refurbishing, servicing and doing much more than it can do at present. There would be a premium for local production. Employment opportunities would be made available and we would not have one more standard in our Navy. The trouble at the moment is that we have an Australian standard, a United Kingdom standard and a United States building stan dard. To have a Dutch one as well, with all the complications and perhaps with different fire control systems, would, I believe, be wrong.
We find that the modified DDL can be designed and built in Australia for approximately the same price as the Dutch DDG, as modified to suit Australia, could be purchased from overseas. So it is quite apparent that, if what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition wants is carried out - namely, that the Dutch DDG design is built in Australia - the costs of doing that would be considerably higher. The assessment made by the Navy and by officers of my Department is that the performance would be not as good. It would require at least 50 more people to man the Dutch DDG as to man the modified DDL. The weapons would be different and there would need to be a complete redesign for compatibility and comparable capability. I believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has done a disservice by casting some doubt on the future of this matter. In any case, I am glad that he has confirmed that whatever he may decide to have in place of the modified DDL - if he is in the position to decide - will be built in Australia.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I have been misrepresented mildly by the ‘Australian Financial Review’ today on page 26. In answer to a question yesterday by the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) I said in the House:
On this point the Government has recently appointed Professor Muir . . .
The ‘Australian Financial Review’ has reported that I said:
On this point the Government has reluctantly appointed Professor Muir.
I have checked with the journalist who reported the statement from the Press gallery. He reported it accurately. It was obviously a typographical mistake at the other end, but I think Lt should be corrected.
Motion (by Mr Chipp) proposed:
That order of the day No. 1, Government Business, be postponed until a later hour this day.
– I just record my formal, emphatic and continuing dissent. This motion involves the abandonment of the Grievance Debate. There is a growing mystique that there are countless other opportunities for honourable members to speak in this House. Occasionally, certain honourable members are given leave to speak, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) was just given leave to speak. But, almost invariably when an honourable member from the back benches on this side of the House wishes to speak on a special occasion about some matter, he is refused leave. I believe that grievance debates are a very important function of this Parliament. They are debates in which we can raise in this House, at a time when it is on the air, those matters which from time to time have to be shelved because no appropriate business is before the House in which to raise them. I hope that eventually the Parliament will get round to considered, organised procedures which will allow honourable members consistently to place before the Parliament points of view which need to be raised.
It may well be that we should reduce the time for each speech. Maybe every week at a regular hour some time could be provided during the ordinary proceedings of the House when perhaps 12 five-minute speeches could be. made. I believe that we all have been remiss in this. We on this side and Government supporters have too often surrendered the proper procedures of the Parliament when it came to the consideration of matters. For instance - I am one of the guilty parties - a week or so ago a repatriation Bill was passed through this House quickly for all sorts of emotional and psychological reasons. It was not until a few days later that it was realised that the Bill deprived some of the beneficiaries under the legislation of some of the advantages they had before. I believe that the procedures which have been developed over the centuries, whilst they look haphazard and inexplicable on occasions, in fact are one of the proper protections of public debate. I want to make sure that my continuing oppo sition to the surrender of the Grievance Debate is recorded, even though I did not wish to speak this morning.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 21 September (vide page 1762), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I suggest that it may suit the convenience of this House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions may, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. Mr Deputy Speaker, I suggest therefore that you permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
– Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering these 2 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– It was arranged that at this time the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) would, as is usual on such measures, lead for the Opposition on this measure. I lead for the Opposition now, in the absence of the honourable member for Dawson due to illness. I express my regret and the regret of my colleagues that he is not able to undertake this task at this time, in view of the amount of work and dedication he has put in, from one end of Australia to the other, on this and other measures related to primary industry.
The Bill has been introduced against a background of one of the greatest disasters that the Australian wool growers have experienced in this generation. This Bill is the Government’s answer to the many demands that have been formulated by the Australian wool industry and the Australian wool growers for basic reform. The Bill, as the Government’s answer to the problem, we are not opposing. But we make the point quite clearly that it is not our Bm; the solution is not our solution; and the Government’s policy is not our policy. The Government’s policy is still confused and uncertain, as we will show in examining this Bill.
The Opposition’s policy has been clear and definite for the past 2 years. We intend to pursue that policy and, given the opportunity, we will implement it - in contrast to the Government’s answer to the problems of the wool industry and to the disaster with which the wool industry has been stricken in the past 3 years. lt is as well to remember the repeated requests that have been made by the industry for fundamental and basic reform of the industry. The major point of this Bill is that it is supposed to represent the Government’s answer to industry requests. I point out that the Government, over the last 3 disastrous years, repeatedly stated that it would be guided by recommendations of the industry. The alibi is, of course, that if the industry has no recommendations the Government cannot take action. If the industry fails to be unanimous in requests, the Government, in its alibi, says that it can take no action.
Certainly the Government takes no initiative because it says that the leadership in this matter must come from the industry concerned. For the last 3 disastrous years this has been a massive alibi for inaction when action was called for. I make it quite, clear that the whole of the Government’s case for action or inaction rests on this alibi of industry requests. I suggest that this alibi has, in fact, been a fiction and a subterfuge. It was exploded by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony), who is the Leader of the Country Party. On 22nd September 1972, not so many days ago, at Griffith, when he was dealing with the matter of industry advice and alibis, he said in relation to wheat quotas and rationing:
Due to unusual circumstances 3 years ago we bad a surplus of wheat 2$ times the crop we are going to get this year. We had to get the wheat growers to accept quotas.
So much for the repeated alibi that the wheat growers suddenly and spontaneously came forward and asked the Government to ration their wheat crop in the middle of the season. That statement exploded that alibi, I think, rather well.
I now refer to the Government’s alibi in relation to this Bill. The Government has received repeated industry requests for a single national authority to acquire, process and market the clip on behalf of the. growers. This has been the continued request of the industry. The request has been backed at meetings across the countryside attended by thousands of wool growers. They made, it quite clear what they wanted. They made it quite clear where their desires lay. The Government’s answer to all these requests lies in this Bill. In fact, it postpones basic reforms sought by the wool industry and wool growers.
It seems that in this Bill the Government is intent on building a new castle of privilege for wool brokers. The Bill treats the industry’s request for basic reform with simple contempt. The Government seems to be setting out to use this new authority as another committee of inquiry, perhaps to produce another Randall report. It is certainly a timeless inquiry. There is no limit. There is no instruction that basic reforms should be brought forth at any particular time, in any particular way or in any particular form. The authority is charged to look into the basic matter of reform which has occupied the industry, particularly in the last 3 years.
We should examine what the Bill actually amounts to. It could be described as a cut and paste job on 2 existing Acts and nothing more. But what really significant change does the Bill make? It certainly gives the Minister for Primary Industry more power. It provides more protection for wool selling brokers through the auction system. The new authority is prevented from operating outside the auction system unless the Minister agrees. Why? Why this new bid to save the auction system? Why this new effort to preserve the wool selling brokers and the auction system?
In this Bill there is no definition of auction’. The highest legal advice interprets ‘auction’ to mean a progressive bid system; that is, as now. So, the auction system which has brought disaster to thousands of people in the countryside is to be not only preserved but strengthened. As a matter of fact the Government seems so intent on saving the auction system and preserving the status and privileges of the wool selling brokers that it would appear under this Bill to even rule out any variations, such as have been practised by the Economic Wool Producers, of the auction system. This organisation, of course, is dedicated to a system of sealed tender. Under this legislation, unless the Minister agrees, it will not be permissible for them to continue in their activities. This is surely an extraordinary turnabout as far as the Government is concerned.
The treatment of the independent wool buyer was discriminatory for the whole of the time of the recession in the wool industry. At that time the discrimination was in relation to subsidy; it is now in relation to the proposals we have before us. So again wc see that the Government is dedicated to the preservation and indeed to the strengthening of the auction system. When the Government can cast doubts about the continued operation of, for example, the Economic Wool Producers and when it can continue to practise discrimination against independent wool buyers, the Opposition takes this as a measure of the Government’s dedication to this particular system of handling wool.
We find this to be an extraordinary Government decision in view of the overwhelming demand of the industry for basic reform. It means that we are left with a system which was used without Government let or hindrance to inflict disastrous hardship on thousands of wool growers, thousands of country people and entire rural communities. It is important at this time to expose the Government’s complicity in the exploitation of the Australian wool grower. The Government has behind it, of course, a series of alibis to justify the events of the last 3 years and the way in which the Australian wool grower was let down. The first alibi that the Government propagated in the countryside was that there was really no demand for wool because of the significant advances that had been made by synthetics. The second alibi was that we were producing too much wool. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) was so carried away with this alibi that he advocated production controls. I suppose he had in mind a kind of wheat quota system for wool. But the alibi is exploded when we look at world figures.
At the time when prices to the Australian wool grower dropped by 33 per cent the global utilisation of wool had increased by 1.5 per cent and the global production was only up at that time by less than i per cent. So it is difficult to sustain an alibi that there was too much wool in the world. There was in fact no over-production. There was only a decision in concert by buyers to force down prices by coasting on their purchases. This was a very reasonable decision from their point of view in the circumstances. They had some reconstructuring of their industries to undertake and there was no reason for them to continue their level of buying when they wanted a pause.
– Do you know what you are talking about?
– The Minister who interjects naturally defends the Government’s record over the last 3 years. I would imagine that in this debate he will apply himself to the figures and to what actually happened. I point out to the Minister that I have not finished or exhausted the figures at my disposal by any means. The Labor Party warned that buyers would defeat their purpose by squeezing the wool grower too hard. This was the warning that we issued constantly both privately and publicly to wool buyers in the last 3 years. We warned that if they continued their exploitation of the wool grower they would simply not get the wool that they undoubtedly wanted. We warned that if they continued with their dropping in price they would find that the supplies of wool would dry up. They ignored the warnings. By using their particular tactics they acquired, with the tacit agreement of the Commonwealth Government, woo! at give-away prices. When I say ‘give-away prices’ it is as well to remember that it is not too long ago that holes in roads were being filled with odd bits of wool that the Government regarded as expendable; there was no great need for it. The advice was, of course, to take the wool off the market. It would have been a good idea to have taken the wool off the market at the prices that were being offered, and this was the request that was made to the Government.
What in fact happened is that they have killed many of the geese that laid the golden eggs. Between 10 million and 15 million sheep have been slaughtered. There could be a 9 per cent shortage of wool this year and a 20 per cent shortage next year. What is equally serious is that the quality of the clip could have been damaged. A total of 123 studs have closed down in New South Wales during the last 3 years of the recession. Stud ewe numbers are down by 236,000 in New South Wales alone. Yet we have had no recognition of the special plight of the studs which supply the vital genetic pool for flock improvement.
I would like to deal with a further alibi of the Government. I refer to the current alibi that has been assiduously peddled throughout the countryside that the Government saved the woo] industry by putting a floor in the price of wool. Let us have a look at this Government’s floor in the wool industry. Let us just see what it meant?
– How do you spell it? Is it f-l-a-w?
– Yes, I think the honourable member is right. ‘Flaw’ is correct in any interpretation of this particular action. Let us have a look at what the figures say. Let us put the words to one side and review the figures. The average market level for wool in May 1969 was 50c per lb. I bet that figure has been carefully covered up by Government spokesmen for a long time. The average price for 1968-69 was 44c a lb. The average market level of February 1970 was 42c per lb. Then, of course, we get into the trough of March 1970 when the figure was down to 32c a lb. In October of 1970 it was 29c per lb. When legislation relating to the Australian Wool Commission was passed in the third week of October 1970 the price was then 37.6c a lb - a very good improvement. This happily coincided, as so many of these things do, with the Senate elections that month. In May and June of 1971 when the Senate elections, of course, were over, the average market level was 23c per lb. For the year 1970-71 the price was 29c per lb and for the 6 months to 31st December of last year it was 28c per lb. The average price for the actual period to 30th June 1972 was 40c a lb. This was a very interesting rise. Since the start of 1972-73 selling in the third week of August the average market level for the week ending 8th September was 50c. The level was 60c for the week ending 22nd September, 66c for the week ending 29th September and 75c for the week ending 6th October.
Let us look at this in relation to the Government’s claim that it has put a floor in the price. This decrepit structure has been matched only by the Government’s disastrous policies which have cost growers dearly. The inaction of the Government during this 3-year period probably has robbed the Australian wool growers and the nation of $450m. The Government was asked by 1,500 wool growers who met at Orange on 17th June 1970 to embargo the export of wool below a national average of 45c a lb. It was very interesting to see the response to that request by 1,500 wool growers who included, I might say, some of the leading men in the wool industry over the whole of the nation. This meeting was not sponsored by the Opposition. Far from it. The meeting was called mainly by former supporters of the Government and former members of Government parties. They were not interested in playing politics on that day in Orange in June 1970. They came because they were concerned with rural survival. They met because they were concerned for their industry. They had made their assessment and they disagreed with the Government. They asked the Government to take protective action but that action was not taken.
If action had been taken to protect the wool growers who sold the wool between say 1st July 1970 and 3rd December 1971 it would not have cost the Australian taxpayers $53m for the wool subsidy. Do not forget that the subsidy operated for only 6 months between 1st July and 31st December this year. I well remember that when that legislation came into the House it was indicated that it was a measure to help the growers. The Minister for Primary Industry received a deputation from one of the hardest hit areas in the whole of Australia and that deputation gently pointed out to him that if the subsidy was just allowed to flow to the banks and to the brokers the growers would not get the money. As a matter of fact in many areas they did not receive the money. I have never been able to find out by questions on notice or by any other form of inquiry exactly what percentage of the S53m reached the woolgrowers and how much was syphoned off along the line before they received it.
– To pay their debts.
– The honourable member for Mallee says it was to pay their debts. If you are going to bring in a scheme to help people who are faced with bankruptcy and you pay money to their creditors first-
– You are not going to worry about the storekeepers.
– The storekeepers did not get the money. I am very glad that the Minister interjected. He said that the storekeepers - I hope I interpret him correctly - did not get the money. They did not get the money. Unfortunately this is true. And what is more, the shires did not get paid for outstanding rates. The priorities were such that a couple of major debtors, brokers and banks collected the majority of the subsidy and in many areas the storekeepers did not get paid and the local government authorities did not get paid. The Minister has had representations from shire presidents telling him just that. Is the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) seeking to interrupt me?
– Yes, I am.
– Tell me again what you are saying because you are burbling a bit and I cannot understand you clearly.
– These brokers had a lien on the wool.
– In regard to the distribution of the subsidy of $53m, there was complicity to give the money to the brokers and to the banks.
– I rise on a point of order. I said by way of interjection that these brokers had a lien on the wool.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, that is not a point of order and the honourable member is old enough and has been in this place long enough to know that.
-Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– The Australian taxpayers and the Australian wool growers probably subsidised these institutions which needed least subsidisation for that period of time. We are now faced with a situation where world stocks are exhausted and the pipeline is empty. So the buyers of the Australian wool clip, of their own free will and volition, are competing against each other to obtain supplies which they need to keep their profitable wool textile inanities in production. Last week they w=re paying 75c a lb. Let us contrast this with the Deputy Prime Minister’s roaring at the wool growers that he would not hold the buyers to ransom while all that the wool growers at that time were .seeking was 40c a lb. Contrast this with the Chairman of the Government’s Wool Board saying on 17th July last year that 20,0!>0 of the 100,000 wool growers would have to go. Contrast this with the following statement of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 6th December, after his 21 day squash tour of the world:
My Government believes that 11,000 to 14,000 wool growers of Australia will have to go out of the industry.
– What do they &ay about that now?
– They say nothing *bout it now. They said nothing about it then. The Prime Minister made this statement, the Minister for Primary Industry and every supporter of the Government, even those who represent the wool growers, did not contest it. As a matter of fact when I queried the Prime Minister on this figure and asked him what he was going to do with the wool growers, people like the honourable member for Hume (Mr Pettitt) took me to task for daring to question the wisdom and wit of the Prime Minister. As the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) has suggested, it was not challenged. lt is not challenged now and it was not challenged then. We now have a situation where the Government is asking for a blank cheque, because this Bill postpones any essential commitment to reform. It could well prove in the hands of this Government on its record to be a Trojan horse and nothing more. There is no compulsion in the Bill for action or reform. The Australian Wool Corporation is asked to make another report, in a timeless way.
Let me relate this to what it means to the Australian wool grower as an individual. A producer in my electorate had a forced sale of 1,150 bales in October 1971, bringing an average price of 18.66c a lb. Then the Government’s famous subsidy came in to extend the price to 36c. What an incredible act of generosity! When the Government did that this grower received, with the Government subsidy added in, 20.9c a lb. But he did not get this and the storekeepers did not get it either because it was syphoned off on the way. This grower then declared his own embargo. He was under pressure from all the people concerned in the wool industry to sell, to put in the wool, to throw it on the auction floor and hope to goodness that he might get 20c a lb. If he had accepted the guidance of his Government, the dictates of his creditors in this regard and the people who dominate the industry he would be on the financial scrap heap at this time. He would be bankrupt, finished.
– That is what they call rural reconstruction.
– As a matter of fact, under the rural reconstruction scheme he was not eligible for assistance because he was a hopeless case. He was not eligible for any further credit because he was a hopeless case. He was abandoned by his Government and everyone else. Because he said T will release my wool when it gets to 40c a lb’ he is now in a sound financial position. He reconstructed himself, based on his interpretation of the market and of the global figures which were also available to the Government. I want to put the point that the wool growers were forced to sell. Unfortunately they could not all do that. They were abandoned by the Government at that period and as a result we see today a reduction in the amount of wool that is available for sale. We see today the prospect of a shortage in the future. How long will it take to build up the clip commensurate with demand? It could take 3 years to 5 years. It cannot be done overnight. The Minister cannot come into the Parliament and say that things are going to get better so the growers should get the ewes busy again; it takes a little while. And ability to finance the desired expansion must be taken into account. So we face a situation now which is the product and fruit of the Government’s assessment and the Government’s policy.
This Bill comes down against the statements by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Primary Industry expressing concern that prices have risen too high. They say that we might be pricing ourselves out of world markets. What a terrible thing that prices have gone up so high. They say: ‘We express concern*. It is a pity that concern had not been reflected when the prices went too low, because this is a pattern in this industry. Prices are too high at 75c a lb!
– We have never said they were too high. You should read what was said so that you will know when you start quoting.
– I listened to the Minister for Primary Industry when he answered a question in the House today. He was very careful to juggle words, as he usually does. He is one of the best jugglers in the Parliament. There was no doubt in my mind at all that he was expressing his concern that wool prices were too high. Then he said - and I made a note of this - that it would be desirable-
– You are dead right.
– Just wait a minute. If the Minister feels that he is being misquoted I will be very happy to accept his word. He said that there was a need for a greater stability. This applied to both buyers and producers. I think that is a fair summation of what he said, that there was a need for greater stability for the buyers and the producers. We accept that proposition in its entirety. But what I have said constantly is that there has to be an established return to the wool producer. Of course, we would want to see that there was the stability of prices to the consumer, to the buyer, and a continuity of supply. But that cannot be achieved under the auction system which has the Government as its patron saint. The events of the last 20 years show that. So there is a need - an urgent need - for basic reform. The Government will not be able to achieve it. Certainly it will not achieve it with this particular piece of legislation.
The Government also has said, by inference, that it takes some credit for the fact that there has been an improvement in wool prices, but I might say that the Victorian Farmers Union has been very blunt in its assessment of the situation. It has said that the change in the climate for wool has nothing whatever to do with the initiatives of the Government, and nothing to do with what the Government failed to do or tried not to do. The summation of the Victorian Farmers Union is that the cycle of events has been completed again to come to a boon peak. So the Government need not think that in the countryside it has been recognised in any shape or form as the saviour of the wool industry. Indeed, people are now beginning to see that the policy of reduction, of cut-back has been wrong. It has been wrong not only in relation to wool but also in relation to wheat, dairying, coarse grains and beef. It has been wrong in relation to the whole of the economy of the country. The Government has never been more wrong than it has been in relation to wool.
What we have said is that the Government’s solution in relation to wool is not ours. I give notice that in Committee we will be moving the amendments that have been formulated by the honourable member for Dawson on behalf of the Opposition which agrees with them unanimously. The amendments propose that this new authority should formulate a detailed plan for the operation by the Corporation of a scheme to acquire and/ or market the Australian clip and to report this plan to the Parliament within 6 months of the commencement of this Act. This is our policy. This is our dedication to fundamental reform. We stand by it and we put it forward today.
– I rise to speak in this debate with 2 minds. I must say that I am very pleased that the Government has introduced certain legislation but I am terribly disappointed in the way in which the Opposition is treating the Bill. The House will recall that when the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) introduced the Bill into the House some weeks ago the first reaction we had from the Opposition was a request to delay its introduction. After all this claptrap we have heard from the Opposition over the months and years to the effect that the Government is not doing anything towards helping the industry, we see the Opposition immediately trying to introduce delay tactics.
We all regret that the shadow Minister for Primary Industry is ill, but the biggest disappointment of all was the fact that the Opposition appointed the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) as his substitute, and what a substitute he was. He waffled on and told us absolutely nothing about Labor policy in relation to wool. All he did was speak about what has happened in recent weeks and months. He told us nothing as to where the Labor Party stands on this issue of wool. The speech made by the honourable member for Riverina in the last half-hour has been the most disappointing we have heard from him. He endeavoured to misrepresent the statement made by the Minister this morning during question time. He accused the Minister of suggesting that the price of wool is too high. All I want to say to the honourable member for Riverina is that when he receives his copy of Hansard tomorrow morning he should read and study the reply made by the Minister.
This Bill has many implications and naturally must be classified as one of the most important Bills affecting Australia’s first industry, namely, the wool industry. This Bill establishes a Corporation combining the 2 organisations - the Australian Wool Commission and the Australian Wool Board - within the present establishment and gives the proposed Corporation the power to recommend what could be vast changes to the marketing and handling of the Australian wool clip as a whole, lt is being introduced at the behest of the Australian Wool Industry Conference because of the drastic changes that have taken place over recent times regarding financial returns to the wool growers.
A few years ago wool accounted for some 50 per cent of our export income and last year, despite the fact that there was very little reduction in quantity, its value dropped to less than 15 per cent of our export income. The Opposition has stated from time to time that this situation has been caused by Government decisions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The price of wool has dropped on the international market because of a number of factors outside our control.
– What about the rise?
– You just keep quiet. You know nothing about wool. I am surprised that the honourable member for Bendigo is on the list of Opposition members who are to speak on this subject. I had a further disappointment this morning when I looked at the list of Opposition speakers on this Bill. Although he is unable to be present, it is interesting to note that the shadow Minister for Primary Industry the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), who is a public servant, is on the list. He was to be followed by an honourable member for South Australia, Mr Fitzpatrick.
– I beg your pardon, he is a member from New South Wales.
– I am sorry, New South Wales.
– He represents one of the biggest woolgrowing areas.
– That is all right. We do not hear enough of the voices of the members from New South Wales, with the exception of one, and we hear too much from him. Anyway, the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick) is a union secretary. Next on the list is the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) who is a schoolteacher, then the honourable member for Riverina who is a journalist, and then the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) who is a former minister of religion. I am happy to report that every one of the S speakers on the Government side is a wool grower. This is why I say that the Opposition’s decisions and statements are certainly far from the truth. As I said a moment ago, the price of wool has dropped on the international market because of a number of factors outside the control of the Government. I refer to competition from other fibres and the uncertainty of the international currency situation a couple of years ago. The Government has been concerned about the future of this industry for quite a considerable time, and its concern goes far beyond the crisis that we have seen in recent times. On 2 occasions over the years the Commonwealth has put forward propositions to the industry so that it could make a decision in relation to marketing, with a certain amount of influence being directed towards acquisition or reserve price, but on both occasions the industry rejected the propositions.
Two years ago the then Minister for Primary Industry introduced a Bill to set up the Australian Wool Commission with authority to acquire those types of wool that were not in immediate demand and were not bringing a reasonable return. The Government then followed this up by introducing a guarantee on wool prices. As a result of these 2 issues, plus the firming of international currency, the price of wool started to improve. I pay a tribute to the then Minister for Primary Industry for the action he took at that time. Today we see the average price of wool at a reasonable level. Some people are prepared to suggest that it is running too high too quickly. Because this morning the Minister gave us a warning about what does happen when the price goes too high, immediately the honourable member for Riverina said that the Minister had said that the price was too high. I believe that prices are just returning to a reasonable level at this stage and that we should not be over-alarmed at this. Costs to the grazier have risen and inflation has affected the value of the finished article. As a result of these 2 factors the presentday price is certainly not an unreasonable one.
However, having said that, I believe the important issue is to have a suitable price and not one that is fluctuating unnecessarily from day to day. What has been concerning the Minister and, no doubt, many other people for quite some time is this fluctuating price and this constant upsurge of the price over a short period. I think we all agree that if the price of a commodity goes up too quickly it can come down equally as quickly; if it goes up slowly, it is more likely to stand at the new level. This must create uncertainty and lack of confidence in the industry, the very thing we are trying to avoid because of its repercussions. Fundamentally this Bill establishes a corporation and gives it the power to recommend alterations to the whole system of wool marketing and handling the Australian wool clip including, of course, an acquisition plan. However, this does not automatically mean that an acquisition plan will be introduced because the decisions of the industry and the Commonwealth and State governments must be considered.
Despite what the Opposition has been saying over recent months, the Government has been interested in the welfare of this industry. It has taken many steps to find a solution. It is not only paying lip service but is prepared to back its proposals financially. As an example I mention the guarantee of 36c a lb which has cost some $50m. The Government is continuing to put money into wool research and wool promotion, to guarantee funds borrowed for a reserve price and to guarantee loans sustained by the Corporation. It will continue to pay half the rehandling and brokers’ administration charges under the price averaging plan while that plan is still in operation. The Government will pay a proportion of the cost of the introduction of the lot building plan. This ls an indication that it is putting its money where its mouth is, unlike the Opposition.
Looking to the future of the industry in the broad, I believe that it is a bright one. I have had confidence in the wool industry for some time, and believe that the industry can look forward to better times. The first and foremost reason for my confidence is that people throughout the world now are realising that natural fibres, including wool, have ever so many more advantages and are more acceptable than artificial fibres. This is being proved every day and is why we are seeing th; demand there is for wool in many countries throughout the world. There is nothing like lack of confidence to ruin an industry and this is why we have seen extremely low prices. I believe that the Opposition must take a very large amount of responsibility for this situation. The honourable member for Hume. (Mr Pettit) has repeatedly referred to the prophets of doom sitting on my right in the Opposition. I believe that the statements that these people have made have created a lack of confidence in the industry. Once the international currency situation settled down confidence in the industry grew. Our present goal must be. stability, for stability in the wool industry will cure many of the evils in other industries. 1 am sure it will have a very favourable effect on some of our other commodities, and in this respect I mention wheat. Fix the price of wool and there is no doubt in my mind that many of the other industries will fall into line.
In conclusion I want to mention a few other points in relation to the reaction to and the effect of the increase in the price of wool. In the last 12 months we have had plenty of prophets of doom among members of the Opposition.
– They are all on the Government benches.
– What a ridiculous statement! It is a pity I have not a copy of Hansard showing some of the statements that have been made by the shadow Minister for Primary Industry, the honourable member for Dawson. I cannot remember them all or the dates on which they were made but they are worth studying. Perhaps some of the honourable members who are to follow in this debate would care to make a comment on them because I believe those statements prove where the prophets of doom have come from - the Opposition benches. We have heard also from the self appointed expert from the electorate of Riverina who is always talking of the dangers to this and that industry and certainly creating a lack of confidence. To my mind there are many people who are today adopting a different type of gloom in relation to the industry. They are talking about the threat from man-made fibres running counter to the welfare of the wool industry because we now might be pricing ourselves out of the market. These people rely on 2 comparisons. Firstly, they use the figures of 12 or 18 months ago when the Australian average wool price dropped to 29c a lb. Secondly, they use the wool price that was ruling in 1951. At that time it reached £1 a lb. Reports in the media show odd lots of wool bringing fantastic prices and immediately people start to tie the present prices to the 1951 prices.
Let me make this comparison. The price ruling in 1951 was £1 a lb or $2 a lb. An examination of the current prices will show that we have a long way to go to reach that figure. Most people in the wool industry would agree that 64s are recognised as a fair average type of clip. In the week ending 6th October this year the average price of 64s on a clean basis was 320c a kilo. One might think that is very close to the earlier prices but it has to be looked at in this way. The earlier prices were based on a lb as against a kilo today. As we all know, 1 lb is less than a half a kilo. Also some people are inclined to overlook, while some cannot even understand, the fact that the present rates are. based on clean wool, so automatically we can deduct about 40 per cent because of that. Finally, there has been a whittling away of the currency over the years. If we analyse all these factors we find that 1 lb of greasy wool today would buy less than 20 per cent of what it would have bought in 1951.
I mention these figures because there are too many people who are inclined to look at the current price and say: ‘Wool was up 15c yesterday’. They do not know what the 15c means. They do not know whether it is on a clean basis or whether it is based on a lb or a kilo or whether it has any relationship to the quality of the wool. Often we see the price of merino wool going up one day while strong wools stay steady. Next day the merino or fine wools stay steady and the cross-bred wools rise. So in the minds of some the price has gone up say 15c each day whereas in actual fact it has gone up only 15c over the 2 days, or whatever the figure might be. I welcome this Bill. I have not spoken on the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill but as it was only a matter of form there is perhaps little that I need say about it.
My time has just about expired so let me sum up the situation by telling the House of an experience I had recently. This will not be in the form of a story because it represents a factual situation. I was travelling home from Melbourne with my wife on 23rd June - I checked the date in my diary a minute ago - and as it was late in the evening we pulled up to have a meal. We sat down in the restaurant and a little later some gentlemen moved to the table behind us. They recognised me but I did not recognise them. After a while there was a comment made by them, very deliberately so that I could hear it. This happened a couple of times. Finally I turned around and realised that they were a couple of constituents of mine. One gentleman said to me: ‘Why don’t you fix the price of wool right now?’ I said: At what level?’ He said: ‘At today’s level’. This was on 23rd June. In my reply to him I said: T don’t think you would be satisfied with today’s price’. ‘My word I would’, he said. T sold my wool today and am very happy with the price’. On 23rd lune, on a clean basis the 64s were averaging 195c a kilo. Last week they were averaging over 300c a kilo. I wonder whether that fellow would still have been satisfied to fix the price at the earlier figure or whether he would like today’s figure.
Mr FitzPATRICK (Darling) (12.20) - The honourable member for Wimmera, the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr King), has stated that the Labor Party has not informed the House of its policy on the marketing and handling of wool. I remind the House that on many occasions the Opposition has put forward a very sound policy on this matter. As a matter of fact the Australian Labor Party’s policy is consistent with recommendations which have been put forward by the Wool Conference. We believe that within 6 months of these Bills being passed by the House a more detailed plan should be put before the Parliament. I challenge the Government to indicate when it wishes this detailed plan to be presented to this Parliament and then we can see who is sincere about putting policies before the Parliament.
The Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Primary Industry spoke about the prophets of doom. I remind the House that not only was the Government’s rural reconstruction scheme designed to reduce the number of wool growers but in my electorate it actually achieved this aim. There are fewer wool growers in my electorate now than prior to the introduction of some of these rural reconstruction schemes. In an attempt to get on a personal level the honourable member for Wimmera made a statement about trade unionists living in South Australia. I believe the honourable member was corrected on the point he raised with respect to South Australia. I am very proud of my connection with the trade union movement in New South Wales, but admittedly, my duties did extend to other States on occasions. This does not mean that I have never had any experience in the wool industry. As a matter of fact my family has had a long connection with the wool industry in Australia. I have worked on many wool properties and, probably something which the member for Wimmera could not lay claim to, I have also worked in a wool scour. I do not think that this has made me an expert on wool. I have listened to many good authorities and have read a lot about wool since entering this Parliament. I have spent some time studying these Bills before the Parliament today because they are of vital importance to many wool growers in my electorate. I have also studied the second reading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). I was in Rome with the Australian delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference when these 2 Bills were introduced into the House. I am very pleased to learn that the Minister reminded the House in his second reading speech of the following:
When the scheme was introduced in 1971 it was to have operated for 1 year only. In moving the second reading of the Bill last year 1 stated that the deficiency payments scheme should be viewed in the context of a total approach to the urgent problems affecting woolgrowers. Its purpose was to assist in preserving the wool industry’s viability and to provide a breathing space so that necessary adjustments in the industry could take place with a minimum of economic and social disruption.
I clearly remember this statement when it was made in 1971. I felt that it was a commonsense approach to the problem. It seemed to me to be useless to set out to assist wool growers by guaranteeing a reasonable return if it did not enable the growers to survive because of other factors affecting their viability. We all know that besides the price of wool many other factors affect the viability of wool growers. The Minister’s statement allowed a full debate on the whole problem facing th: wool grower. The Minister stated:
The scheme ls to operate on exactly the same lines as in 1971-72.
The Minister repeated the statement he made last year, lt must be his intention to consider the scheme in the context of a total approach to the problems affecting wool growers.
Honourable members no doubt will recall that in 1971 when the scheme was introduced protests were, made from both sides of the House about the large number of types of wool that were being excluded from the deficiency payments scheme. However, it ls true to say that there was a much greater protest from growers outside this House, so much so that some adjustment was made in the number of types of wool excluded. No doubt this was a slight gain for growers whose farms were situated in less favourable areas. But it took the spotlight off another injustice which these people had imposed upon them. I refer to the system of obtaining the average price of wool sold during the period, and then adding the percentage difference. This meant that a grower who sold his wool for an average of 20c a lb received a subsidy of 4c a lb and a grower who averaged 40c a lb received a subsidy of 8c a lb - exactly double the subsidy received by those who needed the assistance most. By acquiring only fine wools the Australian Wool Commission has, in effect, been paying a double subsidy to growers of good lines. The marked disparity in prices for these, lines, compared with lower grades, is ample proof of this contention. Many growers in my electorate felt that a fixed price on each pound of wool sold, regardless of price, would be a fairer way of distributing the subsidy. It would certainly help the small grower of less favoured lines.
Ever since the wool industry began to turn sour in the early 1960s, there have been suggestions of floor prices as a probable or possible solution. The Australian Wool Commission has maintained that its activities have improved the market. However, many woolgrowers claim that since its inception the market has been entirely false and that periodic improvements have not come from the activities of the Australian Wool Commission so much as from the continued agitation for a floor price. Another weakness of the Bill before us is the fact that in many cases subsidies paid to wool growers are held by wool brokers to satisfy debts and therefore are not passed on to the wool grower. This money is not finding its way into country areas at all. It leaves little or no money for the growers to pay shire rates and country business houses which would assist in relieving the very serious problem of unemployment in rural areas. In answer to a question I asked the Minister on this matter, he washed his hands of any responsibility in this regard by saying:
The Government does not intrude on the private operations of business between woolbrokers the buyers and their clients, but it is intended that the funds should be paid to the actual woolgrower’s account.
In some instances the funds may well be used by woolbrokers to satisfy outstanding indebtedness with the wool growers’ brokers.
In the past the pattern of financing operations in the wool industry has been to a large degree a borrowing of funds for stock purchases from wool brokers on the understanding and subject to a wool lien that the loans would be repaid when the wool proceeds were received by the wool brokers.
One would expect that the brokers will maintain at least the same level of credit for wool growers in the future as they have in the past.
All 1 can say is that if the Minister expected the brokers to maintain the same level to the wool growers he was a superoptimist because we all know now that they did not maintain the same level of credit to wool growers as they have done in the past. As a matter of fact wool growers found it nearly impossible to get any credit, even enough to maintain a decent living. Many of them collected this handout from the deficiency payment scheme and left the country areas altogether and have now invested in other more profitable areas and industries. It seems to me that when we have a national government which has the courage to attack the money lenders and the financiers who get rich at a time when people forced to do business with them are facing tragedy and financial hardship this country can say that it is beginning to make some real progress. It is quite clear that there must be some fundamental changes in the Government’s thinking about the wool industry’s future. It is perhaps true to say that this thinking has begun already, but the urgency of its translation into action seems to have escaped the attention of the Government. I believe that we all can be pleased about the present wool prices. They may well continue for a considerable time, but it would be unwise to base our long term planning on the prospect of continuing increases in prices. We should be looking at other areas for improvement.
The Minister is trying to convince us that a step has been taken in this direction by the introduction of a Bill to create a wool statutory body known as the Australian Wool Corporation, which is an amalgamation of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission. We are told that the prime objective of this Bill is to create an efficient and unified organisation so that the interests of the wool industry can be advanced in a businesslike manner. It will permit the integration of research and promotion with the marketing of the clip and thus enable a total and fully co-ordinated approach to be adopted in stimulating the demand for wool. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction, but it must come as a shock to many Australians to know at this stage, after hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to assist the wool industry, that the trouble was that it was not an efficient and unified organisation. In amalgamating the Wool Board and the Wool Commission into one body we are told that the Government is acting in accordance with the wishes of the industry because the Australian Wool Industry Conference submitted proposals to the Government recommending this action. An examination of the correspondence from- the Wool Industry Conference to the Minister will verify this and also that it was recommended that an acquisition plan be introduced by the authorities into the marketing arrangements for the Australian wool clip, ft went on to say:
The submission gives effect to a unanimous resolution! of Conference in November 1971 that the formation of such a body with the widest possible powers to co-ordinate and control the marketing of the clip be recommended to the Government.
I remind the House that this, unanimous decision was reached by the Wool Industry Conference in November 1971 and not at the conference of 16th March 1972. It is reasonable to surmise that- the- Australian Wool industry Conference had given a lot of thought and consideration to the question of the acquisition of the wool clip. We are often told by the Government how it acts in accordance with the wishes of the industry. One would have expected the Government to ask the Wool Industry Conference to submit a more detailed acquisition scheme at this stage, but this was not done. Instead the Conference proposals were handed over to be examined by the Randall Committee. At this stage it is being passed back to the new Wool Corporation to investigate so that it can bring down a detailed plan. At the same time a warning is issued by the Government that the plan needs to be acceptable to the wool industry, the State governments and the Commonwealth Government. There can be no doubt that when the Government wants to dodge its responsibilities on any matter the problem fs shunted over to the States. However on this occasion it appears that the Government is holding up progress as long as it can before it takes this step.
I appeal on behalf of the wool growers in my electorate for the Government to show some definite action on this matter. We do not want to wait for another 25 years while this matter is shunted from the wool growers to the Wool Industry Conference, to the State governments and back to the Federal Government. We want some action. The Australian Labor Party is saying that this detailed plan should be submitted to this Parliament within 6 months of these Bills passing the House. I ask the Government to put forward some definite date when it expects this detailed plan, which will be in the interests of the wool grower, to be presented to this Parliament.
– This legislation ls the latest of several major steps taken by the Government during the last year or so on behalf of the wool industry. Major initiatives have been required because this period has been amongst the most difficult ever experienced by the industry. There have been difficult times before but they have been different, because this time farmers saw prosperity and indeed relative affluence around them while they - wool growers in particular - were not sharing in this general rise in prosperity. In fact they have been the only section of the community to suffer a decline in their income and living standards in recent years. This has been reflected in country areas and the rural economy generally. There has been very real hardship in many individual cases.
This was the situation when the Australian Woo] Commission was established. Prices had fallen disastrously low due to a combination of factors, principally a world textile recession and a price cutting war amongst synthetic manufacturers. The original intention was that the Commission would operate on a potholing basis, evening out severe irregularities in the market. A further deterioration in prices led to a decision to put a floor under the market, but an extremely low floor working out at around 30c per lb national average. The Commission put the floor under the mar ket. The Government backed the Commission. In the circumstances prevailing at the time this was a brave decision. It may be argued that fortune favoured the brave, but the fact remains that subsequent events have demonstrated that it was also a correct decision. There is no certain way of determining what would have happened without the Wool Commission, but my personal opinion is that there was a very real danger of the market collapsing completely. We would then have had the situation of processors and manufacturers moving out of wool because they believed it had no future, and growers doing the same. In the incredibly short space of a few months wool is in danger now for completely opposite reasons. Most people connected with the industry feel that there is a real chance of wool pricing itself out of the market.
I think there are a number of lessons to be learned from our experience of last year. The first is that wool’s prosperity is inevitably tied to a confident and buoyant world trading situation, including currency stability and particularly the demand for textiles. The second - perhaps this is of more immediate importance in considering this legislation - is that the man has not yet been born who can with confidence and accuracy predict the future trend in fashion preference and consequently the demand and price for wool. This is very relevant to this legislation, because we need to look at the Opposition’s policy for primary products. One of the main planks in its primary industry policy is: . . appropriate measures to adjust the levels of farm production in balance with realistic domestic and overseas market demands in order to provide satisfactory prices to farmers and consumers with the aim of establishing industry on an economic, self-supporting basis within a definable period.
It reads very well. In fact, it almost rolls off the tongue. But let us analyse it, because it is highly relevant to the situation in the wool industry today.
As to ‘appropriate measures to adjust the level of farm production’, who decides what the appropriate measures should be? Indeed, who decides whether measures are appropriate? Heaven help our primary producers if these decisions are to be made by the Australian Labor Party. A decision having been made as to what is appropriate, how about the next objective, ‘the adjustment of levels of farm production’? Even assuming that by some miracle measures were found which were appropriate, even the Leader of the Opposition would be hard put to persuade the Almighty that He should co-operate by providing exactly the correct weather pattern over a country extending for 3 million square miles. Primary production throughout Australia will have to fit in with the decision arrived at by the Australian Labor Party. But that is not enough. Our production has to ‘balance with realistic domestic and overseas market demands’. At this point I am forced to the conclusion that the policy was written by people completely divorced from reality because it is assumed that the overseas countries will also have the weather decided for them by the ALP. Consumers will have their tastes and preferences in fashion controlled by this omniscient body of Solomons. It is about time, to coin a phrase, that the Australian farmers were made aware of what would be in store for them if the Opposition ever gained power in this country.
My main purpose in spending some time in discussing the policy of the Labor Party is to relate it to the present wool situation. In February of this year Mr Vines, the Chairman of the Australian Wool Commission, a man for whom I have very high respect and who would probably know as much about the world wool market situation as anyone, said that we could look forward to a price of around 40c per lb for greasy wool in the foreseeable future. He made the assessment with the best advice available to him from all over the world. I freely admit that having studied the evidence that was available I agreed with his assessment. Yet within a few months we have the almost unbelieveable spectacle of wool averaging over 100c per lb. So this new organisation, this corporation, is coming into being at a time when wool is facing difficulties, but difficulties of a completely different kind from those of a few months ago.
The main problem is that at the present level of wool prices, textile processors and manufacturers may substitute synthetics for wool in their production. Another fact which cannot be disregarded is the wide spread fluctuations in the price of woo], which make it more difficult for users to plan their purchases with any degree of certainty. However, despite this aspect of wool prices, there is no doubt that there is a new spirit of confidence and optimism in wool growing areas. Even one wool clip at present prices would be a tremendous help to thousands of hard pressed growers and to country towns and business men. In addition we have been provided with a wonderful opportunity to do something of real long term benefit to the industry, without the pressures of the emotional atmosphere inevitable in a time of disastrously low prices.
This legislation will result in far reaching changes in the structure of the wool industry organisations and in the methods of handling and marketing the wool clip; and it is not before time. It has been demonstrated that without any doubt substantial savings are possible in how we handle and sell our wool. Further, there is strong evidence to suggest that higher prices are. obtainable by selling methods other than those of the traditional open auction system.
We have to examine this legislation to see whether it will facilitate and encourage the changes that have been shown as being both practicable and desirable. In the main, the legislation follows the guidelines contained in the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), No. 64 of 1972. However, there is one omission which concerns me, and that is that there is no reference in the legislation, as there was in the Prime Minister’s statement, to ‘the desire of the Government to ensure the retention in the marketing system of efficient commercial innovators where consistent with the overall objective of efficient marketing’.
As a wool grower, I measure the efficiency of the marketing system by the net return I get for my wool. This really is the reason behind the whole legislation. The amalgamation of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission, our involvement in wool research and promotion, and improvements in wool handling techniques all have as the final objective a better return to wool growers. Therefore this legislation should be judged by the degree to which it is successful in achieving this objective. There is growing awareness in the industry that profound changes are taking place in the way that wool is prepared for sale and the way it is sold. These changes are built around the objective measurement of wool, which incidentally I first advocated here over 5 years ago, and the subsequent sale by sample and description.
These techniques are now well beyond the experimental stage and have been proved in practice by the Australian Objective Measurement Project. We await the report of that committee with keen anticipation. The techniques has also been proved by the independent organisation, Economic Wool Producers. It is already clear that the widespread adoption of the sale of wool by sample and description will render obsolete a great deal of existing investment in the industry. I refer in particular to the great number of large welllighted display stores, many of them built on valuable sites. The overhead costs involved in maintaining and running such establishments have become built into the cost of selling wool and these costs are ultimately borne by the grower. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if the costs were to become a permanent burden on the grower, right at a time when it has been demonstrated that they can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated. Unless every possible encouragement is given to stimulate innovation there is obviously a danger that the status quo will continue. After all, no organisation will make a lot of its investment redundant if it does not have to do so. So one reason I have for concern is that no mention is made of the Government’s desire to ensure retention of efficient commercial innovators in our wool marketing system. If innovation is not actively encouraged it will be inevitable that there will be a tendency to retain our existing outmoded and unnecessarily costly system. 1 therefore ask the Minister to give the firmest assurance that the Government stands by the Prime Minister’s statement No. 64 of 1972 which indicates a desire to retain commercial innovators in wool marketing. Further, 1 would like an assurance that the Government has no intention of hindering or putting obstacles in the way of such organisations expanding their activities when it is in the interests of wool growers that they do so.
In my opinion there is another cause for concern. I refer to the continual emphasis in the legislation on sale by auction. I do not think it is a coincidence that spokesmen or organisations who are currently strongly pressing for retention of the auction system as the main method of selling wool are all heavily involved in it. Obviously there is nothing sinister or surprising about that. It is perfectly natural that they should take that stand, but it does not automatically make the present auction system the best way of selling wool. There is a great deal of statistical evidence to show that sale by sealed tender gets growers a better return. I do not want to go into all the details now. I know that the Minister is aware that some very interesting material on the subject is becoming available. I realise that arguments can be put forward against an expansion of private wool selling. For example, it is said that it is not possible to tell how much wool is being sold; it makes estimates of national clip sizes extremely difficult; no-one knows what is being paid for the wool, so permitting the market to be undercut; and that if a substantial proportion of the clip is sold privately, there will be no reliable price determining mechanism.
None of those objections applies to sale by sealed tender. All buyers have full and free access to wool. The price received, the quantity and types sold and the amounts passed in are all published. Sales take place regularly and growers usually get their money quicker than through the auction system. As I stated earlier, evidence is growing that prices are better. In short, at the present stage of development it seems that sealed tender selling has many advantages over the open auction system. Therefore the second assurance I am seeking from the Minister is a firm undertaking that in no circumstances will sale by tender be disadvantaged or discriminated against in any way in relation to sale by auction, and that a clear distinction will be made between sale by tender and any other forms of selling which do not allow full and free access to wool. I do not suggest that sale by tender will ultimately turn out to be the best method of selling wool. Techniques are changing so rapidly that I would not be surprised to see other and better methods evolve. What is important is that no inhibitions or restrictions should be placed on it now, and no obstacles placed in the way of further change.
The key to the future of wool will be the industry’s ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances. In other words, there must be maximum flexibility. I feel sure that the Minister will be able to say that this is also the objective of the Government. The chairman and board members of the new Corporation face a formidable task of vital importance to all individual wool growers and to the Australian economy. It is imperative that we have the best men to do the job. I wish the Minister well in the formation of this Corporation and I look forward to the results of the Corporation’s investigations into the whole question of wool marketing. There are many other issues to which I could refer, but they are best left until the Corporation makes its report. The debate on the report should be one of the most interesting’ debates in the next Parliament after the Government is returned on 2nd December.
– The Bills before the House consitute a large scale abdication of national responsibility by this Government. The legislation is substantially irrelevant to the needs of a stable and profitable wool industry. I believe it is a deliberate and cynical plan to hold the clock back. The legislation subordinates the welfare of wool growers to those who thrive on what we call the free enterprise system of marketing. It uses the power of the state and all its paraphernalia to deny wool growers the effective power to regulate and control the marketing of their own product. The legislation postpones yet again, in the face of compelling evidence of the need for stabilisation and orderly marketing, reforms that the industry itself has stated in the clearest possible language are absolutely essential. The legislation exposes wool growers to punishment at the hands of economic forces that they as a collection of individuals are incapable of controlling alone and which, over 2 years, have brought thousands of wool growers to their knees and have driven thousands of wool growers out of business.
The Bills before the House today perpetuate the advantages that synthetics, as a material, are having over wool in their ability to offer a stable supply with stable prices. The legislation is yet another attempt at stalling the introduction of essential reforms in the marketing of wool under the pressure of powerful vested interests that have dominated the Liberal and Country Parkes’ policies for decades. It is a sell out of wool growers, their families and the country environments in which they live and operate. The basic needs of the wool industry, as I see them - of the grower and the user - are to provide for stability in the marketing of wool. The grower must be guaranteed a consistent profitability and, in turn, the user must be guaranteed a fibre that is offered at a commercially realistic price, based on a fair return and based on current demand. The present Government is incapable of dealing with the instability in wool prices and in the wool industry. The instability very largely has been created through the apathy of this Government.
We have seen continual hedging by the Federal Government on the fundamental question of acquisition. Even this morning we saw the spectacle of a Minister, who only last week made a statement calling for acquisition, backing off when asked whether he favoured acquisition. We have a disgraceful situation in which the prices being provided for wool growers are just as exposed to excessive fluctuations now as they were 2 years ago. We have a disgraceful situation in which the wool grower has no more chance of controlling the marketing of his product now than he had 2 years ago. We are no closer to stable, orderly marketing now than we were 2 years ago when wool had reached disastrously low prices.
Let us look at those prices. Last week they averaged 75c per lb. In 1967, the year of the referendum on the reserve price, wool averaged 52c per lb. In 1968- 69 it dropped back to 45c per lb. In May 1969 it was 50c per lb. Last year, 1970-71, wool was allowed to decline to below 30c per lb. In May 1971 it was allowed to collapse to 23c per lb. However, since August this year there has been a rise from 50c to 75c per lb. In this context one hears the statement that these are boom prices. They are nothing of the sort. They are at best satisfactory prices which should have been guaranteed to the wool grower all the time. They do not compare with the prices offered back in the early 1950s when we could really talk about boom prices. If one considers depreciation in relation to a price like 50c per lb which was paid in 1969, one will see that they are still very modest and basically only satisfactory prices.
This Government has a record of selling out the interests and the welfare of the Australian wool grower. All along, the Government has refused to tackle the fundamental problems affecting the wool grower. There has been a consistent refusal in the face of demands from the wool industry itself to acquire, appraise and market the entire clip. There has been a consistent refusal to allow wool growers to have the predominant say in the marketing of their own product. All the way along the Government has denied wool growers a guarantee for their product, stability for the whole industry and, in turn, stability for the nation’s income. Let us look very briefly at the price averaging plan which was introduced after the 1969 election. In no time that plan was condemned by the Australian Wool Industry Conference.
Briefly, let us look at the very dismal history of a Government which refuses to deal with the fundamental needs of the wool grower. There was the introduction of the $30m emergency grant for wool growers, offering a maximum of $1,500 to growers who had experienced a decline of 81 per cent for 1970-71 over their wool cheque for 1969-70. This scheme was riddled with injustices. It was badly thought out. It was introduced in haste and, once again, it exposed thousands of growers who were in dire need of assistance from the Government to economic circumstances that they could not control. It forced many of them out of production. The scheme was a disaster. If I remember correctly, only about $23m of that assistance was actually expended. The scheme was very badly organised. Of course, it had little significance in tackling the fundamental problems of the wool industry. 1 remember sending a number of telegrams on behalf of people in my electorate to the Minister for Primary Industry at the time, asking him to clarify the cases of eligibility for this assistance and asking him to postpone the closing date for the applications because many wool growers were dismayed and confused by the difficulties of the scheme. Many of them missed out, and basically they were the people who needed the assistance most of all.
Let me turn now to the Australian Wool Commission which, once again, was set up as a political act on the eve of a Senate election. It came into operation 2 days before the Senate election took place, just as this half baked and inadequate legislation now before the House is being presented to the Australian wool grower 7 weeks before the House of Representatives election. This scheme was introduced in a second reading speech in which the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) publicly disowned any attempt to pressure those who were buying wool into paying what we would regard as being a reasonable price. It was claimed that the Federal Government would not hold the wool buyer to ransom, the implication being that it would hold the wool grower to ransom. That system has had little effect in stabilising the market or in obtaining a fair price to the wool grower. I notice that many of the Country Party spokesmen are now saying that the reasonable prices now being offered are the result of activity by this Government. That is in complete contradiction to what was said by the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr King) who said that the recession in the price of wool was a result of international factors, not of policies.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the sitting was suspended I was criticising the Government’s refusal to tackle the basic problem of providing financial stability for wool growers, particularly marketing stability. I was outlining the milestones in what I regard as the betrayal of the basic interests of wool growers. I was referring to the Australian Wool Commission, which was established in 1970. I pointed out that its establishment was, in fact, an evasion of a request from the Australian Wool Industry Conference in April 1970 for a policy of total acquisition of the Australian wool clip, appraisal and marketing within a reserve price system. That request was ignored by the Federal Government. Instead, the Commission propped up the auction system and acted only as a competitor and a buyer rather than as a means of guaranteeing a consistent and profitable income for wool growers.
At the time the Australian Wool Commission was operating - I concede that it brought about an improvement on what otherwise would have been the situation - the price of wool fell from 29c per lb in October 1970 to 23c per lb in May 1971. So, when the Government claims that it has saved the wool growers it is essential to bear in mind that this Commission presided over a disastrous collapse in the price of wool. This situation has pertained for 2 years. Following the establishment of the Wool Commission, the rural reconstruction scheme was introduced which, again, was based on a continuing collapse in the price of wool. It was based on a policy announced by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on 6th December 1971 on a Monday Conference’ television programme. He said:
My Government believes that 11,000 to 14,000 wool growers have to go out of the industry.
This was a deliberate policy to phase out these wool growers announced by the Federal Government Clearly this objective has been achieved by its policy.
The rural reconstruction scheme was a restrictive and deliberately harsh policy aimed at driving people off the land. In the first 9 months of the scheme’s operation - according to figures I have just received from the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) - only a small number of growers had their applications processed. I will refer to processing in a minute, but I want to point out that many of the applications for rural reconstruction assistance were never processed because, in fact, State rural reconstruction authorities simply told growers: ‘Do not waste your time by putting in this application. You do not have a hope. There is no chance of you proving long-term economic viability’. Many of the growers did not bother to apply. Of those whose applications were processed in the first 9 months, from May to March of this year - the 1,954 wool growers throughout Australia who applied for assistance and had their applications processed - only 731, or 37 per cent, were approved for the granting of assistance. Of the growers who operated in both the wool and wheat industries, about 41 per cent had their applications processed successfully.
In New South Wales only 417 applications were processed. Yet we know that there was a colossal problem, for example, in western New South Wales. We know that in that area something like 360 applications were received for rural reconstruction assistance in the first 12 months and only 2 were successful. We know that there were similar large-scale rejections of applications in various parts of Victoria. In New South Wales in the first 9 months of the scheme 417 applications from wool growers were processed and only 132, or 32 per cent, were approved. At the same time, in Victoria, 629 applications from wool growers were processed and only 229 were approved - in other words, 38 per cent. Only 41 per cent of the farmers in the wool and wheat industries were successful in their applications.
At the same time there was a terribly low price for wool - a situation that was left completely untouched by the Federal Government - and thousands of farmers were left to struggle in a very severe debt situation or were forced off their properties. What should have been done? Obviously there should have been a system of marketing and national acquisition of the wool clip to guarantee a reserve price for growers. At the same time there should have been a genuine reconstruction scheme with a genuinely low interest rate, as low as 3 per cent, on long-term loans over 33 to 40 years and with no artificial limits being placed on the amount of funds available. The aim of that scheme would have been to keep people who had a reasonable chance of viability on their properties instead of driving them off.
The next Government scheme was the deficiency payments scheme. In itself, this again was a refusal to take basic action that was demanded by growers. They wanted a minimum reserve price of 45c per lb. Of course, the Country Party sold out and settled for 40c per lb and then argued with the Liberal Party. It came away throwing up its hands in delight that the wool growers had been granted a minimum price of 36c per lb. The deficiency payments scheme was, in fact, a sell-out of one of Australia’s most basic and valuable commodities. It was a squandering of $53m from public funds to subsidise giveaway prices to overseas buyers when the growers should have been guaranteed, by a stable marketing system, a reasonable return for their commodity. That was not offered to them. There is now an excessive fluctuation in the price of wool which is causing some concern. Only last week the Chairman of the Wool Board, Sir William Gunn, said that if a reserve price had been adopted in 1965 the instability that is now causing concern would not have taken place. In other words, if the stable marketing system which the Labor Party sought had been introduced in 1970, we would not have the situation we have today.
I turn now to the Wool Industry Bill now before the House. I regard it as being a betrayal of wool growers. It comes 2 years and 7 months after wool prices really started to collapse. It is an attempt to blockade the grower’s power to regulate the price of his own product. It is an attempt to subject the price of wool to excessive fluctuation and instability. It is a sabotage of essential reforms that have been called for by grower organisations. When this decision was announced in May, following a study of the Randall Committee’s report, the present leaders of the Country Party did not have the courage to state publicly that, in fact, the Government was not prepared to introduce an acquisition scheme. Since then they have cynically tried to tell country people throughout Australia that they favour and will introduce an acquisition scheme. Of course, they intend no such thing. We had the dishonesty, I believe, of the Minister for Primary Industry last week when he expressed support for a system of acquisition, as quoted in the Melbourne ‘Age’ of 6th October. He said: i hope the wool industry has learnt its lesson and will move as quickly as possible for the introduction of marketing reforms. . .
– Mr Speaker, I rise to order. Can an honourable member refer to a Minister as being dishonest?
– If the honourable member for Bendigo did refer to the Minister and was not referring to a statement
– Oh no, he referred-
– .Order! The honourable member for Mallee asked me a question. He will not elaborate on it. I am not sure whether the honourable member for Bendigo did refer to the Minister as being completely dishonest or whether he was referring to a statement.
– I think, Mr Speaker, that is within the Standing Orders. I am not sure which I was referring to, but I regard the Minister’s action as being basically dishonest. He is suggesting that he is in favour of a system of acquisition when in fact he is not and he is doing nothing about it.
-Order! If the honourable member is suggesting that the Minister is basically dishonest, I ask him to withdraw it.
– In deference to your request, Mr Speaker, I will withdraw it. I believe that the Minister should be here to defend himself instead of having to rely on a backbencher to do it. The point is that all the Government has done now is to agree upon a very mild reform involving the amalgamation of the Wool Board and the Wool Commission. It has sold out on the demand that has been put forward by growers for acquisition and has offered growers only the possibility of investigating an acquisition scheme.
I believe that the first priority for the wool industry is stability in a profitable future. This can come only through a stable marketing scheme. This new authority should have the power to acquire, appraise and market the entire dtp and to regulate marketing through auction, sale by tender, long term treaty or any combination of these possibilities. It should set out a reserve price which will never allow wool to be sold at a price lower than 50c per lb. It should aim at guaranteeing the wool grower a consistent profitability while offering the user a commodity at a commercially attractive and realistic price. There is no possibility at the present moment, under this scheme, that there will be any more stability of the wool industry in the future than there was when prices started to collapse in 1970.
– One of the tragedies about the Australian Labor Party is 1hat it has no one, in this House anyway, who knows anything about the production of wool.
– If the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick) went into a woolshed he would be accepted. People have seen people like him before in woolsheds. If the honourable, member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) went in, he, too, would be accepted providing he did not talk too much. If the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) went in, after the panic and surprise at his appearance had died down, they would probably spray him because they had never seen anybody like him before.
The first obvious matter that this legislation deals with is the bringing together of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission into a wool corporation. This concept has been accepted by the Australian Labor Party, by everyone in the industry and certainly by this side of the House as desirable in order to ensure a much more effective and cleaner administration with the lines of authority more definitely drawn. I think that the formation of the corporation will be an improvement. The quality of the people to be appointed to the corporation is of overwhelming importance. This is particularly so in the case of the chairman, who will have one of the most responsible jobs in Australia, lt is desperately important that the person who gets this very responsible post be an outstanding individual.
I would like to pay a tribute to the work of the Randal] Committee and particularly to Sir Richard Randall.
– Is he a wool grower?
– He knows a lot more about wool than the honourable member is ever likely to know. Sir Richard Randall left a responsible job as head of the Treasury to accept this position. He took over the difficult task of heading this Committee at a time when there was a great deal of pressure on the Committee from people who were anxious for it to give the right answers. I can wei understand the sense of urgency and I can also understand the irri tation of those who felt that the Committee was not giving the answers that some people wanted. I pay a tribute to the Committee and to Sir Richard in particular, because it displayed a sense of responsibility in not giving way to public clamour and not feeling that it had a political task to do but had the task of measuring and laying down the facts of the case. We now have the report of the Randall Committee, which is a first class document that spells out the facts. This was the responsibility of the Committee and it was met in a courageous and dedicated manner. I pay a tribute to it for the work it did.
The new corporation will have the task of looking at the question of marketing. If the corporation thinks that certain changes should be made, the details of these changes will be submitted for examination by the Government to see whether they should be instituted. Criticism has been made on the ground that we ought to have some system of marketing and that this responsibility should be taken from the corporation that is being appointed to drive the machine. Only a foolish person would say that an organisation cannot do a certain job until he is able to say what kind of job it ought to be. I think the Government expressed a completely responsible attitude when it said: ‘Now, we will appoint the corporation. We will get the best people we can. We will ask them to watch continually the methods of marketing and if new methods can be brought in they will submit these to the Government.’
There is a lot of loose talk about how easy it is to solve the problems of the wool industry by making quick marketing changes. Firstly, there has been a lot of argument about acquisition. I think that acquisition would be the Labor Party’s solution to the problem, lt is worth remembering that under the Constitution the Commonwealth has no power to acquire the Australian wool clip. This can be done only with the co-operation of the States, and this will not be easy to obtain. Secondly, it is worth pointing >ut that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the industry - and, I should think, amongst members of the Australian Labor Party - as to what the Labor Party means by acquisition, because there are so many different varieties and models of acquisition. I have never yet heard the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), who is the Australian Labor Party’s spokesman on primary industry, spell out what kind of acquisition scheme the Labor Party suddenly wants to introduce. Does he want an acquisition scheme that acquires the whole clip and sells it by auction, because if so he has never said that this is what he wants? Does he want to acquire the whole clip and sell it by tender or by some other method?
– What do you want? Never mind asking us what we want.
– I will tell the honourable member in a minute. Does he want to acquire the whole clip and sell it at a negotiated price. Many responsible people think that this is the solution. Other people say: ‘Well, we will acquire the whole clip and sell it at listed prices, and negotiation can take place between the acquisition authority and the buyer’. These are the kinds of problems that I think have not yet been examined by the Labor Party when it puts forward a scheme for acquisition.
What kind of acquisition scheme does the Labor Party want? I will be interested to be told by the honourable member for Dawson, who will follow me in the debate shortly, what sort of acquisition scheme his Party wants. I hope that the honourable member will spell this out in detail because it is no good saying that we are to have an acquisition scheme when, firstly, the constitutional problems are not taken into account and secondly there are 4 acquisition schemes with variations thereof. It is for this reason that I think it is a very responsible action of the Government to say to the corporation: ‘There is a problem. People are anxious that you examine the present system of selling wool.’
I repeat the Australian Labor Party should spell out in detail the type of acquisition scheme it wants. Would the Labor Party adopt a scheme which would mean acquisition of the whole clip and would this deny the private buyers and organisations such as Economic Wool Producers Ltd, this quite remarkable organisation that has set out to demonstrate there are other ways cf doing things, a place in the industry? So when the honourable member for Dawson speaks in this debate will he please spell out what kind of acquisition scheme he wants, because this is of vital importance to the industry? I repeat, the Government has taken a responsible attitude in asking the corporation to do just that thing - to spell out what kind of acquisition scheme it wants, how it is to work and how it is to be financed.
There are problems. The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street), with his typical thoroughness’ today spelt out the operations of the commission. A little while ago members on the Opposition side of the House and many members on this side accepted that the solution to the problem was to have a reserve price plan. We had a reserve price plan which gave us what many people asked for and what indeed the Australian Labor Party asked for. However, now members of the Labor Party say: “That is not really what we wanted. We must have ‘an acquisition scheme’. I am not convinced that acquisition is necessary now. I do not think it is. There are fundamental problems about operating an acquisition scheme if one does not have an auction system built into it. One of the problems, of course, is what the listed prices are to be. What is to be the limit level? The honourable member for Corangamite spelt out the very respected opinion of Mr Vines who said in February that the wool industry could not expect a price of more than 80c per lb. It would have been a very courageous acquisition authority which fixed a price at the end of June, which was the beginning of the season, at 100c per lb. You would have had to go right out to the end of the limb and you would have been recognised as exposing the industry to a withdrawal of support from the buying sector. Yet the price has risen much higher since then. I have nothing but the highest respect for Mr Vines. I think he is one of the most competent people in this field in Australia.
It is almost impossible to fix the price of things to run for a whole season when you have to do it ahead of the season, as obviously had to be done in this case. This brings out the fundamental problem. It is of no good talking about acquisition as a kind of cure-all unless you specify with some exactitude how the machine is to work. I have no philosophical problems about acquisition. I am not one of those who think it is wrong to have an acquisition scheme. I would quite willingly vote for an acquisition scheme if I thought it would give me either a higher price for my wool or greater handling economy. I think it is most important to be alive to the possible changes in the wool marketing scene and other possible ways of selling wool.
I commend to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and to the House the operation of the sealed tender system which I understand has been questioned in some quarters as not ‘being as good as the auction system. It is not the same as the auction system. I am not denouncing the auction system. I am saying, however, that there are other most effective ways of selling wool. The Economic Wool Producers organisation has demonstrated quite conclusively that you can sell under the sealed tender system and get excellent results. It has been said that under this system the results are not known and that people do not know the price level. This is not so. All rural newspapers publish the costs and they carry them in a much more detailed way, because they are assessed on a clean yield basis. It is said that sales occur too infrequently. EWP is selling every 2 weeks and if it continues to increase in size, as I expect it will because of considerable handling economy, I should think that it will quickly move on to one sale every week. Then the growers will get frequent measurements in the price of wool. It is said that this system does not give complete information about buyers, but this is just not so. You get far more information about buying strength and the spread of it under the sealed tender system, because you actually open the tenders and you can see where the buyers come from. It is said that this system does not disclose the interests ofthe buyers. I do not think this is so. Certainly under the sealed tender system there is a great deal more disclosure than there is under the auction system.
There are many other reasons why I think the sealed tender system will increase in usage. I think it will generally over the years demonstrate itself as a most effective way of selling portion of the Australian clip. I know there is a place for the auction system and I recognise that there is a respected place for the private buyer in certain circumstances. I have problems about the long term effects of private buying and I have no doubts whatever about the long term effects of the scaled tender system. I would appreciate it if the Minister when he replies bears in mind the remarks made by the honourable member for Corangamite, and reinforced by myself, that this legislation will not in any way sanctify the auction system. I repeat that I am not against the auction system but I think that there are other methods of selling wool and some of them will increase in usage and will be beneficial. I hope that when the Minister replies he will do what the honourable member for Corangamite and I have asked him to do, that is, to give us an assurance that in clause 38 (1.) (c) the words with the approval of the Minister’ are not designed, as some few people think they are, to sanctify the position of the auction system. I understand that this is not so, but it would put a lot of people’s minds at rest if we did have a clear statement from the Minister that this new Corporation is not in any way designed to perpetuate the auction system if other selling methods prove to be better.
I urge the Australian Labor Party with complete sincerity to have a look at its policy which the honourable member for Corangamite spelt out. I think the honourable member for Dawson will admit that I sum it up fairly when I say that Labor’s policy is to make a realistic assessment of the supply and demand situation and then to adjust the supply to the demand. The honourable member for Corangamite spelt out how perfectly splendid this is in theory and how impossible it is in practice. You have to realise that if you are to do it you have to say to the wool industry - and this is the cogent point - that there is going to be a fall in the demand for wool or an increase in the demand for wool. What kind of an answer would any corporation or any Labor government, if Labor happened to be in office, have given 2 years ago? Surely it must have been that all the economic factors pointed quite conclusively to a fall in the price of wool and a fall in demand. So 2 years ahead you would have to say to the industry: ‘We want you to produce less wool’. You would have to do it a long time ahead because the ewes have a large say in this. They require a 5-month gestation period, and usually the grower has to buy the rams beforehand even if he has not to buy ewes. It is long term planning. Should a drought occur in New South Wales or some other area the supply position would inevitably change. It is of no good talking about the desirability of making a realistic assessment of the demand situation unless you can do it. I have said in this House before and I repeat that if anybody in Australia, even members of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics or the dedicated officers of the Department of Primary Industry, had the ability to foresee the demand situation for any product 2 years ahead they would not belong to the Bureau or to the Department; they would be sitting in this House or in France with their feet in a bucket of champagne.
When you start talking about adjusting supply to demand the fundamental problem to overcome is firstly to find the demand. This is overwhelmingly difficult because you have to be able to foresee fashion trends. This is something I have never been able to do and I doubt whether even the honourable member for Dawson can do it. The honourable member for Riverina may very well be able to do it being a leader in that field. Having assessed the pattern of demand you have to adjust the supply to the demand. We ought not to delude ourselves that it is impossibly difficult. It is not for no reason that the best purchasers of our wool and our wheat are the Communist countries who desperately try to assess the demand and then try in their muddled ways to adjust the supply to it - forgetting that the weather turns them down, forgetting that fashion turns them down, forgetting that there are movements of commodities throughout the world. I beg the members of the Labor Party to have a look at this policy. It is a very fine phrase to use but it is important to realise that it is impossibly difficult to operate.
– I regret that I was unable to be here this morning due to illness. I was unable also to hear some of the speeches that were made but I did hear the speeches of the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly). The interesting thing about the honourable member for Wakefield is that he never ceases to take the opportunity to try to rubbish members of the Opposition on a personal basis. The trouble with the honourable member for Wakefield is that he goes around the countryside posing as some type of idiot. The tragedy of the matter is that it is sticking in a modest way. Both the honourable member for Corangamite and the honourable member for Wakefield have pointed out one of the deficiencies in this Bill in that apparently it is aimed almost exclusively at preserving the auction system until some other system is brought into effect. So to test the sincerity of those 2 honourable members the Opposition will move the amendment which has been circulated to clause 38(1.) (a). The amendment will be to add the words *or otherwise’. As both honourable members know, this will mean that we will not be restricted to the auction system. It makes it quite clear that account can be then taken of Economic Wool Producers Limited and any other organisation. So we will just see how good those honourable members are when it comes to the vote. So often in this Parliament we have heard the type of criticism which they made,, and then when a substantive motion is moved to clarify the position, what do Government members do?
– We vote in accordance with brain power.
– This, is not the type of debate in which we are used to hearing from the Postmaster-General. We know he is to retire shortly and we understand that he is interested in taking up some stud rams with his cattle. That is probably why he is here.
– You will not be one of them.
– Looking at you, 1 would not want to be. The Opposition supports the object of this Bill which is to amalgamate the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission. This has been part of our policy. We have stated it in the Parliament and outside the Parliament for a number of years. However, there are some very grave deficiencies in this Bill. The principal deficiency, as members of the Opposition see it, is that it does not contain any specific instructions to the Corporation to bring in any detailed plan of acquisition. In his second reading speech the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said:
Rather than delay action … the Government decided … to specifically empower the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question of wool marketing and to prepare a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme.
The Minister made this quite clear in his second reading speech, but honourable members should try to find it in the Bill itself. The closest one can get to it is clause 38, sub-clause (o). So the Opposition will move in Committee its amendment which refers specifically to acquisition and also stipulates that an acquisition plan should be brought before the Parliament, within 6. months. Despite what the Minister says in his second reading speech, the Bill does not actually instruct the Corporation to bring in a detailed acquisition plan in a specified time. Secondly, the Bill does not even give the Corporation the power to acquire wool even if there were an approved acquisition scheme. It is quite obvious thai this Bil) is a compromise between the pressures exerted by the Liberal Party and those exerted by the Country Party. The Bill is toothless as regards its powers. Its powers are no wider than those of the Wool Commission as regards the buying and selling of wool. Of course, it allows the Liberals to go to their friends the brokers and say: ‘Well, this is the end of acquisition’. It allows the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) to say: ‘Acquisition is just around the corner’. He said that last June or July, but nowhere in the Bill is there any specific instruction to the corporation to bring to the Parliament a detailed plan on acquisition.
The events of the last 2 or 3 weeks, i believe, have shown more than ever the necessity for marketing reform. As has been pointed out, we are not in a boom period if we look at prices in real terms. We have to look at the cost of production in relation to prices. For 2i years we have had nothing but procrastination on the part of the Liberal-Country Party Government. We have had 2i years of promises regarding marketing reform and acquisition. Celebrated committees have been set up to look at these matters and they have been chaired by celebrated public servants. We have had Sir John Crawford’s report and Sir Richard Randall’s report, and now the Corporation is to investigate the same matters as were investigated by Sir John Crawford and Sir Richard Randall, and again apparently it will bring in another report.
– Another alibi.
– Another alibi, as my honourable colleague says. What happens then? We know what will happen. The infamous inter-departmental committee will then meet and examine the Corporation’s report. So the circle goes around and around. By the time the inter-departmental committee meets and considers the plan it will probably be shelved or it will be so out of date that another committee will have to be established to examine the matter. This has been the sorry state of this Government for 2i years. If this Government really wanted marketing reforms and if’ it really wanted an acquisition scheme; within or without the auction system or combining both, it would have put such a proposal to the Australian Agricultural Council .for examination months or years ago. The fact is that the Government does not want these things because the coalition is torn apart by vested interests, particularly from the wool brokers’ point of view.
The honourable member for Wakefield stresses the point - he is completely right - that complementary legislation is needed. Of course it is. Every stabilisation scheme of any note in which the Commonwealth has taken part - this applies to any matter that one would like to mention - has to have complementary legislation in the States. Anybody knows this. There is nothing new in this. One of the problems of the acquisition scheme in relation to the Constitution, as I see it, will be the problem of acquiring all the clip. I cannot see any problem in acquiring that proportion of the clip which is exported - this will be the major portion of the clip - but there may be problems in acquiring that portion of. the clip which is to be consumed locally. However, this is such a small proportion of the clip that really it is irrelevant to the major issue. In the last 3 weeks we have seen dramatic increases in wool prices and a dramatic change in the economy of wool.
It is interesting to look at some of the predictions which were made when wool prices were at a disastrously low level by the so called experts, the arm chair economists, wool growers, industry leaders and others. They gave us various reasons why prices could not possibly rise to any great extent. Now the same experts are giving us the reasons why prices have risen. I want to know what is going to happen in the future. The principal point I want to hammer home is that this is all the more need for stabilisation In the industry; it is all the more need for a stabilised price based on acquisition “.in der a reserve price plan. One can form 3 basic conclusions from this reversal of form, if one wants to call it that, in wool prices.
One irrefutable fact is that price is determined by supply and demand. The forces of demand have obviously changed - that, is elementary. But the point is that this dramatic increase in prices has been manmade. It has not been caused by some issue which we can explain - an issue like the Korean war, drought or some extraneous thing that suddenly hit the market. It is man-made and this leads us to the conclusion that nobody has the ability to predict with certainty the behaviour of wool prices in Australia or, for that matter, in the world. These violent fluctuations we have seen in the last 3 years again point to the fact that we must have marketing reform with some degree of stability to iron out the fluctuations and give security to this great industry. Although the current trend in prices is wonderful news to the wool growers let us not forget that there are some uncertain and possibly dangerous elements in sudden increases in wool prices. First of all, the problem of instability and uncertainty is created because nobody knows what is going to happen even next week. Then there is the effect on consumer prices. We have heard all sorts of outlandish statements from the textile industry to the effect that the cost of suits will increase. We have heard of the effect on land prices and on the bankers’ policies in regard to the wool industry and the effect of synthetics. Will current wool prices mean that there will be a dramatic surge in the synthetics field? All these uncertainties need to be looked at and are why we need to have stability by way of a stabilisation scheme in respect of acquisition.
If the increase in the price of wool has a quantitative cause - and this must be so because it is an increase in demand relative to supply - why could the experts not predict this increase with some degree of reliability? It is no good saying that they did because we know that they did not and we know that nobody now is game to put his neck out and say what will happen to wool prices in 2 months time. We can all have our personal views, but so what! There can be all the econometric arguments under the sun about what has happened over the last 3 weeks but none of them will show why wool prices have suddenly increased as they have. We can build in our models but it still remains that nobody can predict what is to happen. If we had this acquistion scheme now - we should have had it at least 12 months ago - possibly some of this money could have gone into the revolving acquisition fund. Anybody who has any knowledge of stabilisation knows that the best time to implement a stabilisation scheme in any industry is when prices are moderate or good, not when prices are bedrock. This is the best time. It is the most happy time for all concerned at which to bring in a stabilisation scheme.
The honourable member for Wakefield has asked me to comment on the Labor Party’s policy on acquistion. I do not know how many times in this House I have given it. I will not go over it again and spell it out in detail but will give the honourable member a copy of it. It is there for all to see. Basically it embraces 3 broad principles. Firstly, there is the establishment of a statutory authority to acquire, appraise and market the Australian wool clip on behalf of wool growers. Secondly, there is the implementation of a reconstruction scheme to assist in the solution of problems of production and to streamline selling methods. And thirdly, there is the provision of a tariff compensation bounty. Our attitude on the acquistion scheme is set out in black and white. There is one thing that is needed and I am glad to see that the Minister for Primary Industry is now in the chamber. As I have already said. I regret that I was not here this morning.
– My apologies. I have been to the Japanese talks.
– Yes. Both the honourable member for Wakefield and the honourable member for Corangamite have raised the question of the Bill being slanted heavily towards the auction system. In the Committee stages I will move an amendment to add simply the words ‘or otherwise’ which will make it quite clear that we should take into account or protect the rights of economic wool producers and other organisations. I also want to hear the Minister speak on this subject because it is very important. What this wool Bill does is preserve and make stronger the auction system in Australia under the present legislation. The major deficiency in the Bill is that it does not make any provision for a report to the Parliament within a specified time. In his second reading speech the Minister said: . . the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question of wool marketing and to prepare a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme. . . .
The Opposition agrees with that but we want to see those words written into the legislation. We also want to see a time period stated in the legislation rather than there being allowed some fanciful time in the future which could mean 3 months, 6 months or 5 years. After all, one of the main reasons why this Bill has been introduced is to amalgamate the Wool Board and the Wool Commission and allow the Corporation to introduce an acquisition scheme and then operate the acquisition scheme. This Bill is not good enough the way it is drafted. These provisions have to be written in specifically. When I listened to the Minister’s second reading speech I was very pleased to hear these matters promised, but when I looked at the Bill I could not find them. The nearest reference I could find was in clause 38 (i) (o). It is essential that a time limit be attached to this. We just cannot go on and on having more committees inquiring into the acquisition of wool or any equivalent method. The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), as we all know, had something to say on acquisition.
– I know that the growers would go broke and I want to save them.
– I am glad he has interjected because on 10th August 1970 he warned Prime Minister Gorton that any attempt to interfere with the auction system would bring about the disintegration of the Liberal Party and the downfall of the coalition Government. He said: ‘We licked them before and we will lick them again’. He is a Liberal Party member. How on earth can the Country Party associate itself with these types of ideas? But it does so and this is the tragedy of the coalition Government. The Country Party lets statements like that go unchallenged. Why does somebody in the Country Party not stand up and tell the honourable member for Mitchell the facts of life? And why does the honourable member for Mitchell not stand up here and say what I have read out? Of course he would not because there is an election coming on. He speaks outside the Parliament and rubbishes the coalition but why does he not come inside the Parliament and say the words which I have read out? 1 would like to have much longer to speak on this subject of supply and demand.
The honourable member for Wakefield voted in this House for the wheat stabilisation scheme and for the first advance payment. He knows very well that that restricts the supply of wheat in Australia under the quota system. Why does he not rubbish the wheat quota system or the international Sugar Agreement? Why does he not rubbish the 2 price stabilisation scheme for the dairying industry or the tobacco industry legislation? These schemes are all designed to try to balance supply and demand, a principle I support. I accept what the honourable member has said about difficulties in livestock production. We are all aware of those difficulties. Members of the Country Party many times have said inside and outside of this House that there may be need for supply management. I accept that also. In general I believe it is a good principle to try to balance supply and demand. Business does this as do farmers. We all try to do it.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The legislation we are considering concerns the Australian wool industry. It draws together 2 previous Acts, one relating to promotion and research and the other relating to wool marketing by the Australian Wool Commission. The legislation is a result of a report submitted by Australian wool growers to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and the Government in March of this year. In this report the Government was requested to do certain things for the Australian wool industry. One request was that the 2 bodies operating in Australia with respect to marketing and promotion and research be brought together under one piece of legislation and an authority be set up charged with the responsibility for both. Also in the report of the Australian Wool Industry Conference certain things were said about the future marketing of the Australian wool clip. Although nothing was spelt out in any precise detail there were indications of what was required in future.
It is, of course, a policy of the Government to negotiate with an industry in an endeavour to arrive at a conclusion of assistance to the industry. During the last year or so much has been said about what should be done with the wool industry. The word ‘acquisition’ has been used frequently but, regardless of what has been said, it has not been spelt out in detail what the actual machinery of an acquisiion plan would be. The report which was presented in March did not spell out in detail many of the things which are required. One I can recall is where the capital would come from for any particular scheme. The report did not spell out what the reserves would be. This is an important element of any plan involving acquisition. The Australian growers would want to know what they would receive. If an acquisition scheme had been established 12 months ago one can imagine what that figure would have been and how unrealistic it would be with today’s prices.
On many occasions during the last two or three years I have said that there is nothing wrong with wool except perhaps the way it is marketed in Australia. There is nothing wrong with the product. I have said frequently in this House that wool is worth money, but no-one would listen to me a year or so ago. The position with respect to wool today is no different from what it has been for the last 100 years. We can set up all the committees we like, rake over the ashes and drag it all out again but we will come to precisely the same conclusion. History will show, as I have said before, that when an adverse price situation arises and the situation is taken under control a reasonable price level will be achieved. I remind honourable members of the situation in 1921 when Mr Hughes was Prime Minister. He did not have the money or the machinery to do anything about the existing situation in the wool industry but he used customs and excise powers to prevent wool moving out of Australia below a certain price. Immediately wool prices moved up and a reasonable situation was attained. After the last war 10 million bales of wool were in store in Australia, America and Britain. It was then said that we would never sell the wool. The post Joint Organisation scheme was implemented and it continued until 1950. The price of wool did not cease to rise from the 1945-46 period until 1951 by which time the whole of the 10 million bales of surplus wool - most of it Australian - had been fed into the markets.
Last year I said that there was no problem concerning the buying of wool, regardless of what was being said by others, and that all we had to do was to stand firm. I think almost everyone in Australia had the jitters then. The Press and the wool growers had the jitters. Certainly members of this House had the jitters about the future of wool. However one cannot within a year or so alter a fibre like wool and the uses to which it can be put. We have not been wrong in the last 100 years and we will not be wrong in the next 100 years. A lot of shenanigans were going on around the world, but this was nothing new. Of course, the Australian Labor Party was one of the biggest offenders. It is interesting to look at the Hansard record of 17th March 1971 when the honourable member who leads for the Labor Party in this House on matters concerning wool made certain statements condemning the Australian Government for supporting the Wool Commission. He said that the action being taken by the Commission to stockpile wool would mean the end of the Australian wool industry. I do not want to bore the House and take up all my time by reading everything he said but he said, amongst other things, that as the Commission buys and stockpiles raw wool synthetics will progressively catch up and gain an increasing share of the world textile markets.
– Who said that?
– The honourable member for Dawson said that on 17th March 1971. He said a lot of other things at that time which are recorded in Hansard. It is not what machinery this House may adopt, or what complementary machinery the State Houses introduce if we have an acquisition scheme, that is all important. Bills such as the one in front of us today or future Bills are not all that is required, although they must provide whatever authority we establish with powers to do what is necessary. We need men to back the commission or authority which we set up. We need men who will stand up to pressure and back the authority, as the Government did. Reading in Hansard of 17th March 1971 what the honourable member for Dawson said, it is obvious that the Opposition would not have backed the Commission. What he said appears in Hansard in black and white. If it would not back the Commission at the time when the pressure was on, it is no good for the Labor Party to talk about an acquisition scheme, because it would not back that either when the pressure was on. It is not only the machinery that counts; it is the men who are handling the situation who matter. History shows this again and again right down the line.
Wool is a tremendous fibre. It is not related directly to synthetics. As I have said many times previously, anybody who now wants to argue with that statement has not read about what has been going on in the last 6 or 8 months. Synthetic fibres, of course, have a place in the world. Nobody argues against this. They have a place to fill in the world and they have a price at which to fit into the industry. But wool fits into a completely different category. Wool is a unique fibre that has not yet been able to be copied by any manmade fibres. I doubt whether anyone will ever succeed in doing that. People have spent countless millions trying to copy it but they have failed dismally to this point. Campaigns directed not at the quality of wool but at putting synthetics on the top of the counter and wool under the counter have failed dismally. People around the world have realised that they want woollen fabrics to wear instead of the synthetics which have been pushed on to them.
As I said before, wool can stand on its own feet without any problems, if it is given an opportunity, under a direct marketing plan. Surely this has been proved beyond doubt not only at this time but at several other times in the history of wool in the Australian market. Of course, when any wool Bill has been brought into the House the Labor Party has moved for an immediate acquisition of the Australian wool clip. I feel sure that the growers of wool in. Australia want spelt out precisely what sort of scheme is to be brought down. That is one of the purposes of this Bill. It sets out that one of the functions of the authority that we are setting up is to report back to the Government and the growers themselves means and ways of improving the marketing of wool. It has been suggested this afternoon that there is no provision in this Bill whereby the authority can acquire the total clip. For the benefit of the House I read from Part III of the Bill, which deals with wool marketing. Clause 38 (1.) (o) states: to inquire into (whether alone or in co-operation with other authorities and organisations), and from time to time report to the Minister and the Australian Wool Industry Conference upon, methods of marketing wool’ (including any changes in wool marketing procedures that the Corporation considers necessary to enable the Corporation to exercise control over the marketing of all wool . . . and any other matters connected with the marketing’ of wool.
That is a very broad clause. It was stated that the original Bill setting up the Australian Wool Commission had no teeth and was powerless to do anything. This was stated all over Australia ‘and it was no doubt stated in this House. One might care to look at the records. Clause 19, especially the last couple of lines, of the original Bill gave the Commission and the Government all the power it required. The establishment of the Commission with the backing of the Government proved to be the correct procedure when the pressure was applied last year and the Commission was buying up to 30 per cent of the wool sold. It finished up buying up almost one million bales of wool.
The Labor Party was in complete panic. This is all recorded in Hansard. The Press, of course, was against the Government and against the Commission. Its opposition was displayed in headlines all over Australia. It talked about the hand-outs to the Australian wool industry and the Australian wool growers. The money they received was not in the form of hand-outs. It was money borrowed from the Government, from the banks, on which the Commission paid interest on a commercial basis. The Government and the Commission had the courage to stand up to the tactics that were being adopted and to the position in which we found ourselves at that time. In December of last year, the Government introduced another Bill to make available $30m to back the Commission further, and by the February sales of this year the game was over. But had the Commission not stood with the Government and had the Government not backed the Commission the game would not have been over today. What is Important with legislation of this type, whether it relates to wheat, wool, tobacco or any other commodity, is that we must have people who know what it is all about and stand up to any adversities which may affect its operation. We need men who will back and have faith in their own country and the produce of their country.
This Bill will give the Corporation the same powers as the Commission already has. It can put a floor under the price of wool at any level it likes. That is precisely what the Commission has been doing, and it has won. It has fed the wool onto the market to be sold at a considerable profit. Much has been said in the last few weeks about the present price of wool. I often wonder how many people sit down and think and study the situation before they say what some people in the Press and elsewhere around Australia have been saying about the present price of wool, as if it is terribly high. There is very little relationship between the raw cost of wool, that is, greasy wool, and the cost of the finished article to the end user. I have given in this House statistics from Japan and Australia. In 1968 when wool was at a reasonable price, the return to the woolgrower for a man’s suit or a lady’s woollen garment was only 4.5c in the dollar. The price of wool proceeded to move down and the return to the grower dropped to 2c and as low as one cent in the dollar for providing the raw material. Last year or earlier this year, from an English suit purchased off the rack at any one of the major stores In Australia the return to the grower was about one cent in the dollar. I have cited these figures before but nobody cared to publish them. Today, with wool at its present price, the wool grower is still receiving only a very small percentage of the selling price of the foreign article. I have said before that last year the entire wool clip could have been given to overseas textile manufacturers and it would not have made one iota of difference to the price paid by the end user of the woollen product. These are not my figures. They are taken from surveys conducted in Japan and Australia which show that the retailers and wholesalers were taking about 57c in every $1.
In those circumstances would anybody say that I as a responsible citizen and member of Parliament should say here that the price of wool is too high? The people in the Northern Hemisphere realise what happened in relation to synthetics and the pressures applied to the wool industry over the last few years. They know quite well that they now have to pay for wool to get it back into the factories because wool production is falling so rapidly. Not only has the Australian wool industry been in jeopardy; so also has the wool industry in the Northern Hemisphere. Without the raw material the millions of dollars that are wrapped up in textile manufacturing concerns will be of little use to those concerns. I feel quite confident that the world has again learned a lesson, but it is up to us to do the right thing.
– But have you learned a lesson?
– I have known the story for many years. The honourable member should read some of my speeches. It is up to Australia to do the right thing in relation to the marketing of raw materials. The States also have a responsibility because under our Constitution the produce of the States comes within the jurisdiction of the States. The wool industry is still the biggest industry in Australia and it will be for many years to come. I expect that the authority being set up by this legislation will shortly advise the Government on the new marketing techniques which it should know from experience are required to put the wool industry on a sound basis.
Debate (on motion by Mr Duthie) adjourned.
– I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving a motion requiring the tabling of -
all files held by the Department of Civil Aviation relating in any way to the dealings with Jetair Australia Ltd,
all files held by the Auditor-General relating to the acquisition of DC3 aircraft for Nepal, Laos and Cambodia,
all documents missing from the files of the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Supply, tabled in the Senate on 27th September 1972, and
where any document referred to in paragraph (c) was withheld for security reasons, a statement indicating the subject and classification of that document.
I have moved this motion because of the urgent need for clarification of a number of matters of great doubt and anxiety before this Parliament ends. We have 6 sitting days left. There will be an election in 6 weeks. It would be intolerable if the, Parliament were to end before all the available material and documents were disclosed concerning 2 most serious matters. It would be intolerable if a Prime Minister seeking re-election as head of this nation’s Government were to go to the people under such a heavy cloud of doubt. There are 2 most serious matters involving the, Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in this affair. There are 2 most serious questions that must be answered and they can be answered only if the Parliament has available the documents mentioned in my motion. And they must be answered before this Parliament ends - before we all go to the people. The questions are: (1) Did the Prime Minister, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, exercise proper, sufficient and responsible care in the discharge of his ministerial duties. (2) Did he, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and subsequently as Prime Minister, mislead the Parliament in answers to questions, and did Ministers in the Senate speaking on his behalf mislead the Parliament? All the evidence so far available to us indicates that there was a serious breach of ministerial responsibility and that the House and the Senate have been consistently misled.
Only by tabling the further documents can the Parliament learn the full truth of this matter. Let me give just one example of why the House should have these documents. On 28th September, a fortnight ago, I asked the Prime Minister:
The Prime Minister will recall that on several occasions the Ministers representing him in the Senate have replied to questions about the purchase of 6 DC3 aircraft from Jetair Australia Ltd and they have asserted that an acceptance of an Australian offer of aircraft was received from Cambodia on 8th January last year. I ask the right honourable gentleman how he explains that the documents tabled in the Senate indicated no such acceptance until more than a month after that date. Does he recall what was the nature of the communication of 8th January 1971? Will he table that communication?
I do not know the details associated with this matter. I will have a discussion with the Department about it.
Later the same day, a fortnight ago, I asked the Prime Minister:
I asked the Prime Minister why he told the honourable member for Mitchellin February last year that negotiations were commenced for the purchase and delivery to Cambodia, Laos and Nepal of 11 DC3 aircraft, or a little over a year before, when, as nowappears from documents tabled in the Senate, the negotiations had taken place during the preceding month, or a month before that alone?
I will obtain the facts relating to this particular part of the transaction from the Department of Foreign Affairs and I will let the honourable member know about it.
Two days ago I again asked the Prime Minister, repeating his replies:
Last sitting day he told me he would have a discussion with his Department about the answers given on his behalf in the Senate to the effect that an acceptance of the offer of DC3 aircraft was received from Cambodia on 8th Januarylast year although the documents now tabled in the Senate indicate no such acceptance until more than a month after that date. The Prime Minister also told me that he would let me know why in February last year he gave an answer that negotiations were commenced for the purchase and delivery of such aircraft a little over a year before whereas the tabled documents show that the negotiations had taken place only during the preceding month or 2 and that he himself had approved a submission on 1st January last year which indicated that the Cambodians had not even been approached. I again ask why these answers were given on his behalf about the date of theacceptance of the offer and why he himself gave this answer on the date of the negotiations.
As I am no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs I believe this matter should be left in the hands of the present Minister for Foreign Affairs, or as the problem is being handled in the Senate also, the
Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Senate. I will ensure that they give answers to the Leader of the Opposition.
What has happend since then? Until 15 minutes ago, precisely nothing. Between my reading the motion and my commencing this speech I had had no information from the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is information which should have been available to the Prime Minister or to the Minister for Foreign Affairs within 5 minutes. Yet on half a dozen occasions within the last 48 hours I have been fobbed off by the Minister. 1 have been told that he is too busy. We have to ask in such circumstances the reason for the delay, for the apparent inability or unwillingness of the Minister and his Department to provide promptly some basic factual information sought 14 days ago and promised again 2 days ago.
Now I have the answer from the Minister which states
Negotiations for the purchase and delivery of aircraft under Australian aid programmes to foreign governments commenced in 1969. Thereafter, it was a continuing process. Nepal wa’s the first, to be followed shortly after by Laos and, finely, in December 1970 by Cambodia.
There is still no reference to the nature of the document of acceptance. There is no tabling of the document of acceptance. There is no reference to the question and to the part of the question to which the letter refers. There is no statement as to with whom the negotiations were conducted concerning Cambodia and whether negotiations commenced at the beginning or the end of December.
A whole range of questions has been raised in the public mind on this affair. For instance, why did the Prime Minister insist upon a redrafting of the proposed Press release relating to the gift of aircraft to Nepal, Laos and Cambodia? Why did a Foreign Affairs officer write to the Secretary of the Department on 12th February 1971:
Minister rang yesterday evening about Press release on DCS aircraft for Nepal, Laos and Cambodia. He wanted it redrafted so as not to appear to be a new project or an unnecessary expenditure of Government funds.
Why did the statement issued by the Prime Minister on 14th February subsequently read:
The supply of these aircraft would meet commitments Australia had made to each of these countries at various stages during the past year.
Yet in fact the documents already available to the Parliament reveal that there had been no commitments or even discussions with Cambodia until the month before. In fact a request had been extracted from the Cambodian Government - apparently only with some difficulty - only a few weeks before the Prime Minister drafted and redrafted this misleading statement. Further, on 18th February he gave a misleading answer in the Parliament. It was a false statement. He was not caught by surprise. He took 2 columns - 98 lines - of Hansard to answer this question without notice. Methinks he protesteth too much.
Why did Sir Kenneth Bailey write his extraordinary memorandum on the subject? Why, as recently as yesterday, did the Prime Minister say that Ministers do not customarily go behind recommendations to see whether a Permanent Head has fully carried out his responsibilities. Did the Prime Minister not recall that he, in fact, had approved the recommendations for the purchase of the aircraft not just once but twice, and did he not recall that the second approval was granted after the internal controversy had arisen between the Department of Supply and his own Department? Was he not aware - surely he must have been aware - of his failure to observe proper procedures? Is it not a fact that the then Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), intervened in the matter, apparently as soon as he became aware that improper procedures had been followed? Did the then Prime Minister not insist that the present Prime Minister amend the proposed statement to be made by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson? This was not a minor matter which might have escaped the attention of a busy Minister - so busy that he was working on New Year’s Day last year when he approved the purchase. This was not something that should have escaped even his own phenomenal memory. It was a matter that involved serious dispute between departments and which had even been a matter for discussion between the then Prime Minister and the present Prime Minister.
Why was no investigation made about the availability of other aircraft? What was the role of the Department of Civil Aviation in this affair? What was the extraordinary rush between the middle of December and 1st January? Why throughout detailed questioning in the Senate did Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson hide the very real differences of opinion about the purchase within his Department and between that Department and the Foreign Ministry? Why, for instance, when Senator Turnbull asked about the availability of other aircraft, did he say:
I would not know what they looked at at all. I do not know and I do not propose to find out. The fact of the matter is that they made a judgment and a recommendation to their Department and they are satisfied that it was and is a good purchase. I think that is where it finishes.
The fact is that the documents so far revealed show that Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson had given a thoroughly misleading account of the transaction. One could go through a whole list of questions from February last year right up to now and find similar gross discrepancies between the statements made in the Parliament by the Prime Minister and Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson as against the facts partly revealed by the documents already tabled in the Senate.
This matter has to be cleared up before the Parliament ends. I cannot give a list of the documents which are missing. I will give them to the Press outside the House. The matters I have referred to do not involve matters relating to other governments which were withheld when the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) tabled the existing files in the Senate. They are references to other diplomatic cables, and it should be pointed out that diplomatic cables classified ‘confidential’ have in fact been released. But there are others which are now pleaded to be confidential. Whilst accepting that some of these matters may require continued confidentiality, the terms of my motion indicate that the Parliament should be given a list of the documents withheld, indicating at least their general subject matter as distinct from their contents. Only in this way can the Parliament assure itself that the Prime Minister and several other Ministers have discharged their responsibilities with propriety, efficiency and candour.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– May I move an extension of time for the Leader of the Opposition?
– Before the honourable member does that, let me remind him that the entire debate is limited to 25 minutes. Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.
– Before rising to reply to this motion, I would give the Leader of the Opposition leave to incorporate in Hansard the documents that are missing, if he chooses to exercise that option.
– I thank the Prime Minister. I ask leave to incorporate in Hansard the references I have here to the documents in the files tabled in the Senate which those files show to be missing.
– There being no objection, leave is granted. (The details are as follows) -
Files already tabled in the Senate are, as I have explained, incomplete. There are folios missing from the files themselves and there are documents referred to in the files which do not appear elsewhere in those files. The file from the Department of Supply indicates that folio 10 and 127 have been removed and the note on the file states that they ‘have been removed for the reasons explained’. 1 am unaware of any such explanation and it should be presented to the House. Similarly, In one of the two Department of Foreign Affairs files folios 3. 4, 5, 11, 13, 35 and 36 are missing from the files. We also find a reference in the catalogue prepared by the AuditorGeneral’s Department to the Department of Supply intimating on 8th December that the specifications for alteration of the ex-RAAF DC- 3s had been completed. The earlier delayed process had apparently been completed just as the Jetair negotiations began. We are unaware of what th’is intimation can be. There is no further reference to it on the file. Similarly, at folio 72 of the Department of Foreign Affairs file we find a reference to a record of discussion between the Secretary of the Department of Supply and the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs. No such record appears on the file. Similarly we find a reference to a note from the Minister for Foreign Affairs dated 19th February 1971 which was originally attached to the departmental submission found at folio 144 of that department’s file. No such note is found in. the documents tabled. However we have not been given cable No. 006 of 7th January 1971 from the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, nor cable No. 37, No. 33, No. 180. These are referred to in folios 12, 15, 18 and 254 respectively of the Foreign Affairs files.
– I have listened with a lot of attention to what has been said by the
Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). First of all I would like to outline the circumstances that existed when the aircraft were purchased from Jetair Australia Ltd. It will be remembered that at that time a blatant attack had been made by the North Vietnamese upon the Khmer Republic and we with our colleagues in the United States of America were anxious to be able to give the maximum assistance that we could, consistent with our budgetary and financial positions, to permit the Khmer Republic to resist the North Vietnamese attack and to permit that country to survive. Also at that time we were conscious of the fact - I think this would have been known to all members of the House - that if Cambodia had fallen, the danger to South Vietnam would have become greater and the prospect of survival of South Vietnam would have become increasingly endangered.
– What kind of aircraft were these?
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence. I intend to see that the same courtesy is extended to the Prime Minister.
– Those were the conditions which existed when the Jetair aircraft were purchased. I would like to add this as one single comment before I continue with the debate: Until a minute was submitted to me by the Permanent Head of the Department of Foreign Affairs 1 had never heard of the company, Jetair Australia Ltd. I did not know what kind of business it carried on. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the Bartons and I had never had any commercial transactions with them. If they had passed me in the street I would not know who they were. As to Mr John Bovill, he happens to live, or once lived - I do not know whether he still does - in the same street as I live at present. I have never had any business connections with Mr John Bovill. My relationships with him have been social and no more. I have very seldom seen him in the last 3 years, and on the occasions I have seen him I have said no more than: ‘Good day. How are you?’ I have never had a conversation with him during that period. In other words, my knowledge of Jetair was minimal until the date I received the first minute from my Department.
The Government will oppose the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
But I will put in its place what we are prepared to do. We are prepared to table all papers held by the Department of Civil Aviation relating in any way to the purchase from Jetair Australia Ltd of aircraft for foreign aid purposes. In relation to papers held by the Auditor-General on the acquisition of aircraft from Jetair Australia Ltd, it may be contrary to the public interest because of legal and other proprieties to table such papers. However, the Government is prepared to offer the papers for inspection by the Leader of the Opposition. In regard to points (c) and (d) of the Leader of the Opposition’s motton, so far as the papers relating to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Supply, which have been tabled, are concerned, certain documents were excluded for reasons of ordinary parliamentary practice, as explained by Senator Wright in his statement. These papers were offered for inspection to the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Murphy) and the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair). I now offer them for inspection by the Leader of the Opposition.
– This is an incident that must be cleared up immediately. It has been allowed to drag on far too long. There are too many blanks in what has happened concerning the purchase of these aircraft from Jetair Australia Ltd, and these blanks have been allowed to remain unexplained by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) even when he held the position of Minister for External Affairs. I want to draw attention to a number of points. First and foremost of these is the favourable treatment that has been accorded this airline known as Jetair.
I draw the attention of honourable members to the fact that in this country we have what is called a 2-airline system, under which it has been absolutely impossible for any other airline to obtain a licence to operate and it has been impossible for prospective operators to obtain aircraft to carry on the operations of an airline. Yet this company, Jetair Australia Ltd, succeeded in getting 3 DC3 aircraft and 2 Bristol freighters. In normal circumstances, when aircraft of this type are purchased one of the conditions is that they be taken out of the country. In this case the company was allowed to retain the aircraft in Australia, to refurbish them and to use them as part of an airline operation. The company was granted routes under the civil aviation bylaw regulations. At one stage the company was granted rights to operate flights between Adelaide and Melbourne, Melbourne and Sydney, Sydney and Brisbane and Brisbane and Rockhampton. I bring these matters forward in order to draw attention to the very preferable treatment that has been meted out to this company.
Let us examine the steps that have been taken and the haste with which they have been taken. I understand that the then Minister for External Affairs, Mr William McMahon, received a memorandum from the Secretary of the Department, Sir Keith Waller, on 31st December 1970- New Year’s Eve. With great haste the Minister accepted and signed the approval for it on 1st January 1971 - New Year’s Day. What great haste!
– A New Year’s gift.
Mir CHARLES JONES - As the honourable member for Cunningham says, it was indeed a New Year’s gift, when the number of regulations that have been breached in relation to this matter is considered. I should like to read a letter from Sir Kenneth Anderson who was then the Minister for Supply, dated 12th February 1971. He said:
I refer to the proposed contract with Jetair Australia Lid for the supply of 6 DC3 aircraft.
As discussed by officers of our Department, it is unfortunate that normal purchasing procedures were not followed; however, in the light of the commitment by your Department-
Not the Department of Supply, the Department of the right honourable gentleman; the Department of Foreign Affairs -
I have approved that the Contract Board may place the necessary confirming order with the Company.
You will understand that in the circumstances any approach by news media or any question in Parliament in relation to the arrangement could most appropriately be dealt with by you or on your behalf.
What did he say in that last paragraph? He said, in effect: ‘You can have it, Bill. It is too hot for me. You can handle it as best you can. I have nothing to do with it and I am not accepting any responsibility for it’. This was the attitude of the then Minister for Supply. Let me examine the real position in relation to the aircraft, in the minute that is left to me. The Government paid $275,000 for 6 aircraft, which represents an average of $45,800 each. What was the book value of the aircraft to Jetair at that time? I am reliably informed that it was $100,000. Yet the Minister at that time paid the magnificent sum of $275,000 for them.
It is a well known fact that people associated in this company have a very shady business record which would not stand up to close scrutiny. In his reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), the Prime Minister said that he did not know the people involved with the company. On 6th April 1971 I asked him a question concerning these people. What did the right honourable gentleman say? He said: . . and I understand that one of the directors has been involved in court proceedings of ons kind or another. I do not know enough about him to be able to reply to any of the allegations made by the honourable member.
In a situation in which Government policy and procedure and parliamentary procedure were being ignored and in which the right honourable gentleman knew that one of the people involved in this company was a man who had some background, surely he should have examined the matter much more closely than he did-
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– In the very short time available to me to run through the proceedings of this matter I should like to put before the House the facts, as I understand them. They are these: Some considerable time, in my memory, before the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) became Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs offered to Nepal and Laos 5 aircraft to be in a passenger VIP configuration. As a result of that action, I think also before the present Prime Minister became Foreign Minister, the Department bought from the Royal Australian Air Force 5 surplus aircraft. These aircraft were Service aircraft and were not conditioned to carry VII persons as had been offered to Nepal and Laos. The Department then discovered that it would take far too much time and cost far too much money to convert these surplus
RAAF Service aircraft into the kind of aircraft which it had promised to Nepal and Laos.
At that stage of the proceedings Jetair Australia Ltd advertised in the newspapers that it had for sale a fleet of aircraft which were of the configuration required and which had certificates of airworthiness - which incidentally the RAAF aircraft did not have. As a result of this advertisement the Department of Foreign Affairs - I think seeing a way out of the trouble it had got itself into by buying Service aircraft which would cost too much money to prepare: but for whatever the reason was at the time - recommended to the then Foreign Minister that it should buy these 6 Jetair aircraft, or some of them, in order to fulfil the undertaking it had given to Nepal and Laos. The Foreign Minister at the time approved the minute which was sent up to him advising that course. The Department was then left with 5 Service aircraft which it had bought already and which nobody at that time had indicated they wanted. The Department therefore, I think quite sensibly, believed that it could help the Cambodians to resist the attacks on them by providing them with these aircraft. The Department made inquiries, I understand, through the Americans for some reason I do not understand, to the Cambodians, saying: ‘Do you want these 5 surplus aircraft that we have?’ And the Cambodians did. The aircraft subsequently were sent to Cambodia in a Service configuration.
The final point I will make before 1 sit down is that these aircraft were bought in an entirely irregular way by the Department of Foreign Affairs, but subsequently the Department of Supply, having searched throughout the whole of Australia to see whether aircraft of the kind wanted were available at the time at a cheaper price or as a better buy, said: ‘No; in fact these are the best buy that is available if we are to buy this kind of aircraft at all’.
– This is a very unsatisfactory matter. The truth of the matter is that the 2-airline policy was up for grabs during the period the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) was Prime Minister, I believe that the matter was spearheaded by the then Foreign Minister, Right Honourable
William McMahon. This is why the application by Jetair Australia Ltd was proposed. One fact that has been omitted is the purchase of 2 Viscount aircraft, which is very significant-
– Order! The time allowed for the discussion of the motion has expired.
– I move the suspension of Standing Orders.
-Order! The time allowed for the discussion of the motion has expired.
– Mr Speaker, can I seek your guidance? Can I move that so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent me from further debating the matter?
– No. I could not accept that. There is already a motion before tha Chair.
– Can I move to suspend the standing order that guarantees the 25 minutes for this debate?
– No. A motion is before the Chair. The time allowed for the discussion of this motion has expired.
– Mr Speaker, in that case 1 shall ask the Prime Minister for leave to continue my statement.
-Is leave granted?
– Leave is not granted.
– Mr Speaker, can you explain to me why I cannot move the suspension of the standing order that guarantees the debate in the first instance?
-Order! The reason why you cannot do that is that I have already proposed a motion and that motion is now before the Chair.
– Mr Speaker-
– Order! I have given my ruling on this and the ruling is correct and proper. Whatever action the honourable member may want to take afterwards is in his own hands. The question now before the Chair is that the motion be agreed to.
Standing Orders require that I must put the question after the time for debate on the motion has expired.
– I will move the same motion.
– I do not care what the honourable member does afterwards. He will resume his seat now. The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye, to the contrary no.
Opposition members - Aye.
Government supporters - No.
– Is a division required?
Opposition members - Yes.
– Ring the bells.
– In terms of standing order 399-
– Order! I will listen to the honourable member after the division. I have ordered the ringing of the bells.
– In terms of standing order-
– Order! I have ordered the ringing of the bells.
That the motion (Mr Whitlam’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . … 6
Question so resolved in the negative.
In continuation of my remarks previously, this matter arises from-
Motion (by Mr Giles) proposed:
That the honourable member be not further heard.
– What are you afraid of?
– Order! The question is that the honourable member for Blaxland be not further heard.
– Are you going to agree to this, Mr Prime Minister? Do you agree with the motion?
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– This shows you up for what you are.
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye, to the contrary no.
Opposition members - No.
– Is a division required?
Opposition members - Yes.
– Ring the bells.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I second the motion. I believe that the motion moved by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) to suspend Standing Orders should be carried by this House for the very good reason that this parliament is the custodian of the public interest of this nation. It is clearly evident from all the remarks that have been made so far that the procedures laid down for Commonwealth departments and the procedures laid down for this Parliament for guidance of the Executive have not been carried out. It is in the interests of the Parliament that this motion be carried and that the matters referred to in the motion moved by the honourable member for Blaxland be fully ventilated in this Parliament. You cannot clear away a smell by putting a gag over your nose; all you do is to keep it away for a short time and make the eventual effects so much greater. This is a matter which must be cleared up by this Parliament as soon as possible.
There is a doubt; whether thedoubt is justifiable is irrelevant. There is doubt about the actions of the most important figure - yourself excluded, Mr Speaker - in this Parliament. I do not believe it is in the best interests of the Government, the Opposition or the nation that refusal to allow a debate on this issue in this place should continue. I believe that this motion to suspend the Standing Orders is of the utmost importance to this Parliament and to its standing in the nation. It is also of the utmost importance that we should have clearly explained, not in a 5-minute passing reference but by a substantive debate, the matters covered by the motion moved by the honourable member for Blaxland. The refusal to allow the honourable member to put the reasons why he moved the motion to suspend the Standing Orders is a disgrace to the person who moved the motion that the honourable member be no longer heard and a disgrace to every member who voted for it. They voted to hide the facts from the Parliament and the people of Australia. That is what they voted for and it is in line with; the mad secrecy syndrome which characterises members of the Government. We have almost reached the stage in this Parliament where the members of the Government are secret. We will reach the stage where we will not be able to stand and name Ministers because that will be one of the undisclosable secrets.
The Standing Orders should be suspended on this occasion for the very good reason that this is the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia and it is the only forum in which a matter of this nature can adequately be debated. It is senseless to suggest that the Senate can debate this matter but that the chamber in which the Ministers who are responsible for this matter are not present cannot debate it. I think this motion should be unanimously carried by this House. I believe that the action of gagging the mover of the motion is, firstly, childish and, secondly, shows great cowardice on the part of the Government.
– I give the House an assurance that there will be a debate on this issue.
– At a time when the papers are available. I would have thought that this makes sense. I can understand the wish of the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) and other honourable members to speak on this issue. The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) was perfectly correct when he said that this matter has been debated in the Senate. If this House wants a debate on it it is entitled to have that debate. In response to a question asked today by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) gave an undertaking that certain documents would be available in this House and also that certain other classified documents would be available for personal inspection by the Leader of the Opposition.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) is today attending a most important conference with Japanese VIPs concerning very important matters. Surely his presence in such a debate is essential. I imagine that the Opposition would want that. I would hope that the Opposition would co-operate with us, with my absolute assurance that this matter will be debated at the earliest opportunity. The House has only 2 weeks or a little more to go. I again say to the House that this matter will not be brought on late at night or in a way which will unduly inhibit debate. In view of that assurance, I hope that the Opposition will allow us to get back to debating the matters on the notice paper. I hope that the honourable member for Blaxland also will realise that I appreciate his position, but I give him that undertaking.
-Order! The question is: “That the motion be agreed to*.
– Mr Speaker-
-Order! Does the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory wish to speak to the motion?
– Yes. I wish to support the motion. With respect to the Leader of the House (Mr Chipp), the assurances he gave are irrelevant because they do not go to this issue at all. If proof were needed that the Government has something terrible to hide-
Motion (by Mr Giles) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority .. .. 7
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
A reply shall be allowed to a Member-
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Blaxland again moving the motion in relation to dealings between the Government and Jetair Australia Ltd on the question of the acquisition of 2 Viscount aircraft, and his being heard.
If proof were needed that something is very wrong in the Government’s house over this issue of the relationship between the Government and Jetair Australia Ltd it could be found in a number of places. It could be found in the motion moved by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) - an almost unprecedented motion - that the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) be no longer heard. No-one is more–
Motion (by Mr Giles) put:
That the honourable member for the Australian Capital Territory be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority .. .. 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I second the amendment. I rise to speak to this matter because I want to pose a few questions to the Government. Why, in 1970, did Jetair of Australia Ltd profit by $200,000 by using dummy nominees by the names of Peter Hookway and Stanair Ltd of the United States of America to purchase and re-sell 2 surplus VIP Viscount aircraft? Secondly, why did the Government allow this illegal transaction to take place when it had prevented Australians from buying the planes by stipulating that they could not be operated in Australia? Thirdly, what action does the Government now propose to take to make Jetair disgorge this profit which was made to the detriment of all other Australian operators who would have given a much higher price to be able to use the Viscounts in Australia? The reason I alluded to the 2-airline policy earlier was that the only way anyone can operate aircraft in Australia in contravention of the 2-airline policy is if they have suitable aircraft within Australia to enable them to do so. The Commonwealth governs civil aviation in Australia through its customs powers but if an operator has suitable aircraft he can have access to airports and fly them on trunk routes. DC3 aircraft could not be flown profitably on major trunk routes, but Viscount aircraft could be. The 2 former VIP Viscount aircraft were very low hour planes. They were purchased by the Government for the Viscount fleet for $2.381m, according to the Hansard records. They were sold 6 years later to Mr Peter Hookway, acting as the nominee of a United States company, beneficially owned by Jetair, for $173,000, which was half their real market value. Everybody knows that it is a condition of sale of surplus aircraft in Australia that such aircraft must be exported.
The Government allowed these aircraft to be sold to an Australian, as the nominee for an overseas firm, and to remain in Australia where they were subsequently acquired by Jetair. These aircraft were to be the muscle behind Jetair’s application to destroy the 2-airline policy. Jetair would have been the third airline. The present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) was to spearhead the attack. Subsequently he was thwarted by the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) or whatever other influence prevailed in the Government at that time. The crucial thing is that an airline can operate, perhaps not on the major trunk routes but between Sydney and Canberra and Canberra and Melbourne, for instance, with Viscount aircraft. A very low amount was paid for these 2 aircraft because no Australians were allowed to tender for them. The Government tendered into the world secondhand airline market when there were surplus Viscount aircraft coming on to these markets all over the world because they had reached their operational hour limit. The Government knew it would get a low tender for them. The people involved profited by securing these aircraft at half their real value. They were prepared to use them in Australia. When the business finally went flop they sold them out of Australia to a company in the United States for double what they had paid for them. These aircraft eventually ended up with some sheik in the Gulf of Persia.
Why did the Government allow these 2 Viscount aircraft to be sold as surplus to an Australian and not exported forthwith? What breakdown of the procedures enabled these aircraft to get into the hands of Jetair particularly as they were to be the actual muscle in its application? Jetair applied for permission to import 2 French Norde aircraft but the application was refused. The only other aircraft the company had apart from the 2 Viscounts were DC3 aircraft which were in top class condition and which were fitted with top quality avionics. These aircraft were to be the second strings to the Viscounts. The Gov ernment allowed surplus aircraft to be bought by this company which was set up to compete against the 2-airline policy in Australia. I ask the Government to have the Auditor-General investigate this matter and report to the Parliament by next Tuesday on the sale of these 2 Viscount aircraft to this nominee. The purchase of the DC3 aircraft is another matter. The matter I have raised concerns the very heart of what was to be the mainstring of the Jetair application to defeat the 2-airline policy, namely, the 2 ex-RAAF VIP Viscount aircraft. I urge the Government to have the Auditor-General examine this matter and bring a report to this Parliament tor next Tuesday because this is where the smell really is, where the Prime Minister’s involvement is. This should be ventilated in the House so that the people of Australia can understand the real rudiments of the Jetair affair.
Question resolved in the negative.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Order! Does the right honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. In the course of his speech, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), . who has just resumed his seat, said that I did something to the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) at the time when I was Prime Minister. I did not hear what he said I did to him. But whatever he said I did to him, I did not do it. In fact, I had no discussions with him on this matter at all at any time and knew nothing whatsoever about it. That is all that I wish to say.
Debate resumed (vide page 2543).
– The legislation before the House seeks the amalgamation of the Australian Wool Commission and the Australian Wool Board into the Australian Wool Corporation. The Opposition agrees with this move. It is another milestone in the long road to reform the Australian wool industry. No rural industry has resisted changes for so long or so strongly as the wool industry has. This has been largely because the bulk of its growers and administrative personnel are very conservative minded people. Farmers and graziers have for years been the most conservative sections of the Australian population. But in recent times some remarkable changes have occurred in the thinking of farmers and graziers about the politics, economics and management of their industry and the part that science can play in it. From these changes in their thinking has come this reform which is before the House today.
Usually, the Government tops off what rural industry has demanded. In other words, the Government waits for a particular industry to make up its mind on reform and then introduces that reform in appropriate legislation. That is the normal procedure. I think that many governments could be a step ahead of industry. After all, we have waited a long time for reform in the wool industry. If this Government had shown more initiative and more courage some of these changes could have been introduced a long time ago. I have always thought that the functions of these 2 segments of the wool industry - that is, the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission - have overlapped. A lot of time has been wasted in some respects and many of their operations have been simply repetitive. The Corporation will clear away all these kinds of difficulties and produce an organisation big enough to tackle further reforms in this great industry.
It is easier to reform a small industry than a large one. The wool industry is of tremendous significance and scope. There are 80,000 wool growers in Australia. Scores of towns in Australia are maintained by the wool industry. They ride on the sheep’s back. Without a strong virile wool industry, these towns would suffer. During the recent crisis in the industry many country towns suffered tremendously because of the failure of wool to attract a satisfactory price. The wool industry is so big that up to 12 months ago it has been responsible for 40 per cent of Australia’s export income. That is a tremendous tribute to this industry and to all the men who participate in it. But so badly did the industry go in the last 12 months that the export income from wool, including wool sheepskins, totalled only $634m. This was only 13.3 per cent of the total earnings from all merchandise exported. So the proportion of our export income derived from this industry has fallen in 18 months or so from 40 per cent to 13.3 per cent.
The price of wool is so important that a difference of lc per kilogram means a variation of about $7m in our annual export proceeds. The price has risen dramatically in recent weeks to a figure which is the best recorded since the early 1950s. It was 28c per lb 12 months ago and today we have reached 80c per lb - an increase of about 300 per cent. I will give an illustration of the change that has suddenly taken place in the demand for wool and the consequent rise in prices. The average bale price last week will easily exceed $200. This is an incredible recovery from the $90 a bale received by growers this time last year. These figures show in a dramatic way how the price has increased by 122.29 per cent in 12 months on a bale basis. Not even the most optimistic grower or administrator in the industry ever dreamed of such a price rise. Surely this is another dramatic warning, that even the wool industry is unstable. Without stabilisation of prices we will have, possibly in the next 5 or 10 years, a further period of slumps and booms in the price of wool, with all the heartache and all the losses it brings to the grower and other people dependent on the industry. So we emphasise in this debate that stabilisation of the industry through the acquisition scheme in particular is the next major reform necessary. We can introduce an acquisition scheme through the Corporation. It has wide powers. It was mentioned in the second reading speech of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) that this could be done through the Corporation at a later date. The machinery is there to do it. We need the will.
The merging of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission into a single entity will permit the integration of research and promotion with the marketing of the clip and thus enable a totally and fully co-ordinated approach to be adopted in stimulating the demand for wool. In March of this year the Australian Wool Industry Conference submitted to the Government proposals recommending the amalgamation of these 2 bodies. In addition the Conference recommended that the new body be equipped with wide powers, including the power compulsorily to acquire the total Australian wool clip. The Government would not accept that proposal; the Randall Committee would not accept that proposal. Its acceptance is the next reform that should take place in this industry because the bulk of the growers now desire it. It has been a long struggle to convince growers that a reserve price plan and an acquisition scheme are 2 essentials to stabilise their industry.
– Would you have private buying of wool, too?
– This is provided for under the terms of the legislation establishing the Corporation. The Corporation could handle this if it so desired, but of course there are difficulties in it: It is mentioned in the Minister’s speech and in the Randal Report. The scheme does not go far enough, so far as the Opposition is concerned. If growers need more education to accept the necessity for a compulsory wool acquisition scheme, then, I hope the Government will ensure that they get the information to convince them. The corporation has been set up as a body corporate of 9 members comprising a full time chairman, 4 wool growers’ representatives, a representative of the Commonwealth and 3 other members who possess special qualifications. When the Australian Labor Party forms a Government it will have to take another look at this legislation.
– You cannot afford to wait that long.
– As to that, the Opposition agrees to the legislation as at this moment, and we. hope that within the next 2 months the corporation will be able to achieve some of its early successes. But when the Labor Party gets down to business, we shall have a chance to see how the corporation is working. We hope sincerely that it is successful in the programme which was outlined in the Minister’s speech.
I should like to bring to the attention of the. House what the Randall Committee reported about acquisition in the report that was brought down on 1st August this year. I read from page 74 of the report the Randall Committee’s comments about total acquisition of the clip:
The report went on:
The submission recognised the possible need for some derogations from the total acquisition implied, including wool traded interstate and retaining in operation ‘efficient commercial innovators’ under agreed conditions. The submission acknowledges that it may not be possible or even desirable for the Authority to perform every handling and selling function itself.
In practical terms the AWIC’s definition of acquisition envisages the compulsory delivery of wool by growers to stores or agents authorised to handle wool for the Authority and the purchase of this wool by the Authority; it leaves open the method of subsequent disposal of the wool, though it views the auction system as the major avenue of disposal in the foreseeable future.
That is the Opposition’s view, too. The report goes on at page 75 under the heading ‘Legal Position’:
So there are difficulties in the whole procedure. For instance the States must agree by enacting complementary legislation. But I feel sure that if a properly co-ordinated acquisition scheme were to be implemented by the corporation and agreed to by the bulk of wool growers the States would not vote against such a proposal. Some very good changes will take place in the industry but before I mention them I would like to say that price stability is needed according to the Victorian Farmers Union and the Victorian Graziers Association. They said that it could be achieved only by acquisition. That is a remarkable decision by those 2 wool growing authorities. They believe that there is an urgent need for wool marketing and handling reform. We believe that within the auction system price stability could be brought about by an acquisition scheme. Some changes in the industry are contemplated. I take as my authority Mr Bruce Mackay, project manager of the Australian Objective Measurement Project. He has said that many innovations and techniques would emerge in the next 18 months and that wool sales by description would be tried as an alternative selling method.
Mr Mackay believes that like sales by sample and tender, which already are 2 new accepted methods of selling wool, sale by description at first will be used on a small scale but there is no reason why it could not become a popular means of disposing of wool to the trade. Using core test results, buyers could be given a careful and impartial (description of the type of wool on offer. Mr Mackay said that the method would be best suited to topmaking wools and that buyers throughout the world could be sent telex messages of the wool available. They could then place their bids in the normal way.
Mr Mackay made several other exciting predictions about changes in the industry in the next year or so. He said that objective measurement would become widely used in the stud merino industry for breeders selecting on fleece weight; that more than 300,000 bales would be core tested this season as part of sales by sample; that many new machines would be developed for measuring wool qualities; that experiments would be made on alternative storage locations for wool sold by sample; and that low cost storage sites would be selected for storing wool while actual sales were held in a different area. He said that this could involve inland storage or the storage of wool at Portland and selling by sample in Melbourne. The concept would have advantages not only for brokers and buyers but also for growers. It would allow wool to be - sold more quickly by, giving an earlier return to growers. He forecast new bale flow patterns for wool entering stores. Bales could be sampled on arrival and then put together when a complete clip had been received. Alternatively, samples could be taken when a clip had been put in lots. Mr Mackay also forecast a rather remarkable development in the storing of wool in the open in big, densely packed bales. He said that the method was successfully used in the cotton industry with minor detrimental effect to the fibre. Damage to cotton in very wet periods had been estimated at only 50c a bale.
Mr Mackay said that there would be no problems in opening up bales- stored in the open because wool would be sold by sample. He urged growers to press heavier bales of up to 200 kilogrammes. Although bales weighing more than 200 kilogrammes might not be handled by unionists, growers could move into fully mechanical handling. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) is laughing. I point out to him that I am quoting the statements of an Australian expert, the project manager of the Australian Objective Measurement Project, which were made .at. Portland only last Friday week.
– I think he is dead right.
– I also think he is dead right. In concluding this excellent report on the future of industry-not the past or the present - which is something that a lot more growers should do, -including the honourable member for Wakefield who is interjecting, Mr Mackay said:
Bulk classed wools sold by sample could be put into 1,000 lb bales. Not only would there be transport savings but for the first time wool could attract the attention of big transport handling companies.
Those are a few thoughts about the future of this remarkable industry. In putting forward our amendment during the Committee stage of the debate on this Bill we of the Opposition will stress again that it does not go far enough and that we need an acquisition scheme, administered by one woo] marketing authority, to complete the reform of this major industry without which this nation would be in a desperate strait economically. The House is in agreement about the establishment of the Australian Wool Corporation. This is a forward move but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, it has to be added to and improved upon. The Corporation has to be used to implement the acquisition scheme.
– We are debating 2 Bills, the Wool Industry Bill and the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill. The latter Bill merely seeks the authority of Parliament to extend for an additional 12 months, to the end of June 1973, the terms of the existing scheme. That scheme provides a subsidy to wool growers in order to guarantee them an average price of 36c a lb or 79.37c a kilo of greasy wool for the season’s clip. If honourable members take their minds back some 15 or 16 months they will remember seeing numerous Press statements in which the Country Party was reported to be holding out for 40c a lb rather than 36c a lb. It was reported that Country Party members were going so far as to threaten their resignation from the coalition if their demands for 40c were not accepted by the Government.
We know what happened. The guaranteed price is 36c, not 40c, but the Country Party members still sit on the Government side of the chamber. They did not resign. In fact, when the Bill was being debated they were loud in their applause of the decision of the Liberal Party to make it only 36c. Government supporters, including Country Party members, said then that 36c was sufficient to ensure wool growers a reasonable return for their year’s labour. Knowing the members of the Country Party as I do it did not surprise me that they were prepared to ignore the welfare of the wool growers in favour of retaining their comfortable seats in Parliament. Surely it is more than surprising and shows their complete lack of concern when today, about 12 months later, they are still happy to go along with the same guarantee of 36c and to have it operate to the end of next year.
Everyone knows that production costs are increasing steadily. This being so, surely it must mean that either 36c a lb last year was more than sufficient or that this year it is insufficient. I for one do not accept that the guaranteed price of 36c last year was in any way an over generous offer except, of course, for those large companies which have not actually been in any need of assistance but nevertheless have received substantial subsidies. Production costs to which I will refer later can eventually kill the industry. I am sorry that the honourable member for Wimmera, the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr King), is not present in the chamber. Earlier today he made great play about all the Government speakers being wool growers while Labor speakers came from several different walks of life other than wool growing. All I want to say in regard to that extraordinary statement is that all the wool growers on the Government side have a very nice sideline income from their parliamentary salaries. No doubt that is one of the reasons why they are not over concerned about their farming colleagues outside who, for some considerable time, have been finding it difficult to survive. If all the farmers outside had a guarantee of $9,500 a year to subsidise their farm incomes they would be very much happier too.
This is one of the complaints I have about the deficiency scheme. The taxpayers are being fleeced - in other words, they are being asked to contribute - to provide a subsidy for several Liberal and Country Party parliamentarians who grow wool. This is happening not only in the Federal Parliament but also in the State parliaments. Let me return to what the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Primary Industry said about the speakers in this debate. Surely Labor speakers who have no direct or personal financial interest, such as several Government supporters have, are to be commended even more - if we use the Assistant Minister’s argument - for their genuine desire to gain a better deal and a guaranteed security for wool growers and farmers alike, than Government members are to be commended who themselves stand to gain from the legislation.
The Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill is a further illustration of the Government’s lack of interest and failure to make any real attempts to solve the industry’s problems. It is just another hit or miss piece of legislation, with no proper object of helping the people who really require help. Experience has shown that the scheme is only a partial success, yet the Government has done nothing on this occasion to try to guarantee that the situation will not become as deplorable as it was a short time ago. In his second reading speech the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) said:
The extension of the deficiency payments scheme for a further 12 months will provide wool growers with a sense of security and should enhance confidence in the future of the industry.
I find that statement rather hard to accept as being the fact of the case. I find it hard to accept that 36c will give the grower any sense of security or confidence, when in 1969-70 the average price was 37.55c and growers at that time certainly were feeling far from secure.
Even in 1967-68 when the average price was 41.75c per lb they were expressing their concern as to what the future held. Events proved that their concern was well warranted. The fact is that subsidies can never give any real sense of security or confidence. As a matter of fact, the mere necessity of subsidy is in itself an expression of insecurity. But where subsidy is necessary - I believe it was necessary at that time to give the industry the opportunity of getting over what we hope has been only a bad patch - it should be of such amount as to give the wool grower, in this case, an overall return of a decent wage, plus cost of production. Cost of production includes the employment of labour, with that labour also having a good living standard. As far as I am concerned, anything less than a 40c per lb guarantee will not allow the return to be such as to ensure the decent standard I have referred to.
I now want to turn to the Wool Industry Bill which, according to the Minister, is designed to create a wool statutory body to be known as the Australian Wool Corporation. This will cause the functions of the 2 separate bodies - the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission - to operate as a new single body. Last year the Opposition moved an amendment to the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill which stated:
In the opinion of the House emergency finance for the deficiency scheme should be complemented by legislation to (a) establish a single statutory marketing authority to acquire, appraise and market the entire wool clip and, (b) implement a progressive reconstruction and rehabilitation programme to apply to those areas of wool production and marketing which are in urgent need of improvement and assistance.
To my mind that amendment was what the industry was seeking. It wanted an acquisition scheme. It still wants an acquisition scheme. But our amendment was rejected when every member on the Government side voted against it. They expressed their complete opposition to an acquisition scheme, as they had done on several occasions previously. The Minister for Primary Industry tried to tell us that one of the jobs of the Australian Wool Corporation would be to investigate ways and means of setting up such a scheme. In his second reading speech the Minister stated: . . and to specifically’ empower the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question of wool marketing and to prepare a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme, clearly defined in all respects.
The House will note that the Minister said that the Corporation would be given specific powers. I have looked carefully through the Bill and I cannot find that power specified anywhere. Division 2 of the Bill sets out the functions and powers of the Corporation. Nowhere in that division do we find the word ‘acquisition’, or any suggestion of it. In clause 40 of the Bill we find set out the specific powers of the Corporation in relation to wool marketing. Again there is nothing about an investigation into acquisition. If the Government intends the Corporation to have that specific power, as the Minister said it would, one would expect to see that specified in the Bill. I will be interested to hear why it is not in the Bill and also by what means the Government intends to implement or extend that power to the Corporation.
I notice that the Minister’s second reading speech makes no mention of the Corporation treating the investigation of an acquisition scheme as a matter of any urgency. I suppose we can look forward to the same old slap-dash system of marketing for some little time at least. If the Government moves with its usual speed the Bill will be an historic document before we get around to any acquisition. As I see the present Bill it will do nothing other than form the Corporation. In relation to its activities in the marketing field it will be given little if any power beyond what the Commission has at the moment. If this is correct then the Corporation falls far short of what the industry is really asking for in relation to the protection of its rights and interests in actual selling. Naturally most people are pleased to see wool prices at a much higher level than they were last season when they dropped to a low of approximately 29c per lb. I say ‘most people’ because for some it can mean a further burden upon their financial circumstances as a result of the increase in the price of woollen goods. It is one of several wonders of the world that an increase in the price of wool causes an immediate increase in the price of woollen goods while a decrease in the price of wool has no downward effect in the shops at all. For this reason the Government needs to act to protect the industry in relation to consumer attraction.
We all hope - but I suppose without certainty - that the activities of the Wool Commission have played a major part in causing wool prices to increase and that any buyer uncertainty has disappeared. But one cannot be sure that the price will remain at a reasonable level or drop again. Certainly we do not want to see it rise to any dangerous level. It could be dangerous if it goes up too far. The fact is that manmade fibres for a very long time have been looked upon as a direct threat to wool. But they can only be a threat by way of price competition. If the prices are such that they are not strongly competitive against wool then wool will be the favourite in relation to demand. If wool prices soar then it is only natural that consumers or users of wool and woollen goods will be hit harder and will start looking for something a bit cheaper to suit their purse and purpose. It could be that we could move from a dangerously low to a dangerously high price in relation to the wool industry. The present rise in consumer demand stems from wool’s attractiveness as a fibre and also from an economic advantage which it is gaining over man-made fibres.
As far as the woolgrower is concerned the world inflationary spiral is a benefit in some respects. It gives his industry an edge on other industries in relation to adverse effects. The inflationary spiral causes labour costs to increase. As those costs increase, man-made fibres - synthetics - will gradually but certainly fall into a position in which they becomes less and less advantageous in relation to wool. Labour costs in relation to production and placing the article at the consumer purchase level are very much higher for synthetics than for wool. As a result the cost of man-made fibres will rise and become less competitive if wool prices remain reasonable. Honourable members will recall that several months ago Imperial Chemical Industries in Britain reported a very substantial write-off of about £57m sterling in relation to its synthetics division.
The report referred to the poor trading conditions in the textile industry; it said that fibre prices declined and profits were poor, which all reflected low selling prices and increases in costs. It was claimed that synthetics were suffering from overproduction and a falling-off in public favour. But this state of affairs will remain only while wool is competitive in price. Therefore, wool growers cannot depend upon wool prices alone to keep them in a comfortable position.
Prices which are continually increasing or which reach too high a level will not solve their problems. In fact such prices will have exactly the opposite effect by placing them in the position referred to by Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Ltd - no demand and no consumer appreciation. The wool producer has to face up to the fact, and no doubt does face up to the fact, that he must produce as cheaply as possible and must be in a position to market as cheaply as possible. In both of these, areas the Commonwealth Government can offer immeasurable help, particularly in the marketing field.
This is why we need the acquisition scheme, which can not only keep a reasonable control on the price, of the commodity in the interests of all concerned, but also keep marketing costs at a reasonable level. It is in the interests of buyers, consumers, producers and everyone, else to ensure a satisfactory price in all respects. It is in their interests to have a solid woolproducing industry - one that can produce at prices favourably competitive with those of man-made fibres, lt is in the interests of the nation as a whole. The present Government over the years has failed to do anything positive to bring about such a situation. Even now, despite what the Minister has said, there appear to be grave doubts that the Government really wants to set up an acquisition scheme or a protective scheme.
The Government still appears to be quite willing to allow marketing methods to run along on the slap-dash, hit or miss style which has operated for years. It still has nothing positive to offer. It brings in pieces of patch-up legislation which at best can have only a temporary effect and it still pursues its ‘get big or get out’ policy. This is obvious from the terms of the deficiency payments scheme, which gives very little to the small man who is in real trouble and gives quite considerable assistance to companies and such like with other means and income.
The policy of the Australian Labor Party in the rural sphere includes the establishment of a statutory wool authority to acquire, appraise and market the whole of the Australian wool clip. We have not wavered in any way in that respect. We believe that that is the only way to protect the grower, the community generally and the whole industry. It is quite certain that the large majority of wool growers support our policy because they also can see its many advantages. It seems very strange that the Government, and particularly a party such as the Country Party which always claims that the Government will pursue what an industry wants, in this case is doing everything it possibly can to avoid having eventually to set up such a scheme, even though the industry has been urging an acquisition scheme for years. It is no wonder that the general farming communities are looking for a change. It is no wonder that they are looking with favour on our slogan ‘It’s time’. When we are the government after 2nd December we will take immediate steps to bring about the situation for which the wool growers are looking, to protect their rights and to give them a feeling of real security instead of the uncertainty which the present Government’s policy fosters.
– The legislation we are debating this afternoon must be seen in the context of other legislation and also in the context of certain actions that have been taken outside this Parliament in recent times. We have to ask ourselves why we are debating this legislation at this late stage in the life of this Parliament and why this legislation appears on the notice paper with such other Bills and statements as the Child Care Bill, the National Urban and Regional Development Authority Bill, the Restrictive Trade Practices Bill and the statement on foreign ownership? All of these have been introduced in the last weeks of the life of this Parliament.
Of course, the answer is that the Government is desperately worried about its electoral prospects and is not motivated by concern for people such as the wool growers and the people involved in the wool industry in Australia. We have only to look back a few years - we have only to look back one year - to see the lack of action by this Government. Indeed over the last 10 years the trend in wool prices has been downward, and a crisis developed. No action was taken until last year when the Australian Wool Commission Bill and the support scheme with a guaranteed minimum price of 36c per lb were introduced. This action was taken after the wool industry had made proposals to the Government when the growers had decided unanimously that there was a need for a support scheme with a guaranteed minimum price of 40c per lb. After many years of saying that if the industry came forward with a unanimous proposal it would act to implement that proposal the Government introduced the 36c per lb support scheme and the legislation to establish the Australian Wool Commission.
– What did your Party propose at the time?
– For years the Australian Labor Party has been proposing a policy of acquisition. My Party has said that it would introduce a scheme to appraise and market the clip and that it intended to examine the effect of tariff protection upon the wool industry. That policy, which was adopted by the Caucus of the Australian Labor Party in May 1970, is fully consistent with the proposals which were put forward early this year by the Australian
Wool Industry Conference. It ls as a result of the unanimous recommendations of the Australian Wool Industry Conference that we have the minor measure that is contained in the Wool Industry Bill 1972 to amalgamate the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission into the Australian Wool Corporation. This legislation is only a small part of the Labor Party’s policy. It is also only a small part of what the Australian Wool Industry Conference unanimously recommended and which this Government, if its word can be relied upon, is duty bound to legislate for immediately.
As the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) and other members of this Parliament have said on many occasions, the Country Party is duty bound to legislate for industry proposals which were unanimously decided upon. Of course, the cynics or the sceptics in this country believed that that was only a stalling device by the Government because they believed that there would never be a time when the wool industry would come up with a unanimous proposal. Of course, as we have found, this device has allowed the Government to stall for time for years. What happened when unanimous proposals were eventually forthcoming from the industry? The Government stalled still further. Months have elapsed since the report containing these recommendations was received. That report was received early in 1972. Now, after all these months and after the Randall Committee had been set up to stall for extra time, we find that the Government has come forward with the 2 most innocuous proposals of all the proposals that have been put forward by the industry. Nothing has been done to bring about an acquisition scheme for the marketing of the wool clip. Nothing has been done to implement the fundamental marketing proposals which have been put forward.
Everything I have said is true. Nothing was done to prevent the wool industry in Australia reaching its nadir. Never before in the history of Australia had the wool industry been at a lower level. It reached that position over a period of 10 years. The trend was a steady downwards one during that time, but no action was taken by the Government, except the panic action that it took in the late stages and released $30m as an emergency grant to wool growers. That money was dissipated across Australia for no other purpose than to allow the Country Party members of the Parliament to go around Australia saying that $30m had been given to the wool industry.
– You were against it.
– I was certainly against the way in which that money was distributed, yes. I will illustrate why I was against it. There was no reference in the legislation to sheep numbers. A man who had increased his sheep numbers to keep himself solvent and whose income did not drop by the statutory 8 per cent found he was cut off from getting any of the money which was made available, no matter what sort of trouble he was in. There was a wool grower in my area who was going into bankruptcy - and he was taking his father’s business with him. He received a cheque for $50. Another man who was going out of farming and sold all of his sheep and therefore had no income from wool and whose income dropped more than 8 per cent as a result, put the whole of the $1,500 towards his trip overseas. This was the scandalous way in which this legislation was introduced - the hurried way in which it was done. The panic that gripped the Government caused it to take this sort of action. People such as the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson), who has been interjecting, and others went around the country saying that $30m had been given to the wool industry. But when we examine the way in which it was spent, or dissipated - which is a better word to describe it - we find that this money has achieved nothing and in fact was a very bad misuse of Australian taxpayers money.
That is the sort of legislation that this Government implemented at such a late stage. At the time the industry had reached the lowest point in history this Government brought in a rural reconstruction scheme. At no time did it tell the Australian wool growers and the Australian farmers what it was aiming for in primary industries, what it saw as the future development, what it saw as desirable or where it saw we were going. The Government did not take them into its confidence to that extent, even if it knew itself, and the question is, did it? But the Government did bring in the rural reconstruction scheme which contained proposals to retrain people. The scheme provided for the payment of $750 to retrain people and help them off the farm. Goodness knows how the Government expected that amount of money to achieve anything at all.
Of course, it must be said that the Government later introduced a rural retraining scheme. One has to ask what sort of scheme that is. We find that this scheme provides training for 12 months. A professor in Tamworth New South Wales was asked about the scheme. He said that Tamworth would be probably oneof the best situated cities in Australia for the implementation and application of such a scheme. He said that Tamworth provides more in the way of technical and tertiary training facilities than most cities in Australia. The professor said that in that city there were 3 courses open to people under the scheme. The first was a basic secretarial course, the second a basic welding course and the third a basic mechanics course. The professor pointed out that after 12 months of training we would have a person who was middle aged or perhaps advanced middle aged with 12 months basic training and no experience. Where would such a person get employment in these fields?. This sort of scheme, of course, is to be contrasted with Labor’s action in the rehabilitation scheme which it provided for men who were demobilised after the last war when Australia had a much smaller population than it has at present.
This Government acts at the last moment and the action it takes barely scratches the surface of the problems with which it is confronted. This is so with the Bills before us at present. The Australian Wool Industry Conference came down with proposals stressing the need for acquisition and for the Government to find ways in which acquisition could be implemented and begin to work towards finding agreement with the States. This is work that has not commenced at this stage. At the moment we find that all the Government is bringing in is the one provision to amalgamate the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission and to set up this corporation.
– Is it not necessary to do what you have said?
– Yes, indeed it is. But it is only one of the recommendations. The Government has said for so many years that once it had the unanimous decision of an industry it would legislate to implement that decision. Nearly 12 months have gone by - 12 months have almost been lost. The legislation before us is the only action that the Government is taking.
I suggest that the only reason the Government has introduced this legislation is the action taken in some places across Australia where the Farmers Union and other bodies which have been traditionally supporters of the Australian Country Party have said: ‘Unless you move to bring in acquisition, unless you move to adopt the recommendations of the Australian Wool Industry Conference, we will actively work against the Australian Country Party and Liberal members’. That is one of the main reasons which have motivated the Government, even at this later hour. The other reason the legislation has been introduced is so that the Government can say before the election that it has begun to move. I say that the. introduction of the legislation has to be seen in relation to these 2 things - the disillusionment that has caused people who have been traditional supporters of this Government to say that they will actively work against it and the fact that the election is drawing so near. Because of these 2 factors the Government has brought in so blatantly measures which are designed to try to save a government that is so terribly unpopular throughout this country. I support the amendments that will be moved by the honourable member for Dawson in the Committee stage. I refer particularly to paragraph (oa) of clause 38 which reads as follows: to formulate a detailed plan for operation by the Corporation of a scheme to acquire and/or market the Australian wool clip and to report this plan to the Parliament within 6 months–
I think that is important -
There is need for us to put a time on these things. This Government vacillates and allows time to pass it by and never comes to grips with the. basic cause of all the problems with which it is confronted. It allows them to develop to crisis proportions and then takes some small, supposed, remedial action that barely touches the surface of the problem that confronts it.
– You said that 6 months is a fair time. Now you are saying that it should be done quickly.
– To honourable members opposite 6 months is as tomorrow. Goodness gracious me.
– The honourable member is referring to 6 months.
– It is tomorrow to you in view of the speed with which you move. In 1966, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) - he was then Minister for Primary Industry - announced that he had a marginal dairy farm reconstruction scheme to implement. It did not see the light of day until 1970. Four years were lost. That was the length of time for which the scheme was to operate. It took 4 years to present it to the Parliament and it is to operate for only 4 years. That is why there is a need to place a 6 months maximum on this. If this Government were returned after the election - I cannot see that happening - there would need to be this provision. If the Australian Labor Party is returned to office, as we all confidently expect, we will move to implement our policy to which we have adhered for 3 years and which is, as I said before, fully consistent with the proposal which was presented by the Australian wool industry 2 years later. That is why we have to insert a provision that 6 months be the maximum period. Once it is accepted by the Parliament, with the support of those honourable members opposite who claim to be the representatives of rural industries, we will know that the legislation will be introduced before the middle of next yea: and that there will be brought to the industry the stability and security that it so greatly needs and for which it longs. I know from meeting wool growers in my area that they are nor convinced that the high prices that rule today will last very long. They are afraid that they will enter another trough. They would rather have a stable price than one which fluctuates as violently as wool prices have fluctuated in the last few months. So
I will support the amendments to be moved by the honourable member for Dawson in the Committee stage. I look forward to the implementation of the Australian Labor Party’s wool policy in the new year as it will be introduced by the honourable member for Dawson as Minister for Primary Industry.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask for leave to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Corbett)Does the Prime Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
Mr McMAHON (Lowe - Prime Minister) - Yes, I have been very seriously misrepresented. Early this afternoon, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) raised the question of a purchase by Jetair Australia Ltd. He said:
Why, in 1970, did Jetair of Australia Ltd profit by $200,000 by using dummy nominees by the names of Peter Hookway and Stanair Ltd of the U.S.A. to purchase and re-sell 2 surplus VIP Viscount aircraft? Secondly, why did the Government allow this illegal transaction to take place when it had prevented Australians from buying the planes by stipulating that they could not be operated in Australia?
The honourable member went on to say that DC3 aircraft could not be flown profitably but that Viscount aircraft could be. He said further:
These aircraft were to be the muscle behind Jetair’s application to destroy ‘the 2-airline policy. Jetair would have been the third airline. The present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) was to spearhead the attack.
He later went on to say:
I urge the Government to have the AuditorGeneral examine this matter and bring a report to this Parliament for next Tuesday because this is where the smell really is, where the Prime Minister’s involvement is.
I had never heard of this transaction until it was raised some time ago in the Senate. There an answer was given by Senator Cotton in reply to a question asked by Senator Bishop. It answers the question completely. Senator Cotton then said:
I should like to add something. Senator Bishop will probably be delighted to learn that his assumption that the Department of Civil Aviation had allowed the aircraft to which he referred to fly in Australia in the field of civil aviation is incorrect. Those aircraft have been exported from Australia in accordance with the terms of the original tender schedule. I repeat that at no time did they fly in Australia in a private or commercial category.
It is a pretty serious thing that character assassination of the kind that is occurring immediately before an election should be tolerated. It is a scandalous matter and one which outside this House would be regarded as libellous. I take this immediate opportunity of condemning the statement made and saying that it is absolutely false.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave-
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Corbett)Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I do.
– How have you been misrepresented?
– Just listen and I will tell you.
– I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister asked for leave and leave was granted.
– No. Leave did not have to be granted.
– He asked for leave and it was granted. 1 think it is only fair that the honourable member for Blaxland should also be extended the same courtesy.
– I ask the honourable member for Blaxland whether he is seeking leave to make a statement.
– You said you wanted to make a personal explanation.
– Well, is leave granted?
– Have you asked for it?
– I have asked for leave to speak on the same matter. Is leave granted?
– Make a personal explanation.
– Well, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– I raise a point of order. First of all the honourable member asked for leave to make a statement and then he changed that to a personal explana tion. You do not need to get the leave of the House to make a personal explanation. You only have to ask the Chair.
– I seek to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I do. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) implied that I misled the House by suggesting that the 2 Viscount aircraft were flown or were in the colours of and registration of the operations of Jetair Australia Ltd. They never were.
– I did not say that.
– You said that they were never flown–
– They were not licensed to fly in Australia. That is a different thing altogether.
– That is correct.
– There was no certificate of airworthiness.
– Oh! They were just part of the VIP Flight. Are you suggesting they were not airworthy?
– They had no certificate of airworthiness.
– The reason they did not have it is that they had expired. They were in Jetair’s name, and you know it. They were not exported in accordance with the tender schedule of the purchaser. They were exported by Jetair or the beneficial owner whether it be Brins, Alexander Barton or Jetair, and your reply is just too clever by half.
– Mr Deputy Speaker–
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Corbetf)Order! Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
– No. I ask whether I may ask a single sentence question of the Prime Minister on what he has just said by leave.
– What is it you want?
– I ask for leave to ask you a question consisting of one sentence on the Viscounts owned by Jetair.
– Is leave granted?
– I ask the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) whether among the documents from the Department of Civil Aviation which he said earlier this afternoon he would table there will be documents concerning the matter upon which he has just spoken, namely the ownership and licensing and exemption of the Viscounts owned by Jetair Australia Ltd.
Mr McMAHON (Lowe - Prime Minister) - I think we have given a very great indulgence to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitiam), and he is muck-raking to the extreme. This afternoon he embarked upon a process of character assassination and he is attempting-
– Mr Deputy Speaker, by leave I asked whether documents on this matter would be included amongst those to be tabled. I do not believe that the Prime Minister can appropriately speak in answer to that question I asked by leave in the terms which he is now employing.
-I think that we have got a little out of order in this matter. I ask the Prime Minister to answer the question.
– Yes, I will, and I will answer it very fully. I have not had access to these papers and, consequently, 1 could not tell the Leader of the Opposition the details. I know what they are about, but I do not know the full details and whether they relate to the problem that he has mentioned. Nonetheless, he will be able to find out for himself because the papers that I said would be tabled will in fact be tabled. But let me take it a stage further for him. Jetair was never at any stage told that it would be allowed to become a third major airline. Its applications for import permits for heavy aircraft ranging from F27s to Boeing 707s were not granted, and the company also was encouraged to export 2 ex-RAAF Viscounts it had bought. These Viscounts were never flown commercially by Jetair in Australia. Jetair was told repeatedly that it would require a substantial change in Government policy for it to be licensed to operate heavy aircraft on regular airline routes and that any such change in policy was most unlikely.
I think these facts adequately disprove any allegation that the Department of Civil Aviation - not the Minister - favoured Jetair in any way. Jetair finally suspended its entire network on 27th November 1970 because of the uneconomic operations - a result which the Department had predicted as most likely many months earlier. The company said that it made substantial losses on its network. In view of this, any inference that DCA gave Jetair preferential treatment seems more than foolish.
– Sir, this is just what I want to know: Will the House be given the documents bearing upon the things which the Prime Minister has just said? I a;n not challenging what he said; I cannot endorse what he said. But what I ask is: Will the Parliament be given . the documents of which he is purporting to give the gist now?
– I will give all those papers. They will be filed, as I stated in the House. They will be filed completely and nothing will be taken out.
– Order! I think we have’ gone a litttle beyond the making of a personal explanation. We have allowed a break into the debate on the question before the Chair, and I think we should return to it at this stage.
Debate resumed (vide page 2565).
– in reply - I think it is rather strange that in this place we seem to spend so much time talking about issues which have been canvassed adequately in the Senate. It is obvious that among honourable members on the other side of the House there is not a great measure of confidence in the ability of their colleagues in the other place to discuss adequately matters which have been discussed there at least a month ago and which have not to this point of time been canvassed in this chamber.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order on him. Sit him down while I take my point of order.
– I think, Mr Deputy Speaker-
– Order! There is a point of order.
– Down you go.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, the position-
– I rise to a point of order, and you ought to have enough courtesy to resume your seat.
-Order! There is a point of order.
– Are you raising a point of order?
– Do you want to display your ignorance forever?
– I could not hear you. The Bill before the House-
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise to a point of order.
– Are you raising a point of order?
– Yes. Sit down.
– I could not hear you.
– My point of order is this: If the Minister is to continue with the debate, under the Standing Orders he has no right to infer that members on this side of the House should be denied the procedures of this House to raise matters of urgency or otherwise.
-Order! There is no point of order.
– There ought to be.
-Order! The honourable member for Sturt will resume his seat.
– Let me assure the honourable member for Sturt that what I was saying was that it is regrettable that members on the Opposition side of the House have no confidence in the ability of their colleagues in another place to pursue inquiries which they initiated long ago.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order.
– It is a contempt of Parliament. The Minister will not sit down while the Deputy Speaker is on his feet.
– He is not on his feet. You are just blind; that is the trouble.
– My point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that I understood-
-Order! The House will come to order. I am not able to hear the honourable member taking the point of order. The interjections are much too frequent. I would just like to warn the members of this House that I will not be as lenient with them as are some of the other occupants of the chair.
– My point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that you said the business before the House was the Wool Industry Bill and the Minister is not dealing with the Wool Industry Bill; he is dealing with a matter that was discussed previously.
-Order! There is no point of order.
– The Opposition obviously is in some difficulty. That is not unusual for the Opposition; it is always in difficulty. Today we have been canvassing the Wool Industry Bill, which reflects a continuation of a positive and successful policy introduced by this Government to offset the very grievous circumstances that have affected wool growers throughout Australia over the last few years. The Government, with successive steps, has endeavoured to offset the marketing difficulties that the industry faces. It has introduced short term assistance and it has introduced long term assistance. Much of this assistance has been introduced in spite of and against the directives and ideas of the Opposition.
Indeed, my colleague the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) earlier this afternoon referred to some statements made by the shadow Minister for Primary Industry. He referred to the motion before the House on 17th March 1971 when the shadow Minister for Primary Industry made a very serious criticism of the operations of the Australian Wool Commission. The honourable member for Canning then referred to the other statements made bv the shadow Minister for Primary Industry. He referred in particular to the opposition as late as 1st December 1971 to the provision of additional funds to the Australian Wool Commission to buy in wool to enable the whole of the Australian Wool Commission to function efficiently and to enable the wool market to recover, as it has done. It is futile for the Opposition to say this afternoon that if it had been able to introduce its policy of acquisition one or two years ago it would have been prepared to give that authority which was to acquire the wool any greater substance than it would have been prepared to accord the Australian Wool Commission. (Quorum formed). The Bill is a continuation of this succession of successful measures that the Government has introduced to assist the wool industry in its dire plight. We recognise that although the wool market today has recovered substantially from the depths to which it fell last year there are continuing problems for the industry. We have canvassed the necessity for the industry to maintain its momentum for change. We believe that the Wool Industry Bill does enable the long term problems of the industry to be attacked in a better way. The Wool (Deficiency Payments) Bill, which is encompassed by the cognate debate, guarantees the short term position of the industry. Taken in conjunction the 2 Bills represent the maintenance of a policy which has been so demonstrably successful.
The Wool Industry Bill itself has given rise to some comments in various quarters, and it is those comments to which 1 particularly want to address myself. The first criticism is that the Bill is seen by some as an intention by the Government to preserve the present system of selling wool. That is utter nonsense. The whole purpose of the Bill is to facilitate change and ensure that all new methods of handling and marketing the wool clip can be developed with minimal restraint. The reason the auction system is referred to specifically in the Bill is that the auction system at this stage is the one area which has come within fairly strict control. If one looks at the legislation covering the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission it will be seen that measures relating to the control and regulation of the auction system are specifically within that legislation. They have been translated into this Bill because it is through the auction system at this stage that the world can best assess trends in the raw wool market.
It is true that techniques such as the tender technique, for example, are working magnificently and effectively. One would hope that if it proves to be to the economic advantage of wool growers it will be developed further. I assure members of the House who have expressed concern about the specific reference to the auction system and not to alternative methods of selling, that there is no intention to inhibit in any way the development of beneficial market commercial innovators. In a statement earlier this year the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) specifically said:
It is the desire of the Government to ensure the retention in the marketing system of efficient commercial innovators where consistent with the overall objectives of efficient marketing.
I repeat that assurance to the House. 1 assure the House that that will be seen as a directive to the new Australian Woo] Corporation. There have been specific suggestions about the degree to which the new market innovators, particularly the tender system, will be disadvantaged. I do not believe that, in the form of the powers included in clause 38 of the Bill, there is cause for such suggestions. The reason there have been some changes from the original legislation has been to ensure that arrangements can be entered into between the Corporation and market innovators to facilitate the Corporation’s assisting their competitive operation in the market place. One of the specific alterations is clause 38(l.)(c) which includes a specific provision that the Australian Wool Corporation may make arrangements with a view ‘to securing the adoption of terms and conditions governing the acceptance of wool for sale, and the sale of wool, whether at auction or, with the approval of the Minister, otherwise than at auction;’. The reason the words ‘with the approval of the Minister* have been written in there and elsewhere is not, as has been alleged here, to give the Government more control of the industry but to give the industry greater flexibility at a time of change.
The price averaging plan was written chapter and verse into the Australian Wool Commission legislation. Part of the difficulty that we have had in the last few months, when there has been a capacity to introduce an alternative method of selling small lots, has been the rigidity of the legislative form of words. Obviously it was not thought that we should give the Corporation power to introduce changes which might cost the taxpayers of this country money and which might have profound ramifications. It is thought that by requiring the approval of the Minister there will be an ability for the Government to assess the benefits of these new forms of intervention, if one likes to call it such, by the Corporation. Further, this Parliament will have an opportunity to question the Minister if there should be changes. If something is done with the approval of the Minister, he is answerable to Parliament and Parliament will be in a position to question the changes to the degree that is thought necessary.
I assure the House that the changes included in the Bill are directly to the benefit of new techniques of handling and marketing. The specific changes introduced in earlier legislation are intended to facilitate change, not to inhibit it. The Bill has in general been supported by the members on this side of the House. I see it as a positive move towards changing the marketing structure. I do not believe that we can inject into lt the time requirements suggested in the Opposition’s foreshadowed amendment. [Quorum formed] It is a pity that the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) cannot take this legislation as seriously as do members on this side of the House. There is a very real advantage for the wool growers-
– This is the Parliament, you know.
– I rise to order. I have no right to be cursed by the Leader of the House because I called a quorum. I make no secret of the fact that I called it.
– Order! There is no point of order.
Mr Chipp - I claim to have been misrepresented. I said nothing to the honourable member for Sturt about his right to call a quorum. When the honourable gentleman began to act in his customary larrikin fashion by interjecting, I interjected to remind him that this is the national Parliament and not the waterfront.
– This Bill is of very real benefit to the wool growers of this country. It is a pity that the Parliament cannot take as much note of the benefits in this legislation as the wool growers have because the wool growers have benefited significantly from the positive action of the LiberalCountry Party Government. They are in a position today of being able to look forward instead of looking back, as regrettably they were only able to do 12 months ago. Then they were able to look ahead only with considerable uncertainty. The policies the Government has introduced are of tremendous help to the Australian wool industry and there is no doubt that when the Australian wool industry is viable and profitable so is the Australian community. It is necessary to realise that as a result of this Bill the Australian community as a whole will benefit.
The Australian taxpayer in the last few years in some quarters has been accused of sustaining an outdated and outworn industry. This is not true of the wool industry. True during the course of its operations the Australian Wool Commission has borrowed funds to a significant degree from the Commonwealth and commercial sources. It has repaid those funds. It has paid commercial rates of interest on those funds and the report of the Australian Wool Commission demonstrates that it, operating on behalf of the Australian wool growers, was able to net a profit because of the backing given by this Government to its operations; because the Government supported it. Yet the Opposition, and I have already referred to statements by members of the Opposition, refused on a number of occasions to give the Commission the financial support that it needed, that the wool industry needed and that Australia needed to give them all a chance for the future.
This Bill is a further positive step in a succession of measures we have introduced to ensure that the wool industry will again be able to face the future, to look towards change and to adopt, wherever it is practical and feasible and to its advantage, a method of handling and marketing which will make wool again truly competitive. It is no use our looking at the past and saying that because something has worked in the past it will inevitably do so in the future. We accept the fact that this legislation is endeavouring to facilitate a change.
Representations have been made to me to change certain words within the legislation and, in particular, to define the 2 words auction’ and ‘broker’. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) may well have referred to these matters when he spoke earlier in the day. The 2 words auction’ and ‘broker’ are included in their present form; ‘auction’ because the auction system as it exists is well known. It has been a facility for selling wool and established in its present form for many years. We believe, from advice given through the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and other sources, that there can be beneficial changes to the auction system, but were we to broaden the interpretation of the word I believe the restraints that this Bill will give to the Australian Wool Corporation to apply to the auction system may not be beneficial to other systems. It is, therefore, in my opinion not advisable to include all other forms of selling wool where full access is given to the wool as an auction system. However it is the intention of the Government to ensure that the Australian Wool Corporation will give backing to these other systems where there is full access to the wool. I believe that the Corporation is able to do this and I do not see that its function will be in any way inhibited because of the form of the legislation as it will now be passed.
The second suggested amendment related to the definition of the word ‘broker’. There is a fear in some quarters that ‘broker’ refers to only a member of the Australian Council of Wool Selling Brokers. This is not so. Indeed under the present interpretation a number of organisations in Western Australia, including the Economic Wool Producers, and some others in eastern Australia are included for the purpose of the operation of the Australian Wool Commission legislation as brokers. This will continue to be so. A ‘broker’ does not refer to only a member of the Australian Council of Wool Selling Brokers. For this reason I do not believe there is any need to include a definition of the word ‘broker’. It was not in the former Bill; it is not in this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
– I have 3 amendments which relate to clauses 38 and 40 which, in part, read: (1.) The functions of the Corporation include the following functions: -
to inquire into (whether alone or in cooperation with other authorities and other organisations), and from time to time report to the Minister and to the Australian Wool Industry Conference upon, methods of marketing wool (including any changes in wool marketing procedures that the Corporation considers necessary to enable the Corporation to exercise control over the marketing of all wool produced in Australia) and any other matters connected with the marketing of wool; and
for the purposes of the function referred to in paragraph (p) of sub-section (1.) of section 38 of this Act -
In clause 40, at the end of the clause add the following paragraph:
I listened carefully to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) and his assurance concerning forms of marketing of wool other than the auction system as we know it. However, I am still unable to understand why the Act cannot be broadened. I cannot understand why there would be restraints - the word used by the Minister - on the functions and powers of the Australian Wool Corporation. I believe that there is an inconsistency. Clause 38 provides: (1.) The functions of the Corporation include the following functions:
If we look at clause 40 we find that the powers of the Corporation include the power to:
Clause 40 (b) contains the words ‘or otherwise’ which mean that the Corporation has power to operate a flexible reserve price scheme other than the auction system as we know it. To me it follows that if the Commission is to buy wool at auction or otherwise, the reserve price scheme also must operate at auction or otherwise. This is consistent. I do not think anybody would deny the logic of that statement. If in logic the words ‘or otherwise’ are part of clause 40 (b) I cannot see why they should not appear in clause 38 (l.)(a).
I believe that the assurance is implicit in clause 40 (b) because the provision ‘buy wool at auction or otherwise’ gives that assurance in writing. Why not make it beyond doubt that the flexible reserve price scheme will apply also to other operations such as those through Economic Wool Producers Ltd, or whatever sphere clause 40 (b) refers to? If it does not, to me it is inconsistent. I cannot see why the words or otherwise’ could not be inserted in clause 38 (1.) (a). That would make the provision clear to everybody. It would be consistent with clause 40 (b) and would mean buying and selling under the reserve price scheme.
I say that because I believe that the addition of these words would clear the matter up in everybody’s mind and it would mean also mat the doubts being expressed by some people - we have heard these doubts today - regarding the auction system by sealed bids by tender in relation to sampling would be covered. The inclusion of the words ‘or otherwise’ would remove those doubts. If these words are not added, clause 38 (l.)(a) is inconsistent with clause 40(b). It is possible that the Minister for Primary Industry will say that because the provision is found in clause 40(b) it follows that it applies in respect of clause 38(l.)(a). Why not include these words in clause 38 (l.)(a)? This would completely clarify the position in respect of the other organisations that are operating in a modified auction system.
– The power conferred under clause 38 (1.) (k) is the power within which it is intended to extend the operations of the reserve price scheme to other forms of selling. The difficulty in including the words ‘or otherwise’ in clause 38 (1.) (a) is that this would include, for example, private sales. It is thought that, in any extension of the activities of the Corporation, it will be necessary that the Government should have an opportunity to consider the degree to which a move is being made.
If the Committee cares to refer to clause 38 (1.) (k), it will see that the Corporation is given power: to keep under constant review the practice of the buying and selling of wool outside the auction system, and to make recommendations to the Minister as to measures for dealing with any detrimental effects that that practice is having in relation to the objects of this Act or the requirements of the next succeeding section and to take such measures as the Minister approves for the purpose of reducing or eliminating those detrimental effects.
Indeed, I understand that negotiations are well advanced between the Australian Wool Commission and several of the tender operators towards the introduction of a system of their presenting sealed bids, which is in fact their function as operators in a flexible reserve price scheme. That being in no way precluded from the functions of the Corporation because of the power conferred under clause 3 8(1.) (jr.), it is not felt necessary or desirable to put the specific power ‘or otherwise’ in clause 38(1.) (a), particularly as this would mean that the Corporation would be able to introduce those changes without reference to the Government. The Government has reservations about the degree to which there should be a reserve price included within the private system of selling wool, particularly at this time.
– It is still in clause 40 (b).
– That is to buy wool privately; that is true.
– I desire to address myself to the 3 amendments that have been moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). I might say by way of preface that my right and qualification and all the rights of the Opposition in relation to this measure have been challenged by members on the Government side and by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). It appears that the only people who, according to the Government, can discuss wool are those who keep a few sheep for themselves. I reject this as quite ludicrous. On this basis we must accept it that the Government’s view is that the only people who can discuss prostitution in this Parliament are prostitutes - and I might say we are a bit short on this side of the House; I do not know how the Government is fixed. This is how ludicrous the situation is. This is what was put up today. I reject it. If this is the sort of absurdity that the Government is prepared to put forward I think the Government stands exposed for the stupidity of it. What we are asked to do in this Bill is give the Government a blank cheque as to what it might or might not do in relation to the reserve price outside the auction system. The Minister says that any decision will come back to him. I find this a little bit amusing.
– I said that it will come back to the Parliament. If the honourable member had listened to my speech before he would know that I said there is power through the Parliament to question any action taken by a Minister.
– Of course there is.
– And anything that is approved by a Minister is therefore subject to the scrutiny of Parliament.
– Clause 38 (1.) (k) makes it pretty clear that it is only the responsibility of the authority to take such measures or recommend on such measures as the Minister approves. So what the Minister is doing is taking unto himself in this legislation the responsibility for saying whether the reserve price provisions will be extended to wool sold outside the auction system. I would say that this is a piece of active discrimination. The absurdity of it is all the more obvious when we consider that the Minister himself has only 6 weeks to run as the Minister for Primary Industry.
– Now you are joking.
– You will have a new government; you will have a new Minister.
– You really are prostituting the truth.
– You will have a new government; you will have a new Minister. There is a doubtful morality in a transitory Minister putting forward that there should be a corporation, a new authority and appointments for 5 years when in fact he has 6 weeks of his writ to run.
– You are saying: ‘Do nothing’.
– We are not saying: ‘Do nothing’. We are saying that we want to have a new system, but there should not be active discrimination against other forms of selling. This has been said by members on the Minister’s own side of the House. I suggest that he listen to his own members. They have accepted his assurance. That is their privilege. It is also ours to suggest that what the Minister says he is going to do should be enshrined in the legislation, and we have put that forward in a reasonable way. It has also been said, of course, that we should not be putting this forward from our point of view because we have a shortage of sheep numbers on our side of the House. It is rather interesting that the biggest single decision on wool was made by a man who has never been a wool grower and has never lived in the countryside. That happens to be the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), who on that David Frost tea party session said: T make all the important decisions. I had the problem of deciding whether or not there would be an acquisition scheme for wool. I made that decision’. And the decision is that we are not going to have it under this legislation. As the honourable member for Dawson pointed out, we will have another inquiry which could go on interminably. When the members of the Country Party talking about who makes the decisions they should heed their own Prime Minister. He seemed to put them in their place.
– They are just puppets.
– He makes the decisions. I take his word for it. He apparently made this one and so have this Bill before us. Of course, the interesting thing is that this is the Bill that is an answer to the roll call of the industry for acquisition. We have had meetings at Moree of 2,700 wool growers, at Narrandera of 1,200 wool growers, at Nyngan of 1,500 wool growers, at Orange of 1,500 wool growers, at Melbourne a march of 10,000, and many smaller meetings. Altogether about 20,000 wool growers have come together with a unanimous request. The answer to that request is in this Bill introduced by the Government.
– Yes, and what an inadequate answer it is. We have said-
– You just said: ‘Do not do it’.
– The members on the Government side are apparently not only blind in one eye but terribly hard of hearing. If they could read the amendment which is before them they would see that it states: to formulate a detailed plan for operation by the Corporation, of a scheme to acquire and/or market the Australian wool clip and to report this plan to the Parliament within 6 months of the commencment of this Act.
This is our heeding of the voices of the industry. This is what we have said that we will do. This is what we want to see. The Government has only made some words available to us again. As far as we are concerned, it is just not good enough.
Sittings suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was referring to the fact that the Bill discriminates against every method of selling except the auction system. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) at the second reading stage of the debate gave certain assurances. Certainly his words are quite different from the words in the Bill. We posed the question and we pose it again: Why should there be some discrimination against orga nisations like the Economic Wool Producers and people like Mr James of Cleckheaton Ltd, a company which is now involved in the Riverina in wool production as well as using wool in manufactures? Why should they be excluded? The Minister has said in a vague and imprecise way that there are some difficulties but he will undertake to make sure that they are covered. We do not accept that at all because we do not see the reason why the Bill should say something different from what the Minister says.. We will persist with our amendment for that reason.
The honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) said something about the difficulty of finding out how much private buyers pay for wool. I do not think there is any difficulty at all because, after all, under the subsidy scheme the books and returns of the private buyers have to be dealt with, they have to be covered. There is full knowledge of them to enable the people who made the sales to qualify for the subsidy, so that there’ is no excuse there. We -must ask ourselves why there is this strangeness in the Bill. I think the reason is obvious. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) has made a decision that there shall not be an acquisition scheme. He said , that he made that decision. He has also made quite clear that his solution to the wool , industry’s problems is to move out 11,000 to .14,000 wool growers. Both decisions of the Prime Minister are very unpalatable for the people around the countryside.
How is. anybody to go to the countryside 6 weeks before an election and say that the Prime Minister will phase out up to 14,000 wool growers, that he will not have an acquisition scheme that 20,000 people in the wool industry have asked for at the meetings to which I have referred? How is that to be done? The answer is very simple. It is done through this Bill. As the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) pointed out so powerfully earlier, this is simply a device to put off the decision. If there is any real dedication to fundamental and basic reform and if there is a serious desire on the part of Government supporters, whether in the Liberal Party or the Country Party, they have an opportunity to show that seriousness, to show a desire for reform by voting for the amendment that we have put forward.
It is too much to ask at this stage, at long last, that after 6 months a decision should be made? Is that unreasonable? If we were simply talking about a time limit the Minister might rise and say that 6 months is a little short and that he would probably like 9 months. That is a good pregnant period. I might say that we would probably be prepared to discuss it with the Government and the Minister if he had a period in mind, but in fact no period is specified. It is a timeless undertaking and therefore it does not seem to us to be a serious undertaking at all but simply a way of papering over the differences between the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party on the one hand and the Country Party on the other hand. I do not want to do either of them an injustice. I can take the words of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) and accept them and say that that is his serious view and we know where he stands. I can take the words of the Minister in relation to this measure and those of some of his colleagues who say that they want an overall acquisition scheme.
Surely we have come to an end to words and we should now be asking for some definite action to be taken. The Government has presided over a situation in which the processing industry processes only 6 per cent of the national wool clip. There are fewer scours now than there were in 1900. After all of the talk it has been left to Japan and Japanese interests to set up the first decentralised processing plant at Orange. All I can say is that the Japanese interests are doing what has been asked for by Australian communities. They sought the co-operation of the Australian Government and they did not get it. It is for these reasons we put forward the amendment.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I oppose the amendment submitted by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). I think the House would have normally accepted the principle of opposing the measures proposed by the honourable member for Dawson. Without a doubt a lot of cloud-
– All right, a lot of poppycock has been introduced into this debate by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). Why in the name of fortune must this gentleman continue to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the wool growers? Why does he want to confuse the issue? He has been told time and time again that we have no constitutional powers to introduce an acquisition scheme. Fancy the honourable member for Riverina talking about discrimination. That must be the statement of the week because he would discriminate against anyone. It is obvious from the proposals submitted by the honourable member for Dawson that the Opposition is not prepared to accept this Bill in its present form and that it wants to direct the Corporation to acquire the Australian wool clip. I suggest that the honourable members who desire to support this amendment should look at Clause 38 (1.) (o). There is no need for me to read the clause. It is before the Committee at the present time.
The clause clearly sets out what can be achieved by the corporation. It is as clear as crystal to most members in this chamber and what is more I am quite convinced that it is clear to the bulk of the deep thinking wool growers throughout Australia. Some months ago we heard quite a lot of talk about how the wool growers of Australia would reject this proposal. I represent a fairly important wool growing area and I have spoken to literally hundreds of wool growers at organisations and meetings. Whilst there was a certain amount of criticism of this proposal in the early stages, I am now quite convinced that the wool industry is prepared to accept the proposition presented by the Government. Therefore I certainly strongly oppose the amendment submitted by the honourable member for Dawson.
– I want briefly to enter this debate-
– You are nice and calm.
– Yes, I remind my friend the Deputy Liberal Party Whip that I am always nice and calm. I enter this debate at the Committee stage because of the almost hysterical outburst against the Opposition by the Minister for Primary
Industry (Mr Sinclair) who is now sitting somewhat forlornly at the table with his head hung in shame, possibly because he has done some reflection during the dinner adjournment. I think I spoke about wool when I made my second speech in this place in 1970. Perhaps some Government supporters would be well advised to have a look at what I said nearly 3 years ago. This Bill is aimed at assisting the wool industry. The Minister, now roused a little, had so much to say this afternoon relative to wool brokers. Broking is one area which has not carried the burden of the mistakes of the Government in regard to this industry.
Dalgety Australia Limited is a name that falls from the lips of so many of the people who purport to represent the wool growers. It is a name which comes to their minds in any election year because of the magnificant handouts that such companies make to the Liberal-Country Party political machine. In 1969 Dalgety made a profit of $2,416,000.
– How much was it?
– It was $2,416,000.
– Do you know what its capital was?
– I am not concerned with its capital but with the facts. The Minister may laugh. I make this very valid point down at the farm gate level, if I may use that phrase which honourable members opposite have not used. The farm gate level is the subsistence level. Whatever capital goes through the farm gate allows the farmer to service his debts, to meet his ever increasing local government rates, his cost of living, his depreciation on machinery and all the other things that he is responsible for as a man on theland. Let us turn to the profits of Dalgety for 1970. I ask the learned gentlemen within the industry to bear in mind the reduction in the income of the producer.
– Which clause are you dealing with?
– Order! I suggest to the Committee that the honourable member for Sturt be allowed to make his speech without interjections.
– In 1970 Dalgety’s profit was notreduced very much. It was almost $2m. How much of that revenue came from this Government? If the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) wants to know about clauses he should look at the Bill. He had a lot to say about it this afternoon. In 1971 the profit was well in excess of $1.5m. The ‘Australian Financial Review’ of today, which I do not have with me, said that Elder SmithGoldsborough Mort Ltd made $6m in 1969. That figure was reduced by only a few thousand dollars in 1970. In 1971 the profit was in excess of $4m.
– Are these companies foreign owned?
– He will give you the shareholding in a moment.
– I would need an extension of time to give the shareholding. I remind my honourable friend from Riverina (Mr Grassby) that the takeover by Younghusband Ltd gave. Elder Smith a wider share spread. This appears in the Australian Financial Review’ of today’s date. I will hold it aloft for those few Country Party members who have been cluttering the benches since 1969. It contains a half page list of the major shareholders of Elder Smith-Goldsbrough Mort. They are not poor farmers and they are not representatives of farmers’ co-operative organisations.
– Who are they? Where do they come from?
– They are the Bank of New South Wales, ANZ Nominees Ltd, the Australian Mutual Provident Society and others. Let me digress for a moment and say that a tremendous amount of the taxpayers’ money is wasted, as a result of the Country Party’s attitude to the massive buildings purchased or built by these wealthy insurance companies which the Commonwealth Government rents from them. Other shareholders include Elders Trustee and Executor Company, City Mutual Life Assurance Society, National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd, Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd. There is not sufficient in the measure before the Committee to assist the grower or to protect the consumer.
– I rise to order. It is not my aim to be unpleasant to my friend the honourable member for Sturt, but I think the
Committee deserves to know what amendment or what clause he is remarking upon. It is quite beyond everybody who has been paying attention to this Bill to decide what on earth he is referring to.
– Order! I point out to the honourable member for Angas first of all that the Committee is considering the Bill as a whole, which means it is considering every clause. Three amendments have been moved by the Opposition and these are being considered together. It has been the practice in such circumstances to allow a reasonably broad discussion of the Bill as a whole and the amendments together. In the circumstances, particularly as this is the first period of speech of the honourable member for Sturt in the Committee stage, the Chair has allowed him to comment in the way he has.
– I thought you were making my speech for me, Mr Chairman. You took about 24 minutes of my time. But I have made my point. This Bill protects the brokers and does little or nothing for the growers. 1 challenge the Minister, who is looking at the document again, and the honourable member for Wakefield to tell us in the Committee stage where it gives any benefit to the farmer at the gate, to use the phrase that the honourable member for Wakefield used to use 2 or 3 years ago and which he has forgotten. Let them say where in this measure there is anything designed to assist the grower. This is a measure designed, as the previous ones have been since 1970, to protect the broker and to do nothing for the grower. I would like the Minister to tell me how much of the millions of dollars that have been paid out have gone direct to any mixed farmer. He knows darned well that the measure was designed for ANZ, and the rest of the brokers, the burglars in the industry. The Minister knows darned well that he cannot say honestly and truthfully that this Bill or previous Bills were designed to assist the grower. They are designed to assist the broker, purely and simply - no more or no less. The Minister knows that and yet the Government is assisting people who have made exorbitant profits and who continue to make exorbitant profits.
There is nothing in this Bill and there has been nothing in previous Bills, but there has been a lot of claptrap from the
Minister. The drawer underneath my desk which I am kicking with my foot at the moment is full of statements made by the Minister during the recess periods of this Parliament where he says that he will pull hell out of the shipping consortiums. The Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) used to do the same thing. But people are still being hit with high, exorbitant freight rates and nothing has been done about them. The Minister has never introduced any legislative measure to do just that.
– Why did you vote for the Bill?
– The honourable member for Angas should talk to Steele Hall when he gets back to Adelaide. His Party is split and divided enough. It should not split and divide the growers. The honourable member for Angas does not know which Party he belongs to. He does not know whether to talk to Doug Anthony or to ignore him. I will wind off on the note that this Bill is designed for the broker. The Minister knows that and he should not try to fool anybody by suggesting that the Government is helping the grower, because it is not.
– I would not have joined in this debate tonight but for all the poppycock we have heard from the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) and others. What they have forgotten to say is that the growers in New Zealand refused outright an acquisition scheme. I suppose I would have the most fan mail from wool growers all over Australia. If a ballot of wool growers were to be held there would not be a chance at this time of obtaining a majority decision in favour of an acquisition scheme. The Opposition has glibly moved an amendment but it did not tell us the meaning of the word ‘acquisition’. It did not tell us how it would finance the scheme or what scheme is proposed to be brought in. The wool industry suffered and reached its lowest ebb because of the kind of talk that we hays heard from the Opposition here tonight.
The users of wool - the Japanese and the International Wool Textile Organisation - were in such a frustrated position at the end of 1970 and 1971 that they did not know what to do in regard to the purchase of wool because the stage managed meetings of growers throughout the length and breadth of Australia using the phrase ‘single marketing authority’ created doubts and fears in the wool industry. We are going through a happy time in regard to prices because of the Japanese shipping strike. Because of the uncertainty in 1971 they are now refurbishing their stocks. The manmade fibres have been on the blink, fashions have changed, and we are in this happy position. I plead with the Government, with all the sincerity at my disposal, to cast away all the socialistic legislation, to allow the law of supply and demand and to allow the system to maintain itself. It will never maintain itself. Let us not have governmental interference as suggested by the Labor Party. Give a public servant one table and a chair or two at the beginning of the year and he will have 300 people around him at the end of the year. We would have such a huge commission that we would have more public servants than sheep. They would shear and get the benefit of the wool.
The Government has made provision that, if the growers change their mind in regard to acquisition, they have the right to approach the Minister. If they did so, we would go right into the matter and study the finance of the system that was put up. If the growers were in favour of it, then we could go ahead. We must remember that since 1950 many proposals have been put to the growers and each and every time they have been rejected. If the proposal were put to the growers again, it certainly would be turned down.
– I do not want to delay the Committee for long, but there are one or two matters I wish to have cleared up in relation to this Bill. In the first place, I must say that I am very disappointed in the remarks of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), for whom I have always had some respect, and that he should come out and tell the Committee that the Liberal Party’s policy is nonacquisition. He has made that pretty clear tonight. I am one of those who are very concerned that we should have an acquisition plan.
We are dealing with 3 amendments at the moment. The Minister for Primary
Industry (Mr Sinclair) made some reference, in relation to the first amendment, to the words ‘or otherwise’, which he seemed to be looking at very closely. I draw his attention to clause 38(l.)(c), which states: to formulate, and make arrangements with a view to securing the adoption of, terms and conditions governing the acceptance of wool for sale, and the sale of wool, whether at auction or, with the approval of the Minister, otherwise than at auction;
I should like to know from the Minister whether this means that the Corporation without the approval of the Minister cannot operate in any way at all in relation to a flexible reserve price, which is referred to in paragraph (a) of that subclause. That is the only way that I can read paragraph (c). Perhaps he would be able to explain it to me. I refer also to our second amendment, which states: to formulate a detailed plan, for operation by the Corporation, of a scheme to acquire and/or market the Australian wool clip and to report this plan to the Parliament within 6 months of the commencement of this Act;
In his second reading speech the Minister said: and to specifically empower the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question of wool marketing and to prepare a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme . . .
As I see it, if the Minister says ‘to specifically empower the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question’ surely there should be something in the Bill to state that the Corporation should do that. But all I can see in the Bill to suggest that is in clause 38 (l.)(o). It states: to inquire into (whether alone or in cooperation with other authorities and organisations), and from time to time report . . .
What does ‘from time to time’ mean? Does it mean once this year, once next year, once the year after; or perhaps once next year and never again? I do not know what it actually means. I think it is reasonable for us to say that at some time within at least 6 months the plan should be reported to the Parliament by the Corporation. I am not satisfied with the wording of paragraph (o), which seems to be the one on which the Minister relies. I think it is the one to which the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) referred. He said that it gave the Corporation all the authority it required. Certainly, I cannot see the word acquisition’ anywhere. The Bill refers to methods of marketing wool, but there is no suggestion in it of acquisition.
As I said in the first place, this is the thing I am mainly concerned with. I think this is what the growers are mainly concerned with, namely, that we should have an aquisition plan. Certainly, as I see it there is nothing in the Bill which in any way suggests - certainly not specifically anyway - that the Corporation is actually being asked to inquire into an acquisition plan. Therefore, I think it is fair enough for us to say that the Corporation should be called on to formulate a detailed plan of operation in this regard and to report to the Parliament so that members of the Patterson). I hope that the Government is doing in this field. I do not think there is anything wrong with this. I certainly hope that, well and truly before 6 months, something in relation to an acquisition plan can be presented and put into operation. Certainly it should not be a Kathleen Mavourneen sort of thing, as it is in paragraph (o). This can go on for ever and ever amen, if I may use that expression.
I support the amendments moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). I hope that the Government will accept them. I cannot see any reason why it should not, unless, as the honourable member for Mitchell said, it is not prepared to accept an acquisition plan. I should like the Minister to make it clear whether he agrees with what the honourable member for Mitchell said - that the bulk of wool growers do not want an acquisition plan - or whether he will instruct the Corporation to investigate it. If he is prepared to do the latter, I suggest that he should agree to the amendments to ensure that this is carried out.
– I should like to offer my thanks to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) for his very full explanation of the Government’s intention as to how this legislation will operate. The areas of concern which I mentioned earlier today during my speech in the second reading debate, I assured him, have been resolved completely. Further, I congratulate him on the successful completion of his long campaign to get this complex and important legislation into this Parliament. I should like to refer briefly to the Opposition amendment to clause 38(1.) (a). My name was raised in relation to this by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). We have just had an unequivocal assurance from the Minister that the support of the Corporation will be continued for methods of selling wool which allow full access to the wool. The Minister’s assurance is good enough for me.
The Australian Labor Party really is asking in this amendment for a flexible reserve price on private buying. It seems to me that there are 2 means by which such a scheme could operate. The first is where all wool which was sold privately went back to the Commission for valuation and assessment. Obviously this would affect the principal benefit which is claimed for private buying, namely, a saving of cost by simplification of procedures and a reduction of the time a grower spends without his money. Whatever one may think of the merits or otherwise of private buying - I put forward some of the arguments used against it earlier in the day - this amendment would merely be a guaranteed way of increasing costs at a time when everybody, including the Opposition, is talking about the need to reduce costs. The only other way I can see such a flexible reserve price scheme operating for private buying would be for the reserve price to be made up to the grower if the price paid by the private buyer was below the guaranteed reserve. What prospects this opens up. It would not take the farmer and the private buyer long to realise that they could do a deal. Let us take an extreme example where the price paid to the grower by the private buyer was 20c per lb for wool which at the time had a market value of 30c per lb and the guaranteed reserve for that type of wool at that time was 40c per lb. As far as I can see the Opposition’s amendment will transfer the liability for an amount equal to 10c per lb from the buyer to the Australian taxpayer. It is one thing to guarantee a reserve price to the wool grower but it is quite another to subsidise overseas buyers and users of wool. This would be the result of the Opposition amendment. For these reasons I reject it.
– It is amazing, you know, how stubborn a government can be over words. Honestly, the draftsmen have a great time preparing Bills. They are the greatest play-arounders with words in the country. We get a fantastic situation in 2 clauses of the Wool Industry Bill Clause 38(1.) of the Bill states:
The functions of the Corporation include the following functions:
to operate a flexible reserve price scheme in respect of wool offered for sale at auction;
In clause 40 they try to repeat much the same thing, but add the words ‘or otherwise’. This is just complete hooey. It is just a complete bewildering, stupid omission in one clause as against another. These 2 clauses are concerned with the functions of the corporation. Clause 40 states:
Without limiting the generality of sub-section (4.) of section 20 of this Act, the powers of the Corporation include the power to:
inspect and appraise wool presented for sale at auction;
buy wool at auction or otherwise;
So the Minister has provided for this marketing arrangement in one section of the Bill but will not provide for it in another.
– But they mean different things.
– Yes, that is right. To the architects of words they mean different things, but to the poor old grower they do not mean anything. He must be bewildered trying to work out what is meant by the words which add something in one clause of the Bill and miss them out in another. They are the same provisions.
The next thing I want to mention concerns the reason why the Government will not accept the Opposition’s second amendment to clause 38. If honourable members study paragraph (o) of clause 38 (1.), which has just been referred to by the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard), and read it carefully they will see it is exactly what we want. Clause 38(l.)(o) reads: to inquire into (whether alone or in co-operation with other authorities or organisations), and from time to time report to the Minister and to the Australian Wool Industry Conference upon methods of marketing wool.
Then there is the vital parenthesis - (including any changes in wool marketing procedures that the Corporation considers necessary to enable the Corporation to exercise control over the marketing of all wool produced in Australia)
It then says: and any other matters connected with the marketing of wool; and
The Opposition wants added after paragraph (o) of clause 38, paragraph (oa) to read: to formulate a detailed plan for operation by the Corporation, of a scheme to acquire and/or market the Australian wool clip and to report this plan to the Parliament within 6 months of the commencement of this Act; and
The Opposition is only trying to be more specific than what is in paragraph (o) of clause 38 of the Bill. But oh no, the Government could not accept that. We come back to the real reason why. The Government does not want to encourage the acquisition of wool. The Government by knocking out and refusing to accept our simple amendment on this specific point is deliberately saying to the world, the growers, the brokers and the rest: ‘We do not favour acquisition.’
The corporation might come up with a proposal for acquisition. If this Government survives - and of course I do not think it will - I wonder what the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), who has the power of approval or disapproval under this Bill, would do with such a recommendation. When he took it to Cabinet the Liberals would vote against it and the few Country Party members might vole for it. But they would be outnumbered because the Liberal Party will not have a bar of acquisition.
– At least you admit that we will be in government, so that is a good admission.
– I will just tell the Minister what will happen. The Labor Party is going to win 10 or 12 fresh seats and have a majority of 17 in the new Parliament.
– Order! I would suggest to the honourable member for Wilmot that while the debate is fairly wide because the chamber is discussing the Bill as a whole as well as taking 3 amendments together, I do not see anything in the Bill relating to an event which is to take place at a later stage this year.
– All I am saying is who is going to implement this Bill in a few months’ time. The Minister will not be implementing this legislation. He will be sitting on this side of the House if he gets back. I think that this is straw splitting of words. The Government’s failure to accept our second amendment is absolute proof that it does not accept acquisition. This is one thing we have got out of the Government tonight anyway.
– Firstly let me say that I was appalled by the statements made by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin). I do not really believe that he believes what he said. Any person who argues on a laissez faire basis in regard to primary products ought to get his head read. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly), of course, is also one of those people who are free traders. If he went up into my sugar area and talked like that he would be laughed at. The sugar industry has the most successful acquisition scheme in the world, lt is the best organised industry in Australia.
– Thanks to Jack McEwen.
– The Australian Labor Party in Queensland introduced it a long time before Jack McEwen ever entered this Parliament. Acquisition is a socialistic idea! The wheat industry quota systems introduced by this Government, which are the basis of orderly marketing in Australia and the wheat stabilisation schemes are 2 methods which are opposed to laissez-faire. Every country in the world has some production controls and implicit or explicit restraints on production. The days of laissez-faire-
– Do you think that is a good way?
– There is one thing certain: I would never agree to see laissezfaire in export primary industry.
– Do you think the Government should be controlling the amount of various agricultural products produced?
– The tobacco industry is highly successful and the sugar industry is highly successful. One can go right through these industries.
– All I want to know-
– The honourable member can speak afterwards. It is quite clear that the continued refusal of this Government to take a positive decision on urgent wool marketing reform based on the need to introduce as quickly as possible an acquisition scheme shows again the weakness of the coalition Government Every major wool growers’ organisation in Australia and the so called wool parliament of Australia is 100 per cent behind the acquisition scheme. We know that the Liberal Party is opposed to acquisition. One only has to go around the wool growers of Australia to hear what they think of the Liberal Party. It is quite clear that because this Government has political allegiance to the wool brokers and the pastoral firms this is the reason why for 2 years it has been stalling. The most important paragraph in the Minister’s second reading speech states:
Rather than delay action on the industry proposals the Government decided to proceed with the merging of the Wool Board and the Wool Commission and to specifically empower the new Wool Corporation to investigate the whole question of wool marketing and to prepare a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme, clearly defined in all respects.
Why is this not in the Bill? The honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) says that it is in clause 38 (1 .) (o). The Bill does not once mention when this Corporation will report to the Minister. That, is why we have moved an amendment which . if accepted will mean that the Corporation will report to the Parliament within 6 months. 1 am certain that every wool grower who supports acquisition of the clip would want the Corporation to report to the Parliament through the Minister within 6 months. That is the whole basis of the second amendment. It is all right to say in an airy-fairy way that this is set out in sub-clause (l.)(o). lt is not set out in the way that the Minister stated in his second reading speech.
The Minister has already indicated that he will oppose the amendments. I hope that when he replies he will give the Parliament some indication of the length of time that will elapse before me Corporation is to make its detailed acquisition report to the Minister. Will it simply be another committee of inquiry? We had the Crawford report. We had the Randall report. We had the Australian Wool Industry Conference report. Now we are to have the Corporation’s report. And then there will be an interdepartmental committee’s report. How long is this going to go on?
Everyone in this Parliament wants to see the best possible marketing reform introduced into the wool industry. Surely it is not going to take another 6 months of comprehensive investigation to achieve this.
– Would you do it off the top of your head?
– We are not all as silly as you. Acquisition is something which has been tried. Unfortunately it is a word which is bandied around too much without a lot of thought being given to it. An acquisition scheme has been proposed in Australia for years. The principle has operated in this and other countries for years. There is plenty of experience to learn from but one thing which this Government wants to preserve is the auction system. That is what the Liberal Party in particular wants to preserve at all costs. The auction system is the most archaic method of selling a commodity. Despite what the Country Party members say in their electorates they also want to preserve it. Why is it that there is no specific mention in this Bill of an acquisition scheme and more particularly a specific direction or instruction by the Minister requiring the Corporation to bring to him a scheme within a certain period? Perhaps he has given this, I do not know. Perhaps he has already indicated that he wants a report on this fairly quickly. This is something which he should make clear because it is really the key to this whole matter. The amalgamation of the Australian Wool Board and the Australian Wool Commission is something which should have occurred years ago.
– We did not have the Commission years ago.
– We should have had a statutory authority and a reserve price scheme years ago. I know that the honourable member for Wakefield opposed this.
– I did not oppose it.
– We know that. You oppose things outside the House and vote for them in the house, but when have you voted against your own party in this House? These amendments are the key to the whole future of marketing reform in Australia and what the Corporation will do in regard to marketing reform. I compliment the Minister for the way in which he prepared this second reading speech, in which he made crystal clear that what he wants is a detailed plan for a compulsory acquisition scheme. This is what the Opposition wants. All we are saying is that in this Bill there is no mention of this and, more importantly, there is no mention of the time within which the Corporation should make a report. We want to know how long it will take to bring it in, or will this simply be another procrastinating authority which will bring in a half-baked report at some point of time in the future and at that time further inquiries will be made?
– I was encouraged to speak by the concluding comments made by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) who said that, the important thing was to define the time within which the Australian Wool Corporation is to make its report. The important thing is to have the right scheme. It is essential that this organisation should have the opportunity to prepare a scheme which will cover all of the requirements that this Bill envisages. This is what the industry wants. This is what the growers want. This is in the best interests of the Australian people including the Australian wool growers. That is the main point I wanted to make. I was intrigued by all the emphasis placed by Opposition members on the time period of 6 months. Obviously they do not give themselves any hope of winning the election; otherwise they would not be worried about this time period of 6 months. That is only logical. They certainly would not be worried about this.
Another point I should like to make relates to the way in which the Oppostion members have grabbed at the views of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) as representng the views of the Government. On that basis the Opposition members must accept the views of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) with regard to revaluation because he is the Leader of their Party and revaluation will have an effect on the returns to wool growers under any acquisition scheme. Let us just have a few thoughts about that. This Bill contains 92 clauses but the Opposition has moved amendments to only 2 of them despite the fact that the honourable member for Dawson said that this is a matter of importance. What is important is that this new body should have the time and opportunity to give careful study to every aspect of this matter so that when a scheme is produced it will be one which will be able to guide the wool industry on the basis of the prosperity that we all want to see achieved.
– The second and third amendments that have been moved by the Opposition relate specifically to including in the Bill, firstly, an obligation on the Australian Wool Corporation in regard to the length of time to formulate a detailed plan of acquisition and, secondly, to making arrangements for the operation of an approved marketing scheme for acquisition. Neither of these amendments, as I indicated in my reply at the second reading stage, is acceptable to the Government. What we have done in this Bill is to advance as far as possible the formulation of a scheme of acquisition. We have said that the Government is prepared to introduce a scheme of acquisition but we have said that it must comply with certain pre-requisites. Those pre-requisites are that, in addition to being established as a commercial operation, it must necessarily be approved by State governments, by the industry and by the Commonwealth Government. I do not believe that it is possible to lay down a firm specific time factor and be quite confident that that requirement can be met. We have not the power to introduce an acquisition scheme. Were we to accept the second and third amendments - I have already spoken on the first - it would be beyond the capacity of this Parliament under the provisions of the Bill to implement an acquisition scheme. Indeed the third amendment, which relates to clause 40, would add nothing to the powers that the Corporation will already have under the provisions of clause 38 and clause 40.
Let me turn the attention of honourable members to a number of specific clauses within the Bill. For example, clause 38 (1.) (k) does give a capacity to keep under constant review the practice of the buying and selling of wool outside the auction system in order to develop such changes within that area as may be thought advisable. Clause 38(l.)(e) means that there is a facility to develop an alternative to a price averaging plan. The price averaging plan at the moment covers up to 3-bale lots offered at auction. The specifics within paragraph (e) will enable the extension of the price averaging plan subject to the approval of the Minister in such a way that there could well be a lot building plan or some other plan formulated which will enable a substantial percentage of the wool that is offered, other than in large lots, to be sold through some type of lot building programme. Clause 38 (1.) (o) provides a power for the corporation to develop a procedure which can then be submitted in the manner that I have suggested,
I believe that the formulation of the powers within this Bill will enable the development of an acquisition scheme, subject to its being a viable scheme , and subject to its being a workable scheme. The laying down of a time factor will not guarantee that we will be able to achieve those basic requirements. What we are after is to ensure that the scheme that is. introduced is one capable of practical application and one which will assist the wool grower. Let me re-assert the statement I made earlier. No-one on this side of the House, be he a member of the Liberal Party or . of the Country Party, has in mind the preservation of the vested interests of the wool industry. On the contrary, the Bill has been framed to ensure that change can be facilitated. We certainly believe that there is an essential movement to change. This momentum to change has been generated because . of the circumstances of the last few years. We have tried to provide flexibility in the Bill to ensure that that momentum in no way will be arrested. There is ho intention whatsoever to protect any vested interests of the wool industry. There is no intention to preserve the auction system or any other system, other than in the degree to which it will protect and help the wool grower to market his clip.
At the beginning of his remarks at the Committee stage the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) referred to clause 38(1 .)(a) and clause 38 (I.) (c). He suggested that the Corporation would have no power to operate a flexible reserve price scheme other than with the approval of the Minister because of the function of paragraph (c). That is not the intention of paragraph (c). In fact paragraph (c) covers the broad field of clip preparation standards and the laying down of the terms and conditions governing the acceptance of the wool for sale. They are factors which have been laid down in the past specifically to cover the sort of criteria which the Australian Wool Board has said relate to registration of wool classes and the standards of classing, and would encourage the better presentation of the Australian wool clip. But those honourable members who are familiar with wool handling and marketing procedures will know that the introduction of objective measurement and particularly of the whole system of sale by sample and core testing instead of by subjective testing of wool, has meant a complete change in the basis on which terms and conditions need to be prescribed.
There are problems involved in extending the rigid clip preparation standards that were adopted formerly for auction to systems other than the auction system because of the different manner of their operation. The reason that paragraph (c), which extends the standards beyond the auction system, is to be subject to the approval of the Minister is to ensure that no barrier is placed by the Corporation through the application of rigid standards which might inhibit these more flexible selling techniques. In particular, some of these sale by tender schemes, for example, have laid down quite different bases of classing and presentation of the clip which according to the original clip preparation standards would not be acceptable. Were those standards to be applied to some of those operating in the tender field, it could be that the tender system would not have started off at all. It is for that reason that the approval of the Minister has been included in paragraph (c) and has been excluded from paragraph (a). The Corporation certainly has every capacity to apply and operate the same flexible reserve price scheme within the auction system as is operating presently in the hands of the Commission, I believe that a scheme which will enable the submission of sealed bids to some of those operating in the tender field is well in development As I remarked earlier in the day, it will be possible for that scheme to be applied to the tender system, with the approval of the Minister, under clause 38 (1.) (k). So none of the inhibi tions which the honourable member for Kalgoorlie feels in relation to restrictions apply to paragraph (c).
I think the essential problem I see in the amendments that we have before us is that they add nothing to the substance of the Bill. What we are trying to do is to ensure that there will be change. We have given an undertaking that, subject to the meeting of certain criteria, the Government is prepared to produce legislation to acquire the whole Australian wool clip. But we cannot of ourselves do that. Such a proposal must be acceptable to the industry. It must be acceptable to State governments and it must meet substantially criteria that we have laid down. Accordingly, in my view, there is no reason whatsoever to include the formal restraints which the second amendment would place on the Corporation. Indeed, what we on this side of the House believe needs to be done is to allow the Corporation to develop as soon as possible - I would hope that it would be one of its first tasks - methods for improving the marketing of the clip. How and in what way it will overcome some of the technical difficulties of acquisition is uncertain. That is one of the reasons why none of us here in this place today are in a position to prescribe formally the sort of detail that is necessary to spell out an acquisition scheme. It must be spelt out. When it is spelt out satisfactorily, the Government has said, it is prepared to consider legislation to introduce it. Therefore, I commend the Bill, unamended, to the Committee.
Dr PATTERSON (Dawson)- by leave- I know that I have spoken twice already but I meant to ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) a question in relation to clause 38(1.) (1) which relates to freight rates. I am puzzled to know why the Corporation is not able to negotiate in relation to freight rates in its own right. I would think that it would need to operate with complete freedom in taking the initiative to get the best possible freight rates for the wool industry. It puzzles me why the approval of the Minister has to be secured in relation to freight rates because, after all, a lot of politicking goes on in the freight rate field. Shippers, brokers, and all sorts of people are under a temptation, if I may say that, to influence politicians. I believe that freight rates are so important that the Wool Corporation should be completely free of any restraint. It should be able to negotiate at every initiative without having to obtain the permission of the Minister. Perhaps this is just some type of formal thing; I do not know. However, the Bill states that the Corporation cannot take the initiative in negotiating freight rates unless the Minister agrees to it.
– I feel that I must express briefly my disappointment that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) did not in any way dissociate the Government from the remarks of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin). If he did so, I did not hear him.
– I intended to.
– If the Minister says that he does, that is OK. We accept what the Minister has said in relation to the Government’s preparedness to introduce an acquisition plan, but we want to know when that plan will be introduced. Surely this is the important point. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) said that surely the main thing is that we have a scheme. It is not much good having a scheme unless it is in operation. Surely that is the thing that has to be looked at. It is not much good to the wool growers to know that a scheme will come into operation in the distant future if they are to go broke in the meantime. Therefore, for the Minister simply to say that the Government is prepared to accept the proposition of an acquisition plan is not sufficient for the wool growers. We want something more definite than that. It seemed pretty obvious to me when the Minister said that he could not tie the Corporation down to a time that he did not expect anything to be done for 6 months and that it would be far longer than 6 months. This is not at all satisfactory.
The Minister has not said anything to convince either side of the Committee that the amendment moved by the Labor Party should not be carried. I thank the Minister for his explanation of the clause to which I first referred but, as I said before, my main concern is that we must have an acquisition plan. This is also the main concern of the wool growers. The least the Government could do is give us some idea of when it is likely to come about. The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) claims that the Opposition wants the Government to delay action for 6 months which suggests to his mind that the Labor Party does not believe that it will be in power in 6 months’ time; in other words, it would not be the government after the next election. The fact is that before Parliament meets after the election this Corporation will have been set up. The Opposition is supporting the Bill as it is, so the Corporation will come into being. We want the Corporation to be working on this matter before we become the government later this year. We want it to be working. Therefore it is idle for the honourable member for Maranoa to suggest that the Labor Party will not be the government. He knows full well that it will be the government. And we know from what the Minister has said that it will be the Labor Party which will be introducing the stabilisation plan in the same way as it introduced the wheat stabilisation plan. I remember reading in Hansard that when that p’an was introduced by the Labor Government the former leader of the Country Party, Sir John McEwen, opposed the proposal. He said that it was the first step by the Labor Party towards socialising the rural industries. But the Labor Party persisted with its plan and the wheat growers have benefited ever since. I wonder what would have happened had the Labor Party riot persisted with its plan. I wonder what will happen to the wool growers if it does not persist with what it is doing on this occasion.
– Order! I do not know what would have happened either and I suggest to the honourable member for Kalgoorlie that that matter is not quite relevant to the subject of the discussion now before the Committee.
– It is the fact just the same. I would like the Minister to give the Committee something more definite than what he has said so far in relation to the formation of an acquisition scheme so that the Opposition can decide whether -o pursue its amendments. But so far as 1 am concerned at the moment, the amendments still stand.
– I wish to speak for just a few moments on what has been said about the Australian Wool
Corporation’s responsibility. It would appear from what has been said by Opposition speakers that the Corporation is some remote body of men who have no interest whatsoever in the producer. The Corporation shall consist of 9 voting members of whom 4 will be wool growers. Clause 8 of the Wool Industry Bill 1972 states that the members of the Corporation who will represent Australian wool growers shall be appointed on the. nomination of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. These 4 wool growers obviously will have a lot to say on the setting up of any future plan, on any alteration to the present legislation or in relation to any submission to the Government. What the Opposition wants the Government to do is lay down in specific terms how the Corporation will work. Marketing plans that have been successful in Australia in relation to primary industries have been successful because they have been operated by an authority. If the Labor Party wants to debate what it did in respect of the wheat industry when it first came to power, what it did to our friends in New Zealand and the wheat growers in New Zealand, I will be prepared to debate these matters with it any day it likes. But it was not until the present Government came into office that these matters were rectified. However, I do not want to get away from the Bill under discussion. The Corporation which is to be set up under this Bill will decide what recommendations are to be made to the Government with respect to the wool industry and I have no doubt that the wool growers and others on the Corporation will be able to handle that task as it should be handled.
– I would like to ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair): Who initiates an inquiry into, a discussion of and the preparation of plans?
– The Corporation.
– Does the Minister ask the Corporation to do this or can it undertake this of its own free will?
– The Corporation can do it of its own free will or the Government can ask it to do so if it so desires.
– In other words, the Government can apply pressure to the Corporation if it wants to.
That the amendments (Dr Patterson’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority .. .. 8
Question so resolvedin the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) - by leave - read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 31 August (vide page 1012), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Sinclair) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 20 September (vide page 1630), on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– May I have the indulgence fo the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I should like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill 1972. Separate questions may, of course, be put at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
– Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 2 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– In respect of the States Grants (Fruit-growing Reconstruction) Bill 1972I move:
That all words after That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of opinion that The
Schedule should make provision for (a) applications to be accepted up to 30th June 1974, and (b) assistance to be paid for trees removed up to 31st October 1974’.
In actual fact this amendment extends the period of the operation of this legislation for a further 12 months. We are dealing this evening with 2 Bills. Unfortunately when we are considering apples and pears in this cognate debate it must be remembered that there are fresh apples and fresh pears and canning peaches and canning pears. First let us consider the situation with respect to fresh apples and fresh pears. This year there has been a serious decline in the economics of the apple export trade. There has been a reduction of more than 30 per cent in export availability. Despite the fact that a lower volume has been sold for export, prices have not been very good. On the world markets, South Africa has increased its exports significantly by more than 30 per cent and New Zealand also has increased her exports significantly. There can be no question that both the fresh and canning fruit export industries are in a precarious position. Over the last few years freight rates have risen consistently. Today we have the intolerable situation of the freight rate charged for the shipment of apples being almost 60 per cent of the value of the commodity exported. The industry has attempted to do something positive about this in Tasmania under the one export licence concept - Tasfruit Pty Ltd. It has attempted to make some savings in freight by block cargo deliveries, the rationalisation of ports through which exports are made and the virtual end of the sorting of fruit at British ports. I understand from reading reports that Tasfruit Pty Ltd has saved approximately $1m through its operations in this way.
But the hard facts are that the freight rates in the fruit industry relative to the value of the commodity are at an intolerably high level. We have seen big jumps not of 2 and 3 per cent but of 20 and 25 per cent in freight rates. This is a situation which is particularly dangerous and it places a State like Tasmania in a very precarious economic position, because there is no sector of primary industry in Australia more at the mercy of the uncertain export markets than is the Tasmanian fruit industry. Over 90 per cent of the gross returns from the sale of alt apples and pears in Tasmania comes from export sales. Over 70 per cent of Australia’s exports of apples come from Tasmania, and only 5 per cent of Australia’s apple production is consumed on the Australian fresh fruit market. Because of the shrinking availability of markets, the ‘at risk’ proportion of apple sales is increasing. The stabilisation scheme has certainly helped the industry, but in the view of the Opposition it. does not go far enough. Last year we moved an amendment to a Bill relating to the fruit industry, and time has shown that our amendment was correct. It was in relation to the 4.4 million bushels eligible for the maximum payment under the stabilisation scheme and which is the second variable in fixing the rate of payout. We said that this figure was not high enough and moved an amendment to the effect that it should be reviewed each year. We will move exactly the same amendment in the Committee stage of this Bill. The Government has now admitted that we were right because it is amending the Bill to increase the amount from 4.4 million to 4.9 million bushels.
We do not believe that this should be a rigid figure. It should be subject to review each year. The maximum commitment of the Government in the 1971 export year worked out at 47.26c on 7,448,000 bushels. There are 2 variables - the payment of 80c per bushel and the 4.4 million bushels eligible for this payment. If the ‘at risk’ figure goes up and breaks the ceiling of 4.4 million, of course the payout rate per bushel decreases accordingly. The result of last year was that the maximum contribution worked out at 47.26c per bushel on a total of 7,448,000 bushels. From the returns of exporters it is estimated that the quantity shipped at risk in 1972 will be approximately 5,240,000 bushels, compared with 7,448,000 bushels the previous year. The conclusion can be drawn that the maximum payout will increase to approximately 67c per bushel for this export season, whereas it was 47.26c for the previous export season. The Opposition believes that this upper limit, this second variable, has to be subjected to a review. We cannot see any reason why the Government could not accept the amendment we will move, particularly as we have been proved right. Our amendment simply seeks to write into the legislation that each year this variable be subject to review and varied if necessary.
I deal next with the canned fruit industry. The Australian canned deciduous fruit pack is mainly made up of peaches, pears and apricots, either straight or mixed. Peaches are the most important canning fruits, and approximately half of the total canned deciduous fruit pack is made up of peaches. The variety principally used is the clingstone, and as we know this variety has a limited appeal to the fresh fruit markets. Canned pears average between 35 per cent and 45 per cent of the total Australian canned deciduous fruit pack. The WBC variety is mainly used for canning. About only 6 per cent of the total Australian deciduous fruit pack is made up of apricots. The tree pull reconstruction programme is designed to apply to all fruit trees, including vines. The definition of fruit tree in the Act includes vines. But the Minister has specifically stated that the $4. 6m for the tree pull scheme is to be allocated to trees bearing fresh and canning apples, pears and peaches. The Opposition is not happy with this tree pull programme. We are not opposing it because if it can do some good to some growers-
– Even one.
– That is right. It will be appreciated by those whom it can help. But we are not happy about many aspects of it. I particularly condemn the Government for not laying down some guidelines as to how this scheme is to operate. The only information we can secure is that it will be operated by the States, but we want to know how it will be operated by the States. What sorts of conditions will be put on the States with respect to applications made to remove trees? We also want to know whether the grower himself is to get the loan in the first instance, which will become a grant after 5 years. Will this money simply go to somebody who has a mortgage or lien on the property, or will it go to a State government or some other body to which the farmer owes money? We do not know this. This is not explained in the second reading speech. It is not explained in the agreement. It is not explained in the Bill. It it very important to have this information because some very disturbing evidence has come to our notice in the last week. My colleague the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) will be dealing at length with some of this evidence. It is quite disturbing. In fact, what some of the authorities are doing amounts almost to blackmail of the farmers. They are imposing certain conditions before acceptance under the scheme is allowed. This defeats the whole purpose of the scheme.
Why has not the Commonwealth Government laid down guidelines for the operation of the scheme? Is there to be a means test? If so, how is it to operate? ls the scheme to be directed towards farmers who are in such a desperate financial position that they must have money to assist them or is assistance to go only to those farmers who have potentially viable properties? These are important questions. Another factor to be worked out is the effect that the scheme will have on the viability of a fruit farm. An analysis was conducted of properties in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. It was found that on an average Goulburn Valley fruit farm of about 65 acres, peaches were grown on 18 acres, pears on 15 acres and apricots on 2 acres. The annual yield of peaches was 5 to 6 tons an acre, pears 8 to 9 tons, and apricots 4 to 5 tons. As to capitalisation, the average land value was about $50,000, plant and equipment being valued at about $20,000, making a total of $70,000 for the average farm. The annual gross income from such a canning fruit farm was estimated then at about $25,000 but it would vary greatly with fruit prices. Costs, including depreciation and owner operator’s allowance would be in the vicinity of $23,000 a year. A large proportion of these costs is fixed and must be paid before any income is earned.
One point has to be watched fairly carefully, not only by the farmers but also by the advisers. If trees are pulled out in a big way, to what degree will the change upset the economic balance of a farm, particularly with respect to the net cash income available to a grower? A farmer must do something with his land from which he is to remove the fruit trees. It is also fairly important to have a look at the effect on the balance as far as land use is concerned. One thing always greatly puzzles me. Why cannot we have greater promotion of canned fruits in Australia? Why is it that we consume such a relatively small amount of canned fruits in Australia? Honourable members can have a guess at the annual consumption. I do not know how many are familiar with the figures. The average annual per capita consumption of canned pears in Australia is only 3 lb. It has risen slightly since 10 years ago when it was 2 lb. The annual per capita consumption of peaches is 4 lb. That is rather low in view of the food value and the price of the commodity.
– How does that compare with canned fruit salad and canned pineapple?
– The annual per capita consumption of pineapples is 2b lb. I have no figures for fruit salad. The figures for canned pineapple are actually less than those for canned pears or peaches. To my mind the consumption does not seem to amount to very much over 12 months. I do not know how many tins of canned pears, canned pineapple or canned peaches I eat. I have no idea. I most certainly would eat a lot more than 4 lb a year. I wonder how enthusiastic the promotion of this product has been throughout Australia. I should have carried out more research to compare the per capita consumption in Australia with that in overseas countries. This consumption level of canned fruits could be quite common throughout the world. I do not know. It does seem to me to be very low. For that reason I wonder whether a lot more thought could be given to the promotion of canned fruits in Australia.
I do not like to vote for a Bill which is deliberately aimed at pulling out trees from which people earn an income. It has taken a long time to put those trees there, and a lot of sweat and worry. The husbandry alone associated with those trees has been such that it is a tragedy to see healthy fruit trees on a viable property deliberately destroyed. What is the alternative to this problem if there is a glut year in and year out? The market for these products is shrinking, particularly on the European market following Britain’s joining the European Economic Community. What is the alternative? It is quite obvious that unless something is done to stop the progressive reduction of the incomes of producers the trees over an entire fruit farm will deteriorate rather than on only a section. I stress that point because I do not feel at all happy about supporting any measure that is directed towards pulling out good trees.
I do not know how the Minister will police this scheme. I can see problems in it. For example, I do not know how a farmer can be stopped from replanting if he wants to replant. I know the Act prohibits it. I can understand farmers being stopped from replanting on the same farm, but I do not know how the Act can be policed if the same person is a member of a company or partnership and commences replanting on some other farm which he owns. Honourable members might ask why he would do that. I do not know. There may be reasons why he would want to do it. It is an unknown factor in the entire tree pull scheme. The important point which I wish to make - and I hope the Minister when he replies will tell us more - is how the scheme will operate. This information cannot be obtained from the schedule or the second reading speech. The principles are there in terms of maximum and average amounts of money to be paid, but which farmers will receive these grants and what conditions will be placed upon them?
I can see legal problems arising in this matter. I refer to a farm which is under a mortgage. In other words somebody else has a lien on that farm. Trees are a fixed asset on the farm. The mortgagors will have some say in whether the trees will be pulled out because they could have loaned the money on the basis of the revenue which would be earned from those trees. That is only common sense. What worries me is just who is to receive the assistance. Is it to go straight to the farmer who will put it in his pocket and feel safe with it there, or will it slip through his hands to somebody else to pay off his debts? The whole objective of this legislation is to reduce the supply of certain fruits on the market. I can see technical and legal problems arising because if a lot of money is owed by the fruit farmers the creditors will do everything possible to get their hands on the money. The Labor Party wants to see the money going straight to the farmer to help him to become more viable. I can see little justice if the money is simply to be passed from the Commonwealth Government to the Victorian Government. The Victorian Government might keep some of the money because the farmers might be in debt to it for water rates, land tax or whatever it might be. This must be straightened out because, as 1 see it, this Bill will be very difficult to police in the sense of making it work properly.
I am quite certain that all members of the Parliament want to see this legislation work in the best possible way. We do not want to see the farmers being taken down by people to whom they owe money. We want them to receive this money and to achieve the main objective of this legislation which is strategically to remove certain trees under the conditions laid down in the legislation, with the aim of reducing the supply of fruit on the market. I have little doubt that this matter has been discussed at length by the Australian Agricultural Council and its Standing Committee. I hope that serious thought has been given to the promotional aspects of canned fruit in particular in Australia. I repeat that I cannot understand why canned fruit consumption in Australia is so low. I think there is scope for improvement.
In the Committee stage of the Bill I will move an amendment in regard to the stabilisation scheme. I would like the Minister for Primary Industry to explain to the Parliament how the scheme operates as between the State concerned and the grower and whether the grower will receive the money. In the last 2 years we have had the experience under the Wool (Deficiency Payments) Act where a lot of wool growers never saw the money. It was taken up in the payment of debts to the brokers to whom the wool growers owed money. We do not want to see that happen in the fruit industry. We want to see the per acre compensation going to the grower, and the grower putting it in his pocket and keeping it there. We do not want to see it siphoned off by some third person before it gets to the grower. This is not made clear in the Bill. I am worried and so are other members of the Labor Party that this could happen in this scheme. These people have debts. There are mortgages and liens. The
State governments have particular rights and all of them are getting in for their pound of flesh. As I see it this will defeat the purpose of the Bill.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.
– The Government is very concerned about the position of the fruit industry in Australia today and it has demonstrated its concern in no uncertain fashion. The Government and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) have been worried about this problem for some considerable time, but the Government recognises the problems of the industry and, because of that, has introduced a 5-year stabilisation plan to help the industry. It is one thing to have concern for an industry, it is another thing to find a way to revive that industry and bring it back to a reasonable degree of prosperity at a reasonable cost. In a nutshell, that is the problem that faces the Government today. It is the problem with which the fruitgrowers of Australia have had to contend for quite a long time.
– There is no 5-year plan in it. It is an annual scheme.
– It is a stabilisation plan.
– But not for 5 years.
– That is my information.
– That this is 5 years? I think you have the wrong horse.
– You will have the right to speak if you want to dispute it.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! Will the honourable member address the Chair? Interjections are out of order.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The plan may be yearly in its concept. If the honourable member for Riverina is correct in his statement that it will not cover a period of more than one year, at least the plan has been brought about to assist the industry. I understood that it was to cover a period of 5 years. Any plan of this kind is difficult to formulate because of the conditions under which the industry has been operating. Not only has it operated under very difficult conditions but also the future problems of the industry are very real. There are a number of reasons for that. Perhaps the most important one is the pending entry of the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community. The outlook for the fruit industry is not good and it needs all the assistance that the Government can give it.
I have been corrected by the honourable member for Riverina who said that this is not a 5-year plan. As he represents a big fruit growing area I naturally expect him to be right. If he is wrong I hope he will apologise to me. After the plan was introduced the industry was again very seriously disadvantaged by a sharp rise in overseas freights which counteracted to a very great extent the benefits of the plan. There is no doubt that freights are of very great concern to the fruit industry. Freight costs in relation to the gross return to the fruit growers are a very big burden. The freights and the cost of cartons or containers for fruit make very heavy inroads into the gross returns that our fruit growers receive. The value and condition of the industry justify the legislation. This is particularly so with regard to Tasmania. We in Queensland have always been prepared to contribute to those primary industries in the other States that are suffering, because we ourselves - the woolgrowing industry in particular - have looked for some assistance over the years and it was needed very much.
The prosperity of the fruit industry is of vital importance to Tasmania. In the light of the difficult circumstances that have confronted the industry, the Australian Agricultural Council set up a committee that is working urgently on the problems of the industry. In the debate on the Wool Industry Bill I remarked that the important point was that the scheme we have should be the best possible one. I believe that the same thing applies in this case. The idea is that the committee working on the problems of the industry should have sufficient time to face up to the very difficult and complex problems it will have. Time has to be allowed for the great difficulty of providing a future plan of operations for the industry that will help it sufficiently to enable it to carry on satisfactorily.
That point was made quite clearly in the second reading speech of the Minister when he said:
The problems of the industry are also under study by the Australian Agricultural Council but, because of the scope and complexity of these problems, it must be some time before specific proposals are available for consideration by governments.
He went on to say that because of that this Bill was introduced to give the benefits contained in it for the fruit industry. He also said:
All States have now accepted in principle the Commonwealth offer. Under the scheme the Government will introduce legislation to provide up to $4. 6m to the States for the operation of the treepull scheme.
This will help to stabilise the industry. This scheme will not be of very great advantage to the area that it is my privilege to represent in the Parliament - the fruit growing area of Stanthorpe and district. I do not expect that the tree-pull scheme will be brought into operation to any very great extent in this area.
But, to return to the investigation, if it is to be carried out thoroughly it must be time-consuming. Because of that, under this Bill some $400,000 is provided for what might be described as a temporary or interim measure to assist the industry pending decisions being made on what further action may be recommended by the committee conducting that investigation. In representing an apple and pear growing industry which is centred mainly in the Stanthorpe district, which is renowned for the quality of its deciduous fruits, I am naturally very concerned about the future of the fruit growing industry. Whilst the district is only a small portion of the State, it is vitally connected with the future of the fruit growing industry, although there are other industries there.
One of the problems which confront fruit growers in that area is hail damage. This causes a very heavy loss, so heavy in fact that it has not been possible to introduce an insurance scheme which is economic to the grower and at the same time able to cope with the heavy demands that are made upon it in a season in which a high level, or even perhaps a normal level, of hail falls in the area. Hail damage is one of the great worries of fruit growers in that area. Because of this, the growers are anxious to establish a juice processing plant.
I should like to point out that quite a lot of fruit which is hail marked, and which therefore is not suitable for the fresh fruit market, is very good quality fruit. It merely has a blemish which precludes it from being sold on that market. So, the growers in my area are anxious to provide some way of utilising the fruit which it is not economic to market as top quality fruit. We are wise to expect growers to keep fruit at this top quality. But, to cater for this hail damaged fruit, it is now proposed to establish a juice processing plant in the area. One of the problems which have confronted the fruit industry everywhere, including in that area, is the availability of markets.
I agree with the idea that it is desirable for us to look at every possible avenue of marketing and to encourage the promotion of apple juice. I have tasted some of the products from that area. Some of the growers now have a small apple juice plant operating there and the product is of very high quality. But the problem we have to face, of course, in enlarging production is first of all to have a commercial proposition. To make it a commercial proposition we have to find markets. That is one of the problems that exist. While this information might indicate that there will be a small increase in the amount of juice made available, I think that will be able to be offset by an intensive marketing programme. I should like to see that undertaken within Queensland because then it would be able to cope with its own production, and possibly even more, and so help the industry generally.
I commend those growers who are looking for a way to help themselves. If the proposal which they have put forward is feasible it will help not only them but also the town of Stanthorpe and also promote decentralisation. I believe that if the scheme barely breaks even it will be worth while because of its value in providing an industry for the town. I will be looking forward to seeing whether it can become a commercial proposition. The Queensland State Government has this proposal before it at the moment. I will be meeting the growers in that area on Saturday morning and I hope that by that time we will have the results of the State Government’s consideration of their proposal.
They would have liked to have had some assistance from the Commonwealth Government for the scheme. However, the capital cost is not very great and, if it is a scheme that the Commonwealth Government is not able to come into, then I hope that the State Government will be able to give these people the assistance that they require to get the plan under way. The capital cost of the proposal is moderate and, as 1 said, its ultimate success will depend on markets and naturally on the cost of production. But the proposal certainly warrants careful examination. I would say that the key to it would be the likely results of a marketing promotion programme, which I believe is a very important aspect.
As I said, 1 doubt that the tree-pull scheme will be used very greatly in my area. Because there will be no burden on Commonwealth finances there under that scheme, people in the area are looking for whatever assistance the Commonwealth Government might be able to give them in some other way. Perhaps the promotion of the sale of apple juice and also canned fruit products, which have been mentioned already, is something to which we should give consideration and something on which the expenditure of some funds could be justified.
In conclusion all I want to say is that I support the Bill. I believe that the arguments presented by the Minister in his second reading speech set out the case very well. I have dealt with only one aspect in this cognate debate and have not touched on the other. I support this Bill and I say that the fruit growers throughout the Commonwealth need and deserve all the assistance that can be given to them in the extremely difficult conditions that they are now experiencing.
– We are dealing with 2 Bills tonight, namely, the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill and the Bill which relates to an agreement between the Commonwealth and one or more of the States in respect of a scheme to provide assistance to persons engaged in fruit growing, which is called the tree-pull scheme. The tree-pull scheme operates for one year and the apple and pear stabilisation scheme operates for 5 years. In justice to the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett), I mention that I was not sure to which scheme he was referring. One is for one year and the other is for 5 years. Perhaps I share his confusion.
The Bills came down against a background of fruit growers in some cases not being paid anything at all for fruit delivered 18 months ago. One grower is owed $16,000 for fruit he spent money to produce, harvest and deliver. The fruit has been processed and sold and he still has not been paid. Many others have been paid something of what is owed to them, but many are in personal difficulties and all are in doubt about the future. Hundreds have faced real personal hardship because of slow payments or not being paid at all. This is a fact we must remember. But let us look at the problem just for a moment as it presents itself to the hard-hit producers in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. They have seen the Commonwealth Government make generous provision to enable Victorian growers to be paid. They have seen the South Australian Government move quickly to ensure that all fruit was taken last season and paid for. They have been told that Victoria has planted 26,000 more peach trees this year and they have heard that the major Victorian canner is interested in taking all of the coming season’s crop. Also, there have been suggestions that Victoria will face a shortage of peaches. All of these reports have been coming to us from Victoria. We have heard from the member who represents the fruit growing districts of South Australia, in regard to the crisis say:
T have looked at the forecast statistics which make it plain that within four or five years there could well be a shortage of peaches which is the main primary produce in my area - Riverland.
We go back to Victoria. Mr Peter RossEdwards, the State member for Shepparton, the major canning centre of that Slate, said:
A realistic look has to be given to the canning facilities available in the light of reduced processing. In particular a decision has to be made whether canning should continue in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Leeton cannery is in difficulties and it is in the Government’s bands whether it should continue.
Well, that is a pretty blunt statement from the member for Shepparton.
In Western Australia a cannery had a loss of $100,000 for the first quarter of this year. The State Government of Western Australia has now decided to make $400,000 available to expand the cannery. So we have a fragmented picture of contradiction and confusion. In contrast to the references from the member for South
Australia about the possible shortage of peaches, similar talk from Victoria and the Western Australian expansion, the growers of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area have been told that an acreage reduction of 25 per cent is likely in the next 12 months based on figures of their requirements for the 1972-73 season released by canneries there. It is little wonder that the growers are beginning to believe that there is at least tacit agreement that the New South Wales industry should be phased down at least and possibly out.
I want to serve notice again that this is totally unacceptable to me and the people whom I represent. How does the national Government see this problem? I think that the Parliament tonight should have in mind 2 relevant statements that were made by the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair). In introducing this legislation the Minister for Primary Industry said:
It is an unfortunate fact that prices Australian fruit growers are able to secure on overseas markets for fresh and canned fruit have declined markedly in recent years while costs have risen At the same time the quantity of fruit that we have been able to sell overseas has also fallen. These difficulties are certain to be accentuated when the United Kingdom is fully integrated into the European Economic Community.
This was the Minister’s assessment at the second reading stage. The Minister for Trade and Industry applied himself to the problem in this House on 13th September in these words:
It is not possible to say now what the final effects of British entry will be but satisfactory alternative markets will be found for some of the displaced trade. But there can be no question that, for a number of our export industries, the consequences will be severe. Fresh, canned and dried fruits, dairy products, wines, and possibly sugar are among these likely, to be affected most.
So we find that the Government has announced 2 answers to the. problem so far. One is a tree-pull scheme put before the Parliament tonight limited by a most rigorous means test. And the Minister for Trade and Industry in relation to the general problem with the United Kingdom told the Parliament on 13th September:
I made certain proposals designed to ameliorate the expected difficulties which our trade will encounter. These proposals are in the process of being considered . . .
That is a pretty clear indication that the Government and the Minister for Trade and Industry has made proposals to the Government of Britain. The British response, through the British Prime Minister and the British Foreign Secretary, is that they have no proposals before them. The British Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Tom Prior, said in a letter to Mr Leslie Huckfield, the British member of Parliament:
We gave no specific assurances on canned fruits to Mr Anthony and indeed it would not have been possible for us te do so.
So that seems to dispose of that. We are left with the problem of finding a new home for 65 per cent of canned fruit, 37 per cent of dried fruit and 36 per cent of fresh fruit exports. Against this background we come to the present scheme. 1 might say, in relation to apples and pears, that a solution of the problem is a matter of almost life or death to the economy of Tasmania. When we look at the overall treatment of Tasmania it is almost as if Tasmania is an occupied territory. It has been neglected in shipping and neglected in aid - particularly industry aid. Tasmania has been neglected in any continuing attack on costs. The result of this attitude by the national Government is hardship throughout the length and breadth of Tasmania. The Tasmanian members of the Labor Party - the honourable members for Braddon (Mr Davies) and Wilmot (Mr Duthie) will be dealing in detail with these matters. But certainly we said on a previous occasion when the stabilisation scheme came in that we support a national solution to apple and pear stabilisation. We support national organisation and new national initiatives. If we are not going to make new national initiatives then it is obvious that the Tasmanians will be left in frustration, because they are obviously not able to bear themselves all the burdens created by national policies. We were right in our approach to the problem as it affected Tasmania. The Government has acknowledged this by the amendment that it has brought down. I seconded a further amendment because it is obvious that this is the, way we should proceed. We want to see the figure for stabilisation payment reviewed every year, particularly the figure of $4,900,000.
Coming back to the canned fruits industry, I would say that the whole industry is being left adrift fay the Government. The canners do not know what the Government intends, and in fact the Government is saying different things at the present time. The growers are bearing the hardship burden. The story in every State appears to be different. The Government has a responsibility to spell out its intentions. The measures that are before us are inadequate. As the honourable member for Dawson said, if the Government helps one grower somewhere in Australia it will be worth while. Frankly, it is doubtful whether the Government will help many more than that. But I want to make the point tonight that we have seen how this scheme may work in other States.
Before I deal with the Victorian position I want to draw attention to what Mr R. J. Cornish, the president of the Victorian Peach and Apricot Growers’ Association has said about the statement made by the Minister and the Government - he was referring to the Minister for Primary Industry - which is quite misleading in relation to the scheme. An article published in the ‘Shepparton News’ of 4th October 1972 states:
Mr Cornish said the statement made in July by the Minister for Primary Industry that $2.3m was being made available for the tree pull scheme was quite misleading.
The Government imposed means test would successfully prevent the spending of most of the money.
He then went on to give an indication of what happened in the past. As a matter of fact I can confirm from my own knowledge what Mr Cornish has said. The article continued:
This committee subsequently recommended that, as a first stage only $2.5m be made available to remove half the surplus trees.
The committee recommended that a subsidy to remove surplus trees was the most practical and economical way of solving the problems of the Canned Deciduous Fruit Industry.
He is quite right. I support that assessment. The article in reporting Mr Cornish’s statement continued:
At no stage did the committee recommend a means test and at no stage did Government officials who are members of this committee advise the committee that a means test would be introduced.
We come to the kernel of the problem. While in New South Wales the Government simply has gone along with the rather vague generality that growers will be able to apply - that they hope of course that there will be help there - the Government of New South Wales has been most unspecific. The only specific action taken under this Bill so far has been taken in Victoria. I have with me tonight in correspondence offers made under this scheme by the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission of Victoria. I quote a case in which the Commission offers as compensation an amount of $3,390 for the removal of 33.3 acres of peaches. At the same time it says that a condition of the offer will be the surrender of shares which amount to $900. The Commission said:
This compensation, if acceptable to you, will initially be made in the form of a S-year loan carrying an interest rate of 7 per cent per annum.
The Commission’s letter goes on to say:
As you are the purchaser under a lease from the Commission you may anticipate the Commission’s consent to the proposal on the understanding that the Commission would require compensation paid in reduction of its debt less costs ot removal (if these are required).
What an extraordinary offer that is. What the Commission is saying to this grower is: We will give you $3,390 to remove 33.3 acres of peaches. We will take your $900 in shares. You owe us $9,500’. He has 55 year to pay that. That will take care of the rest of the money after he has taken out his tree pull expenditure in satisfaction of the debt.
That is a most extraordinary situation. It leaves him with no trees and no income, and he has only a partial diminution of his debt to the Commission. It does not touch the other debts. This does not leave him anything with which to replant or to go into some other enterprise. That is not the only case. In this letter, which is signed by the Secretary, Mr M. J. Cronin, the Commission goes on to say:
We are not aware of any other party who may have an interest in the land and if there is any such party you would want to inform them of developments as well as inform the Commission as to their viewpoint.
So the Secretary of the Commission, which represents the Victorian Government, is saying to the grower: ‘Go to your other creditors and see if they are happy. If they are not happy I do not suppose we will be in business at all.* What sort of a scheme is this?
Let us see what it means. In 4 cases there have been refusals for assistance under the scheme. The applicants are all of the same category. Each has no debt but wishes to leave the industry before he gets into debt. Each was unable to sell enough fruit last season to make a profit. The prospects for next season are worse. Each will be forced into debt if a reasonable offer continues to be refused. But their applications were refused because they were not in enough trouble. Let me quote another case. The first plantings on the orchard were in 1957, and all the trees are in their prime and well cared for. In these circumstances top compensation should have been offered but the amount offered was $1.04 a tree.
– For the trees to be pulled out?
– Yes, and naturally the orchardist refused the offer. It was not an offer at all. It was a piece of blatant blackmail. Another case involved an old orchard with a larger proportion of pear trees on which, it is submitted, higher compensation should be paid. The compensation offered was totally inadequate. In another case a first class orchard was replanted in 1957 and all the trees are in their prime and well cared for. The offer was 94c a tree. This grower has tried to change to pig raising. If he were to accept the terms offered by the Commission he would be forced off his holding.
I have some information from the Returned Services League which has been vigorous and active in this matter. The Thirty-one District Board of the RSL consists of some very independent minded people. They have said that this is totally unsatisfactory. This is not a Party political matter. Even Senator McManus has directed in the Senate questions in relation to representations by orchardists in the Goulburn Valley. He asked:
Is the complaint correct that to obtain a tree pull grant under the present Government proposals, orchardists must forfeit their cannery shares? Are such orchardists being told that the cannery shares are valueless, although within the last 12 months such shares were valued for probate at $3 a share and a widow concerned was forced to pay at that rate although in indigent circumstances?
Senator Drake-Brockman apparently did not know anything about it and he said he would find out. There is no doubt about the situation. The situation is outlined in letters from the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission.
This is a situation that concerns me. It concerns me as a matter of philosophy because of the injustice to the growers, and we are concerned about injustice in ail States. I am also deeply concerned because if this is the pattern that is going to be adopted in New South Wales it will affect my own electorate and growers to whom I have allegiances. There will be a situation where the growers will be bludgeoned into removing trees and they will be left without a source of income. They will have no money to turn to other enterprises and they will lose some of the equity they have at the present time. The situation as it unfolds is quite unsatisfactory.
The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has made it quite clear that the Minister has a responsibility to spell out what the Government’s policy is in these cases. I pose this question clearly and definitely: Will the Minister give firm assurances on this? He is not paying very much attention at the present time. If he does not pay attention he might rue it later on, because I am not sure that the Senate will be so docile as are members on his side of this House. Unless we get clear and definite assurances that the States will not take the Commonwealth money as a matter of priority in satisfaction of the growers’ debts then we will move relevant amendments in the Senate. If there is not satisfactory delineation of the means test, or a spelling out the means test, if you like, to ensure that growers who apply for assistance are covered in the main then we will take appropriate action. It is not enough to throw this scheme down as the only thing that we have before us as a solution to the crisis and to say: That is it. Take it or leave it.’ That has been the attitude of the Government to every amendment which we have put forward for the last 3 years.
We have an amendment relating to the tree pull legislation but we have said: ‘No, we will not move an amendment in this place. We will invite the Minister to give those assurances.’ Members of the Opposition who follow me in this debate will note very carefully the reply of the Minister, as will the honourable member for Dawson, and if the reply is unsatisfactory then the Minister may expect that the Opposition will take action to protect the interests of fruit growers who may well be threatened by this legislation rather than assisted. That is our position on it and we will stand to it.
– The Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill and the States Grants (Fruit-growing Reconstruction; Bill refer to apparently similar industries. This in probably true in respect to the export apple industry, but it is not the case in the fruit industry in the Goulburn Valley and the Murray Valley in northern Victoria. When considering these 2 Bills one must remember that the canning industry is basically distinct from the fresh fruit industry. The States Grants (Fruitgrowing Reconstruction) Bill relates to the canning industry, particularly the pear section of that industry. The Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill refers to the fresh fruit section of the industry. The fresh fruit section of the horticultural industry in the electorate of Murray provides two-thirds of Australia’s fresh pear exports. The fresh fruit section is a significant industry by itself, but the major section of the industry is the canning fruit section. Three of the 5 major canneries in Australia - Ardmona, Kyabram and SPC - provide about 70 per cent of Australia’s canned fruit production.
The WBC or Bartlett variety of pear is basically a canning pear. It has not generally been accepted as a fresh variety of fruit but attempts to find new markets for this variety of pear have resulted in some success with its sale as a fresh export pear. Unfortunately, the Schedule of the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill retards or hinders the development of this particular variety as a fresh export. I welcome the increased support provided for in the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill. The maximum support is to be increased from 4.4m bushels to 4.9m bushels. I, like those in the industry in my area, would prefer a longer term guarantee of a reasonable level of support than the year for which provision is made.
There is also the problem of the apple and pear ratio. It is impossible for the quantity of fresh pears exported ever to rise above a certain percentage of apple exports in the total. Growers in my district believe that they suffer a disadvantage in that the apple growing section of the industry could flood the available finance to their detriment. They are concerned also about the freight rate differential between fresh apples and pears. Where identical containers are used, it will cost SA244 more to send a container of fresh pears to the United Kingdom than it will cost to send a container of fresh apples. The industry has welcomed the statement made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) in this House some weeks ago in reply to a question asked by me that he said he could see no justification for this differential to continue. This information has been signalled through to the Victorian exporters who, I believe, are negotiating at the present time in the United Kingdom on freight rate structures.
Some of the problems that the fresh pear export industry will face with the entry of Britain into the European Economic Community are becoming more and more apparent. It was announced just recently that the EEC Countries propose to increase rates of duty on the import of fresh fruit from outside countries. At the same time, as I understand it, we are trying to negotiate for an extended period over which our preferences will be retained or, if you like, we are negotiating for the counter preferences that will be imposed upon us with the entry of the United Kingdom into the EEC to be phased in over a longer period.
However, the States Grants (Fruitgrowing Reconstruction) Bill is by far the most important of the 2 Bills to the horticultural industry in northern Victoria. Discussions have been taking place for a considerable time now in relation to a scheme that would provide some financial justice for the fruit growers hurt because of currency decisions made by this country, marketing problems, and an alleviation of the supplydemand situation by pulling trees out of the ground. In my maiden speech in this House last May I referred to a group of pear growers in the Goulburn Valley who were financially distressed. Mr Cope, of the Northern Victorian Fruitgrowers Association, and I approached the Prime Minister for assistance in this regard. Later the Canned Deciduous Fruits Industry Advisory Committee presented a tree removal scheme prior to the February meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. Discussions between Federal and State officials followed but no agreement was reached on a satisfactory tree removal scheme.
The Minister for Primary Industry then very quickly and commendably drew up a scheme as an adjunct of the rural reconstruction scheme. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons this scheme is not succeeding. The severe means test criteria has meant that very few growers will qualify under the scheme. Many growers who are in financial difficulty and who want to pull trees will not receive help to do so because, it is stated, their financial difficulty is not severe enough. These people are caught. They do not have the cash or liquid assets to pull the trees and to pay for the regrading and the resowing of this land, and they cannot afford the inevitable wait until this land can produce something else. Most of these orchards are too small to provide a completely satisfactory alternative form of living, and the question of redundant assets arises here. This means that if anybody wants to sell his property he is selling on a market of few buyers. If we already have an over supply situation - we certainly do have a chronic over supply situation with regard to pears - nobody will want to buy that land at its orchard value. No-one will want to buy redundant assets at their face value. Yet these people have been told at the same time that their financial difficulty is not severe enough for them to qualify tor assistance under the scheme.
One of the hopes of the original negotiators was to provide some scheme that would enable trees to be removed from the ground so that the supply and demand ratio would be brought into better balance. This is not happening at all. So the industry which has been faced with reductions in sales to canneries in the last 2 years will be faced with further reductions in sales this year. The figures provided earlier in the debate by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) are now hopelessly out of date. I think most figures issued by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics are relatively out of date by the time the average person sees them. But as the report to which the honourable member for Dawson referred was issued a couple of years ago, and as the severe cannery quota restrictions have been imposed since that time, any figure representing an average return to a grower as indicated in that report bears no resemblance to the present situation.
There is the further problem that canneries invoke quotas in different ways. They are forced to invoke quotas, of course, because of Reserve Bank limitations and because of the fact that a grower really can can only what he can sell. In spite of these quotas some people are still faring relatively well, I suppose, although they are not faring nearly as well as they did some years ago. Others are in severe financial difficulty. Regrettably, the final scheme was announced several months too late, as far as those engaged in the industry in the Goulburn Valley were concerned, to allow an adequate sorting out period, which is essential, particularly with a new scheme such as this, and allow the growers time to make a management decision as to whether they would accept the terms of the scheme or try to fight on in the industry and go ahead and prune.
We now have the situation that some growers have not pruned or sprayed their trees with consequent problems to other orchards, and their applications for assistance have been rejected. One could say, perhaps, that it is their own fault, that one should never make a judgment on anything until one sees it in black and white. One could say also perhaps that certain leaders in the fruit growing industry have unjustifiably raised the expectations of these people as to what would be provided. I am probably to blame to a certain extent myself in this regard. On one or two occasions the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission also has stated to growers that they would surely be accepted under the scheme and they have now been rejected. There are groups of growers in one area in particular who are in this hopeless position. They do not have the liquid assets really to make management decisions. They have been rejected under the scheme and they have not proceeded with their seasonal pruning and spraying.
I accept that the Federal Government has provided considerable assistance to the fruit growing industry. As the Minister stated in his second reading speech, $13. 8m has been provided for devaluation compensation and $6.4m has been advanced to canneries, most of which will be made available on loan at commercial rates of interest. There is provision for a nitrogenous fertilizer subsidy which is of particular benefit to fruit growers. So I do not accept the proposition that this Government has not helped this industry. But the industry has faced and is facing far greater problems, I believe, than any other primary industry of Australia because of changed marketing circumstances due to several factors.
– Exchange rates.
– Including exchange rates. I thank the honourable member. Perhaps these factors were the precipitation of the severe difficulties 12 months earlier than was expected because of the entry of Britain into the European Economic Community. The other point I wish to mention is that freight rates comprise a very large proportion of the costs associated with this industry. As we all know, freight rates have been accelerating at an alarming rate. Because of these problems, some of which have been brought about by government decisions, this industry more than any other deserves generous Government assistance. The States Grants (Fruit-growing Reconstruction) Bill does not provide generous Government assistance. I appreciate the work done by the Minister and believe that he has had a most difficult role to play in trying to obtain agreement with the various sections of the industry, the grower organisations, the competing interests of canners and growers, and with the overall problem we have under our Federal system of getting the State governments to agree as well. The last point was the death knell of the original tree pull scheme.
I believe also that as a pioneering scheme there will be difficulties and that the Minister has acted as promptly as anybody could expect a Minister to act in view of the problems he has had to face. Unfortunately it has been stated that there will be no review of this scheme until February. I have tried to obtain, without success, an immediate review of the scheme. Reasons, and possibly sound reasons, have been put forward. It is said that we will have to see how the scheme works out in reality before any review will be possible. And then there are the complications of a review at this stage of the parliamentary year. Unfortunately there will be many people who, by the time February comes along, will not be in a position to take advantage of any easing of the means rest or any alteration to the scheme itself. That is why 1 believe that an immediate review would be to the advantage of the industry. If this scheme is to work, significant alterations to it will be necessary.
One of the key points in relation to the application of the means test is the changing of the word ‘severe’ to ‘substantial’. In the long run this alteration of the wording will have to take place. There may even be a case for the industry, if it believes that the means test is not successful, to put up some alternative proposal under which it would make a contribution in return for the dropping of the means test. The industry does feel hurt that in the change from one scheme to the other it was not given a final warning that if it was not prepared to contribute in some way the means test would be applied. This is a just criticism by the industry of what has happened. In the Federal Government at the present time we are busily and, I believe, correctly dropping the means test on age pensions. The means test, as has been shown by the age pensions and the special emergency grant to wool growers and as would be shown if it were applied also in respect of education, causes more anomalies and more injustices than it solves. I feel like opposing the Bill but to do so would be self-defeating because it is essential that we have some scheme in the hope that we can alter and improve it rather than not have any legislation at all. I reject the amendment moved by the Opposition because from the point of view of the tree pull scheme it is irrelevant.
– It does not relate to the other.
– I agree that it is aimed more at the apple and pear stabilisation scheme. In the near future the canning fruit industry will have to be provided with or will have to work out in conjunction with the Government - I think the latter is the best way - a stabilisation scheme. This is the only long term proposal which in any way can solve the problems of the canning fruit industry of Australia. If necessary, statutory provisions will have to be included to ensure that ali sections of the industry pull together as they should and as 1 know at certain times they do not. 1 reluctantly support the Bill but if when the stabilisation legislation or plan for legislation comes before the Government the Government is not prepared to be more generous in its attitude to this industry than it has shown itself to be so far in this legislation, my reluctance to oppose legislation will vanish because that will be the crunch point for the fruit growing industry or at least the canning section of it. If there is not to be a reasonable and generous stabilisation plan for this industry the industry has nowhere to go. I feel like opposing the Bill but, realising that that is not a realistic action to take, I will not oppose it. 1 reluctantly support it and appeal to the Minister for a review to be conducted as soon as possible aimed at the inevitable improvement that there must be in the scheme if it is to work.
– Under the Apple and Pear Stabilisation Bill, one of the 2 Bills being dealt with tonight, it is proposed to raise the maximum level of the number of bushels eligible for payment at the maximum rate of 80c a bushel in the second year of stabilisation from 4.4 million to 4.9 million bushels. The Government has accepted the proposal put forward by the Opposition last year for a more realistic figure, but we still require an answer to the $64 question. I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair), and I hope he is listening, to give an answer, if not tonight then next Tuesday, to the $64 question: When are we to get the statutory marketing authority for apples and pears? This proposal was put foward in 1971 and considered at the 81st meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council in February this year. I understand that in fact there are 2 propositions, one for a statutory marketing authority which would act in a similar wav to the
Australian Wheat Board in that it would take the entire crop for both home and export purposes and the other for a statutory marketing authority which would deal only with the export crop.
I understand that for a while the 6 States were in favour of the propositions but that now the majority of them are not. I am sorry that one of those States which is not in favour of them is Victoria. Victoria is prepared to do anything to stop the sale on its markets of apples from Tasmania. It takes Tasmania’s rubbish for juice but is not prepared to take good apples. Perhaps I should have said that it will take them but will insist upon a 100 per cent inspection which makes it far too expensive for Tasmania to market in Victoria as it did until the early 1950s. Victoria claims that it is free of the European red mite but it is about time the Commonwealth did something about having look at this problem. I think it would find that the European red mite is as prevalent in Victoria as it is in other places. This action by Victoria is a political move, as was its action in respect of shark fillets recently when it banned the import of shark fillets into Victoria from Tasmania.
The third scheme involves a Commonwealth guarantee for an authority established in Tasmania for the supervision of the export of fruit from that State. This has the support of Western Australia. It involves certain financial obligations, such as advance payments for fruit when passed after inspection either on board or on the wharves requiring the use of Reserve Bank finance. There is also to be some guarantee for freight, but in normal seasons there would be no loss because the prices realised for our fruit would cover both advances. However, if the market were to collapse financial backing from the Commonwealth would be essential. While these matters are being worked out Tasmania has decided to go it alone and to the wonderful credit of the Tasmanian Labor Government it has guaranteed for this season a price of S2.60 a bushel. This has restored some of the confidence and I think it has been a wonderful gesture on the part of a State government to do this because it has certainly encouraged the growers to stay in the industry at least while some of these problems are being considered by the Australian Agricultural Council which must decide whether it is in favour of some sort of statutory authority.
I refer to the wonderful speech made by the Minister when he was in Tasmania. In that State his speech was referred to as the ‘Put your house in order’ speech. The industry took notice of it. It certainly did everything it could, lt got over the multiplicity of marketing problems and did everything possible to meet the requirements of the shipping companies. What did we get? This time $400,000 is to be spread over the whole of Australia. This is only a token support. There is no depth in it at all. As one of the leading newspapers in Tasmania said: ‘It is similar to trying to put out a bushfire with a bucket of water’. Leaders in the industry expect that this will be worth about only $360,000 to us. Because of the diversification of the pear industry we have been able to get some very good prices for pears in North America. I shall not quote the details because honourable members can see them on page 4 of the annual report of the Apple and Pear Board. It does not seem as though pears will need any payout price, so of the $400,000 we are expecting that the Government will be called on to the tune of only some $360,000. Many growers and grower organisations look upon the support prices that are included in the stabilisation plan as a form of assistance which took the place of compensation for devaluation.
In his statement of 18th August last, the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) said that he was concerned about the position of the industry in Tasmania. He went on to detail the amounts given in the way of devaluation compensation since the devaluation of sterling early in 1967. But, as we all know, this was not even enough to keep the industry at its existing level of performance. At that time we were promised that no primary industry would be harmed but, as the present Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) said at the time: ‘The Federal Government has thrown the primary industries to the wolves’. The Minister accused the present Prime Minister of smothering the devastating damage done to our export industries under what he referred to as a flood of high sounding economic jargon.
Now that he is in the Ministry of course this has gone by the board. Prior to devaluation we were all right. I make the point that this money - these support prices of 47c and 74c - that we will get in respect of the 1972 season is virtually the devaluation compensation that we received for years. The former English pound was worth 25/- when converted back to our currency and the amount received from the sale of our fruit enabled our orchards to function as a going concern.
Despite Government promises to safeguard our industry when devaluation took place, it gave too little too late and we received 50c a bushel as devaluation compensation. This marked the first great exodus from the orchards. Let me give honourable members some indication of the value of compensation and how important it is to the industry. In 1968 - the first year after devaluation - the average amount that each orchardist received from devaluation compensation was $2,500. The net farm income of growers for that year was $2,700, so devaluation compensation represented practically all of the grower’s net farm income. This gives honourable members some idea of how the orchardists were living on the currency difference. As I say, it highlights the dependence of the industry on the currency difference. Devaluation did help but it was not enough and it was nowhere in line with what the industry expected to receive after the promises which this Government had made (hat the industry would not be affected by devaluation.
The Government then introduced the first year stabilisation plan. There was a basic limitation on fruit forwarded at risk to a total quantity of 4.4 million bushels. This quantity could attract a maximum payment of 80c a bushel. As the quantity of fruit exported at risk goes above 4.4 million bushels, so the maximum rate of payment per bushel is reduced. The payout figure is obtained by multiplying 4.4 million by the 80c and then dividing the total quantity exported from Australia at risk. During the first year the quantity exported was approximately 7.5 million bushels, so when one works out the formula one finds that the support price for the first season amounted to 47c. I simply point out that if the growers were in difficulties with the payment of 50c after devaluation compensation, inevitably their position worsens when a substitute scheme is introduced which gives them a return of 3c less, or 47c compared with the 50c from devaluation. I make the point that the amount given in the first year of stabilisation - it amounted to a payout of up to 47c on our apples - was nowhere near the 50c we received in 1968 in the first year after devaluation, and certainly nowhere near what we were getting in earlier years. This is why the industry has fallen and the Government must take the blame for it. The returns from the 1971 season indicate a total payment payout on the stabilisation scheme of $2,584,406.46.
As I have already indicated, the support prices under the scheme ranged from approximately 9c for leganas to 47c for granny smith apples. It sounds a lot but it is only compensation for what the growers were promised by this Government. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the stabilisation results of the 1971 season. I have shown the tables to the Minister.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Corbett)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 October 1972, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1972/19721012_reps_27_hor81/>.