28th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER. (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 2 p.m., and read prayers.
The Acting Clerk - Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the proposed “Free” National Health Scheme is not free at all and will cost four out of five Australians more than the present scheme.
That the proposed scheme is discriminatory and a further erosion of the civil liberties of Australian citizens, particularly working wives and single persons.
That the proposed scheme is in fact a plan for nationalised medicine which will lead to gross waste and inefficiencies in medical services and will ultimately remove an individual’s right to choose his/her own doctor.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the existing health scheme which functions efficiently and economically.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr McLeay and Mr Wilson.
The Petition of the undersigned respectively showeth that your Petitioners oppose the proposed reduction of Commonwealth per capita grants to independent schools on the following grounds:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should acknowledge the right of every Australian child to equal per capita grants of government money spent on education.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound will ever pray: by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The petition of the undersigned respectively showeth that your Petitioners oppose the proposed reduction of Commonwealth per capita grants to independent schools on the following grounds:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should acknowledge the right of every Australian child to equal per capita grants of government money spent on education.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray: by Mr Wilson.
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 purpose of securing Lake Pedder in its natural state.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
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 undersigned men and women of Australia believe in a Christian way of life; and that no democracy can thrive unless its citizens are responsible and law abiding.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the members in Parliament assembled will see that the powerful communicator, television, is used to build into the nation those qualities of character which make a democracy work - integrity, teamwork and a sense of purpose by serving, and that television be used to bring faith in God to the heart of the family and national life.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Turner.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Defence. Is it a fact, as reported in the publication ‘Inside Canberra’ of 7 September 1973, that the siting of Sydney’s second airport at Galston will, firstly, interfere with the operation of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Richmond and, secondly, cause the closure of that base? If so, what are the financial and operational implications of the Galston decision insofar as the RAAF is concerned?
– The Department of Defence had not made any submission to me about a proposed alternative site for Sydney’s second airport. Since the site at Galston was chosen for Sydney’s second airport I have had some discussions with the Department of Defence. At this stage no information has been received officially by me from the Department of Defence or the Department of Air concerning any interruption to airport operations at Richmond. I have asked for information from the Department of Defence and when that information is available it will be given due consideration.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer. Does he intend to retain the retention allowance and undistributed profits tax provisions for private companies? If so, does the decision to increase primary tax for private companies not discriminate against private shareholders? Does he believe there is value in having uniform tax provisions for both private and public companies? Does he agree that distributions will occur anyway, and that the reason they occur in public companies is not the dominance of shareholders who are usually not banded together at any one share holders’ meeting to demand a dividend, but the income requirements of shareholders? In short, does he believe that this provision should be retained in the tax laws?
– In a statement issued on Thursday or Friday of last week I indicated what the Government intended to do about private companies’ undistributed profits. That statement indicated that a uniform retention allowance of 50 per cent would apply. The Bill will be before the House in a month or so when we will be afforded the opportunity to debate the issues.
– Has the Minister for Defence seen reports that Russia has established supply buoys in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, apparently as part of the Indian Ocean supply system for Russian submarines and warships? Is this report correct? What steps are the armed forces taking to monitor or keep under surveillance Russian naval movements off the coast of Western Australia? Is there any threat to Australia’s security? Can the Minister assure the people of Western Australia that the defence services in that State are adequate for the continuing security of Western Australia?
– Yes. I have seen the statement referred to by the honourable member. The Directorate of Naval Intelligence has no information to confirm today’s Press story by Mr Baudino that the Soviet Navy is believed to have established at least 2 supply points off the Western Australian coast in international waters. The Soviet Navy is believed to have a number of anchorages in the western Indian Ocean where its ships can shut down their main engines and carry out minor maintenance tasks. At two of these anchorages buoys have been laid; these are located in the vicinity of the Seychelles and near Chagos Archipelago. There is no evidence to suggest that these buoys are anything other than mooring buoys. They are in exposed anchorages and are unlikely to contain special equipment. Soviet ships receive their fuel and supplies from Soviet auxiliaries deployed to the area. Soviet warships presently in the Indian Ocean comprise one diesel submarine, a destroyer, 2 escorts, 2 minesweepers and a tank landing ship. To supply this force there are at least 3 auxiliaries in the area. In addition there is a force of minesweepers and auxiliaries in Bangladesh assisting in port clearance operations. Soviet oceanographic operations are carried out in the western Indian Ocean.
At present a fishery research vessel is operating in the Australian Bight after having called at Fremantle on 27 July. Merchant ships in the area move on the normal trade routes and have never been seen engaged in questionable activities.
– Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Will the Minister table the paper from which he is reading and will he make his statement after question time?
Mir SPEAKER - No point of order arises but I ask the Minister-
– I table the report.
– As the Minister has tabled the report from which he was reading does this not mean that he is flouting the Standing Orders? Questions are supposed to be asked without notice.
– Last week I made an appeal to Ministers to be brief with their answers. Apparently this question must be a Dorothy Dix, as I call it.
– Mr Speaker, there was a report in the Press this morning, as the honourable member for Forrest pointed out. Naturally I would inform myself of the circumstances under which .that report was made and the reasons for it. There was no intention on my part to answer a Dorothy Dix question. I have given the honourable member the information for which he asked. I thought it important and proper that I should outline to this Parliament the number of Russian ships that are actually in the area, and it is quite insignificant. Finally, since the honourable member asked me about the activities of the Rusian fleet, it should be made known to the honourable member and to this House that Russian activities are largely confined to an area off the southern Indian sub-continent and an area off the African continent. Very few Russian ships operate in Australian waters. The number of ships that I have just indicated to the House shows how small the force is. Finally, I come back to the 2 buoys which were mentioned by the honourable member and which were referred to in the report this morning by Mr Baudino. They are merely buoys that are used by elements of the Russian fleet to moor their ships while repairs are being carried out. If the honourable member wants to satisfy himself about the size of the buoys and whether it would be possible to use them for refuelling purposes, I suggest that he might care to have a look at the photograph of the buoys - they are well known to Australian naval elements - which I have in my office.
– Has the Minister for Immigration received complaints about delays in issuing passports? If so, what is being done to ensure that this essential service is efficient?
– It is true that in the past there have been delays in dealing with the volume of passport applications, which has grown tremendously in recent years. As a matter of fact, the honourable member is from Brisbane and it is interesting to note that the largest increase in applications by people wishing to leave Australia recently has come from Brisbane. There has been a 41 per cent increase, which is .the highest increase in applications in the Commonwealth.
– That has happened since you came into power.
– Actually, those figures were for the last calendar year. I hope that those people will all return, of course. But, more seriously, I point out that each year there are movements in ‘and out of Australia of the order of 1 million people leaving the country and 1.1 million people entering the country. The number of passports now being issued is of the order of 230,000 a year. As to the delays, I have set up some special task force groups that have gone into offices in order to help to streamline procedures. I am pleased to report that, over the whole of Australia, passports are being issued more quickly now than at any time in the past, despite the increased volume of applications. In fact, the average time taken in all of the 11 centres from which passports are issued is 3 days. If any specific delays are still occurring from time to time, then if the honourable member draws my attention to them we will have them rectified.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. He will know that, should price control be introduced in Australia, it will be necessary also to bring in controls over the export of goods for which there is a high demand, such as meat, thus raising the possibility that these goods m’ay be diverted to more attractive markets in other countries. Further, is it the intention of the Government also to control the prices of imported goods? Also, is it the intention of the Government to control the prices of fruit and vegetables? If so, will there be a minimum price for these products, the price of which fluctuates so greatly? Will the Prime Minister explain to the House how he intends to administer these forms of control which will he a necessary adjunct to general price control?
– I believe it would be better if we were to wait to debate the question of meat prices until the report on this subject from the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices has been tabled. I certainly appreciate that there are difficulties in having any form of price control over fruit and vegetables and I do not believe that, except for meat, they are a major contribution to inflation.
– I address a question to the Treasurer. In answer to questions, the Treasurer has talked’ of money m’arket manipulators in Australia. But I ask him: What sort of manipulation is it when the Government, through the Reserve’ Bank of Australia, deliberately sells government bonds in order to debase everyone else’s money standard? By this manipulation, has the Government reduced the bond value, thus, in theory, increasing the yield? By so doing, is it forcing the whole range of financial operators, especially saving banks, to follow this yield by increasing their interest rates. This is a diabolical scheme and has never been done by a worthy Treasurer of this country since Federation.
– Again I point out that open market operations are a legitimate weapon of monetary control and that those people who want to hold their bonds need have no fear whatever.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry whether he has seen published allegations that at this time of meat shortage sales have been made of diseased meat from which the State and Australian governments have benefited. If so, will the Minister assure the House that action will be taken to end such sales, or if the allegations are not true, will he refute the slur on the industry?
– I have not seen any published allegations of the sale of diseased meat but I understand that such allegations have been published because they have been mentioned by a number of honourable members and also by a number of people interested in both the production and consumption of meat. As far as the Australian Government is concerned, the highest possible inspection standards are maintained and there is certainly no slackening of those standards in any shape or form. Meat to be sold for domestic consumption is inspected by State authorities and in some cases by local government authorities. Far from the inspections being slack, the allegation in recent times has been that they have been too tough. When I listened to the honourable member’s question my reaction was to answer very briefly, using one word to describe a product of one of the beef animals. However, I resisted that temptation in order specifically to draw attention to the fact that inspection standards of Australian meat for sale at home and abroad are among the highest in the world. The allegations may have arisen because from time to time carcasses that have been delivered have had diseased elements which have been cut out and then the rest of the carcass is used, but the utilisation is carried out under the most stringent conditions and inspections. I refute completely any suggestion that there has been a breakdown or acts of irresponsibility by any authority concerned right through in the handling of meat from producers for sale at home or abroad.
– Does the Prime Minister realise that I attended his very interesting and informative Press conference last week in order to get information as a journalist which I cannot get as a member of Parliament? Does he also realise that he is for the time being chief custodian of the rights of Parliament? Is he aware that this practice of informing the Press of Government decisions before informing Parliament denigrates the position of Parliament? Will the Prime Minister use his influence to see whether procedures in this chamber can be altered to allow the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, to announce Government decisions before questions on at least one day a week so that members may hear of Government decisions directly and not second hand?
– I was happy to see the honourable gentleman at my Press conference. He knows - I believe all honourable members know - that it has been my custom to have a Press conference on Tuesday, lt always takes place after there has been an intervening question time in the House and on those days, of course, that Parliament sits on Mondays as it does this week, after there have been 2 such intervening question times in the House.
– But we do not know what is in your mind.
– I am not so innocent as to believe that honourable members do not ask their questions in the same way as members of the Press ask questions; that is on the basis of reports that appear in the newspapers or are heard on radio or television programs. Questions are always asked on the same basis. There is always one opportunity, and in every other week there will be 2 opportunities, for members of Parliament to ask questions before members of the Press ask questions.
– What - one question in 3 weeks?
– Surely honourable gentlemen are not going to take it on themselves to say that no Prime Minister is to give a Press conference until members of Parliament have had the opportunity of asking every question that might be asked at a Press conference. I do not think the public will have a bar of that attitude. Members of Parliament can ask questions within the Standing Orders. If they do not have the initiative to raise some df these subjects then, of course, they cannot complain. True it is, as I said to the honourable gentleman at the Press conference, that I could resort to the device used by so many of my predecessors of getting one of my own supporters to ask me a question in reply to which I could announce some decision, but I believe that is a transparent device and generally an objectionable device , and I have not adopted it up to this stage.
As I told the honourable gentleman, in a very civil and friendly way at the Press conference, I will answer any question within the Standing Orders at question time just as freely as I will answer any question which is asked at a Press conference. I believe that questions to a Prime Minister should not be limited to those occasions when Parliament has exhausted its curiosity. At the Press conferences I do not announce matters of Government policy which have to come to the Parliament because those matters must naturally go first to the Government Party before they come to the Parliament. Obviously, where there are matters of well known Government policy - for instance, matters which are contained in the policy speech or in the Party platform, matters of general acceptance and knowledge I shall announce the timing of their introduction at a Press conference.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security and I refer to the 2 per cent drop in the number of general practitioners adhering to the most common fee. Does this 2 per cent lack of adherence genuinely reflect the overall problem of non-adherence within the medical profession and, on the basis of fee for service, does the Minister have any comments on the lack of service given by general practitioners after hours?
– I call the Minister for Social Security.
– Another scurrilous attack.
– It will not be a bought defence. Many complaints have been made to me from time to time about the absence of personal doctor-patient relationship - for instance, an after hours service and the fact that radio controlled locums are used for this purpose. I must say, expressing a personal view, that I think this is probably a desirable trend anyway because I think it unreasonable to expect each individual doctor to be available for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What this does point up is the fact that there is a serious defect in the argument that the conventional concept of the family doctor being available for such impossible hours will not stand up and weakens, of course, some of the case that some people are trying to make on behalf of the medical profession in this respect.
What is more important is the way in which the common fee concept is being abused. In the 1969 election the previous Government sold hard to the Australian public that a situation was about to be introduced of a common fee whereby patients were led to believe that for the most expensive services they would be charged no more than $5. What the public did not hear, said in low key by government spokesmen at that time, was that that would happen only where the common fee was charged. To the extent that the common fee is not being charged or is not being recognised - in two out of three home visitations, for instance, there is overcharging in terms of the common fee concept - that has become a complete unreality. The previous Government had no answer to this problem and never attempted to solve it. The latest pronouncements are that the Opposition will introduce a system whereby those doctors who want to adhere to the common fee con cept can contract into the scheme it would operate. Those who do not want to adhere to the common fee would not have to contract at all, which means nothing. What it means is that doctors can do as they wish. Certain proposals have been outlined in the report of the planning committee on the universal health insurance program to be introduced next year. Those proposals include some suggestions as to how a greater degree of adherence to the concept of a fee schedule or a variation in the common fee could be achieved.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister and it is supplementary to the question asked by the honourable member for Wakefield. The Prime Minister in referring to the opportunities for asking questions is avoiding the basic issue which the honourable member for Wakefield raised. At the commencement of his Press conferences the Prime Minister reads out a long list of Government decisions. Two decisions were made in the last period of Parliament. One related to the Australian Industry Development Corporation, legislation on which will be debated in this ‘House, and the other related to policies concerning Australian car manufacturing. The Prime Minister avoided bringing these matters before the Parliament. Again I ask him whether he will do the Parliament the courtesy of seeing that these matters are announced in Parliament before they are announced to the Press so that honourable members will have a chance to ask questions before members of the Press do so.
– Everybody has the opportunity of asking questions. There are more regular and lengthy opportunities available for honourable members to ask questions than has ever been the case in my years in the Parliament. I have never cut question time off before a full 45 minutes has elapsed. There has been no diminution whatever in the opportunities for members of Parliament to ask questions. Let that be understood first. Secondly, it does happen that I give regular Press conferences on Tuesdays when I am in Canberra, whether or not the Parliament is sitting. That is new. I believe it is a valuable opportunity for the Press, for instance, to ask me questions or for me to make statements to the Press and thus to the public. That is the only new feature, that the Press also can ask the present Prime Minister questions. The Press could not always ask questions of earlier Prime Ministers.
The right honourable gentleman mentioned 2 matters. The first was the Australian Industry Development Corporation legislation. Everybody knows from reading the Australian Labor Party’s platform and from hearing the present Government’s policy before the last election what the Government aims to do about extending the operations, charter and scope of the AIDC. I thought it was relevant and proper for the public to know what progress had been made in that regard. But the general lines of the legislation and what would be in it were matters of general understanding and knowledge. Accordingly, it was useful for the public to know what stage had been reached.
The right honourable gentleman raised as a second matter the Tariff Board reference concerning the automobile industry. The right honourable gentleman and the earlier leader of his Party were Ministers in charge of the Tariff Board. It so happens that the Prime Minister is now in charge of the Tariff Board. But I do not remember that the right honourable gentleman or his predecessors in charge of the Tariff Board took the first opportunity or took any opportunity of tabling in the Parliament the references to the Tariff Board. If I am in error there I will happily acknowledge it, but I invite the right honourable gentleman to inform me afterwards when terms of reference to the Tariff Board were ever tabled and how soon they were tabled in the Parliament after they went to the Tariff Board. When Tariff Board reports have been received it has been the practice of this Government to table them as soon as possible. We try to come to a decision on them before tabling them, and to make a prompt decision. In the case of the film industry, when new features arose, for instance the establishment of a new portfolio and some corporations, instrumentalities, since the original reference was made, we took the early opportunity of tabling the report and saying that further consideration would be given to the industry in general. I sought leave, which I received, to make a short statement, one column in Hansard, in amplification of the Tariff Board’s report on the film industry. Does the right honourable gentleman suggest that it should now be practice to table all references to the Tariff Board? If he suggests that I shall happily consider it, but this will be an innovation, as has been the weekly Prime Ministerial Press conference.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. I regret that it relates to a much more restricted field than did the previous question. Is he aware that because of a strike by departmental radio and radar operators southbound aircraft which usually take off and land on the north-south runway at the Sydney (KingsfordSmith) Airport are presently being diverted over thickly populated areas in my electorate and other southern suburbs of Sydney instead of proceeding as normally across Botany Bay? Can he assure me, my constituents and others interested that the present air traffic route will be used only for the duration of the strike? Finally, can he indicate whether a settlement of the strike is likely in the near future?
– Members of the Professional Radio Employees Institute of Australia have been on strike now for a little over a week. As a result of the dispute certain parts of the radar equipment at Mascot are now unserviceable, and this has resulted in delays with aircraft coming in to land, which in turn has had an effect on the outward movement of aircraft. The honourable member for Barton has raised a complaint about air traffic controllers using both runways. This situation has been brought about as a result of a stoppage, and some of the previous noise abatement procedures which have been used to attempt to reduce the noise nuisance over the built-up residential areas have had to be abandoned. But as soon as the dispute is finalised there will be a return to the noise abatement procedures that have been the custom for some considerable time.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Did he receive any undertakings or guarantees from the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions that the trade union movement would moderate its claims for wage increases? If he did receive such an undertaking or guarantee will he state in precise terms the nature of it?
If it was in writing will he table it? If it was not in writing will he obtain it in writing and then table it?
– I did have a conversation with the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, a member of the Reserve Bank board, last Wednesday night, and in the course of a conversation on many matters he told me that if the Government were able to moderate the rise in prices through the application of such constitutional power as it obtains the trade union movement would fully co-operate in restraining wages and incomes.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Is there any evidence to support the statement by the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that control of prices without control of wages will not be effective, when in fact during the period of office of the Government in which they were Treasurer and Minister for Labour and National Service they constantly practised the policy of controlling wages and deliberately avoiding any action on prices? Will the Prime Minister indicate whether he feels that uncontrolled prices are one of the major psychological factors in creating demands for increased wages?
– I agree with the honourable gentleman’s contention. Australia is the only developed or relatively developed country, possibly the only country of any sort in the world, whose national government does not have the legislative or administrative power to control prices. It is a fact that our predecessors did use all the constitutional powers open to them to control, to restrict, to limit wages and salaries. It was quite clear that-
– ‘Minimum wages.
– Not just minimum, because in respect of government employees the governments of Australia can of course make the minimum also the maximum. There are no over-award payments in respect of government employees whether they be Australian Government or State Government employees. The majority of government employees find that their award wages are not only a minimum; they are also a maximum. Of course there are some industries in which there are regularly over award payments. As I apprehend it, nowhere in what is called the free world’ do governments seek to restrict negotiation between employers and employees for over award payments. But in brief, earlier governments tried to curb inflation by restricting wages alone. The present Australian Government believes that it is high time that the Australian Parliament should have power and that the Australian Government should exercise power to control prices. Everywhere in the world national governments and parliaments have that power; many of them exercise it. The State parliaments all have that power. The State governments could usually get that power. They have not exercised it.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is it not a fact that in calendar year 1972 the consumer price index advanced by 4i per cent? Is it not also a fact that in the first half of calendar year 1973 the consumer price index advanced by 5i per cent? Is it a fact that the Prime Minister’s Treasurer has said that he expects the consumer price index rise for the September quarter to be higher even than that of the June quarter? In these circumstances will the Prime Minister answer the question of the honourable member for Corio: Does the Prime Minister believe that a prices policy alone is sufficient to attack inflation?
– No, I certainly do not believe that a prices policy alone is sufficient to control inflation. I have never said so. There are a very great number of other measures which are required to control inflation. The Australian Government has used most of those measures. It refuses to adopt some of the measures which are open to the Australian Government and which earlier Australian governments adopted but which put people out of work. The present Australian Government will not adopt those measures open to it which entail the creation of unemployment. But what I do say anc! what I believe everybody in the country will acknowledge, is that price control is a necessary element in controlling inflation. Price control is available to the States. They do not use it. Nobody believes that even if they all were to combine in using it they would be any more effective now than they were in the late 1940s or the 1950s when they picked it up from the Commonwealth. Price control is a necessary component in the battle against inflation. Of course it is not a panacea. It alone does not suffice, but it is -necessary to have it, in Australia and in any other developed community.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. In order that the nation may make an assessment of the overall cost of the proposed national health scheme to the taxpayer, will the Minister state what are the amounts of the second and third means of financing the scheme, which are described in the pamphlet “The Plain Facts’ as the levy on workers compensation and third party motor vehicle insurance? Also, is it a fact that some of the costs forecast in the Deeble-Scotton report for 1974-75 have already been exceeded?
– The costs covering medical and hospital services related to workers compensation and third party insurance under the universal health insurance proposals are exactly the same as those which would have to be met by the systems operating now. I am sure that the honourable member is well aware that public hospitals and doctors, but more especially public hospitals, have a fairly serious financial difficulty because of late settlement, particularly of third party motor vehicle accident compensation claims. In Victoria and New South Wales the amounts of money involved are substantial to the point where the hospitals frequently have expressed public concern about delays in settlement.
– There have been delays of up to 5 years sometimes.
– Yes. The honourable member for Indi probably would be aware that in a very high proportion of settlements - I cannot recall the figure, but it was shown by Butlin and Troy in their work and some of the work done by Professor Atiyah confirmed it - the delay exceeds 2 or even 3 yean. This aspect has many other unhappy associated features of a social and personal kind. So there is no increased cost to the community there. This is a simple formula to transfer quickly the money into the hospital system and into the pockets of doctors to save them these delays in receiving money.
The cost calculations were the best that could be made in the situation as it was at the time they were made, and the comparability that existed between the cost calculations for the new scheme and for the present scheme stands. I am always amazed by spokesmen for the Opposition, the funds and the medical profession who say: ‘Look, costs have gone up. It will cost you more’. Of course it will, and the present scheme will cost more, quite obviously. But the significant factor about our proposed scheme is that for the same total cost as the current scheme, which covers only about 83 per cent to 87 per cent of the public at any time, it will cover 100 per cent of the community. The scheme will be cheaper for three out of 4 families and, where there is a working wife, for seven out of 10 families. It will cover everyone in the community and it will not fail as the present scheme does in respect of low income earners and the fringe dwelling Aborigines.
One of the most important features of this scheme is that it will be equitable. The cost will be borne according to one’s ability to pay and not as it is now, where the wealthy find that it is cheaper to insure themselves than do the more needy people. Under the present scheme those who have not got it have to pay severely and those who have got it are subsidised generously. These are the things we will get away from. The proposed scheme will, for the same total cost, cover everyone in the community - not 83 per cent to 87 per cent as the present scheme does. Simple calculations will show that on average it must be cheaper. The other figures I have quoted also can be verified. I suggest to those spokesmen or parrots of the private health insurance funds that they produce some figures to back up their assertions about my statements, rather than generalise.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the Liberal Party propaganda being used for the Parramatta by-election, pointing out that meat pies in New South Wales now cost 23c. Is the Prime Minister aware that meat pies are under price control in South Australia where their price is only 17c - that is without sauce? Would it not be competent for the New South Wales Government to put pies under control forthwith? Has he any indication from the New South Wales Government or its Liberal Federal colleagues as to whether they are prepared to confer power on the Australian Parliament to control the price of Australia’s national delicacy?
– I believe this is a very clear illustration of the benefits of price control. South Australia and New South Wales each has an Act in operation to permit the control prices of goods and commodities such as meat pies. South Australia has chosen to exercise the leglislative power. New South Wales has not chosen to exercise the legislative power. It is well to recollect that both parties in South Australia have exercised this legislative power. The Playford Government, the Steele Hall Government as well as the Walsh and Dunstan governments have continued to exercise this power. In New South Wales, Liberal governments have allowed it to lie idle on the statute book.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister who in answer to an earlier question by me about the undertaking or guarantee from the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions said that it occurred during a conversation last Wednesday night and that it was part of many items raised in the conversation. I ask the honourable gentleman whether there was any discussion about who would judge whether or not prices control had been successful in controlling inflation? Was there any discussion of the way in which the ACTU President would ensure by sanctions applied through the trade union movement that there would be restraints on wages?
– There was no discussion on this. It was only a passing reference. I would imagine that it would be quite easy for anybody to make a judgment from such indexes as the right honourable gentleman selects from time to time - one quarter as against another quarter, quadrupling the figure for one quarter to give an annual figure and that sort of thing. It would be quite easy to gain some small overall impression of the extent or the rate of inflation. Of course the right honourable gentleman would have to concede that Mr Hawke, with whom I was conversing on many other things besides this, would be a more considerable economist than the right honourable gentleman or any of the Treasurers who preceded him.
– ‘Does the Minister for Immigration have any proposals to divert from capital cities some of the flow of migrants which for many years has been directed mainly to the inner city areas of Sydney and Melbourne? In view of the problems of overcrowding in those areas will the Minister agree to take the pressure off them and to assist the country areas?
– We have been concerned that there has been an over-concentration of new arrivals particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and in the inner city areas. It certainly is not our intention in the future to pour in an unplanned way people into inner city areas which are already overcrowded. I have already had some discussions through the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council with Mr L. J. Mooney who is the President of the Australian Council of Local Government Association and through him and with his co-operation the Association is at the present time carrying out a survey of all local government bodies with a view to ascertaining what their needs are, what their desires are and how we can help in the supply of migrants or, if you like, the diversion of settlers from these inner city areas. We have also been looking at a new initiative. It would be a new initiative for us but it has been for some time practised in the United States. This new initiative involves providing facilities for representatives of individual communities in the countryside to go to areas where there is perhaps a chain migration already in being, to invite people to join them specifically in those areas, in those districts, in those towns or, if you like, in those valleys. The important thing here would be to extend a direct hand to people overseas from one community to another, from one group to another or from one location to another rather than just to invite people into the whole of the continent and hope to goodness they will find a place. I think it is an initiative we could well follow up. I assure the honourable member for Hume that if he has centres which are interested we will be delighted to hear from them,
– I have received a letter from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of the Government to exercise proper management in the handling of the economy.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required ‘by the Standing Orders having risen in their places).
– This Government stands indicted for its total failure to deal effectively with Australia’s major economic problem, that of inflation. By its own policies it has generated a rate of inflation which is unprecedented in Australia’s economic experience. In December 1972 inflation was a reducing factor of 4.6 per cent. The notional rate of inflation is now 13 per cent. That massive increase of some 300 per cent directly derives from the economic policies and reckless public sector spending patterns of this Government. Unless effective action is taken now I foreshadow that the inflationary rate will reach some 20 per cent in the months ahead, with a further escalation in interest rates, a worsening credit squeeze and the prospect of a mini budget. It is a matter of national concern that the Government has, in 10 short months, turned a basically sound economy into one characterised by instability, lack of confidence and uncontrollable demand and cost pressures.
This is a Government which has sought to promote a level of wages and salaries in the private sector which the economy is unable to sustain. It has endorsed union claims whenever and wherever possible, both through traditional channels such as the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and through such new and threatening avenues as the use of Government contracts. It has used the pacesetter concept in the Public Service in order that the rapid increase in the terms and conditions of public sector employment will force up wage levels in the private sector. It has removed the 3 per cent growth limit on the Commonwealth ‘Public Service. It has demonstrated a supreme level of fiscal irresponsibility by introducing a Budget which expanded public expenditure by a massive $l,938m yet imposed additional taxes designed to increase revenues by only $339m, a net expansionary impact of $ 1,599m equal to 4.2 per cent of non-farm national product. The fiscal irresponsibility of this Government is now plain. It is obvious in that only 2 weeks after bringing down the Budget the Government has embarked upon a credit squeeze policy in an endeavour to curb the level of demand. This new monetary policy is an indictment of the Budget and it is an indictment of the way in which this Government conducts its decision making on matters of major economic consequence.
Once again this was a decision taken without any consultation with Cabinet or any advice from the major economic policy departments of the Commonwealth Public Service. This was a decision taken - as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has so well phrased it - by the 3 blind mice, that is, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) whose total lack of economic comprehension is well known; the Treasurer (Mr Crean) whose preKeynesian predilections bear no relevance to present economic circumstances; and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) whose major function was to ensure a Prime Ministerial majority should the Treasurer have raised any objection. Every economist has clearly pointed out the danger of depending exclusively on monetary measures to maintain equilibrium within the general economy. This is particularly true when fiscal policy is moving against rather than complementing .the objectives of monetary policy. A statement by Sir Robert Norman, the Chairman of the Australian Bankers’ Association, appears on the financial pages of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of Saturday, 15 September. He commented that the banks had long held the view that the main burden of major economic adjustments should be borne by flexible fiscal measures, with monetary policy having a supporting role. The Reserve Bank, in its annual report, commented on financial conditions in these terms:
There is scope for further tightening in financial conditions but the gathering strength of private demand suggests it would not be prudent and probably not sufficient to rely only on monetary policy to achieve the desired restraints.
But in spite of this, the Government has already shown that monetary policy is to bear the main burden of its anti-inflationary poli*cies. It is a matter of some interest to refer to the Prime Minister’s election policy speech on 13 November in which he said quite explicitly and categorically:
The Liberals have not been willing to act to reduce interest rates when economic conditions would have allowed. Labor will deliberately plan to reduce interest rates wherever practicable.
– That is what he said.
– That is what he said, as my colleague the honourable member for Balaclava indicated. That promise has been totally dishonoured. We were told during the first 8 months of this Government’s administration that Australians were privileged to have ‘a low interest rate Treasurer’ - a man who held deep personal convictions as to the economic and social desirability of low interest rates.
For all these fine professions, we now have a situation in which trading bank overdraft rates have been boosted to 9.5 per cent, the highest on record. Labor’s ill-considered decision to use interest rates as the method of fighting inflation must hit the small man, the average wage earner and those persons endeavouring to purchase a home.
– They are manipulators.
– Members of the Government are manipulators. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost because of interest rate increases. Much of the effect of this will be felt by small investors with an increase in superannuation funds and institutional lenders. In the face of this, the Treasurer had the temerity last week in this Parliament to accuse any investor who sells bonds of manipulating the market and debasing the money standards of everyone else in the community.
Just as absurd was the Prime Minister’s almost incomprehensible assertion, also to this Parliament last week, that the bond rate is determined by the Loan Council. He went further to say that the banking system determines the interest rate on mortgages. Perhaps he had forgotten his statement on Sunday, 9 September, when he said:
In the market for Government securities, the Reserve Bank will, with the concurrence of the Government, press its open market operations vigorously with the aim of significantly increasing sales of Government securities … In the process, a sharp rise can be expected in interest yields on existing issues of Australian Government securities and, in due course, in rates to be offered on new issues. Substantial increases in other interest rates will follow as effects of the operations spread through other markets for funds.
If the investing public and the business community have had to rely on the vacillations of the Prime Minister and his Treasurer on the question of this new monetary policy, it is no wonder that confusion and lack of confidence have been the result. The Australian public and the share and money markets in particular are today concerned, confused and apprehensive. It is the Government which has brought about that sense of concern and confusion which is felt not simply by the share markets of Australia but also by the investing public everywhere in this country.
But, the confusion does not stop here. We are told that there is a move to adjust the implementation of monetary policy. Apparently the move originates in the Labor Caucus from a strong group which feels that the Government should try to achieve lower interest rates in order to help Labor voters. We are told - again through the Press and not in this Parliament - that the following motion was referred from Caucus to the Caucus economic committee and for decision by the Cabinet today:
That the Government direct the trading banks through the Reserve Bank to apply to home mortgages a selective exemption from the general increase in interest rates brought about by the increasing bond rate to avoid adding to the cost of servicing bank borrowings for new mortgages or existing mortgages.
That the Treasurer’s proposed extra banking legislation based on the corporation power be introduced as expediently as possible to provide a mechanism where liquidity in finance companies, merchant banks, building societies and other institutions can be varied on the statutory reserve deposit principle by requesting that a percentage of funds be deposited with the Reserve Bank.
Surely this is an appalling way for a decision of major economic policy to be taken. It indicates clearly that this Government cannot induce even its own party members to pursue a policy of support for its newfound monetary policy. If there were any doubt as to the general reception to that policy throughout Australia one needs only to turn to some of the editorials in major newspapers. The Sydney Morning Herald’ of Friday, 14 September, had this to say in its editorial:
The Labor Caucus has had its victory. Now let it count the appalling cost. The Government’s reputation for responsible economic management lies in tatters. Its revaluations of the dollar, its cut in tariffs and its credit squeeze suggested a Government that was decisive and courageous in economic policy. Of course there were short-term political costs involved, but the Government was beginning to lay the ghost of the longheld electoral suspicion that ‘Labor administrations are fundamentally incapable of managing the economy. Caucus has done its best to demonstrate that the suspicion is all too well-founded.
– It is economic irresponsibility.
– That is so. A similar line was taken in the editorial of the Melbourne Age’ dated 14 September. The article stated:
First shock - now utter confusion. If the Federal Government does not move quickly to clarify and correct - complete chaos will come next. Shock was the widespread reaction, although not of the more perspicacious, to the Government’s dramatic moves on Sunday to lift interest rates ‘sharply’ in a major attack on inflation. The confusion was vastly intensified by the vote of the Parliamentary Labor Party on Wednesday, against the advice of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, to hold down interest rates on housing loans. How this can be done - if indeed, it can and will be done - without throwing the money market into convulsions and defeating the purpose of the anti-inflationary exercise has yet to be explained. Mr Whitlam’s attempts to do so at question time in Parliament yesterday did not reveal either a profound understanding of the problems or a satisfactory guide to the Government’s intentions.
The Prime Minister did not have a clue. The reason is that this Government has not been prepared to put or has not been able to put before the Australian people a comprehensive economic policy. In announcement after announcement we have seen expressed a policy which is fragmented, piecemeal, divisive and in no shape or form representative of a multi policy approach to fighting inflation throughout this country. A detailed and coherent economic policy has of course been provided in this House by the Opposition parties. A sense of effective national leadership is required but it has not been provided. A comprehensive policy is required but has not been provided. We believe that this country requires at present a policy of effective demand management which encompasses the major instruments of economic management available to the Government, specifically designed to dampen down the aggregate level of demand and so to reduce cost pressures. Yet all we hear from the Treasurer and the so-called economic experts on the Government front bench is a fragmented and piecemeal policy.
We believe that the present policy should provide for a marked cutback in the rate of growth in the Commonwealth Public Service. An independent senator recently said in the Senate that the Government’s policy in respect of the Commonwealth Public Service is ensuring that the fat cats breed like rabbits or like mice. Of that there is no doubt. It is clearly undesirable for employment levels in the public sector to increase at a rate of almost double that applying to the .private sector. The comprehensive policy of which we have spoken clearly must comprehend the rejection of the principle of flat rate wage increases in the Commonwealth Public Service and outside of it. It must also comprehend a responsible role in respect of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the rejection of this Government’s continuing indecision concerning migration, the promotion of a more competitive business environment. All these policies must be supplemented by an effective incomes prices policy of a type which this Government has rejected and will continue to reject to its cost. The Labor Party’s economic policy does not meet the major requirements and demands of sound economic management but represents a mammoth faiure by this Government to meet Australia’s economic and social needs. It stands indicted by this House and by the people of Australia.
– I am sorry that I cannot congratulate the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) on the presentation of his first economic case. Honourable members opposite ought to be very good judges of economic mismanagement because, after all, it was economic mismanagement that put them where they are now and put the Government where it is now.
– Go to the people now.
– You cannot take votes in countries every day of the week or every 6 months. There were plenty of times when the previous Government could have gone to the country earlier and the result would have been very much different from what it is. It is very easy, of course, to quote the sets of figures that suit one best. I suppose it is good debate but sometimes it is also camouflage. I agree with .the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that inflation is a serious problem. It is hard to find any one satisfactory definition of inflation but sometimes it is described as too much money chasing too few goods. ‘ I shall quote some figures - I use an index that is used to evaluate them - dealing with what is called the volume of money. If one compares the volume of money in 2 periods it at least gives some indication of how money is being pumped into the economic system. Money, after all, ought to be a lubricant rather than a determinant and I think that sometimes that important factor is overlooked.
The volume of money is made up of 3 rather curious components - notes and coins in the bands of the public, the deposits of the public with the trading banks and deposits of the public with the savings banks. Those 3 sets of figures, if taken at 30 June 1972, came in round figures to $17.5 billion. At 30 June 1973 the figure had risen from $17.5 billion to $22 billion, which was an increase in that single year of 25.7 per cent. In the period from 1970 to 1971 the proportionate increase was 6.8 per cent and from July .1971 to June 1972 the increase was 10.5 per cent, but after June 1973 the increase was 25.7 per cent. If we take, as an honourable member did at question time today, the 4 quarters of a calendar year and then handpick 2 other quarters, one can get some rather curious distortions. But if one looks at how that figure rose from $17.5 billion to $22 billion between 1 July 1972 and 30 June 1973 one finds that it increased by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter and by 9.2 per cent in the second quarter. In other words, the increase in the volume of money in the quarter from July to September was as high as had been the case for a whole year earlier.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, may I suggest that the Treasurer deserves better from his colleagues than an empty House? I draw your attention to the state of the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! I suggest to the honourable member for Wentworth that if he wishes to draw the attention of the Chair to the state of the House he does so. In future if he make’s a speech in doing so I will deal with him. It is not the appropriate time to make a speech. Ring the bells. (Quorum formed).
– I might say in courtesy to my friend who called for the numbers that before I rose I had seriously considered calling for a quorum. I happen to be a bit of a stickler for parliamentary proprieties. Discussion on a matter of public importance is one of the rare occasions in Parliament when those who do not have the numbers can take the initiative. I suggest that if a quorum is called for during other discussions of matters of public importance I will move that the question be now put.
– You fellows are dictatorial.
– There was only one member of the Australian Country Party present.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The honourable member for Kennedy will withdraw that remark.
– What remark was that?
– The honourable member will withdraw the remark that it is time the Treasurer got a swastika.
– I do not recall saying that, but it is not a bad idea. I withdraw it.
– I would have expected a bit better from the honourable member than that he would have made that remark at all. After all, surely if honourable members are concerned about the state of the economy we ought to debate the matter intelligently.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it correct for the Treasurer to make misstatements in referring to numbers in the House?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. The Treasurer referred to a quorum. When the quorum was called, the required numbers were not present. That is the only reference to numbers of which I have any knowledge.
– When the quorum was called there was one member of the Country Party present.
– Again I rise to my feet. More than one member of the Country Party was present.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– Well, there were two. Fair enough. I have been interrupted and I do not know whether I will be given an extension of time to state my case. Again I rely on the courtesy of the House to act promptly. Each speaker has a limited time of 15 minutes in this debate, and I think something like 4 minutes of my time has been taken up in this dog fight. For the second quarter of 1972-73, that is between 1 October and 31 December 1972, the volume of money rose by 9.2 per cent. If one wants unprecedented experiences as to how certain things have increased, I would say that is probably the most rapid increase in the volume of money in any halfyear period in Australian history. By comparison, in the time since this Government came to office, as represented by the March and June quarters 1973, the rate was 4.5 per cent in the first quarter and 3.1 per cent in the second quarter. It was at least getting down to the normal level. I suggest that the previous Government could have taken all sorts of steps in the first 6 months of last year to moderate the position that we have now reached. I do not want to get into arguments as to whether inflation is imported or not. To some extent it has been. The volume of money indirectly is a contributory cause of inflation if there is too much of it.
– In July the money flow was increasing at the rate of 26 per cent.
– Yes, and this is the reason why we began to take some of the action that we did. I have been very disappointed in the honourable gentleman on the front bench of the Opposition who has just interjected. To my mind he has not added to his reputation, after stepping down from a chair in economics, by his performance as an Opposition spokesman on that subject in this House. I expected better of him, but it has not been very evident up to date. I thought he might have swept aside some of the abysmal ignorance that exists in the Opposition but so far he has not. What is called the credit squeeze, if you want to call it that, in essence is trying to remove the excessive liquidity. The honourable gentleman asked me a question about this today. Open market procedures were operated by the previous Government on an occasion when the bond rate was driven up from 6 per cent to 7 per cent in 1970. The only difference on that occasion was that it was done surreptitiously instead of openly. What happened in those days when the bond rate rose from 6 per cent to 7 per cent? Did the present members of the Opposition ask the same questions of their then Ministers as they are now asking of me?
– You talk about manipulation and debasing the economy.
– Yes, because I believe that the initiative to control the volume of money, indirectly and its value, should lie in public hands, because the only area in which we are able to intervene directly is in that part covered by the banking system. Other areas outside the banking system, once they got outside, grew to the levels they did during the occupancy of the Treasury benches by the previous Government. Banking in terms of credit extension is a lesser part of the whole than was the case when the previous Government came into office. The measures we are proposing today have to be harsh until we get more effective means of regulating this quota, the volume of money.
We have faced an increase in the price of housing this year. The price of a house at the end of this year is likely to show an increase of 15 to 20 per cent on the price at the beginning of the year. I think at least it is a moot point whether it is better to pay 6 per cent on 120 units of currency when previously it was 6 per cent on 100 units, or to pay 7 per cent and keep the number of currency units involved to 100. This is what we are endeavouring to do by applying the drastic measures we have. Nobody does this willingly. I still go on record that in my view it would be better for a community as a whole if interest rates were lower rather than higher. But interest rates involve equity as between lenders and borrowers and you cannot just suddenly by means of a moratorium say that overnight all rates will be set at certain levels. We have not the power to do that. I am not necessarily sure that it would be a good thing to use it if we had it. But in the absence of any better’ mechanism we have applied the measures we have. People talk about using fiscal control and monetary control, and when they are used everybody criticises them. I do not want to say anything more than that. I have no more time. But I do say that I think it was evident enough even before the honourable gentleman who led in the debate called for a quorum, that there was no great interest in this attack.
– Firstly, I want briefly to reply to the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on one point which might seem irrelevant. He made the comment that there was only one member of the Australian Country Party in the chamber. There were four present. I will not name them but on behalf of our Whip I want to put the record straight.
On 2 December the Whitlam Government inherited an economy that was generally sound. The McMahon Government had steadied the rate of inflation from 2.3 per cent in the December quarter of 1971 to 1.2 per cent in the December quarter of 1972. The unemployment problem - largely due to a rural recession caused by low prices for many products, especially wool, in the overseas market place, a run of adverse seasons, a cost-price squeeze and other factors - was diminishing rapidly. The numbers of unemployed were beginning to fall significantly and more’ job vacancies were being registered. This, in spite of the very dishonest prediction that was made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). I well remember his saying that by February of this year there would be 200,000 people unemployed. He had no justification for making such a prediction. Nevertheless, he made it do doubt from other motives.
This Government deserves the strongest condemnation from the Australian people for its deplorable handling of the Australian economy. A whole range of measures, including 2 unilateral revaluations of the Australian dollar and a stay-put revaluation against the United States dollar have damaged the terms of trade of exporters, including farmers, by at least 25 per cent against competitors in the United States and Canada. When the world demand-supply situation comes closer together; when there is no longer a shortage of foodstuffs and fibres on the world market, the exporters, particularly in the rural sector and in the mining sector, will feel the great pinch of this decision.
– They already are.
– Yes indeed they are, particularly in the mining industries.The recent further revaluation of the Australian dollar now means that we have revalued against the yen by 10 per cent - against the Japanese yen, one of the strongest currencies in the world. The full impact of the arbitrary 25 per cent across the board cut in tariffs, slugging principally the industries in decentralised locations and the industries that are highly labour intensive, has not yet been felt But undoubtedly as time goes by that decision which was taken without reference to the Treasury, without reference to Caucus, will have a very serious effect upon people and their jobs.
It is all very well to say that we can shift people from one city to another or from one job to another, but do people want to be shifted about simply because a government decides to take an arbitrary decision such as this? No wonder there was a revolt in Caucus. No wonder the Caucus is starting to overthrow some of the decisions that have been taken by the 3 power men of Cabinet. Then we had the most inflationary Budget on record, followed by the biggest credit squeeze since the 1890s. Now we have interest rates reaching the highest level on record. In spite of the willingness of the Premiers to cooperate with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in combating inflation, the Prime Minister is ready to go to the people by referendum in order to snatch complete control over prices and aim central to the total socialist objective of this Government.
The Government, through its own actions - its increased public expenditure, its increase in the Public Service, its extravagant measures and its complete economic irresponsibility - has led the Australian economy into a raging inflation rate of possibly 20 per cent per annum. It would not surprise me, and I do not think it would surprise the Treasurer, if the consumer price index or cost of living index figures for the quarter to the end of September show an increase in excess of 5 per cent. The Government has fed the fires of inflation. Has it fed the fires of inflation in a calculated attempt to create chaos and then to seize absolute power over the economy and the lives of the “people so that it can shift them from A to B and take control of their day to day activities, or is it just an inept, crazy government without any sense of economic responsibility? I leave that question to be answered by honourable members opposite and the Australian people generally.
Since the Government was elected to office all its economic decisions have been directed to shifting men, women and resources from private industry and employment to the official government sector. This has not yet occurred, but the stage is being set for the takeover of the private sector. The erosion of the economic base of many industries, the collapse on the stock exchange, the uncertainties in the business sector and the brutal attack on the farmers in the Budget are all clear evidence of the Government’s intention to strangle the private sector. Now the interest rate will rise, and this will hasten its demise. We will have the fiercest credit squeeze ever, with the highest interest rate in 100 years. This action will hit hardest the smaller businessmen, the comer storekeepers, the farmers and the little people in our community. It -will hurt them more than it will hurt the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. It will hurt them more than it will hurt the big industries which can absorb it. It is the little people who will be hurt most by this decision. This is the saddest part of this Government’s performance. The people it purports to represent are those who will suffer the most,
Having created the worst inflationary spiral in years, the Government has now been forced to use monetary controls belatedly and with harsh application. The interest rate on loans and overdrafts is to rise by 1.75 per cent to 9.5 per cent per annum. The concessional differential to rural borrowers is to be abandoned so that rural producers, with a record debt load of more than $2,000m, will now be called upon to pay another price for the Labor Government’s economic failure. This is in spite of the promise made by the Australian Labor Party before the last election. I refer to this magnificent little book ‘It’s Time’. We all got this in our letter boxes and we all remember it. It says.
There is ample proof to show that high interest rates are imposing severe burdens on export rural industries, just as they are on other sections of the community such as young house owners.
– Who said that?
– The Labor Party in ‘It’s Time’. It’s time for the Labor Party and this Government to live up to the promise and to what it said to the people before 2 December because, quite frankly, the people in my area feel that they were led up the garden path. It’s ‘time for the Government to face up to its responsibilities. We saw introduced into this House a Budget that absolutely took from the country people more than $140m. I have not time to enumerate all the ways and means that were used to try to rape the pockets of the people in the country areas of Australia. Now we have the worst credit squeeze in memory. It is discriminating against the people in rural areas. This has happened when conditions in the country areas were beginning to improve after a disastrous rural recession due to low world markets and adverse seasons. When world markets improved the rural sector saw some hope of recovery. That was until the taking of these irresponsible measures that have been taken, with the credit squeeze on top of them. We undoubtedly will see the Government introduce a supplementary Budget.
Sound economic management does require fiscal responsibility and a wide range of responsible actions. Unfortunately, all the actions to date have been directed at the private sector and the wealth producing industries. Growth in the economy depends largely on the extent of the economy’s secular growth. This in turn depends upon the maintenance of substantial private investment. If private investment is restricted economic growth will be lower. This in turn will reduce the resources available to the Government to carry out its policy objectives. One of the great paradoxes of governments of the Left in capitalist societies is that more than any other type of government they need taxation funds from the private sector to implement their ambitious policies-
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
– In bringing on this matter of public importance the Opposition could not be criticised for being short of gall. The key terms of the discussion are:
The failure of the Government to exercise proper management in the handling of the economy.
No one is more discredited in the issue of the economic handling of this country than this Opposition. In 23 years of administration this country’s economic progress was regularly convulsed by the stop-go policies which were purposely injected into the community. The loss to the economy would be measured in thousands of millions of dollars. The recession from 1971 - purposely brought about by the economic policies imposed by the present Opposition which at that time was the Government - caused at least $2,000m in lost production to the economy - $2,000m worth of goods and services lost to the economy. The honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch) - the new economic spokesman, a disciple of some peculiar type of economist - is one of the people who have come before the House and spoken about a basically sound economy 10 months ago. Ten months ago unemployment was still mounting. It was at a record high. There were 130,000 people out of work and on the lowest rate of unemployment benefits imaginable - a rate so low that when people were unemployed they were projected immediately into a situation of poverty.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The honourable member for Evans has hardly kept quiet during the last 2 speeches. I suggest he do so. I suggest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that he has made his speech and he should let the Minister make his speech.
– This ‘basically sound economy’ was characterised by massive unemployment - a basically sound economy where private capital investment was absolutely stagnant, where per capita private consumption was flat as a tack and where every economic industry was completely thwarted in any movement forward. There was a total absence of confidence in the economy. This was the achievement of the Government of that time. These are the people who, when they talk of proper economic management, think in terms of mounting unemployment, of a collapse in the economic performance of industry and of a general hammering down of the performance of the economy overall. These after all are the people who in 1971, contrary to all the economic advice available in the community - even from Treasury I rather gather- decided to become the architects of the 1971 disaster. Not satisfied that the previous year had been a bad year for economic performance they set about making it even worse. Not satisfied with the fact that per capita growth was only a half of one per cent, that retail sales had slumped badly, that private investment was falling away and that private dwelling commencements, were falling quite dramatically over the previous years, they set about accentuating this sort of trend.
The result was, as I mentioned earlier, unemployment greater than 130,000 at December last year when the election was being fought. So that is the sort of proper economic management that they resort to. Very conventional lines for them, very cruel lines for the Australian public, whether they are individuals in the workforce or people who are operating industry. Their great achievement - and I refer back to the statement of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the new-found economic expert with unique theories on the economy who says that the economy 10 months ago was basically sound - was for private capital investment in the second half of 1971-72 to be 8.4 per cent less than in the first half of 1970-71. That was the sort of collapse that they brought about. In 1971-72 they imposed a surplus of $630m to bring the pinch on in conventional or in orthodox economic policy management which was clearly designed to bring about an economic recession. Of course, what happened was that with the approach of the election in late 1972 the then Government was jolted into panic, and this is where we get the seeds of the present problem. This -is the point which must be made now. There was a complete turnaround from a $630m surplus in the previous year to a *$120m deficit. So the Government injected another $750m into the economy. But more than that was involved. It did very little to control our external reserves so there was massive injections of money into the economy from that direction. The then Government was not prepared to act. So we had this enormous increase in the volume of money in the economy. In the second half of 1972 it was 17 per cent which, as far as I can establish, is unequalled in the economic management of the country.
What does this mean? This increase, backed by the accumulation of reserves going to the small export sector of the economy, led to distortions and to this massive injection of money into the economy. This was to be spent to stimulate demand, but there was no backing in increased goods and services. That was as far as the Government could conceive. All it wanted to do was to survive. I point out that the deficit for which it budgeted was even greater at the point it went out of office than it proposed to have, because the more the Government panicked the more it spent. It did not announce this publicly. These are the problems which we inherited: Mounting unemployment and the injection of this money into the economy - all the signs of stagflation. Quite clearly we are not going to resort to those orthodox measures which caused so much harm and suffering to the general community. We have taken completely different steps. We are setting about managing the economy in a responsible way. We will ease up liquidity and increase demand by increasing the supply side of the sector. This is something which the Opposition when in government never tried before. It criticised our proposals for a 25 per cent cut in tariffs. But what we effectively did was to avoid any suffering for the public, including those people who, through employment’ changes, will be transmitted to other sources of work but will still get their full average wage, established by what they were earning in the previous 6 months. They will still receive that amount. Demand will still continue. They will not suffer. They will not have unreasonably low unemployment benefit rates imposed on them. That keeps demand going.
What we will do is to meet that demand by allowing the supply side of the sector to meet it. We will do that by encouraging imports into the economy and by taking some of the strain from the internal capacity of the economy to meet that demand. That is much more sensible and responsible than slashing into the economy, than hammering a boom on the head and pulling it off with a jerk which is what the previous Government did. The currency appreciation which we carried out in December again was designed to ease the rate of increase in costs. Already the index on the cost of imports shows that we have achieved a 5 per cent reduction in cost’s, which has been fed into the economy. The latest appreciation obviously had to take place because external reserves are still mounting. Unless we achieve this sort of appreciation we will continue to have money pumped into the export sector of the economy. This will cause distortions because of the capacity it gives that sector of the economy to increase demand and also to increase the pressures from other sectors of the economy, such as wage earners and the suppliers of resources who are trying to equal the income levels which are being achieved there.
We cannot have massive injections of money into the economy unless we increase the supply of goods and services. This is something which the Opposition never learnt in government and today it has clearly displayed that it still has not learnt that lesson. The movements in interest rates are a perfectly legitimate action aimed at soaking up excess liquidity. The liquidity problems of the Opposition, as a government, were caused by this massive injection or expansion of the money supply into the economy. In the first half of the last financial year it was 17 per cent. The total increase was twenty something per cent. But most of this was injected by the Opposition when in government. It is the guilty party. There is a lag between when this massive injection occurred and when it started to take effect. Quite clearly we have inherited the inflationary problems of today from the actions the Opposition took when it was a government. But we will certainly not inherit the sorts of policies which the Opposition took. We have taken other steps. We have set up the Prices Justification Tribunal. There is the proposal to have a referendum on price control. We will continue to handle the economy as the requirements of the economy demand. We will not move in arbitrarily and heavy-handedly to cause a slump in the economy.
What will members of the Opposition do? They propose a prices-wages freeze. What is that? It is nothing more than a slogan, unless there are constructive policies to back it up. What is the meaning of a prices-wages policy? There is a whole range of these suggestions made by honourable members opposite. But they have never spelt out the details of these policies, and they will not spell them out because they have no idea what they are talking about. Honourable members opposite think that it is a topical slogan and they are flinging it about with abandon. But what are they talking about? They know - and one of the following speakers, I expect, will be the honourable member for Berowra (Mr Edwards) who would know better than anyone else - that, by themselves, policies such as this will be useless. Honourable members opposite must spell out now the practical measures that they suggest should be introduced to back up any such prices-wages freeze or prices-wages policy, which can serve only as a very minor and marginal expedient and as a bridging towards more effective policies.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The Opposition has brought forward for discussion this matter of public importance. We have heard 2 speeches from the Government side - one from the Treasurer (Mr Crean), who gave us a rather academic lecture, and the other from the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), who attempted to give a great list of excuses for the Government’s action or lack of action. But what are the facts as Australians know them? On 2 December 1972 the economy was moving ahead well. Employment opportunities were growing and inflation in that quarter was down to a manageable rate of 4.6 per cent. This was the result of good Budget strategy in 1972. Nine months later, a month after the first Labor Budget, what do we find? The economy is over-heating and the rate of inflation is somewhere between 10 per cent and 20 per cent. I do not think that even the Treasurer knows exactly what the rate of inflation is. The Budget document states that in this financial year wages will increase by an average pf 13 per cent while productivity is expected to increase by between 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent.
Within a month of the election of the Labor Government, there was an uneasiness in the minds of the community. This became a lack of confidence and it is now, justifiably, a fear in the minds of the electorate. Why is it that the Labor Government lacks the skill to manage the financial affairs of this nation? There would be many reasons, but I think 3 reasons are tremendously important. Firstly, we have a Labor Government which is obsessed with socialist and centralist policies. Government supporters hid this pretty well during the election campaign, but the obsession is all too clear for everyone to see now. Secondly, we have a Labor Government which dislikes - even hates - private enterprise, with all the wealth and the great development and growth that that system has given this nation. Thirdly, we have a Labor Government which fears militant trade unionism, with all the disadvantages that flow from that fear to the great army of trade unionists with common sense and a desire to contribute to their country.
The obsession with centralist and socialist policies is reflected by the Government’s expenditure in the Budget. Of course, with all the commissions and committees and with all the growth of the bureaucracy, we had to have an increase in Government expenditure of 19 per cent. There were no priorities and there was a very real degree of irresponsibility at a time when different decisions and emphases were called for. We even have the Government saying to private enterprise: ‘No, we do not want your $100m to build a pipeline. We must have that as a socialised pipeline. We must have a national pipeline authority’. So, more than $10Om of taxpayers’ money has been allocated in that direction. There has been a deliberate attempt to shift the emphasis from private enterprise to the public sector. There has been an attack upon and harsh treatment of private companies which have contributed to Australia’s growth, and an increase in indirect taxation which, of course, has created problems not only for private enterprise but also for Australians and has added enormously to the impact of inflation.
Interest rates are at their highest level ever. Also, as the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) said only too well, there has ‘been an attack upon the rural industries just when they were emerging out of very many difficult years. There has been a deliberate attempt to downgrade the standard of rural industries throughout this nation. As to the mining industry, the less said the better. From time to time the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) in this House without regard viciously attacks the mining industry. He gives no consideration to the tremendous development and growth that it has given to the country.
The Government fears militant unionism. The new Labor Government is not game, it does not have the courage to tackle industrial unrest. Before the last election the word was around: ‘We will understand the trade unions. We get on better with them and we will have industrial peace.’ But what has happened? The Government’s record is vastly different from the words it utters. Not only has there been a lack of courage; there also has been a fracturing of the conciliation and arbitration system. The Government has shown softness as to working hours. It has not been concerned to point out to Australians the tremendously important link between wages and productivity. As to prices, after coming into office Labor postured by setting up the Prices Justification Tribunal and a parliamentary committee. Now it is talking about a referendum on price control.
Leaving aside the Budget for the moment, let us study some of the Government’s decisions. The Prices Justification Tribunal is just a sham. In cutting tariffs by 25 per cent no judgment or selectivity was used and no concern demonstrated as to the impact it would have. Did anybody believe that it would have a uniform impact throughout the country? It was just an ad hoc decision. It is appreciated that there were very good reasons for revaluing our currency but there was also a very good reason to have a look at the impact of revaluation and whether compensation payments were necessary.
Interest rates are at their highest level and utter confusion has resulted from increasing them. Even the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) does not know what it is all about. That has been obvious from the answers to questions and comments he has made in this House. The Government is talking about a referendum on price control. It is fascinating. Almost as fascinating is the way decisions have been reached. First we had the WhitlamBarnard Government. Members of the Second Whitlam Ministry have been involved in some decisions, but most have been made by three or four Ministers. We have witnessed the fascinating exercise of Caucus countermanding the decisions of the Government. I do not doubt the sincerity of Labor members but after studying their financial philosophy one can arrive only at the conclusion that as far as economic expertise is concerned they are nothing more than enthusiastic amateurs. In the best interests of Australia they should not interfere in some of the decisions made.
All the decisions made add up to a credit squeeze. Because of a lack of proper decisions and proper leadership savings will be eroded and interest rates have reached their highest level yet. Tremendously increased housing costs have hit the younger members of the community. The Labor Government is supposed to be concerned about our senior citizens, people on pensions and fixed incomes, but they are becoming more and more disadvantaged. Regrettably, the worst is yet to come. The decisions made by this Government have failed to achieve anything but it is obvious that there will be more and more ad hoc decisions so that the confidence of Australians will be eroded.
Why does not the Government display some courage in tackling inflation? Why does it not say: *We will look not only at prices but also at incomes. Inflation is a matter that has to be tackled upon many fronts.’ Why do not Government supporters say that it is in the interests of the nation to have a temporary squeeze? We do not suggest that it is a long term solution but Labor members should say whether it is in the interests of the nation and is helpful. Why does not the Government have some courage? I invite honourable members opposite to look at Government expenditure and admit that the Government has been wrong, that there ought to be some pruning and allocation of priorities in Government expenditure.
Why does not the Government stand up to militant trade unionism and say: ‘We will not have this tremendous increase in industrial lawlessness with all the costs it imposes on this nation’? Can we have some clarity on interest rates from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or somebody who is able to give it? Australia is not governed solely by the Federal Government. Why can we not have a cooperative effort with the State governments? Why do we not see a genuine attempt by this Federal Government to assure the State governments that it will not ask for powers to be used for its centralist and socialist policies but for powers in order to serve the national interest? I would hope that the Government would realise the tremendous burden that is coming upon the community and would appreciate that there are not only within the State governments but within the community at large many people who are willing to help if they get the leadership that this nation needs.
– The Opposition has made a lot of noise in this debate and in previous debates about inflation in Australia. In the next day or so we shall see just how sincere members opposite are in their desire to prevent or at least restrict the rate of increasing inflation in this country. I refer, of course, to the problems of meat prices. It is not for me to canvass the report of the Joint Committee on Prices relating to meat. As everyone knows, that Committee will make its report some time this week. That report will recommend some kind of action to be taken in regard to meat prices which are particularly important in the present inflationary situation. In the last quarter - the June quarter - two-fifths of the increase in prices was due solely to increases in the price of meat. What did that have to do with the Government’s fiscal policy? Absolutely nothing. If we look at the kind of increases that have been occurring for different categories of meat we see that those increases have been staggering in the last 6 months or so. In the March quarter of this year mutton prices increased by 26 per cent, lamb by 17.8 per cent and beef by 8 per cent. In the June quarter, mutton increased a further 28.8 per cent, lamb 12.9 per cent and beef 9.3 per cent. Altogether meat prices increased by 11 per cent in the June quarter. These increases have been tremendously important facets in the inflationary situation which confronts us now. If the Opposition is really sincere in its desire to restrict inflation in Australia it will have its opportunity later this week when the report of the Joint Committee on Prices is before the House.
In this discussion of inflation a great deal of noise has been made by the Opposition about the Budget and the supposed irresponsibility of the Budget. During the Budget debate I referred to the analysis of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) relating to the supposed inflationary nature of the Budget. Of course the Leader of the Opposition made liberal use of a supposed analysis of Professor Neville in a book ‘Fiscal Policy in Australia’ to analyse how we should discuss whether the Budget was inflationary. As I pointed out in that debate, the Leader of the Opposition completely messed up the analysis of Professor Neville. He had the wrong figures applied all over the place and his whole exercise was absolutely laughable. It was a schoolboy effort and not at matriculation level but at sixth grade level. Since that debate I have received an article from Professor Neville - the same Professor Neville used quite wrongly by the Opposition to show that the Budget was inflationary. This article, written by Professor Neville, is for publication in ‘The Banker’ of October this year. The article is headed ‘Budget Strategy and Inflation in Australia’. It analyses the Budget and examines whether it is inflationary. I refer to the conclusion that Professor Neville reaches in this article. He states:
In summary the Budget will do little to increase inflation, but neither will it do much to restrain it. This is the correct strategy. A strongly deflationary Budget probably would have killed the investment boom in its infancy and prevented the return to full employment. However the Budget does make likely a continued tightening of monetary policy.
It is quite obvious that if the Leader of the Opposition had correctly applied the analysis of Professor Neville he would have reached an entirely different conclusion from that which he, in fact, reached when he made his speech on the Budget, as I have now shown by reference to this article. The same person relied on by the Leader of the Opposition says that the Budget is not inflationary but that it is the right and correct approach. Let us get a few things straight about whether this Budget is inflationary. If the Opposition did its homework properly it would have an entirely different line of argument in relation to the Budget. The conclusion which I read from Professor Neville referred to monetary policy. Of course, that article was written before the latest measures by this Government in relation to monetary policy, and I will say a few more things about that once I get through one other item.
I turn now to economic philosophy. The Opposition, when it members were in Government, showed its desire to dampen down inflation by creating unemployment, It was quite prepared to do that, as it did in 1971 - the most notable occasion in the recent past - and as previous governments have done in the last 20 years. This Government rejects that philosophy. It has greatly improved the employment situation since it has been in office, and it will not have a bar of fiscal policies which would create unemployment as a means of preventing inflation.
The Government recognises the importance of overseas factors in our inflationary situation, as do many economists throughout the world. In the last couple of years there has been a growing realisation that overseas factors are very important in the inflationary processes, in some countries in particular. Australia is one of those countries which are particularly affected by overseas influence in relation to inflation. One noted economist who has recognised the importance of international factors is Professor Galbraith. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), who raised the matter of public importance that we are now discussing, in his speech on the Budget and as a backup for his argument relied on Professor Galbraith who says that international factors are very important in relation to inflation, particularly for countries like Australia. That same point was made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in the July edition of its publication ‘Economic Outlook’. In a section headed ‘International ‘- Transmission of Inflation’ it says: ‘Australia is comparatively heavily exposed to international inflation.’ The Opposition apparently takes no account whatever of these international factors. Honourable members opposite beat the drum about inflation but they say nothing about what they know to be the case, that these overseas factors are very important.
Of course, the Government has taken all measures that it should take to offset the influence of overseas inflationary factors. It has revalued twice. It has cut tariffs by 25 per cent. It has restricted capital inflow significantly. It has shown an inclination to adopt some form of price control. That is the correct approach and the approach recommended by the OECD in the article to which I have referred. That organisation also recommends the use of export taxes. The Government has not done that yet. The Government’s action represents proper management of the economy, which is what this debate is about. The matter of public importance refers to the Government’s having failed .to manage the economy properly. The Government has taken all kinds of actions, recommended by the OEOD - apart from those relating to export taxes - to offset the overseas inflationary factors.
Also the Government has acted to reduce the monetary supply. The previous Government was irresponsible in its monetary policy. As was pointed out by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), it let the money supply increase by 17 per cent in the last 6 months of 1972. That is an extraordinarily high increase for which the present Government cannot be held accountable. It is something that the previous Government let happen. It occurred largely because the previous Government placed no controls, or nowhere near the right controls, on capital inflows. When the present Government came to office it put controls on capital inflow and to a marked extent stopped the buildup from that source. The revaluation and tariff cuts also helped to prevent the building up of overseas reserves which add to the money supply in this country. The Government has taken all the right kinds of decisions in relation to the monetary supply and in relation to offsetting overseas factors.
As I have mentioned, in relation to the monetary supply the Government has taken measures in relation to revaluation and tariffs. It also called up statutory reserve deposits in April this year and twice in August this year. The latest measures which have been taken will result in some rise in interest rates, but all this is necessary to reduce the growth of the money supply. If it were not done, we would have more rapid inflation in this country than would otherwise be the case, and the Opposition would be berating us for not taking appropriate measures. We have taken all the kinds of measures which are recommended by the OECD and by sensible economists at the moment. We have shown that the Budget is not inflationary, that it is the kind of Budget which is compatible with a realistic policy in relation to full employment and not imposing a -high rate of inflation. The Opposition’s condemnation of the Government for its failure to exercise proper management of the economy is ludicrous and’ should be seen as such.
-The debate is concluded.
Bill presented by Mr Whitlam, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Under this Bill, the Government proposes to ask the people of Australia to approve an amendment to the Constitution to enable the Australian Parliament to control prices. Australians share at present with every comparable country a problem of price inflation. This Parliament possesses no comprehensive power over prices. The Government believes it is unreasonable that the Australian Parliament should lack a power possessed by the national parliament and national government of nearly every comparable country. We cannot obtain this power by any law of this Parliament or with any prospect of success by any other arrangement. Accordingly we wish to invite the people of Australia to confer that power upon their national Parliament. The Bill itself does not, cannot, give the power; it merely gives the people the chance to have their say. It gives the people the chance to say that they believe the Australian Parliament should have reasonable powers to ensure the best possible economic management of this nation.
Controls over prices are not a cure-all for inflation, but they can be used responsibly and selectively as one of the elements in an anti-inflationary strategy. They are no panacea, but an essential part of the treatment. In applying that treatment, the Australian Government has been active and effective over a broad front, from the time we took office and inherited a growing level of inflation. We inherited ‘stagflation’. The great difference from the situation we inherited is that the economy in December combined a high inflation with the worst unemployment for 12 years. We now have a strong demand for labour, growth at 7 per cent and rising, and record profits. We have combined this strong and basically healthy economic situation with the most effective and far-reaching program of social reform ever undertaken in this country. Every section of the Australian community is better off today than 9 months ago. Our task now is to see that the even brighter prospects ahead for all Australians are not undermined by runaway inflation.
By vigorous and decisive actions on the currency, capital inflow and tariffs, by setting up the Prices Justification Tribunal and the
Parliamentary Committee on Prices, and above all, through the Budget- a remarkable combination of economic responsibility and far-reaching reform - we have erected excellent defences against such a misfortune. It is in that perspective, and the perspective of international economic pressures, that the Bill should be seen; it is in that perspective that the power the Government seeks from the people under this Bill should be seen. It should also be seen in the perspective of the events leading up to its introduction. At the Convention on the Constitution, a fortnight ago this afternoon, I outlined the various courses open to us. I said, and I repeat, that a prices freeze - and of course a price and income freeze - along the lines adopted by the American Administration was beyond the law in Australia. I said that I did not assert or concede that an effective prices policy could not be established under the corporations power, but that any action taken under that power would be subject to immediate, longlasting and debilitating appeals in the courts. I said that the Australian Government could seek a Constitutional change by referendum, but I acknowledged that the process takes some months, the number of months depending upon the behaviour of the Senate. Finally I said:
The Parliament can obtain the power by reference, by some or all State Parliaments. That is something which could be done in a matter of weeks. The reference of power could be permanent or temporary. If, however, the Governments in the two great States of New South Wales and Victoria, Governments which currently have a majority in both Houses of their Parliaments, decline to introduce a Bill, then the reference would be ineffective. I venture to say that without New South Wales and Victoria, it would be a largely futile exercise, while, with those two States alone referring, it could be made effective throughout Australia.
I have to say, to put it in the mildest way, that nothing in the public or private responses of the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria - not to mention the Premier of Queensland - gives the slightest room for hope that they are prepared to refer such a power to the national Government. The Premiers of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania are willing; but, unlike the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria, they do not control their upper Houses and therefore they are not in a position to guarantee the support of their Parliaments.
So we have decided to go direct ‘to the people of Australia. I should point out that, by this referendum, we do not ask the States to give up anything. We seek for the national Parliament a concurrent power. We are not seeking to take a power from the States and transfer it to the national Government. We seek a power for the national Parliament which the States already have, which they will retain, but which they either have refused to use or have been unable to use. All our experience from 1948 - political as well as economic shows that the States together or separately cannot apply effective price control, even were they willing to do so.
The oustanding example of the States’ failure is the price of land. This is the outstanding commodity which is unaffected by wage costs, but it is the commodity subject to the greatest price increases. In all capital cities, the price of residential land has been rising much more rapidly than average weekly earnings and much more rapidly than the consumer price index. In Sydney, the annual rate of increase during the first three quarters of 1972-73 was 45 per cent.
The Australian Government has for some time been seeking the co-operation of the States in important new programs designed to relieve pressures and to stabilise prices. We have had some co-operation from New South Wales and Victoria in relation to acquisition of land for Albury and Wodonga and the South Australian Government has taken measures to slow down the rate of inflation in land in Adelaide. But where the major problems lie - the provision of new residential land in the outer suburbs of the great cities - it has to be said that the States have been either unable or unwilling to apply effective measures.
In approaching this or any other reform of the Constitution, I have to take account of the realities. Before I put the nation to the trouble and expense of a referendum, I want to give it the maximum chance of success. This is the basic approach I took at the Constitutional Convention in Sydney a fortnight ago. I announced to the Convention a number of proposals the Government intends to put to the people at the next elections, whenever they are held, whether for the Senate, or both Houses. These are Constitutional matters in the strictest sense. The referendum now proposed is not one such, for it involves important economic policy matters. Therefore, if this proposal is to be given the maximum chance of carrying, it is best that it should stand alone on the day of decision - for the people to judge on its merits, without political entanglements.
There is one other great consistent approach we have on this matter. We acknowledge the basic duty and responsibility of the national Government for economic management. I do more than acknowledge it; I assert that responsibility. We do however recognise how much we depend upon the cooperation of all sections of the community, and upon the force of public opinion. We wish the Government to be able to act on the public recommendations of public bodies, publicly arrived at. We recognise, for example, that the effectiveness of the Prices Justification Tribunal partly depends upon its persuasive powers, working through informed public opinion. Yet it will help the effectiveness of the Tribunal immeasurably if the people know it is backed by a comprehensive and undoubted power, as is sought through this proposal. Such a power will increase public confidence in the Tribunal.
The importance of tribunals is already accepted, and has been accepted for generations, in the case of incomes. And, if the power we now propose for the national Parliament is granted by the people, it will increase the confidence of those who have to work through the industrial tribunals for their wage and salary increases. The effectiveness of the industrial arbitration system itself will be increased if those who have to operate within it know that there is a reserve power, with a government willing to exercise that power, to prevent their hard-won increases being filched by unjustified rises resulting in unfair profiteering. The 90 per cent of the Australian work-force who depend for their incomes upon such decisions and such tribunals do not at present have that confidence. This power would provide that additional element of confidence. There will be complete co-operation from employees associations if that confidence is present. In saying that, I speak for the whole Labor movement. I believe the people will support this referendum. It would be an additional insurance, however, if the members of the Opposition were to show their sincerity and support of it too.
I confess that I am at a loss to know how to satisfy the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). As Minister for Labour and National Service he was all for a prices tribu nal; as Treasurer he was all against it. As Treasurer he was all against a prices and incomes policy; as Leader of the Opposition he is all for it. At the same time, as leader of the Opposition he is all against the national Parliament having power to implement a prices and incomes policy. Sometimes he says that the national Parliament should not be trusted with power over prices and sometimes he says that the national Parliament should have a double power or twice the power - over both prices and incomes. I toss and turn at night seeking ways to keep him happy because I know that if I can make him happy I have won more than half the battle by bringing a glimmer of contentment to the greatest whinger and knocker ever to be put at the head of a great Australian political party. I now open a door to the Leader of the Opposition to retrieve his reputation as a good Australian.
This is a measure which I believe will receive the endorsement and support of the Australian people - when it is put to them. For the moment, all we are asking is a chance for the people, a chance for them to have their say. That is all this Bill proposes - that the people should decide. We believe the national Parliament of Australia should have a power possessed by every other national parliament, particularly when it comes to dealing with an international problem. And we believe - and say so by this Bill - that the people should make their judgment upon those 2 propositions. On these grounds I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Snedden) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– I move:
This is one of 2 Bills which originated in the Senate. The purpose of the Extradition (Foreign States) Bill before the House is to give effect in Australian law to a number of new extradition treaties negotiated with foreign countries during the term of office of the former Government.
The purpose of the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Bill, also before the House, is to keep the Act in line with the amendments that are being proposed in the other Bill to the Extradition (Foreign States) Act so far as is compatible with the provisions of the London Scheme of 1966 relating to extradition between Commonwealth countries. Some of the amendments had been proposed as ancillary matters in the London Scheme.
The Extradition (Foreign States) Act 1966- 1972, which this Bill proposes to amend, continued in force for the time being the old extradition arrangements with foreign countries that apply to Australia by virtue of treaties entered into by the United Kingdom and of the old Imperial Acts known as the Extradition Acts, 1870 to 1935. The Extradition (Foreign States) Act opened the way, however, for Australia to introduce its own extradition treaty system. Following the entry into force of the Extradition (Foreign States) Act, the previous Government, as I have indicated, negotiated a number of treaties with foreign countries. The countries are the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Israel, Austria, Sweden and the United States of America.
The Australian Labor Party Government has examined the treaties and is happy to accept them and to make, in the present Bill, legislative provision for carrying the treaties into effect. Earlier this year 2 of the treaties - with Sweden and Austria - were signed. These were tabled in the Parliament in May. I do not say anything new, so far as the present Government is concerned, when I add that the Government agrees entirely with the view that Australia, as an independent nation, should stand on its own feet both in this matter of extradition and in other matters. Regrettably it was not until 1966 that the first steps were taken whereby Australia could begin to shed itself of the old extradition system. The Government will consider as quickly as possible whether Australia should negotiate in its own right extradition treaties with other countries in addition to those that I have just mentioned to the House. Honourable members will know that, in fields other than extradition, the Australian Government is likewise moving to ensure that the system of law that applies in this country is a system consistent with Australia’s status as a sovereign nation.
It is appropriate that I should comment briefly on the need for extradition arrange ments with other countries, especially in the times in which we live today. The growth of criminal offences and the ease of communication between countries have resulted in a growing interdependence of the members of the international community. The sophistication of crime and of criminals continues to increase, especially in the area of what has come to be known as white collar crime. The conduct of fraudulent enterprises often extending beyond national boundaries, the carrying out of sophisticated robberies, often involving large sums of money, the forging of bank notes and schemes of extortion not only provide the criminal with lucrative returns for his illegal enterprise but also provide him with the means of escape from the place where his crime is committed. The increasing speed and facilities for air travel, including relaxation of visas and other formalities, means that escape from one country to another can be completed in a matter of hours. After an original escape to one country with which extradition arrangements exist, a criminal can, once put on the alert, make a similarly quick escape to a further country with which extradition arrangements may not exist. Law enforcement authorities must nowadays act more quickly in extradition matters than used to be necessary. Civil aviation is especially vulnerable to criminal activity. The commission of crimes on board aircraft, the hijacking of aircraft and the infliction of damage to aircraft have all become the subject of international agreements. These reflect the need for concerted international action against criminals who themselves operate on that basis. Effective action against these criminals is necessary to ensure their punishment and to deter others.
In this regard the present Bills contain provisions to give effect to the extradition clauses in Article 8 of the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation. The provisions will complete the legislative changes necessary to Australian law following upon the enactment of the Crimes (Protection of Aircraft) Act 1973, to enable that Convention to come into full force and effect in Australia. The provisions are very similar to those embodied in the amending extradition legislation of 1972 that gave effect to the extradition provisions of The Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft that are identical to those of the Montreal Convention,
We need to reduce the number of places where criminals can find sanctuary. Our efforts to do this have simply not kept pace with the increase in crime, and the increased opportunities for criminals to move from one country to another. We must see extradition arrangements as having the purpose not just of assisting individual countries in the administration of their own criminal laws, but of catering for interests of the law abiding public who are substantially the same the world over. Regrettably it is a fact of life that law enforcement authorities are losing ground in their struggle to protect those interests. There is no panacea for ‘this. An increasingly positive approach to extradition is one means - and an important means - ‘that we have at our disposal to tackle the problem. The treaties that have recently been negotiated by Australia and the proposed legislation to which I am mow speaking provide a step forward in the right direction. It is intended that further steps should be taken to conclude treaty arrangements with additional countries, whereever possible, at the first opportunity.
The recently negotiated treaties contain provisions that are new to Australia when compared to the old inherited extradition treaties. The proposed legislation has taken account of these new provisions to enable Australia to give effect to the new treaties. The main provisions in these treaties to which I refer are: Extradition is provided for in respect of extradition offences committed extra territorially; an offence against the law relating to genocide, referred to in the Genocide Convention Act 1949, as well as the taking of the life of a Head of State or a member of his or her family are not to be considered as crimes of a political character; a very important change has been made to the speciality rule so that an extradited person may be dealt with by the requesting country or be surrendered to a third state for offences other than those upon which the extradition was based where consent is given by the executive authority of the requested country; delivery at the time of surrender of any article that may be material evidence in proving an offence to which the requisition for the surrender of the fugitive relates; the custody of a fugitive who is in transit from one state to a third state; in the case of the United States of America, provision is made for the extradition for federal offences where there is an additional element in the extradi tion offence of such matters as the use of interstate facilities or use of mails or transporting across the borders of states.
Many of the matters to which I have adverted are also included in the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Bill so that the extradition legislation relating to foreign States and Commonwealth countries will be kept in line. The provisions in the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Bill also include matters that were proposed under the ancillary provisions of the London scheme. These provisions relate to the transit of a fugitive offender and the delivery of property found in his possession at the time of his arrest, which may be material to proof of the offence with which he is charged. One of the main provisions that I have just referred to relates to the speciality rule. This is the rule that requires that in general an offender who is returned to a country can be prosecuted by the requesting state or transferred to a third state only for the offence for which he was returned. The Act presently contains an important modification to the rule to allow a person to be dealt with for another extraditable offence that is provable upon the same facts as were involved for the original offence.
It is proposed in this Bill to provide a consent modification in order to effect a significant change to the old form of the speciality rule. The purpose of the consent modification is to enable the executive authority of a requested country to agree to a requesting country dealing with an extradited person for another extraditable offence other than that for which he was surrendered. The basic rationale of the speciality rule is to safeguard the liberty of the person and protect his human rights, especially where a person is only accused of an offence. The problem has been to achieve a balance between that principle of human rights on the one hand and efficient law enforcement on the other. In its modern form, incorporating the consent provision as first included in the 1957 European Convention on Extradition, this balance is achieved.
The consent modification has been included in recent treaties made between foreign states and in the draft treaties recently negotiated by Australia, lt gives flexibility to and removes the inhibiting effect of the otherwise strict speciality rule and at the same time safeguards the human rights of the accused person. The consent modification was included in the London scheme of 1966. It is already included in the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Act. At the Commonwealth Law Ministers Conference in London in January this year the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) stated that an appropriate ground upon which consent might be given under the speciality rule would be that further offences in respect of which consent was granted were part of a series of crimes similar to those for which extradition was originally sought. He expressed concern that there should not be an unduly restrictive approach to the discretionary power of consent and that what was required was a proper review of the whole course of an offender’s conduct so that a request for extradition on additional charges could be considered in its proper perspective.
An important change is proposed in the Bills. It is a change to the provisions of the Principal Acts of 1966 relating to restrictions upon surrender of a fugitive where he could be prejudiced on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinions. Whereas the existing provisions of the principal Acts provide that the restriction upon surrender in such circumstances shall depend upon the Attorney-General having substantial grounds for believing that the fugitive could be prejudiced, the amendment proposes to change that subjective test into an objective one of where ‘there are’ substantial grounds for believing that the fugitive could be prejudiced. The purpose is to enable the courts to more easily review the actions of the executive in any case where such circumstances arise. It will provide in this regard a greater safeguard for the individual.
As I stated earlier in this speech the Government has approved the new treaties and the formal procedures for their signing have already been taken in respect of Sweden and Austria and are being taken in regard to the other countries concerned. The Extradition (Foreign States) Bill that I present to honourable members will make necessary legislative provision for carrying the treaties into effect.
The Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Bill will give effect to certain ancillary matters in the London scheme. It, as does the other Bill, also takes account of the international conventions concerning genocide, hijacking of and damage to aircraft, prostitution, narcotic drugs and psychotropic sub stances and keeps the extradition legislation relating to Commonwealth countries in line with that relating to foreign states. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion toy Mr Street) adjourned.
Bill received from the Senate, and read a first time.
– I move:
This is the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Bill. As I have already explained its purpose in speaking to the Extradition (Foreign States) Bill, there is no need for me to speak further on this measure. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Street) adjourned.
Debate resumed from11 September (vide page 763), on motion by Mr Barnard:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate isresumed on this Bill I should like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of this House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Bill and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill ‘(No. 2) as they are associated measures. Separate questions may, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
– Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 3 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– First may I state that the Opposition will support the principles contained in this Bill. I have no desire to oppose the benefits that this Bill proposes for the repatriation pensioner. However, there are some portions of the Bill that I question and some suggestions that I have to offer which I feel could be advantageous to all repatriation pensioners. The first clause I would question is the one which does away with the special compensation allowance which is provided to the general rate pensioner. I would imagine that quite a number of honourable members in the House, including those on the Government side, would have received letters objecting to this move which is proposed by the Government. This special compensation allowance was introduced by the Gorton Government in 1968 when it was felt that there were a number of repatriation members in a specific category whose particular disabilities deserved compensatory payment. Consequently the Government of that day decided to ease the financial problems of these people and to pay them $6 a week in addition to their normal 100 per cent rate pension. It has been a very satisfactory arrangement for members in this category even though it caused some comment as it was thought at the time that it could discriminate against members in a lower category of pension payment.
The Government now intends to dispense with the special compensation allowance. So far I have not seen a satisfactory explanation of that action, except that the Government might think that it puts all pensioners on a more equitable basis. That may be so in the thinking of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop), who authorised the move, but in fact a pensioner on the 100 per cent general rate who is receiving the compensation allowance because of special disabilities does not benefit one little bit under the proposed legislation. His present pension is $16 a week. With the special compensation allowance he gets $22 a week. This Government in its generosity is awarding him $3 a week increase in the basic rate pension, bringing his payment to $19 a week, but is reducing his compensation allowance by $3 a week which means that he gets the same weekly amount of $22 that he does now before this legislation is passed.
In the autumn of next year again the generous Government will give him an increase of $3 a week in his basic rate but it will take away from him the remaining $3 of his compensation allowance so that by Budget time next year members in that category will be receiving the same weekly amount that they now receive. If there is any generosity in that thinking I would like the Minister to explain it to me. I do not know why the Government singled out this particular category of repatriation pensioner to discriminate against unless it is because it is the easiest category in which to save money. I repeat that people receiving the special compensation allowance were granted the payment for a special reason in the first place. In my opinion it should have been paid many years before.
Some pensioners receiving the special compensation allowance have facial disfigurements. Others have lost a limb, while others have physical disabilities which in some instances have altered their whole way of life. It is all very well to compare general rate category pensioners with other pensioners and to say that the Government would like to see all repatriation pensioners treated in the same way, but it is not as if the disabilities can be cured or will improve. They will always be the same and even though the war has been finished for a considerable time these people still deserve the greatest consideration. It astounds me that the Government chose to save in this way. According to the Press about $18m a year will be saved by penalising about 27,000 seriously incapacitated former .servicemen to whom this country should be exceedingly greatful. If the Government wants to save money as badly as that in the repatriation field why does it not investigate the system and penalise those people who take advantage of it? We all know that there are some who do that. I think an explanation is due from the Minister to the Parliament and the nation, and particularly to the 27,000 repatriation pensioners who are effected. I earnestly request the Government to reconsider its discriminatory . decision to cancel the special compensation allowance.
I remind the Government that the principle that is fundamental to the repatriation system is compensation. This philosophy is universally accepted. Citizens who have defended their country in time of war by serving in the armed forces should be assured by the Government that they shall adequately be provided with compensation for Serviceconnected disabilities and with satisfactory facilities to assist their re-establishment in civil life at the completion of their service. The first principle of compensation should be considered when dealing with repatriation pensioners receiving 100 per cent general rate. Whilst I suppose I possibly could have moved an amendment to this Bill to attempt to adjust this allowance, I felt that more explanation as to the cause of this withdrawal was required and that a request to the Minister would be complied with for serious reconsideration of its deletion.
On the subject of benefits for repatriation pensioners and for those members who, incidentally, for the first time, will be applying for compensation benefits due possibly to some disability suffered during the War and manifesting itself because of age and time, we all know the procedure. The person applies to the Repatriation Commission and the Commission either allows or disallows the application. There is an avenue for appeal, of which we are all aware, and eventually the applicant has the opportunity for an appeal to a tribunal. These appeals concern the benefits paid to an applicant and also a person applying for a review of his case. This tribunal area is one that interests me most at the moment. When an applicant reaches the appeals tribunal the onus is on him to prove that his disability is in some way connected with his war service. This may be fine where a member has served in units that were able to maintain complete medical records but not all units - such as my own, for instance - were able to keep records. Consequently, a person applying for benefits is, in some instances, put in the embarrassing position of being told that his disability could not possibly be attributed to war service when he knows full well the facts of the case. There have been occasions when I have known of actual cases and have been at the scene at the time a person received a wound, the evidence of which was never recorded in a medical history sheet. Fortunately I have been able to substantiate the appeal later. There is no blame attached to the units for this because the circumstances at the time did not permit a record to be kept.
Honourable members know of this situation, but when the member appeals to the tri bunal to have his disability recognised is it not right to assume that he should be treated with courtesy and dignity and not treated as if he were some loafer who wanted to get something for nothing? Are the tribunals not established to employ reason and justice in their findings? I think the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) would agree that tribunals are established for this purpose. Why do so many complain of the treatment they receive at the appeals tribunal hearings when they apply for increased benefits or for benefits for the first time? I believe the Minister for Defence and one senator have received complaints about the attitude adopted by a tribunal chairman. I am led to believe that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop), after investigating these complaints, stated that there was nothing he could do because the chairman was a government appointee, and, as such, would have to complete his term of duty in this regard. When one is dealing with repatriation members - people who may be relying on the pension they hope to get - this seems to be a lot of nonsense. If a government appointee is not performing his task to the satisfaction of the Government why cannot he be dismissed or replaced? I will not accept that the Minister for Repatriation can do nothing about this situation. Frankly, I think there is a lot he could do if he so desired. However, I am perfectly willing to hear the reasons why he will not.
This is not just one isolated case. There must be other cases, because I know of instances where members have come back from interviews and have complained of the treatment they received. In the last couple of months one member told me that he was going to Brisbane to be interviewed about having another disability accepted. He came back and stated to me that he did not receive much satisfaction from the tribunal. His words were: ‘I’m not a dog, I don’t want anything for nothing and I’m not a bludger. I just want to know if Repatriation can help me.’ As I have said, these men who were prepared to offer their lives in the service of this country are entitled to be treated with dignity. I ask the Minister for Defence in his capacity as representative in this House of the Minister for Repatriation to pass on my comments to the Minister in the hope that in future the tribunal chairmen will adopt a more reasonable attitude. This is a disturbing matter for quite a number of people and one that I think could be cleared up without any problems.
Another matter affecting repatriation benefits and pensions is the persistent rumour that this Government will dispense with the Repatriation Department and will integrate it with other departments. I think that this would have a great bearing on repatriation benefits. Although the Minister for Defence introduced the Bill relating to benefits, the rumour persists in Sydney, Brisbane and north Queensland. I do not know about the other States at the moment. I can only assure all recipients of repatriation benefits that the Repatriation Department will not be dispensed with and integrated with other departments such as the Department of Social Security or the Department of Health when the Liberal and Country Parties are returned to government. I have queried this rumour. During a recent discussion between Sir Arthur Lee, who is the national President of the Returned Services League, and the Minister for Defence the Minister is reported to have said that, as far as he personally was concerned, the Repatriation Department would not be done away with. I was more than surprised to find that some members of the Government were considering this proposal and that this prompted the question.
The Repatriation Department has done and is still doing a great job in assisting our returned servicemen. It is not what the Minister personally thinks that bothers me; it is what the Government thinks that is disturbing me. I spoke to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) on this matter because I was quite worried about it and I thought that it was rather serious. He was as surprised as I was when he heard about it. He assured me that this was certainly not the thinking of the Liberal Party or of the Country Party and that he would support me in any move I made to retain the Department in its present form. I know that there was talk early in the piece about using the repatriation hospitals to assist the public hospitals. Provision for this is contained in the Bill. It is something with which one could not quarrel. In the event of an emergency or a serious overcrowding situation no-one could object to such a move. The repatriation hospitals are doing a specific job for a specific purpose. There is no objection to their being used otherwise, provided that this specific purpose is not disturbed because the men and women whom the Repatriation Department was instituted to assist have, through their actions in defence of this country, earned the right to receive this assistance. Whilst I would endeavour to streamline the administration processes, the Repatriation Department will remain as it is when the Opposition becomes the Government. As I said earlier, the Opposition supports the principles contained in the Bill. It certainly has no desire to oppose the benefits that the Bill proposes for repatriation pensioners. I ask the Minister for Defence to pass on these suggestions to the Minister for Repatriation.
– In addressing myself to this Bill I feel that I should first of all reply to one of the matters raised by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett). As he said, there has been a reduction which will be balanced by an equivalent increase in the general rate pension and will therefore not result in any actual loss of money to those involved in the special compensation allowance paid to most general rate pensioners in the 75 per cent to 100 per cent range. The allowance is at present $4.50 at the 75 per cent level, increasing to $6 at the 100 per cent level. This will be reduced by half by this Bill, and the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) has indicated that in the autumn the remainder will be withdrawn.
The Government Party has never favoured this allowance, which the previous Government introduced in 1968 as a means of increasing only the upper quarter of the general rate range. It did .this probably to avoid the very high expenditure of an increase across the board. If the honourable member for Herbert is surprised to hear this perhaps he ought to read the reasons that the Government Party, then .the Opposition, gave at the time for this. The Government is interested in producing a compensation and pension structure which is fair across the board and which will continue to increase as the needs of the per sons are increased and not just some sort of structure which has bits of sticking plaster stuck on it here and there such as the structure which enabled the former Government to avoid its responsibilities.
I too support the Bill because, as promised, there are substantial improvements in repatriation payments for ex-servicemen. There is also in the Bill the extension of benefits to members of the regular forces, and there is an indication of the interlocking of repatriation benefits with general health and social welfare services in the community. I am surprised to hear the rumour that the honourable member for Herbert raised. I can only assume that this matter of interlocking repatriation services with other health and social welfare services gave rise to that rumour. Never at any stage have we suggested that the repatriation benefits should be denied to those who are qualified for them. But there is considerable expertise in the Repatriation Department which has much to add to community health and social welfare services, and I do not .think those with that expertise should be prevented from giving that assistance. Indeed in this legislation the Minister has made provision for such assistance to be given. For too long there has been an artificial division and lack of integration and a failure to exchange the real expertise that exists.
I think we all acknowledge that it is a time of changing requirements for the Repatriation Department. One regrets that perhaps some of the changes made in this Bill had not been made earlier when much greater benefit could have been given. The extension of benefits to members of the regular forces is part of making the Services more attractive to individuals. Extending benefits to national servicemen who undertook to complete their periods of full time service was a promise made to members who gave that undertaking. It has caused some concern in the community in aspects other than repatriation for some of the former national service members of the forces, who feel aggrieved that because they completed their service before 7 December last they were not able to get some of the other benefits that existed. But another government controlled the Repatriation Department until December of last year for a period of 23 years, and it would be impossible for this Government to make up for all the deficiencies in the policy decisions that were made in those 23 years.
I believe that the making of regulations in this Bill requiring determining authorities established under the Repatriation Act to provide reasons for their decisions is a very good provision. I know that the honourable member for Herbert in addressing himself to the Bill speaks with a deep knowledge of the armed Services and the problems that the returned serviceman has in confirming that those disabilities are due to service.
I have had considerable experience with repatriation patients, firstly in my capacity as a medical practitioner and then of course in my capacity as a member of Parliament. It always seems that in the areas of entitlement the Press publicity is given to those members of the profession and those people who talk about the so called bludgers who receive repatriation entitlements when they should not receive them. In my experience there is a very large number who miss out on repatriation entitlements although to my way of thinking they are very much entitled to them. So I welcome this suggestion that those whose applications for acceptance of a disability to be recognised have been refused will now be given reasons for the decision. In this way they will be better able to present their cases before the various tribunals.
I turn to some matters with regard to these various tribunals which determine an exmember’s entitlement. I feel that long before this we probably should have accepted a greater deal of regionalisation of tribunals. I recently visited a country centre in the Mildura area of Victoria. In talking to some of the ex-members there it was pointed out to me that great disabilities are suffered by persons who make applications and have to appear before the tribunals. Often they have to fly to Melbourne. They see their advocate before the tribunal only minutes before they appear before the tribunal and in fact are disadvantaged by this. As well as providing reasons, perhaps consideration should be given to taking note of the difficulties that some of these ex-members have in preparing their cases adequately and to some of the disadvantages they have in travelling long distances to appear before the tribunals.
In that sense probably the honourable member for Herbert and I were as one in asking that in reviewing tribunal decisions and the functioning of tribunals the maximum degree of benefit of the doubt be given to the ex-member. I think this is basic to our concept of repatriation and that even after all these years of functioning of the Department improvements can still be made. I welcome the suggestion that the Repatriation Commission will now provide medical hospital treatment to all Boer War and 1914-18 War veterans in respect of all disabilities. I do not suppose that this change is terribly generous. There would be so few Boer War veterans left. But indeed for the large number of 1914-18 War veterans I think it is a wise move.
Like many other members of the House, I am too young to know much about that war or in fact the decade or so after it. However, I have had experience of ex-servicemen who were concerned with repatriation and they have informed me that at the end of that war so many of them just wanted to get out and get into civilian life that they accepted an Al discharge so long as it meant that they got their discharge. Out they went. Years later when they found small disabilities, that had been aggravated by time and they made claims they were told that their records showed that they were fit when they were discharged. Their disabilities were not recognised. We have now come to a stage where we as a community can well afford to accept those disabilities, and I commend the Minister for Repatriation for having taken this action. With regard to the provision of treatment for those ex-servicemen who have served in a threatre of war and are suffering from cancer, one sees this as an offer for such people to be able to use repatriation facilities. In looking at why we should offer repatriation facilities to people with malignant growths, I suppose the only reason is one of compassion and the complete lack of real knowledge of how neoplasia occurs.
I would have thought there were other conditions to which we could give consideration. There is considerable discussion about the role that stress and strain can play in cardiovascular degeneration and it would be undoubted that many of these ex-servicemen have undergone quite long periods of stress and strain. Conditions of wartime service place them in positions where there may be pulmonary damage which does not evidence itself until much later in the form of emphysema and such complaints. Many of those with multiple gunshot wounds and injuries to limbs and various parts of the body later develop crippling arthritis and are incapacitated for work. I have found from a number of cases that have been brought to my attention, either as a doctor or as the local member, that osteoarthritis developing in later years in ex-servicemen who have had multiple injuries has not been accepted as a repatriation entitlement. Yet I seem to remember as a medical student being told that if a person receives a broken limb in a motor car accident he is sure to have osteoarthritis in certain joints as a result. I wonder whether we could not afford to be more generous in recognising these conditions for the provision of repatriation, medical and hospital treatment.
There is also provision for repatriation hospitals and institutions to be used to provide in-patient treatment for persons other than ex-servicemen and their dependants. I think it has been made quite clear that this provision will not be used while there is a demand for hospital beds by persons entitled to repatriation treatment. It is true that from time to time many repatriation hospital beds are available. I live in the same area as the Heidelberg Repatriation General Hospital. I can remember as a schoolboy seeing the hospial being built on the dairy farm that existed there before it From time to time the Heidelberg Repatriation General Hospital has had wards closed due to either a shortage of patients or a shortage of staff. I suppose that if one drew a straight line about 3 miles long starting at the Austin Hospital it would include the Austin Hospital, the Repatriation General Hospital and the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital. Yet, despite there being 2 other institutions, there is still a high demand for hospital beds in the area and the Repatriation General Hospital is very well placed, if it has beds available, for use by ordinary members of the community. In fact discussions are taking place between representatives of those hospitals’ for a reciprocal arrangement, for the exchange of medical staff and looking after the patients in those institutions. It is difficult to judge just how many beds will be made available in this way for the general use of patients other than exservicemen and their dependants, but it is certainly better for those beds to be used than for them to lie idle or for wards to be closed.
Finally I want just to mention the other provision in this Bill concerned with the provision and repair of artificial limbs for persons other than ex-servicemen and their dependants. In this area I suppose no other department and no other organisation in Australia would have more expertise than the Repatriation Department The very number of ex-personnel who have had to use the services of the Department has meant that those working with prostheses have had a wide range of experience. They have had the benefit of being able to try new methods, and this can all be used for the benefit of exservicemen and people other than ex-servicemen in the community. With suitable artificial limbs the number who can return to normal activity is remarkable. Yet if the individual has to get these prostheses from other sources the cost is tremendously high. For instance, recently I had a case involving a man with an above-knee amputation. An artificial limb for him would cost somewhere about $360. Because of a poorly formed stump he had to change this limb fairly frequently. The very fact of having an artificial limb enabled this man to carry out his normal everyday occupation and therefore he was not claiming any social welfare benefits. But the cost of over $300 for a suitable artificial limb was a real strain on him.
I congratulate the Minister for bringing in this provision with regard to artificial limbs. The Repatriation Department has a lot of other expertise in the field of prostheses. I trust that as the demand from ex-servicemen decreases this expertise will be used to benefit other members of the community. I think this Bi’l does indeed contain very significant changes in the repatriation field. I do not think there has been as comprehensive a look at repatriation benefits for many years and I am proud to have had the opportunity to speak briefly on the Bill.
– -As has been indicated by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) who spoke first for the Opposition on this Bill, the Opposition will support the legislation. On behalf of the Australian Country Party I indicate that that Party supports the Bill. But our support comes with quite severe reservations because of certain provisions in the Bill, and I will outline the reasons for them as I go along. 1 have studied the provisions of the Bill, particularly the new ones. It seems to me that because of the number of almost pure social service measures in this Bill one could forecast that the Repatriation Department will be abolished as a separate entity by the Labor Government and absorbed by that empire building department, the Department of Social Security. At the outset I want to issue a challenge to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) who is the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) in this House and who is at the table now, and also the Minister for Repatriation and the
Government, to refute this prediction and to announce the Government’s intentions in regard to the Repatriation Department. The Government has a responsibility to make its intentions clear. It has a responsibility to the 800,000 surviving ex-servicemen and women, to the ex-service organisations and, above all, to the nearly 10,000 people on the staff of the Repatriation Department. Members of the Department from clerks to the professional people such as doctors, nursing sisters and senior officers, must be told about the future position of the Department in clear and unequivocal terms.
As mentioned by the honourable member for Herbert, rumours are prevalent that the Repatriation Department will disappear as a department. The only public statement 1 know of on this matter was a rather vague answer which was given in the Senate last week by the Minister for Repatriation, for whom I have a deal of respect. When he was asked whether the Repatriation Department would be absorbed and abolished he said that as far as he and the Minister for Defence were concerned, they would strongly resist any attempt to bring that about. I suggest that this statement is not sufficient. I challenge the Government to make a definite statement of policy on the future of the Department and not to say that a couple of Ministers will resist the idea as strongly as they possibly can. When I looked at the provisions of the Bill I wondered whether Dr Coombs had had his sticky fingers in this area also. I wondered whether he had made some entry into this field. On this point I urge the Returned Services League and other ex-service organisations to speak up loud and clear and to demand that the Repatriation Department be retained as a specialist organisation responsible for and to the 800,000 ex-service men and women who defended their country when defence was needed. I am not the only one who has doubts or concern about this matter. The RSL in its national newsletter of 1 June this year has also expressed its concern. It stated:
The RSL is concerned at a spate of rumours drifting round the corridors of power that the Repatriation Department may be absorbed into a Health and Welfare complex, and Repatriation hospitals transferred to either Commonwealth or State control.
The Prime Minister has been advised ir a letter from the National Office that the RSL is implacably opposed to any such suggestions. It has been indicated to Mr Whitlam that the Repatriation
Department and its many facilities represent a national response to an undertaking given in a time of war.
Not only am I, as a member of the Opposition and as a former Minister for Repatriation, concerned, but also members of the Australian Country Party, members of the Opposition generally, the RSL and the 800,000 ex-service men and women want to know the position. The large and skilled professional staff of the Department want to know the position. Again I challenge the Deputy Prime Minister to ensure that the Government makes a clear and unequivocal statement, if possible here and now, giving a firm policy commitment which will retain the Repatriation Department. The second challenge I issue to the Government is one which I issued when I spoke in this House in March this year. It still has not been answered. I challenge the Government to specify exactly what is meant in the policy speech of the Australian Labor Party where the Prime Minister stated:
The basic compensation payments under the Repatriation Act will be given a fixed relationship with the Commonwealth minimum wage so that the special (TPI) rate equals the minimum wage-
It does not - and the general (100 per cent) rate pension equals SO per cent of the minimum wage-
And it does not. What that means is quite clear; it is the rest of the sentence that I think should be clarified, and I challenge the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify it. The sentence continues: and other pension rates and allowances are adjusted proportionately.
I think the House and all the other people to whom I have been referring have a right to know exactly what ‘and other pension rates and allowances are adjusted proportionately’ means. On performances to date, the people vitally interested in repatriation have been misled by the tone and implication of this paragraph. I will show why and how, shortly. Accompanying this Bill is an explanatory memorandum which has been made available to all honourable members. It is an excellent document and, having been Minister for Repatriation, I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that some senior officers of the Department have had to devote to preparing this paper; I compliment them on it. It is most helpful in enabling members to understand the wide ramifications of this Bill.
I said that people had been misled by the paragraph on repatriation in the Labor Party’s policy speech. I will now illustrate how this is the truth and I urge the Returned Services League and other interested bodies to get stuck into the Government for reneging and welshing on its promises. In his pre-election speech, the Prime Minister promised that the totally and permanently incapacitated pension would equal the minimum wage. The implication was that this would take effect as from when the Australian Labor Party became the Government. The Labor Government has failed to live up to this promise. The minimum wage has been $60.10 since about May of this year. The TPI pension will not reach that figure until autumn next year - say, March. So, about 20,000 TPI pensioners have been misled as to the level of pension they could expect and will be underpaid for a period of about 10 months. They will lose a total of $8m over this period. The Government should be ashamed of itself for breaking its word to the TPI pensioners of Australia. Even when the pension is raised to the present $60.10 in the autumn of next year, it will by then have been or be about to be outdated by a new minimum wage. A decision probably will have been taken by then to raise the minimum wage to counter the dreadful effect of the roaring inflation which has been tremendously stimulated by the nohoping economic policies of this Government. So, where will the promise of the Government to make the TPI pension rate equal to the minimum wage be then?
Another major let-down for the ex-service men and women is in the area of the general rate pension. Admittedly, there is to be a significant increase. However, I believe that some 27,000 general rate pensioners between the 75 per cent and 100 per cent disability rates will receive no increase at all under this Bill; nor will they receive any increase in the autumn of next year. But, once again, the increased rates announced are not in keeping with the promises made by the Prime Minister before the election. Surely, many people, already confronted with a growing list of broken promises, have completely lost faith in the credibility of the Prime Minister and the undertakings he gave in bis Utopia-like preelection speech. The Prime Minister said that the general rate of pension would be adjusted so that it reached 50 per cent of the minimum wage. The increase provided for in this
Bill, namely $3, leaves the general rate pension $11.05 behind the Labor Government’s promise of nearly a year ago. It is just as far behind as it was when Labor came into office. The deficit of $11.05 a week represents a total of $44m on the present minimum wage, or extra expenditure of $44m. Even when another $3 a week is added next autumn, if the minimum wage is the same the payment will still be $8.05 a week behind or a total of $32m behind 50 per cent of the present minimum wage. As I mentioned earlier, by that time there will probably have been a further increase in the wage.
The Labor Government stands indicted on its promises in the repatriation field. For the factual reasons I have advanced the Government deserves to be condemned by the 800,000 ex-servicemen and women of Australia and the Service organisations that represent them. I have a fair idea of what is in the mind of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard), who is at the table. For many years he had a few words to say on this side of the House about the repatriation policies of the government of the day. He is saying to himself, as he almost implied by interjection: We put the pensions up more than you did’.
– 1 am not saying that. I am just listening to you.
– I am not arguing the pros and cons of the economic responsibility. I have no doubt that the honourable gentleman will say: ‘We have put the pensions up a lot more than you did when you were in government - or some of them.’ I am not referring to whether economic irresponsibility has been displayed by the Labor Government in making increases in pensions. I am arguing that Labor has not stuck to its promises solemnly and sincerely given by the present Prime Minister when he broadcast his election speech. He promised about 1 million exservicemen and women that a Labor government would take certain action in regard to repatriation pensions, including the general rate pension and the pension for totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen. He said that Labor would take action proportionately with regard to other pensions and allowances. That promise has not been carried out and therefore the Labor Government has something to answer for in that regard. It is no argument for the Government to say that it has raised pensions significantly. The test that must be applied is whether the Prime Minis ter has done , for ex-servicemen and women and the organisations representing them - the Returned Services League and others - what he promised he would do.
– Whitlam pulled their legs.
– That is quite right. The answer is no, he has not carried out his promise and I hope the ex-servicemen and women of this country will register their disapproval at the appropriate time.
– I cannot properly say that I am absolutely amazed at the speech I have just heard by the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten). It was rather characteristic of the former Minister. The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), who led for the Opposition in this debate, had more sense. He realised the popularity of this measure and the action taken by the Government in March last. He realised how popular were the actions of the 9- months-old Government with ex-servicemen and for that reason he made a low key speech. But that was not true of the former Minister for Repatriation, the honourable member for Indi. He made a great song and dance about the rumour that the Repatriation Department is to be disbanded. I have not heard such a proposition and I am a member of the Labor Party and of the Government’s Repatriation Committee. I am sure that the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who represents the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) and who is now at the table, will answer those allegations categorically when he gets a chance later in this debate.
The honourable member for Herbert referred to the special compensation allowance. The honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins), who spoke earlier in this debate, indicated why Labor has always opposed the special compensation allowance. It was introduced as a dodge in about 1968 to avoid giving pension increases to persons receiving below 75 per cent of the war pension rate. Even now, with the gradual elimination of this special compensation allowance, there will be pension increases for the 100 per cent or general rate pension as it is called. Furthermore, even with the reduction of the special compensation allowance, it will enable those pensioners who happen also to be in receipt of a part service pension, and possibly in some cases a full service pension, to be more than compensated for the loss of that special compensation allowance. So a loss will not be sustained, which is what the Opposition would have us believe.
I do not want to dwell on these negative aspects of the Opposition’s case. The Government has done many positive things and I hope that the public will get to know of them and to recognise them. I agree with the comments of the honourable member for Herbert concerning allegations of the poor treatment that many ex-servicemen get when they go before entitlement appeals tribunals. I have heard it said on many occasions that they do not get a fair hearing, they do not get a chance to put their own case and they feel that they are in a court of law with all its coldness. With all due respect to my legal friend, the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby), I would suggest that an appeal tribunal was designed to avoid the notion of it being a court. Lawyers do not appear before tribunals and efforts are made to get away from the court atmosphere to enable people to loosen up, to be at ease and to put their cases at their own discretion. 1 understand that there are many complaints from ex-servicemen about their not having that opportunity. This is not the first time that I have registered such a protest myself. I am glad that so well informed a member of the Opposition as the honourable member for Herbert also recognises this situation and brings it before the Parliament.
As I have already said, there is little comment to make on what was said by the honourable member for Indi. He referred to the possibility of the Repatriation Department being abolished. This is hearsay. He had little else to talk about so he had to make a big speech about a rumour that most probably is completely baseless. He referred to Labor’s election promise to bring the totally and permanently incapacitated pension up to the level of the minimum wage. That pension will be up to the minimum wage in March, slightly more than a year after the Government was elected. I wonder whether the honourable member cares to recall, when he stirs the Returned Services League to protest, the very strenuous protests he received as Minister for Repatriation about the woeful inadequacy of the pensions that were paid to totally and premanently incapacitated ex-servicemen and general rate pensioners. I have documents in my possession concerning those protests but I will not bother the House with them because most honourable members who have been in this House for a time are familiar with them. They show how the TPI rate, the war widows rate, the services pension rate and the general rate of war pension declined substantially in relation to the average wage in the community and even in relation to the minimum wage in the community. This Labor Government has done much to remedy that situation. My colleague, the honourable member for Scullin, referred to this aspect.
I wonder where the Opposition stands. On the one hand the Government is being berated for being a spendthrift government and for causing inflation by the mammoth amount of money it is spending on welfare - welfare includes ex-servicemen in particular - and on the other hand the Opposition is asking the Government why it does not spend more still. Where does the Opposition stand? Its reasoning is pretty hard to follow. Let me dwell for a short time on the positive things that are included in this Bill. I remind the House again that these follow on the immediate increases made when the Government came to power. Let me refer to Service pensions. For those who are not aware of it let me say that the Service pension is equivalent to the age pension or the invalid pension that is paid under social service provisions. Service pensions were increased by $1.50 in March and made retrospective to the day the Government was elected. What is more, this Bill does the same for Service pensioners as the current Social Services Bill does for age pensioners. For all persons over 75 years of age the means test has at last been abolished. The previous Government had 23 years of opportunity to do that, but it did not do it.
The Bill contains provision for free medical and hospital treatment to be provided for all ex-servicemen of the Boer War and the 1914- 18 War. I would not care to think how long ago it was that the Returned Services League first made a plea for that provision. Many of those ex-servicemen have died without the benefit of it. If there are not so many around now to benefit by it, that is the fault of the previous Government for not having done anything about it. Let me turn to another feature of this Bill - the provision for treatment of those servicemen who suffer from malignant cancer. The Bill does not go so far as I would like it to go; I will be frank about that. On a few occasions in this House I have been responsible - as have a number of my colleagues - for moving amendments to Bills presented by the previous Government in order to make cancer an automatically accepted war-caused disability. This Bill does not go that far but it does do something very important. It goes a good part of the way by making treatment of cancer a repatriation hospital and medical responsibility. That should help some of those unfortunate victims - there all too many of them in our community - who suffer from this wretched disease. That should please the ‘RSL because it has been very strong in its pleas on that ground.
My colleague the honourable member for Scullin . also referred to the very beneficial provision of artificial limbs which are to be made available not only to all ex-servicemen and serving servicemen but also to all civilians in the community. Let me be frank again. We will not be able to do this overnight. I hope that all those civilians and exservicemen who want their artificial limbs renewed will not expect to be able to go along to the artificial limb factory and receive them tomorrow. This will take a while. I hope that they will be patient. But they have the assurance that in this legislation it is guaranteed to them. As has been mentioned, the Bill contains provision for repatriation hospitals to be used by civilians when the beds are not being taken up by ex-servicemen. I want to be assured that priority will be given to wives of ex-servicemen in this matter. I think that is a fair thing to ask. This Bill, generous as it is, still has not got around to making the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated ex-servicemen automatically entitled to repatriation hospital and medical treatment. I hope that they will receive top priority when these beds are made available to people other than entitled ex-servicemen.
There was a whole schedule of the various pension increases read out by the Minister the other night when presenting the Bill. To cite a few examples, TPI ex-servicemen will be receiving $55.60 a week, an increase of $4.50. I think this is easily the biggest increase ever granted. What is more, they have the assurance they will get another increase of $4.50 in March to bring them up to $60.10, which is now the minimum wage. The general rate or 100 per cent rate pensioner will also receive an increase. For those who are not familiar with these matters, a 100 per cent rate pensioner is not a man who is totally reliant on his war pension. He is a man who could be going to work. He suffers a disability. He suffers the disability that he is not getting the promotional opportunities that he might have had if he had not had the disability he suffered. So we try to compensate him. I think ‘compensation’ is a much more appropriate word than ‘pension’. We try to compensate him. So the man who gets this 100 per cent rate pension will be getting an increase in this Bill with the qualifications which have been criticised by the Opposition. I remind honourable members again that a number of men on the 100 per cent rate war pension are no longer working; they are retired. They are also entitled, under the means test, to receive a part service pension, and in some cases possibly the full service pension. Those over 75 will most certainly receive the full service pension.
I am delighted to note another thing that has not been referred to in the debate so far. We are in the process of doing, something that has been asked for by ex-servicemen and their various organisations such as the Returned Services League and the other TPI and exservicemen’s associations for years. For the purposes of the means test for the service pension, which I said before is equivalent to the age pension for a lot of people, we shall not count war pensions as income in the same sense as income derived from other sources, say from employment. Under this Bill we shall disregard 25 per cent of what a man receives by way of war pension. That will not be held against him under the means test while the means test is retained. Of course I know that in another couple of years there will not be a means test anyway for those over 65 years of age.
As I say, so many positive things and so many things that have been asked for for so many years have been provided in this Bill. Of course there are particular cases of people who have suffered special disabilities or who need clothing allowances. There is provision for increases for children of ex-servicemen. I have already referred to the provision for cancer patients. As we all know, under existing and past provisions, there is no guarantee that if a service pensioner or a part war pensioner - somebody on less than 100 per cent - goes into a repatriation hospital he will be allowed to stay there indefinitely. He is allowed to stay there indefinitely if he is being treated for an accepted war-caused disability, but if a service pensioner is being treated in a repatriation hospital for a medical condition he will be retained there only until his condition has cleared up to such an extent that he needs only convalescence. The position is that then he is often asked to leave the repatriation hospital and go into a private convalescent home. I hope that in time we will do away with that requirement. We are taking one step towards it in this Bill. We are providing that if a pensioner of the 1914-18 war who has been given therapy in a repatriation hospital has to go to a private nursing home he will have to pay only $17-odd. I cannot put my finger on the exact figure at the moment.
– It is $17.85.
– I thank the ex-Minister, whom I have been severely castigating. It will assure him that he will not need to rely on somebody else to help him to pay his convalescent home bill. Unfortunately this does not apply to so many other people, civilians, who have to go into convalescent homes. Despite the Government’s huge subsidy to nursing homes many relatives are being called on to subsidise the treatment of persons in nursing homes at this stage. I am sure that this is a matter which is worrying the Government
Also in the Bills is the extension of repatriation benefits to serving members of the forces. This is another very significant measure. This is revolutionary. It was asked for by the Returned Services League as recently as 24 February 1972, when the National Secretary of the RSL, Mr Keys, was reported in the ‘Australian’ of that day as having made a submission to one of the two commissions of inquiry into the repatriation system. He said:
The RSL believes it is very difficult to distinguish between involvement in warlike operations and preparations for those operations.
From a national viewpoint, it is essential that the conditions under which members serve in the armed forces be of a level to attract and hold the necessary number of volunteers.
He was asking that serving members of the forces be eligible for repatriation benefits. They are also covered by Commonwealth compensation benefits. They cannot get both but they can maximise by taking the best of the two that are offering. I cannot elaborate on it. There are certain qualifications that have to be met. As from last December one qualification normally is that a member should have served in the forces for at least 3 years. This is an attraction and it is also a very great benefit to members serving in the forces.
We are castigated often as not being interested in the welfare of servicemen. I wonder, in the face of this Bill, whether we can possibly be accused of ignoring their interests. So much has been done. Of course, this legislation comes on top of what we are doing for the housing of servicemen, the vastly increased amount of money that has been made available for them, the increase in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme, the increase of salary payments and so on. And there is probably a lot more still to come. We are committed to taking account of the recommendations of the 2 commissions of inquiry - one set up by the Senate at the behest of the Labor Opposition of the day and the other an independent inquiry set up by the previous Government in succession to our actions.
So a lot has been done by this Government in 9 months for which I know the exservicemen, their dependants and their wives are very grateful. Those who are unfortunate enough to be widows of ex-servicemen are also very grateful. They have the assurance that there is a lot more to come. This Government is committed to giving deep consideration to the recommendations of those 2 commissions of inquiry to which I have referred. I heartily support the Bill.
– The Repatriation Bill (No. 3), the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Bill and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill (No. 2) are being considered cognately. Like the previous speakers on this side of the House I support these Bills as one must commend action that is to the benefit of any particular section of the community. The benefits provided in these Bills apply to exservicemen, ex-servicewomen and servicemen and servicewoman currently serving. We must applaud the Bills. But in applauding them I have some reservations, as have the previous speakers from this side of the House.
The proposal to admit civilian patients to repatriation hospitals in case of emergency, as I understand, can only do some good. But 1 would mention of course that at present most hospitals no longer have a special repatriation ward and that repatriation patients are accepted into general hospitals in the intermediate ward section. So I think that perhaps balances the budget on that side. The proposal to supply artificial limbs to amputees can only be commended, and I do so. However, this Repatriation Bill, like the social security Bill presented previously which it follows closely, has a few hidden and very nasty surprises. The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) mentioned that the Government was carrying out the same actions in this Repatriation Bill as in the social security Bill, but that is not quite as good an operation as he might think. I will explain that shortly.
Before getting onto these particular points I would like to follow up what was said by the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) about the repatriation problem concerning the ex-serviceman going back for a check-up for the purpose of his disability allowance. I have found, as obviously have other members of this House, that the ex-serviceman goes back to the Repatriation Board for a check-up and finds not only that his application for an increase is rejected but also that quite often he gets a reduction in his disability allowance. I have had this happen to several people in my electorate who are over 65. It is rather amazing that a man’s war disability can improve when he is over 65. I suggest to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) that, whilst the Government is bringing in a no means test pension for people who are aged 75 and over or who served in the Boer War and persons in other categories, consideration should be given to allowing the disability pension of a person who is over 60 years of age and who is eligible for a service pension to stay with him to be automatically increased rather than have him faced with the embarrassment of having it decreased. This has happened many times. If this principle were followed there would not be any need for such people to front up to a tribunal; it would be a decision of the Repatriation Department and a standing rule. This is something the Minister could look at.
I now turn to the partial abolition of the means test and the taxing of pensions. It is in this area that this Bill is not quite the bed of roses that was presented by the honourable member for Barton and other speakers from the Government side. Firstly, I point out that the taxing of pensions does not affect those who are in receipt of war service pensions only and have no other source of income. The benefit that they receive from the increase in pensions is good. But let us look at the people who have other sources of income, perhaps superannuation. Firstly, I will deal with those to whom the means test does not apply and then with those who are still under age of 75 and who are subject to a means test. In the case of the person to whom the means test does not apply, if he has a superannuation income of $4,082 - there are many former public servants and others who have that sort of superannuation payment - and provided he is over 75 years of age, he can now receive a full pension of $1,053 a year. This brings his income to $5,135. His deductions normally are assessed at somewhere around $380. In a case I know of they were $388; so this man’s taxable income is $4,747. He gets no rebate allowance because the $156 allowance cuts out once his taxable income is in excess of about $2,600. He cannot claim his wife as a deduction because she is getting the pension. Therefore the tax he pays on this amount will be approximately $830. Last year, with the benefit of the age allowance and being able to claim a part deduction for his wife, he paid $130. This person will be indebted to the Government for making him pay a further $700. So much for this great increase in pensions.
The net increase in pension to a person over 75 - in the case I mentioned the wife is 71 and does not get an increase in pension - means that this man gets an increase in his part pension of $317; but he is paying an increase in taxation of $700. In other, words, it will cost him $383 to receive the benefit of this Government’s generosity. In the case of a person with an income of $3,664, which is only $72 a week - that is including a part pension - tax this year will be $518. Last year it was $128 with an age allowance and other deductions. This year tax will be increased $390. If he is subject to a means test he will get no increase in pension and therefore will be down $390. I have further examples which I would like to present to the House but it would take up to much time to give all the details of individual expenses under the various items set out on the taxation form. 1 would ask leave of the House to have them incorporated in Hansard. I would say that they are relevant mainly to age pensions but I think they are quite relevant to the current Service pensions.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
When Labor came to power on 2 December 1972 an increase in Age Pension was granted from the first pay-day thereafter, 14 December 1972. The increase for married couples was $1 . 50 per week per person, bringing the pension to $37.50 per fortnight.
The Husband received $876.78 in a full year. His wife received $876.78 in a full year.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I must thank a very concerned pensioner from my electorate for providing me with these figures which I have verified and I will now briefly present them. The full details will he recorded in Hansard. I ask honourable members to note this case. It concerns a man aged 65 and his wife aged 60, in receipt of public service superannuation, each in receipt of a part pension of $877 for the 1972-73 income year. The man received $1,650 in superannuation and had allowable taxation expenses of $285 which brought his taxable income down to $1,365. That was for last year. With the age allowance provisions he did not pay tax because pensions were free of tax. For the year 1973-74 his superannuation increases from $1,650 to $1,790. His pension amounts to $1,068. In declaring bis income he put down bank interest of only $12’, making a total of $2,870 income for the year. With the normal deductions of $206 his taxable income for this year will be $2,664. His rebate portion comes to $54. His tax on $2,664 amounts to $288 less a rebate of $54 which gives a net tax of $234. With the age allowance provisions tax on that amount of income would have been $82. The net extra cost to this pensioner will be $153.
The increase in pensions over 1973-74 will hit these two pensioners in another way. In this case the total pension increase will be $337 for both, but the tax payable will be $234 which means they will get a net gain of $103 which is only about $2 a week for the married couple or something like a 7 per cent rise. They will receive not $3 a week as was mentioned in the Budget but about $2 a week. This is nothing but a con trick which is being put over every aged person. They will realise the full impact of this and vote accordingly the next time the election comes around. Under the new provisions there will be no weekly deductions from pensions. Pensioners will have to pay out a lump sum according to the assessment at the end of the year. I would ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and anybody who is in this House to consider how these people will be able to save up $700 or $800 to pay out in taxation.
There is one minor matter - it may appear to be minor but to these people it is a matter of great concern - and that is the proposal to increase the excise duty on brandy. Many pensioners, both service and ordinary age pensioners, like to have a bottle of brandy at home. Under this Budget they are being hit by an increase of $2 a bottle. This is only one of the small items which have accelerated in cost. These increases are reacting against the so-called generosity which is provided by this Government. I am sure that the aged new taxpayers of this country will remember this Government’s action which takes away their money rather than giving it to them.
– In rising to speak in this debate I am reminded of what used to happen a few years ago when many of us in this chamber were in the Army. In the morning we used to get our orders from the authorities that certain things would be done, and then a little later those orders would be changed. There is the old saying: Greatcoats shall be worn; greatcoats shall not be worn. Ground sheets will be carried; ground sheets will not be carried.
This Bill reminds me of that situation because we were first notified to be prepared to speak on it, I think last Wednesday, then Thursday and then Monday. And here we are. At one moment I thought I was to speak and then at the next moment I thought I was not. However, I am grateful to those who have permitted me to say a few words on this subject.
The Bill to which I want to refer chiefly is the Repatriation Bill (No. 3) rather than the other Bills that are being debated cognately. There are quite a number of features in the Bill and right at the outset I compliment the Government on some of the moves that it has made which I believe are in the best interests of ex-service personnel generally. But at the same time I believe that there is a certain amount of discrimination in some of the issues. That discrimination should be brought out at this time.
There has been a substantial increase in the general rate of pension. At the same time some pensioners have had little or no increase. We have had an alteration to the system whereby civilian personnel will now be able to take advantage of the artificial limb factory of the Repatriation Department. I think that this is a very good move. I feel quite sure that this section of the Department is capable of broadening its sphere to include other than ex-service personnel. We have seen an alteration to the means test for certain sections of the community, but I will say a little more about that later on. Medical and hospital treatment for Boer War and 1914-1918 World War veterans and treatment for some cancer victims has been provided. As I said, the Government should be complimented on most of these steps. Nevertheless some of them need some explanation because a lot of people outside are not too familiar with what goes on.
I commence by having a look at the various rates, because I believe there is a form of discrimination here. It is true that under the previous Government there were certain rates. One classification was called special compensation allowance*. I cannot understand why the present Government is removing this allowance. It is not right for the Government to deny that, because it has given notice to the effect that with the next alteration in pension rates that allowance will be removed. I cannot understand why the Government is not fair dinkum about this.
Why has it not said straight out that it does not believe in the allowance and that it should be removed? But it is not doing it that way. It is deleting that portion which is equivalent to the general amount of increase in the 100 per cent rate. I think that this is coming in the back door.
As I say, if the Government wants to remove this allowance it should say so, and if it does not want to remove it it should continue with it. After all, all the other rates have been altered except those for that section of the community which is in receipt of the 75 per cent to 100 per cent pension and the special compensation. That is the only section which will not receive an increase in the pension rate. For instance, the 50 per cent rate goes up $1.50 from $8. The person on the 100 per cent rate who does not qualify for special compensation will receive his normal increase. The intermediate rate goes up $2.25 and the total and permanent incapacity rate goes up $4.50. But there is nothing for this group in between. I say to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) that he ought to do something about this matter. If he is not prepared to give us a clear indication I think it is up to members of the Opposition to pressure the Government until such time as we find out why it is trying to hide the removal of this special allowance.
If one looks at the various rates one finds that over a long period there has been no alteration in the wife’s allowance. Honourable members might think that this is not terribly important, but I think I am right in saying that I heard the present Deputy Prime Minister while in Opposition commenting on this matter of increases in wives’ allowances. However, I might be doing him an injustice. But I believe that if it was right for a pensioner’s wife to receive X amount of compensation X years ago, she should have some increase today.
– The Service pensioner’s wife does.
– I will deal with the honourable member for Barton because I have a slight correction to make to some of his comments. When we look at the explanatory notes we see that clause 14 deals with the 25 per cent war pension income for Service pension purposes. The honourable member for Barton made reference to this. I do not want to misquote him, but I think I am right in saying that he implied that 25 per cent of the war pension would be disregarded for means test purposes. Am I correct?
– That is right.
– The honourable member for Barton should look at his explanatory notes a little more closely because comments such as the ones he made can be very misleading. The reference is ‘for means test purposes for certain types of pensioners’ - not all pensioners. I think this is something that we should stress rather strongly. If honourable members look at page 5 of the explanatory notes they will see clearly set out those who will qualify. They will find that those who will qualify are pensioners who are in receipt of a war pension, naturally, and who are also in receipt of a Service pension as distinct from an age pension or a war widow’s pension. I think the honourable member for Barton might have the point - or has he?
– It has not sunk in.
– I do not think it has sunk in. I thought it might have, but it has not. There is a slight difference between the actual situation and that described by the honourable member for Barton and there are many ex-servicemen who, for their own reasons, elected to apply for an age pension as distinct from a Service pension.
– They have nothing to gain by that.
– At present, they have a lot to lose if they are receiving an age pension as distinct from a Service pension. For instance, there would be nothing of benefit to the widows. If ever a section of the community deserves consideration, in my mind it is the war widow. She receives no benefit when it comes to a particular pension in which she may be interested, whether it be an age or widows pension. But, unless she is in receipt of a Service pension - there are very few of these in Australia at present - she will not receive the benefit of this provision.
The domestic allowance which is included as a war pension may be used as part of the basis for the 25 per cent reduction, but this is not carried through to other areas. So, I would ask the Deputy Prime Minister to explain to me, firstly, why the Government has elected on a 25 per cent reduction figure and why it will not permit other pensioners, such as the ones I have just mentioned, to be included. After all, if this is worthy of a 25 per cent reduction, perhaps it is worthy of a 50 per cent reduction or a 100 per cent reduction. Or is this the first move towards including war pensions for taxation purposes? I should like the Deputy Prime Minister to answer that question.
Another item which I should like to mention concerns the question of repatriation benefits to members of the regular forces who completed their service after 7 December 1972. The Government has backdated some pensions and benefits - not so much pensions, but certainly benefits - to the Boer War and the 1914-1918 War. Why has 7 December been selected? We know that the Government took office on 2 December but why has it not been back-dated for personnel who had served their term prior to 7 December? That is another question I would like the Minister to answer.
I turn now to the informing of applicants that their applications for acceptability or for an increase in pension have been refused. I think it is a good move that reasons for the refusal are now to be given. It has been my experience that many ex-service personnel who have their applications rejected by a board are lost when they are sent a form by which they may appeal. These people do not know which way to turn. They have been told that their applications have been rejected but they are then sent a form to submit a further case. They do not know what to do. If they are given an indication of the reasons they have a chance to prepare further evidence. In the introductory note the term ‘the reasons for their decisions’ is used. What decisions? Are they board decisions, commission decisions, or tribunal decisions? I think that question should be answered before the debate is concluded.
The move to extend benefits to veterans of the Boer War and World War I is very good and is long overdue. Many honourable members on both sides of the chamber have been pushing for such a benefit for a long time. Paragraph 6 of the introductory note refers to medical and hospital treatment for exservicemen who have served in a theatre of war and are suffering from cancer. Why are the words theatre of war* included? If we are to accept cancer in the broad why should a man be eligible only because of particular war service? I think a little more explanation is required. I turn now to consider the provision of treatment in repatriation hospitals for people other than ex-servicemen. I have no complaint about that as long as vacancies occur in the repatriation hospitals. However, I join the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) who asked earlier whether it is the commencement of the phasing out of true repatriation. As the honourable member said, exservice organisations ought to look at that step very closely. It could be the beginning of repatriation matters being taken over by the social security administration.
Generally speaking I believe that this repatriation measure is a good one. As I said at the outset, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Bishop) has introduced many good points. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard), who represents the Minister for Repatriation, is now at the table. If he cannot answer this afternoon the questions I have put to him I would like them answered in the not too distant future. If at all possible the answers should be made available to the public. I suggest that the answers be included in Hansard. After all, this is the place from which many ex-service organisations and exservice personnel seek their information. Apart from the queries I have raised I join other members of the Opposition in certainly supporting the Bill.
– in reply - Perhaps initially I should indicate to the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King), who has just resumed his seat, that it would not be possible in the limited time available to me to answer every query that has been raised by individual honourable members. However I shall try to cover some of them. The first thing that should be done in replying to the debate on the Repatriation Bill is to acknowledge that the Bill is being supported not only by Government supporters but also by the Opposition, including the Country Party. I take this opportunity, as indeed other Government supporters before me have done, of referring to the part played by the Minister for Repatria.ion (Senator Bishop) in being able to present to the Parliament a Bill which provides major benefits, some for the first time in Australia, to ex-servicemen generally. The Minister deserves to be commended. He already has received commendation from the Returned Services League and other interested organisations.
In the 9 months that this Government has been in office it has been able to effect a great many improvements in the repatriation field. It is not for me to enumerate them at this stage. This is not the first Bill that has been introduced by me, acting on behalf of the Minister for Repatriation, providing for improvements for ex-servicemen and exservicewomen generally. This is the second occasion I have had such an opportunity in 9 months. Both Bills have provided major increases in benefits for ex-servicemen. In many ways this Bill applies for the first time principles that were sought by the Government when it was in Opposition to cover anomalies contained in the principal Act. This Bill indicates generally the attitude that has been adopted by the Government in relation to repatriation matters - the attitude it will continue to adopt until it has been able to give effect to the promises that were made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his 1972 policy speech.
In his remarks the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), who led for the Opposition, made 2 criticisms. As the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) pointed out. the honourable member for Herbert was sensible in his speech in confining his criticism to only 2 matters. He knew that it was difficult to attack the Bill as a whole so he referred to the special compensation allowance. The honourable member’s speech was in a low key because he supported the Bill. However he has a short memory in referring to the compensation allowance and the fact that the Government has decided that it should be abolished. Most honourable members opposite - indeed, all who were present during the last Parliament - will remember that when I spoke on behalf of the Opposition on repatriation during the Budget session I indicated that I did not believe that the special compensation allowance should be continued. I made that statement not only in this Parliament but I also indicated my opposition to it to the Returned Services League and other organisations. When I advocated the abolition of the special compensation allowance there was no criticism from the RSL. Indeed it supported my suggestion and made recommendations to the previous Government through the then Minister for Repatriation, the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), asking that the special compensation allowance be abolished and that it be incorporated in the 100 per cent general rate of pension. The RSL was not the only organisation which believed that it should be abolished, that it was discriminatory in nature and that it had been introduced by the previous Government to provide an increase in pension for a very small percentage of those who received the general rate of pension. The honourable member for Indi, who was then the Minister for Repatriation, knows that only 14 per cent of general rate pensioners were in receipt of the special compensation allowance— that is, only 14 per cent of the 129,000 pensioners in this country.
Year after year the former Minister, who is critical of the Government denied the general rate pensioners an increase in their pensions. For 8 years the general rate of pension remained unchanged. Yet this former Minister has the temerity to criticise the Government because it was determined to abolish the special compensation allowance. He did not mention that as a former Minister for Repatriation he raised no objection when his Government refused to alter or amend the general rate of pension applying to about 129,000 exservicemen in this country. There was no increase for 8 years.
What has happened since the Labor Party came into power? There have been 2 substantial increases and there will be a further increase in the autumn session. I want to read out for the benefit of the honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Indi, because they were critical of the abolition of the special compensation allowance or the incorporation of the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension, a list of the organisations which asked the previous Government to incorporate the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension. Representations were made by the Returned Services League, the Partially Blinded Soldiers Association of Australia, the Federated TO Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Association, the Australian Legion of Exservicemen and Women, and the Korea and South East Asia Forces Association of Australia. All those organisations asked the previous Government to incorporate the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension. So it is extremely difficult for the honourable member for Herbert or the honourable member for Indi to justify standing up in this House and criticising this Government because it recognises that there are 129,000 ex-servicemen in this country in receipt of a general rate pension or a part of that pension and it believes that the normal circumstances ought to apply in relation to this pension, that it ought to be graduated from 100 per cent down to 10 per cent.
What was the system perpetuated by the previous Government? It said that 75 per cent incapacity would guarantee a special compensation allowance for some pensioners. As I said before, only 14 per cent of them received the special compensation allowance. How did the previous Government discriminate or distinguish between 75 per cent incapacity and 70 per cent incapacity? There is a difference between them of 85c a week. If one adds to that the special compensation allowance, one finds that the difference in payments’ between the 70 per cent pension and the 75 per cent pension is $5.30 a week. How did the previous Government justify that? I argued in this Parliament that it was not possible to distinguish between 75 per cent incapacity and 70 per cent incapacity, but the previous Government perpetuated that system merely because the greatest number of pensioners were in that category below 70 per cent and down to 10 per cent. The Government makes no apology for incorporating the special compensation allowance in the general rate of pension. I concede and the Government concedes that under the terms of this legislation some general rate pensioners in receipt of the special compensation allowance will not receive an increase, but there will be a further increase for general rate pensioners in the autumn session and that will absorb the whole of the special compensation allowance. I now turn to the other point made by the honourable member for Indi.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Mr Speaker - (Quorum formed)- I appreciate the fact that the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) has called a quorum. It was necessary to call a quorum which showed, of course, the complete lack of interest by Opposition members in the repatriation bills presently before the House. One can understand why honourable members opposite were not in the House. After all, they showed a great reluctance to debate the bills at all. Before the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the question of the special compensation allowance. The decision of the Government to incorporate the special compensation allowance in the 100 per cent general rate pension has been criticised by the honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Indi. I had indicated to the House that it has been the policy of this Government when in Opposition to remove what it regarded as a complete injustice.
Earlier during the course of my remarks I referred to the fact that there were 129,000 general rate pensioners. I apologise to the House for incorrectly citing that figure. In actual fact, the number of general rate pensioners is 190,000. Of course, this merely strengthens the case that I was making prior to the suspension of the sitting in relation to the special compensation allowance. If 14 per cent of general rate pensioners were in receipt of the special compensation allowance, that means that there were and are, in fact, 164,000 general rate pensioners who received no increase during the regime of the previous Government. For 8 years such pensioners received no increase in their general rate pension. It is well known to the Returned Services League and those organisations who protested against the inadequate amount of the special compensation allowance that the previous Government in this way was able to provide the smallest amount possible for the smallest number of general rate pensioners.
Having dealt with the special compensation allowance, I now refer to one other criticism that was raised by both the honourable member for Herbert and the honourable member for Indi. The honourable member for Indi in particular referred to what he believed was a rumour that the Repatriation Department was to be amalgamated with the Department of Social Security. I am glad he said that it was a rumour because nowhere in the platform of the Australian Labor Party can it be found that there is any intention on the part of the Government to amalgamate the 2 departments. It is not in the platform: it has not been considered by the Government. I have made it perfectly clear and the Minister for Repatriation, Senator Bishop, also has made it perfectly clear that this matter has not been considered by the Government. There are 2 departments, and we recognise the importance of the Repatriation Department and the ability of those who have specialised in this way over the years to discharge their obligations and the obligations of the Government to the returned servicemen of this country. So it was a rumour. The honourable member for Herbert said that it was a rumour. It is only a rumour, and I wish to refute it at once.
I turn to the third point made by the honourable member for Herbert in what was, after all, a very small speech on a very important Bill. I believe that his speech indicates the lack of enthusiasm which the Opposition has for this Bill. He offered some criticism of tribunals. I have appeared before repatriation tribunals for a great many years - I think about 17 years. I appeared on behalf of ex-servicemen of this country .before both entitlement tribunals and assessment tribunals. Therefore I believe that I am in a position to be able to speak with some knowledge of this subject. The tribunals consist of people, most of whom were chosen by the previous Government. My experience has been that there will always be some criticism of the way in which tribunals approach a case, depending on the merit of that case. While a great many ex-servicemen choose to exercise their right before tribunals, naturally there will be criticism of the tribunals. I have always found that the tribunals accept their responsibility and, I believe, discharge that responsibility under the terms of the Act. So, we are dealing with the human factor which comes into the representation of exservicemen who have their case heard before an entitlement tribunal. Quite frankly, I do not believe that the criticism of the honourable member for Herbert was justified, nor do I believe that it can be proved to be justified in any circumstance. They were the main criticisms offered of the Repatriation Bill.
Honourable members opposite chose to ignore the great benefits which flow from this legislation. One can understand this. One honourable member referred to the fact that we have now provided free medical and hospital treatment for all returned servicemen from the Boer War and the First World War. He said that it was long overdue. Of course it was long overdue. Year after year, while in Opposition, we moved to have this incorporated in the Repatriation Act. Honourable members opposite just as consistently opposed it, in the same way that they have opposed in the House amendments which I have proposed, for example, to give a special recognition to those who may be suffering from cancer. As a result of this Bill it will now be possible for any returned serviceman to receive medical treatment if he is suffering from cancer, whether it has been proved to be war caused or not. As with the repatriation legislation which was dealt with in the autumn session of the Parliament and which made some adjustments to the Repatriation Act, the Returned Services League and other organisations had put submissions to honourable members opposite, when they were in government, which they had consistently ignored. Let me give the House one example, the funeral benefit which had remained unchanged virtually during the whole period of office of the previous Government. One of the first moves of the new Government - the Labor Government - was to double immediately the funeral benefit from $50 to$1 00.
– Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
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 Barnard) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 11 September (vide page 764), on motion by Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Barnard) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 11 September (vide page 765), on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave is granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Barnard) read a third time.
Br Gun (Kingston)- I seek leave to make a short explanation. I have the approval of the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock).
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Br GUN - I wish to correct a statement that I made in my question to the Prime Minister this afternoon about the price of meat pies. The price of a meat pie in South Australia is not 17c but 18c. I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to correct this small matter. Notwithstanding this correction the price is still substantially below that advertised in the New South Wales Liberal Party propaganda as the cost of a meat pie in New South Wales.
– I crave the indulgence of the House to ask whether the honourable member for Kingston has looked at the different weights of pies which apply in New South Wales and South Australia.
– Order! Not being a pie eater, I am unable to answer that question.
Debate resumed from 12 September (vide page 862), on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Mr Speaker, 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 would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Post and Telegraph Regulations Bill and the Post and Telegraph Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions may, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the three Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 3 measures?
-I will allow that course to be followed.
– The Opposition is very concerned about the increases in charges provided for in this Bill and the related Bills which are being debated at the same time. We are concerned not simply because there are rises - we accept that there must be increases from time to time - but because of the extent of the rises and the way they have been presented to the Parliament. The increases have been presented to the public in a way that has hidden the full impact of what is proposed. We are concerned also about the very severe impact of the increased charges as they relate specifically to country people and those who belong to various community groups in all parts of Australia. Most people have been led to believe, Mr Speaker, that there has been no increase in the cost of posting a letter. It is still 7c. Well, so it is but that is not the whole story by any means. For 7c you will be able to post a letter so long as it weighs no more than 20 grams - that is, so long as it weighs 30 per cent less than the maximum weight previously allowed. The cost today of posting a letter weighing say, 21 grams is 7c. When the new charges come into effect that same letter will cost 15c to post - that is, if it weighs more than 20 grams. That is the kind of thing that has not been made clear to the public. Mr Speaker, so that these and associated matters will be more clearly understood I ask for leave to have incorporated in Hansard tables setting out the effect of the proposed increases on letters, parcels, householder’ service, periodicals - which include newspapers - and books.
-Is leave granted?
– Could the right honourable gentleman leave it for just a moment and then I will give an answer.
– The material is factual. There are no politics in it.
– There are percentages in it.
– It is my responsibility if the percentages are wrong.
– I will give you leave in a minute; that is the point.
– This material is fairly important to the rest of my speech.
– Of course it is but if you want it incorporated with my leave I have to get the percentages checked. You gave it to me only at 8.10 p.m.
– That is true but I have to accept the responsibility if the percentages are incorrect. I am asking that it be incorporated. It is the normal custom in the House to have-
– I just want to get it checked. How about giving it to me before the debate started?
– With all due respect I gave it to you before. There are 3 pages of tables and if it has to be checked I am afraid that it will take longer to get an answer than it will take to deliver my speech. It is not usual for this sort of procrastination to occur when one is asking to table nothing more than statistics without related quotes or political matter.
– You can still refer to it. I am not stopping you from referring to it.
– Yes but I am afraid that if I refer to it you probably then will not want to include it. I think it is only right for Hansard to know at this point-
– I will agree to include it if it is in order.
– If what is in order?
– If the percentages and facts are right.
-Order! This is not a matter for debate. The question is whether the material should be included in Hansard. It is a matter for the Government to decide whether to grant leave for the material to be incorporated. No debate is possible on this question. The question is that the request of the Leader of the Country Party for the material to be incorporated in Hansard be agreed to. What is the wish of the House?
– Not at this stage.
– The answer is no. Leave is not granted.
– I think that a precedent has been created for a person who is leading for the Opposition. You are stifling-
– I am not stifling it at all.
– You are, with all due respect. If these figures have to be checked, it is impossible for someone to do the mathematics of it in a few minutes unless he has a computer. In all the time I was a Minister sitting at the table and responsible for giving leave to incorporate documents in Hansard, 1 never once refused leave to the Labor opposition. I feel that this is an imposition on the rights of the Opposition.
– I am not opposing it.
– You are by refusing me leave to have the tables incorporated in Hansard in the normal process.
– I am waiting for them to be checked. What are you frightened of?
– I am not frightened of anything; what is the Minister frightened of?
-Order! I am proceeding only according to the forms of the House. The opinions of the Leader of the Country Party and the Postmaster-General about this matter have nothing to do with the Chair, and I ask that no further debate ensue on this matter. I call the Leader of the Country Party.
– Thank you, Mr Speaker, but I think the point is well made that the Government will not allow to be incorporated a document which consists of nothing more than statistics.
– We will accept it if it is right.
– So that these and associated matters will be more clearly understood I have asked for leave to have these tables incorporated in Hansard, and I hope that when leave is granted the tables will be placed at the appropriate position in the Han sard record. I believe the Acting Leader of the House is taking an unprecedented step by not allowing something which is straightforward and simple to be incorporated in Hansard. Anyone who studies these tables will see that, no matter what the Postmaster-General might say about international standards and so on, the change to the metric system has been used by the Government really to sock the community. The Government is not concerned to avoid profiting from the change to the metric system, which it asks everyone else in the community to avoid. One wonders too why the Government has not felt it necessary to await the outcome of the inquiry into the operations of the Post Office before embarking on these very important and costly changes. This is just another example of this Government’s disregard for important principles. It has set up commissions, tribunals and committees and yet it makes its own decisions. The Government pleases itself.
There are many aspects of this Bill which cause the Opposition serious concern and which should be discussed at length, but it is possible to deal with only the most serious matter. Certainly it is the most serious from the point of view of the Country Party and all people living outside of the metropolises. I refer to the extremely big increases proposed in bulk postage rates. Letter rates will go up by between 25 per cent and 60 per cent and other postage rates by an average of 30 per cent, but the bulk postage rate, involving newpapers, will increase by more than 500 per cent. Because of our concern over this matter I intend to move an amendment in the Committee stage. This amendment will provide for bulk postage charges for newspapers and periodicals to be maintained at their present levels and for the existing categories into which newspapers and periodicals are placed for postal charge purposes to be maintained. Section 29 of the existing Acts deals not only with newspapers and periodicals but also with educational, technical and other publications which, although costly to the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, are fundamental to giving all Australians equal opportunities and access to information.
The Government’s attitude to postage rates on newspapers, especially country newspapers, underlines the Labor Party’s consistent lack of sympathy for and understanding of the conditions under which country people live.
For most Labor members of this House, and for the vast majority of their constituents, a daily newspaper is a very easy thing to get hold of. Either it is thrown over the front fence early in the morning, or bought from a paperseller in the street or at a handy newsagency. For the country dweller, the daily paper, or a bi-weekly or tri-weekly paper, is delivered some time during the morning, if the reader is lucky - and then it is delivered only to a cream-box or roadside gate, and has to be collected from there. Otherwise it comes later in the day or often the next day, or whenever there is some means of delivering it.
A large number of country readers depend on the Post Office for the delivery of their newpaper - either on the day it is published, or on the following or later days. This simple example of just one of the differences between city and country living demonstrates a common, everyday situation which Labor members utterly fail to appreciate. The whole attitude of the Labor Party to people, living outside of capital cities, illustrated throughout this year by a growing list of antagonistic decisions and actions - almost daily it seems - is once again made clear by the Government’s decision to increase bulk postage rates by a staggering amount. The Government’s motives are not to be found solely in the economics of the Post Office.
The Postmaster-General let the cat out of the mailbag when he told me in answer to a question recently that rural newspapers should pay the same as the general public, otherwise the public would be asked to subsidise owners of small industries who obviously vote for the country party. That was a despicable statement from a responsible Minister of the Crown. This is typical of the blatantly political approach of a Government whose Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), for example, last week went to great lengths to make it abundantly clear that the decision to site an airport at Galston was made on political grounds. He did not try to hide this fact; he almost boasted that it was a political decision. And the Postmaster-General has made no secret of the fact that the decision to bring about these savage increases in postal rates for newspapers also was made to some extent on political grounds.
– The Minister’s answer to the question said it.
– What was it?
– The Minister said he believed that people who voted for and supported the Country Party should not get concessional rates. The unfortunate part of it is that in its haste to vent its vindictiveness against country people, the Government has also hurt many other people. Church groups who depend on their own newpaper to keep in touch with their members, and to put forward their views on important national issues, also will be penalised. For some, it will be impossible to carry on publishing a newspaper.
But there has been a strong reaction too from trade union groups. They need to keep in touch with their members and put thenpoints of view, but this Government is doing something that will virtually destroy many of these small publications. This is a most dangerous prospect.
There is more need today than ever before for strong, independent voices putting their views. We have a socialist Government determined to change this nation in ways that we will live to regret. Country people in particular are almost under siege by an aggressive, oppressive Government. There must be opportunities for counter points of view to be put.
The Government is spending vast amounts of money on its own propaganda operations, with an army of people, new publications and intensive use of the media to get its story across to the mass of the people who live in Australia’s capital cities. The other side of the story must be told. How many people are affected by this vicious Government action?
In country areas alone there are 339 local newspapers. Rather there were 339 until recently. It is quite likely that the number has dropped as the process of closures and takeovers continues because some rural papers are unable to cope with continually rising costs. We can certainly expect to see further rapid changes as a result of these new increased postal rates. The average weekly circulation of all these papers, in total, is more than 5 million.
These newspapers are not simply something to skim through on a suburban train and then drop into a rubbish can, or to read in the bus on the way home from work to see what the latest sensation is. The country newspaper is a vital part of the lifeblood of the country community. It is one of the few ways in which many communities can even be maintained as communities. A newspaper in a way forms part of the heart and soul of a small community. It is the historical record of personalities and events. It is a vital element in the maintenance of that community spirit which is one of the great attributes of these communities.
A newspaper helps to keep people in touch with each other, even though they might never meet for long periods. It tells them not only of events that fall into the category of news but of important things relating to their daily lives and work, such as market reports and indications of coming events such as agricultural field days and community meetings. All the events and happenings of country areas are maintained in the local newspapers. The local paper keeps people informed on the activities of many local organisations, such as local government and service organisations. This is often the only way they can be informed. In fact, in many cases local government and other levels of government are required to publish information about certain proposals for changes in regulations or by-laws.
In a city it is easy to get on the phone, to talk to people and to tell them about meetings and other activities. But in the country that costs too much, so one must depend on the local paper much more than one does in the metropolitan areas.. But the Labor Party just would not understand that. All the PostmasterGeneral can see, apparently, is a subsidy being paid, as he said recently, to a country industry, which he claims supports the Country Party. He is blind to the obvious fact that the benefits of these postal concessions do not go to the newspaper owners; the benefits go to the people who buy the paper and who have to pay postage on it. In his efforts to attack the Country Party he is really attacking and hurting all people who live in country areas, and others belonging to various groups of the kinds I have mentioned.
The savagery of the increases is clear from the following outline of what is proposed on bulk postage rates. From 1 October this year the existing basic rate of 7c per 12 oz., with a minimum charge of He per article, will rise to 7c per 300 grams. That is 40 grams less for the same amount of money. The He mini mum per article will apply for the time being. But then the Postmaster-General is really going to get stuck into the newspapers. On 1 March next year newspapers will be taken out of category A and placed into category B. This is when the trouble will really start. Take a 3 oz paper, which is about the average weight of a country newspaper. It is not small; it is not large like a newspaper which serves a metropolitan area. It weighs about 84.9 grams. At present it costs 1.75c to post it. In March next year it will cost, not 1.75c, but 7c - a rise of 300 per cent. Talk about inflation. There is no inflation as great as this anywhere in the country. Yet this is arbitrarily being imposed by the Government. Perhaps we do need price fixing when a government can carry out arbitrary action such as this. Then in March 1975 that same 3 oz. newspaper will cost 9c to post, and then in October 1976 it will cost 11c. That is assuming, of course, that the Postmaster-General does not increase postage charges generally in the meantime - and no doubt he will. But even so, these increases represent a rise of 528 per cent in the cost of posting a paper between 1973 and 1975. I suppose the PostmasterGeneral is spreading the rises over this period to give many country newspapers - and other publications - a chance to close down gradually instead of suddenly.
Another way of demonstrating the savagery of these rises is that you can now bulk post six 2-oz newspapers for 9c. In 1975 we will be able to bulk post only one newspaper for that price. The present postage bill for the 26 regional dailies represented by regional dailies of Australia is $160,000. It might not sound very much but for these small newspapers it is a lot of money. This figure will jump to $640,000 by March next year - and of course that is only the beginning. One newspaper at present is paying $9,000 a year in bulk postage. This will become $33,000 a year after March next year. How many small country newspapers can sustain this increase or expect their subscribers to pay that increased charge? The people who buy and read this newspaper of course will have to pay.
Of course, many papers weigh more than the 3 ounces I mentioned earlier, so that the postage costs will be even more than the figures I quoted. But even on those figures, a newspaper costing a subscriber 8c will cost 15c by post - that is if people kept buying it, which seems to be very doubtful. How would people in Sydney or Melbourne like to be told that instead of paying 8c for their newspaper they will now have to pay 15c for it? Circulations will fall, and the economics of many newspapers - already difficult - will be even harder.
Even in a country like Australia, which we have always thought of as a free-enterprise society - although that is rapidly changing - there are certain responsibilities resting on the government. Even in a free-enterprise society, there are certain vital national tasks which can be properly coped with only by the Government. One of them is communications. It is a responsibility of the Post Office to provide communications for the people of this nation- no matter where they live. We all know - and the Postmaster-General has told us often enough - that it is expensive to provide communications in remote areas. But that is a situation we have to accept.
There is no reason why the Post Office should be run as a normal commercial enterprise in the profit-making sense. The Post Office is an instrument of national development - it is a national sevice. It is part of the infrastructure of development and the daily living which the Government has a responsibility to provide to all Australian people. This Government will not accept that responsibility. I believe that the provision of adequate communications - the newspaper is among the most important forms of communication for country people - is a matter in which the Government has a responsibility to be involved by way of the contribution it makes towards solving the problems and meeting the costs of the distribution of newspapers and other articles to their readers. Irrespective of whether they be technical, educational or cultural publications, people have a right to be able to get them at a reasonably modest cost, just as anybody can get them in a capital city.
I repeat that there is no need for this contribution by the Government to communications to be made on a strictly economic basis. If a strict economic return were to be the criterion for government action there would be few roads in the country areas of Australia, there would be no railways, there would no extension of power lines into rural areas, there would be a limited number of airports and there certainly would be no telephones. A government which prides itself on its desire to remove all divisions from Australian society, laughable as the evidence of that desire may be, certainly has a responsibility to ensure that country people are not relegated to the position of second rate citizens in this nation. The clear indication of the Australian Labor Party to do that has become very obvious in many ways. The Australian Country Party is especially determined to fight the attack which is being made by Labor upon non-metropolitan people by the presentation of this legislation. In its efforts to strike at these people - efforts which have been very effective so far - the Government is also showing us that all its talk about decentralisation is just so much eyewash. Communications - a fundamental factor in decentralisation - are being made so expensive by the Government that industry will be very loath to move to country areas and pay the costs that will be involved.
We have had some vague references by the Postmaster-General to concessional communication rates for growth centres. We will believe them when we see them. What about the people - by far the great majority - who do not live or who will not be living in growth centres? Are they to get any benefits? That does not appear to be so. The list of actions by the Government aimed at getting at country people is apparently endless. This legislation is just another indication of the Government’s desires in that respect. The Opposition regards the subject of the postage rates charged in respect of the newspapers and many other types of publications that are circulated in country areas as being so important that it will be moving an amendment to this Bill and it will oppose the passage of this legislation throughout all stages. Before resuming my seat, Mr Speaker, could I get some indication from the Postmaster-General as to whether the material I sought to incorporate in Hansard earlier is now acceptable for incorporation.
– As amended, yes.
– Who has amended it? Has the Postmaster-General amended it?
– Members of my staff say that there were a couple of errors in it.
– I do not see where any amendments have been made.
– They were made to one of the pages.
-Is leave granted for the incorporation of the material in Hansard? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– I offer the view that the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) is not meeting with any boisterous display of support because no honourable member has risen in his place to say that be takes the view that this legislation is splendid in design and will bring an immense amount of relief and delight to the hearts of all of his constituents. The Postmaster-General is sitting at the table in a state of concealed distress.
– He has his heart where his tummy is.
– His heart is in anything but this legislation, I can assure honourable members of that. After listening to the views offered by my friend, the right honourable Leader of
the Country Party (Mr Anthony) I want to say this to him: I do not know what you have in mind in the way of an amendment, but if it is against these Bills you have got me for a start. Some years ago there was a character in the Queensland Parliament who bad an immense capacity to get his metaphors mixed. One day he really excelled himself when, with a flourish of rhetoric that would have done credit to Cicero, he said: ‘What is this government doing? I will tell you what it is doing. It is gathering up the reins of the ship of state and it is galloping it pell mell towards the edge of the precipice.’ All metaphors can be put to one side, but I think that is a pretty tidy account of the Government led by the Prime
Minister (Mr Whitlam) of which my friend, the Postmaster-General, is a member. Whether it is galloping to the edge of a precipice is a matter of opinion. But maybe we will have a closer idea of that on Saturday.
I want to say to my honourable friend, the Postmaster-General: ‘You are making a thundering mess of things’. I do not intrude any partisan observations into this. I am keeping politics out of it completely. But when I look at what he has done with respect to these 3 post and telegraph Bills, his first major foray into legislation, I am genuinely upset. I would have hoped that the Minister would have sought before this debate was over to try to retrieve the position. I have always looked upon the Postmaster-General as being a person of immense reason. But I am bound to tell him that I have the gravest of doubts, after seeing these Bills, whether his family motto could be described as ‘Patience and reason above all.’
-If it is not a rude question, what Bill is the honourable member debating?
– I am coming on to the Post and Telegraph Bill. I would hope that that message would reach you, Mr Speaker, even if it had to be carried by Cobb & Co. coach. A commission has been appointed to inquire into the affairs of the Post Office. These Bills represent a complete insult to each and every one of the commissioners. Neither the PostmasterGeneral nor any other person who takes the view that he has virtue on his side will escape this position. What is the point in appointing a commission to inquire into the affairs and operations of the Post Office when these 3 Bills, utterly radical in their approach, are introduced?
Mr Speaker, you inquired what Bill I was dealing with when I referred to the motto of the Minister being: ‘Patience and reason above all’. What patient man would not have said: ‘I will await the outcome of this royal commission before I introduce these radical approaches’? What reasonable person would not have said: ‘I will wait and see what the commissioners turn in’? The members of this commission are 3 very distinguished Australians. Whatever their report may be, it will be a painstaking one. Why ask the commission to sit? What is the point in it? I ask the Postmaster-General: What if the commission makes a recommendation which calls for the complete restructuring of the Post Office in Australia? What is his position to be then?
What will be the position of the Government? I do not know when the report of the commission will be presented. I venture the view that we would expect to see something in the nature of an interim report by the end of this year. If that is taken as an assumption and if it is taken as a further assumption that the commission will recommend, for example, the establishment of a corporation, what would be the position of the PostmasterGeneral in relation to such a recommendation?
Let me take the position a little further: The commission may recommend the establishment of a corporation and also that that corporation follow the practice adopted in the United Kingdom, that as an independent body it must return something in the nature of the bond rate on capital invested. Postal charges will have to increase still further. I say to the honourable gentleman and to those who sit with him in the Government that this a hotchpotch approach to the problems of the Postmaster-General’s Department. I shall seek to summon such puny powers as I have with the hereafter to do something to any member of the Labor Party who ever mentions a sentiment to this effect: ‘I believe in decentralisation’. No set of Bills is more designed to fling a wet towel in the face of those who want to live in the bush than these Bills. As the Leader of the Country Party has said, it is all very fine for those whom I might describe, without offence, as being the city slickers-
– The silvertails.
– The silvertails, those who live in what we could call the crepe de Chine electorates; but when we are dealing with electorates which cover immense distances this seems to be a most unfair way of seeking to understand their problems. In one of his speeches the Postmaster-General admits precisely that. ‘I must hand it to the honourable gentleman. The 3 speeches which he has made on these Bills rival in brevity the speech delivered by Moses. Listen to this:
Broadly the new charges have been determined against the background that there should be no hidden subsidies and that assistance should be given in a direct form where such assistance is justified.
Indirect subsidies! That is a bit of an insult to a Parliament in which every member has an opportunity to determine for himself whether something is an indirect subsidy. The honourable gentleman is saying, in effect, that the Government has not many seats in the country, it does not like its prospects of winning votes there, so those who live in the country can go to Bourke. That is a curious collocation of language. That is exactly what the honourable gentleman is saying.
– It is another Galston.
-Order! The honourable member for Kennedy should go and have a cup of tea. I will pay for it.
– Mr Speaker, if you wait for a while I will join you. The Leader of the Country Party has put his finger right on this. Of course it costs more to deliver mail say 100 miles up the Langlo. I imagine that the Postmaster-General and some of his colleagues have never heard the expression ‘up the Langlo’. If the Government wants people to live there and to maintain enterprises in this part of the world it must be prepared to offer them reasonable services. By these Bills it denies them reasonable services. Precisely the same comment applies to telephones.
– I assure the honourable member for Eden-Monaro that we have him on our ringbarking program. The same comment that applies to telephones applies to country newspapers. My friend the Leader of the Country Party is correct when he says that local news in these small provinces is of the utmost importance. If the Government intends to suffocate the basis upon which they exist, it will take from them a very substantial attraction. I am convinced that politics and the discipline of seeking to survive politically encourages one to embrace an immense variety of political weapons. I suppose that flexibility would be one of the chief weapons by which all of us seek to survive. If the House wants an illustration of that, I will give it one now. The present Minister for Science (Mr Morrison) and metrication is an example. I call it metrication. He is in charge of metrication. If you will pardon me, Mr Speaker, it is one of the many things in this world which I do not understand. I have never met a jockey, a trainer, an owner or a horse that understands the metric system. I think it has cost me a lot of money. When one looks at this Bill, one can see some of what I would describe with immense Irish restraint as the evils of metrication. I want to give an illustration of flexibility - for the benefit of the Minister for Science - when there was last, what I would describe as an adjustment to postal charges. Honourable members will notice the euphemism of language which is happily the case. This was an adjustment in 1971. What did my friend the Minister for Science say? He said:
The Government is using the Post Office as a tax collector rather than as a service agency which is what honourable members on this side of the House believe it should be.
A service agency. Look at the honourable gentleman. We should at least congratulate him - he is blushing like a beetroot. Let us be under no misapprehension as to what takes place under these Bills. Again, I am indebted to my friend the Leader of the Country Party for pointing out that in some instances the rates have boomed up 500 per cent. If this illustration given by the Leader of the Country Party seems a little distant, let me take the simple case of posting a 7 oz letter, as I think this illustrates the point completely. At the moment one can post up to a 1 oz letter for 7c. Now I am assured by those versed in metric affairs that that is the equivalent of 28.3 grams. Let me for the sake of tidiness knock off the .3 grams and say that one can send a letter weighing 28 grams for 7c. All clear? Under the proposed rate one can send a letter for the same amount of money - 7c - but the weight is limited to 20 grams. That is a 40 per cent increase. Let me say to the Postmaster-General that at Christmas time he will get no Chrissy card from me, because all Christmas cards and all Father’s Day cards - and who would deny me from being sent a Father’s Day card - will cost more than 7c. I was distressed when I found that that was the way the thing worked. But then I looked a little further and I thought: What is the merit? Is there any genuine economic merit in bumping up postal charges? And I came to the words of an authority, the finest authority to be cited in this land, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) himself. He had this to say - and I hope this is carved on-
– His tombstone?
– Not on his tombstone. Let us keep ourselves away from death and look on the bright side of life. In 1971 the honourable gentleman had this to say:
Postal and petrol increases in the current Budget will inevitably produce an identical effect, as will payroll tax . . .
There will be immediate rises in costs to all consumers and there will be the inevitable flowthrough as these charges are passed on later in the year. All these rises could and would have been avoided by a government which genuinely sought to hold prices down.
Aha, to hold prices down. Here they are being bumped up, 40 per cent here, 100 per cent there, 300 per cent there, 500 per cent there. And listen to this, Mr Speaker, for we have not yet come to the punch line: How can we take seriously the rhetoric of Ministers on inflation when the Government makes so consistent and comprehensive a contribution to the rapidity with which living costs increase? That is the language used by the Prime Minister in 1971 when very modest adjustments were made to postal charges. Here is a most flagrant attack on country people; here is an example of socialist budgeting. Here is an example of a government which, whether it believes it or whether it understands the position, is galloping pell-mell towards a precipice. If Government supporters think I have no charity in my being I must confirm it; if I see the Government standing on the edge of a precipice I will push it.
– I take up where my colleague, the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), and my friend, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), left off. These Bills represent disgraceful action on the part of the Government. It is disgraceful in many ways. To start with I refer to an action which is, I think, the most reprehensible of all that I have heard about in recent weeks. I want to refer to the Australian provincial Press, a not unimportant organisation in the life of this country. I heard only today that the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has refused to receive a deputation from that body to discuss this very important matter.
– That is not right.
– That is what I was assured today.
– Why did you not ask me? It is not true.
– I have not had the chance to ask you.
– You have been over on this side of the chamber 3 times.
– The Postmaster-General will have the opportunity to answer these things and no doubt he can give an explanation. I was told today by someone from my home State that a request for a deputation to meet the Postmaster-General to discuss these charges levied against country newspapers had been turned down. That is all the information on the subject that I can offer. If by any chance I am incorrect I will apologise but I see no reason to do so on the basis of the information given to me today.
– So you should.
– The honourable member for Corio would not know. He is not interested in the provincial Press; otherwise he would have ascertained the same information that I have. Let us look at what mail is included in category A and what a change from that category to category B would mean. As far as I am aware category A mail includes a whole series of publications but the prime thought behind their inclusion in that category was that they had to be country newspapers or newspapers that sold the majority of their issues to country areas and not to city areas. This is the sort of publication that we get in category A and most honourable members already have heard 2 previous speakers deal with the effects of the change-over from category A to category B later in the year. One can be excused for thinking that this decision is a direct attack on that section of the people and not a general, across-the-board action. Later on I will deal with whether that is a justifiable argument in itself. In the meantime I wish to refer to other publications which will be affected. They include a wide variety of periodicals, newspapers and other publications dealing with the activities of a vast variety of associations and bodies that are important to people throughout Australia. I imagine they include publications by the Royal Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, the National Roads and Motorists’ Association, and similar organisations in other States. I have heard complaints so far from the Returned Services League that postage on its periodicals has been increased and it will have to cease publication of many of them. I believe there are many country newspapers which also are feeling the pinch.
I would like to refer to a country newspaper in my State. It is published in the electorate of Grey in the little town of Streaky Bay. Of all the newspapers published to my knowledge in this country this above all others has the highest percentage of posted publications. I understand that 92 per cent of the publications produced by that newspaper have to be posted. I want to refer to this matter because it is serious. I think that there is no other small newspaper in the whole of
Australia that has to distribute its information over as big an area as the area covered by this publication in Streaky Bay which posts 92 per cent of its publications. Does the Government think that this quite small newpaper will remain solvent when in its case - I think I am correct in individualising with this newspaper - the postage rate which is now about 2c eventually will increase to 11c. This newspaper cannot be compared with newspapers in places such as Mount Barker in my electorate or other large towns in the surrounding area which can distribute their newspapers to the shops by road. Ninety-two per cent of the publications of this newspaper has to be posted to outlying areas.
The people who live in these outlying areas perhaps do not have the voice in this Parliament that the people in the suburbs have. How else are they to get news? Do they have a town hall or a picture theatre where they can meet? Of course not. The only way in which they can absorb local news is through these types of newspapers. I ask the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) whether he has had a look at that outrageous case. To me it is an outrageous case. If these people have guts enough to go into an area such as Streaky Bay, with due regard to the people who live there, and try to produce a newspaper for the good of the area - no doubt they do it because they want a satisfying occupation of their own - I think it is a poor thing when the Government takes action which can cut right across the possibility of that newspaper being produced in the future.
There are probably 4 or 5 newspapers in my own area which will be very severely hit by these measures. One in particular comes to mind. There is one little family enterprise that happens to be located at Pinaroo which is near my colleague’s electorate in Victoria. After years of travail and hardship and simple living these people built a new newspaper office. It is located in a small area and it is a small newspaper. It posts 52 per cent of its publications. It owners have just invested in a new printing press. I think their operation -must be fairly marginally viable. If we cannot effect some sort of improvement in these sorts of “ affairs, that little country newspaper, located in the Lameroo-Pinaroo area, which is at the end of the South Australian railway line, may well go out of business. In other words, that area might not have a newspaper. This is a very serious matter for these out lying electorates, even if it is not for the silvertail area of Redfern. I am sure the House must recognise that this is a matter of very grave concern to those areas and to any of us who represent areas remotely like them. 1 could go on for some time talking about the proportion of newspapers posted as against those which may be distributed by a variety of other means. But I simply say that surely the Minister can see that in those areas where perhaps only 50 per cent of newspapers are posted every effort will be made to get those newspapers delivered by some other means. If ever I have seen a self-defeating purpose it is contained in these measures. I could not help but agree with the honourable member for Moreton who said that there is no possibility of looking at this matter in any other way. The point is that if those newspapers cannot be distributed by car, milk truck, fruit van or by some other means they will have to be posted, and I think that the people in those areas will look at this matter in that light from now on. They will not, if they can possibly help it, use postal facilities at that price level.
I am sorry I do not have more time to talk on that matter but there is another matter I would like to mention. During the last Parliament the previous Postmaster-General, whom honourable members will recall with pleasure as being a hard working, highly intelligent man, agreed - I was about to say gave way but I think perhaps that is unfair - at long last with a case which I had put forward for 3 years in this House in trying to get some method of helping small country newspapers with the issuing of supplements. Let us stop and consider the importance of supplements. In many ways they came into existence because of the success of the PostmasterGeneral^ Department in the field of household deliveries and because many people felt that this rather unfair taking away of business from country newspapers could be solved only if similar supplements were produced across a wide range of country newspapers to help advertise, shall we say, a sale in a chain store in an area.
For many years I battled away to see whether there was not some easy way in which to stop treating these supplements as an individual matter. I have been in a country Press office, and I have seen people pushing through 5,000 copies of their newspapers again in order to put an authorised sign on the bottom saying that the supplement was authorised to be produced as a supplement. Not long ago I was completely satisfied to received from Sir Alan Hulme a letter in which he said:
In response to your representations … in respect of supplements, a review has been made of the present regulations. You will be pleased to learn that I have now given my approval to the principle of permitting a common inscription on advertising pieces and other supplementary material intended for general insertion in a number of newspapers and periodicals. The inscription would read: ‘PMG approved supplement No. . . -.’ and the numbers will be allocated on application to the Post Office.
I suppose it is too much to expect that when one government goes out and another government comes in all the promises of the previous government should be honoured. But I must say that I am deeply disappointed to hear that this concession, as far as I can gather, is not to be allowed. I bring to the attention of the House the fact that if these country newspapers are to exist they have to take advantage of efficiency and of economy of scale. They have to try to get added productivity in order to meet the outrageous situation that the Government is trying to create tonight. As far as I can gather - and I hope that I can be corrected on this - country newspapers are not to be allowed the facility to which I have just referred in reading from the letter from Sir Alan Hulme.
I once again say that if these country newspapers are going to exist, surely the Government will not mind helping them to get efficiency and economy of scale by production over a wide area, even if it is on a supplement inserted in the middle of a small country newspaper. To deny this is to deny all reason. Under this measure tonight we are putting an enormous load on country newspapers. One honourable member has said that it is a case of direct political bias. I hope that that is not so. I hope that the Government can see the sense in helping these people to be efficient. The Government wants shoving out of office tomorrow if it insists on its stupid behaviour and its stupid pricing policy of increasing costs to the very people whom it should be trying to help. It is obvious that this must be so in all reason.
Time moves on and honourable members on this side of the House are confining their remarks- in order to allow as many speakers as possible to take part in this debate. So I will cease with these words: The Australian people are one people. They are not country people as against urban people or city people as against river people or the Australian Labor Party as against the Australian Country Party. In important matters they are one people. I can follow the efforts of the PostmasterGeneral in this case to equate these things as he sees it, but I ask him: Does his Government, for instance, see fit, rightly, to give extra help to Aborigines? Does he see fit, quite rightly to give extra help to the sick, the elderly and the deprived? But he does not, evidently, see fit to give extra help to these people in outlying areas. As the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) has entered the chamber, I would refer him to my remarks about Streaky Bay and to the peculiar circumstances of the newspaper in that area. I will lend what force I can to the proposition that this Parliament must dismiss immediately this ridiculous increase in charges. We can cope, perhaps, with increased charges for cigarettes and spirits, unpopular though they might make the Government, but no right thinking person will say that no help should be given to people who live so far outback that the country newspaper is the only means of absorbing their local news, by-laws and other matters of importance.
– The proposed increase in postal and telephone charges is a direct attack on policies which have endured since Federation. Now an irresponsible government is taking away the basic privileges of communities within this country. The White Paper on the prospects and capital program for the Australian Post Office for 1973-74 disclosed that the profit for 1972-73 was $42m and the profit for 1973-74 is estimated at $50m. However, a savage increase in cost to a section of the community is being proposed in both postage and telephone charges. Capital investment proposed for 1973-74 is no less than $554m, an increase of $74m on the appropriation in the previous year. We do not dispute the need for this increase. But within these broad figures is to be found the new style of management of the Australian Post Office under a Labor Administration. Expenditure is to rise sharply not just in the direct progression of the services provided by the Australian Post Office but in the main in the cost of operation of the services.
Expenses for postal services have risen by $22m while income is to rise by an equivalent sum of $22m. Yet, the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has told the Parliament that the Government proposes to terminate concessions in the postal field worth $ 10.5m and concessions in the telecommunications field worth $36m. Of course, extra revenue will be raised in the general field by the increase in the provision of services required by the people and the increased volumes that flow in each of the fields. However, the earnings from telecommunications will rise by $91m. The expenditure side of telecommunications is rising by an equivalent sum of $91m. We are conscious that there is a traffic increase and that telecommunications is a very good business for the Post Office if service is provided. In the past service has been provided. In the past the Post Office has done a tremendous job in this field, but what we are really seeing is an escalation of costs which is quite staggering and which spells out an impossible position for the future maintenance of an adequate service to the public by the Australian Post Office. These cost increases will virtually put the business operation of the Post Office in jeopardy. In fact, they will put the Post Office into a real shambles.
The biggest business in the nation is facing a crisis, the magnitude of which is obviously not realised by the Government. The Post Office faces the same calamity as every other section of the business community now faces, but in the case of the Post Office the rot is setting in earlier and the collapse will come more quickly. The kind of surgery being applied by the Government will not work. A year ago serious industrial trouble confronted the Australian Post Office. The previous Government at least protected the business operations of the service. The previous Government did not give way to trade union demands; it did not surrender the future of the postal and telecommunications services to militant pressure. In December last this all changed. Union demands were met, business needs were thrown overboard and now we see great cost rises, reduced services and a grim prospect for the future.
It is little wonder that the Government has glossed over the fundamental issues of service to the public and efficiency, and of course the real issue which is the cost problems which result from this new style of control of the Post Office. In an endeavour to draw a red herring across the trail and to avoid the real issue, the Postmaster-General and the Gov ernment have made unjustified attacks on the country communities and of course, in particular, on the Country Party. This was very adequately dealt with by the Leader of the Australian Country Party, the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony), earlier in this debate. Not game to deal with the real problems, of course, the country principally, but to some extent the entire community, is being socked.
The amendment which we propose to move in the Committee stage will give the Parliament the opportunity to correct the injustices of these charges in the field of bulk posting of newspapers. I do not want to traverse ground which has been so adequately covered by previous speakers. I believe that the community is shocked and in fact dismayed by what it finds occurring in the area of charges for bulk postings and the directions in which these drastic changes are being made. There is no doubt at all that it is a sectional approach; that it is an approach directed at the country people of this nation. One is able to see very clearly the attitude of the present Government - an attitude which really cannot be sustained in the face of the pressure which is mounting against it.
I just want to say to the honourable members for Riverina (Mr Grassby), Eden Monaro (Mr Whan), Dawson (Dr Patterson) and Macarthur (Mr Kerin) that they should have a very good look at where they stand in relation to their attitudes on this matter and consider what their constituencies will really think when they know the truth. I understand that the honourable member for Riverina has been making public statements in which he has said that the Government has reduced charges for country people in the field of telephone services and the like.
– That is right. I said that. What is wrong with that?
– Of course, he is not being truthful.
– He is.
– The honourable member for Riverina can get up and give his side of the story if he wants to. But he ought to be very careful how he puts the picture across to the people in his electorate. The Post Office Commission of Inquiry, which was set up by the Government, has been bypassed. Of course, this Commission has been very properly referred to in this debate. I do not want to traverse that ground further. However, the Government has defied the normal practice and for the first time in the history of this Federal Parliament a royal commission has been treated with near contempt. The Government has made policy changes after appointing the Royal Commission, setting its terms of reference and giving it a job to do. This is really an unforgivable act. It is little wonder that the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr Lane, in giving evidence before the Commission under oath said, if my memory serves me correctly, that if he were given a free hand he could save $2m in the operation of the Redfern Mail Exchange. Would he make that statement lightly? Would he give this evidence if he did not feel that he was stating the truth and being honest? But what do we find? The Postmaster-General at the same time said that he believed that the Redfern Mail Exchange in Sydney ought to be dismantled.
– So it should.
– The PostmasterGeneral has just said in this House that the Redfern Mail Exchange should be dismantled. Would he replace this complex with a costly, labour intensive operation and shoot up the costs still further rather than take control of that operation and see to it that the union pressure which has prevented it from doing its job is curbed and controlled as it ought to be? The Postmaster-General is not prepared to stand up to this pressure. But what he is prepared to do is to come into this House and attack a section of this community- the country community - and try to put the blame on it. He says that country communities have had concessions which they do not deserve. This, of course, is a complete fabrication and a denial of traditional rights which have been build up in this country for very good reasons. But why do we not hear something about the losses on metropolitan services - losses of the kind to which I have just referred in relation to the Redfern Mail Exchange? Of course we do not hear about them from the present Government or the present Postmaster-General. He does not want to upset his union friends. He does not want to be- honest and tell the country the truth about these matters.
I believe that the public will see through the hollowness of his whole approach towards the alteration of postal and telephone charges. The public is seeking and, of course, will soon be using other means of transportation of its mail. Is it good business, with this kind of inefficiency, to have a big movement away from the Post Office? What will happen then? We will find the Government trying by one means or another - perhaps by altering the law - to prevent private enterprise from moving letters or packages other than through the mail service. The Postmaster-General wants to socialise this country regardless of the cost and sock those onto whom he believes he can throw the burden. This attempt will fail miserably because the public just will not take it. The shabby approach to this matter singling out the country people and of not saying one word about the uneconomic metropolitan services to which I have referred is a great reflection upon a Government which is new to office and a Government which ought to be, as it claims, a new broom doing a decent job. The Government is not being honest in its approach.
What do we find in the field of telecommunications? We find the Parliament having foisted upon it a proposition to introduce a 20c charge on the booking of trunk line calls through a manual exchange where an STD service is available. I want to make one pertinent point in this respect. Think of every motel, hotel and small business around the country to which someone goes to make a telephone call. There is only one effective way in which that can be done. The call has to be booked through a manual operator so that the duration of the call and so on can be recorded and a proper charge imposed upon the person who makes the call. Henceforth every one of those calls will attract an additional 20c charge. What a reflection upon an efficient operation. What will this do to the business through-put of calls of that nature? There will be a falling off straight away. People will not want to be saddled with a 20c charge. What a shock it will be to those people in motels, hotels and the like who provide a switchboard and a person to operate it as a service to the travelling public or to those who are staying overnight. These are the kinds of things we find being foisted upon the public by the Government. It has the hide to come out and make these attacks on what might be described as the ordinary man in the street and to fleece him for its own ends. I could go on and make an assessment of practically every one of the provisions with which the legislation before the
House now deals and find the same hidden extras and the same unfair approaches being made.
There has been reference to the introduction of the metric system and what it will mean in terms of the cost of postage. A very great imposition is unfairly being placed upon the general public without any justification whatsoever for doing so. If the Government had been truthful in this matter that would have been fair enough. We could have then dealt with its proposals in a more direct and effective manner. The Postmaster-General will say, of course, that the previous Government agreed to the metric proposition.
– That is right.
– The PostmasterGeneral is again not being truthful. The previous Government did not determine the rates at that time. No decision was made on the question of rates and he knows it.
– It determined the weights.
– A decision was made merely on what the metric gradations would be. I hope the Postmaster-General will, be honest enough to admit that. The role of the Post Office is to serve the community. It has had this responsibility ever since Federation. The Post Office has grown into an enormous organisation which employs something like 120,000 people. It spends annually an amount to the order of $ 1,200m. It is the biggest business in the nation. Yet we find this kind of approach which is lacking from every point of view. It is lacking from the point of view of seeing to it that a service is provided. It is lacking from the point of view of seeing that there is fair play and that there is good strong management so far as the Government is concerned. I refer to the industrial relations within the operation of the Post Office.
Of course, if we take the whole question of where we go in regard to the Post Office, we find that its future under this kind of government management is dim. We find that the escalation of costs in the space of 36 months would practically price the postal business out of reach of the ordinary person in the street. Certainly, it would put it beyond the means of usage for business purposes. A similar pattern emerging is that which has been described in relation to bulk postage charges on newspapers. This is no scare story to which I refer. This is merely what is spelt out in the facts as we see them presented in these Bills before the House tonight, related to the whole spectrum of Post Office financing. It is a picture which requires an approach by the Government vastly different to that which we are experiencing. It would have been proper for the Government to have agreed to some form of Treasury subvention to keep the present operation going at least until the commission had made a recommendation. Had it done so, the Government would have played fair with the Parliament and with the public. Had it done this is would have brought credit upon itself. But it has failed miserably to make an approach along these lines. I deprecate the action that has been taken. I certainly oppose the charges that are now envisaged. I look forward to supporting the amendment which will be moved in the Committee stage in relation to bulk postage charges.
– Tonight I do not wish to speak at any length in this debate. But I hope that what I do have to say will register with the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) and with honourable members on the Government side of the chamber. In the speeches I have made in the House since the commencement of this session, I have condemned the Government’s Budget as a disastrous one. I have listened to the interjections from Government members more or less intimating that I did not know what I was talking about, and was foolish to say that the first Budget introduced by this Labor Government was a disastrous one. Unfortunately for the Government, in this debate I inform it that the first casualty of its shocking increase in postal charges will take effect as from 1 October.
There has been lots of sniping from this side of the chamber at the Postmaster-General regarding the charges he has imposed, or that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) has imposed on his behalf, and he has shrugged them off as perhaps being of no account. But I wonder whether the Postmaster-General actually realises the damage he has done to country areas by the proposed increases in charges. When I say: ‘Increase in charges’, I mean the overall increase in charges. I am not dealing with one particular charge. I know this matter has been pursued by my colleagues in the Australian Country Party and I have heard a reaction by members of the Government more or less intimating that what we were saying was not correct. But I would like to tell the Postmaster-General of his first casualty, and I hope he and the Government and honourable members who sit on the Government benches are proud of themselves over this.
In the city of Innisfail in North Queensland a daily paper named the ‘Evening Advocate’ is produced and has a steady circulation of 16,000 subscribers. The ‘Evening Advocate’ has been in business for many years and is consistent in its presentation of news value and advertising - so much so that, as I have said, it has had a steady subscription over the years of 16,000, because the population is static and there is very little development in the area. In making the statement that the Postmaster-General made after the introduction of the Federal Budget, I wonder whether he knew what he was doing to newspapers that faithfully serve a district as the ‘Evening Advocate’ has done in the Innisfail district of North Queensland. This newspaper is printed 5 afternoons a week. Because of the increase in charges that the PostmasterGeneral has indicated this small daily newspaper, which does such a wonderful job, faces the prospect of suspending publication. It will be forced to do so on the 28th of this month if this legislation goes through. This decision was forced upon the paper by the increase in postal and telecommunication charges that will operate from 1 October next and which makes the operation of this daily newspaper financially impracticable^ The PostmasterGeneral said that concession charges to Press, broadcasting and television organisations in respect of telegrams, telephones and telex calls and the lease of private telephone lines would be discontinued from 1 October, but I wonder whether he really knew what he was doing to districts such as the Innisfail district.
This small daily newspaper which serves a useful purpose will be out of business because, if it continued to present its daily publication of existing overseas cables and interstate and intrastate news services, it would mean an increase of 1200 per cent in its annual charges for news telegrams. The editor investigated the possibility of limiting its expenditure upon telegrams, to present its daily intake of telegraphic news, to 100 words daily in order to keep in production, but this could mean about 16 lines of type, which is completely ridiculous. The proposed rise in newspaper postages established another increase cost for a newspaper whose income is more or less static in a community in which no marked new development is proceeding, but in which this paper is still very welcome.
The ‘Evening Advocate’ operates in circumstances which are rather unique in the Australian newspaper world. There is no other town in the Commonwealth of similar size to Innisfail which has a daily newspaper. The city of Innisfail is situated geographically, to put the House in the picture, between Townsville, which prints the Townsville ‘Daily Bulletin’ which is one of Australia’s best equipped and outstanding provincial newspapers, as honourable members know, and Cairns, where the ‘Cairns Post’, which is a subsidiary of Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd is published. All daily newspapers in Queensland are published in the morning, with the exception of the Innisfail paper, which provides an evening service to its district population over many areas. One of the reasons why it has been able to survive is that it meets the intensive competition of the big morning newspapers with an afternoon publication and has maintained supremacy as a local advertising medium. Furthermore, the ‘Evening Advocate’ enjoys a popularity in the district which is proved by the fact that 3 successive rises in the price per copy to its readers have not reduced sales in any way. Apart from this advertising patronage, sales have been maintained despite the necessity to impose higher charges in this regard.
Papers such as the ‘Evening Advocate’ are of great importance to a district, regardless of the feelings of the Postmaster-General, his departmental advisers or members of the Government. Because of the present Government’s actions in regard to increased postal charges, this important little daily is to be buried. I would say that the Government would shed no tears about this, shrug its shoulders and more or less say that that is too bad that this is part and parcel of the deal. Apart from the fact that this paper has been operating and serving the needs of the community for so long, the staff will have to find other jobs and the district will be left without a medium voice. This newspaper, which the people of Innisfail have been proud of and which the owners and editor have been proud to use as a medium to serve the local community, will be buried on 28 September because of this Government’s ruthless actions. I hope that the Postmaster-General and members of the Government are proud of themselves and I hope that they sleep on 28 September knowing that when this daily paper, which has fulfilled such a need for a district over a long period, is buried 16,000 subscribers in a district will hate the Government’s guts for it.
– The ruthless manner by which this Government is determined to reduce the rural community of Australia to second class citizenship is demonstrated by the measures taken under these 3 Bills dealing with post and telegraph charges. It has been eloquently pointed out by previous speakers from this side of the House the practical reasons why this will be a great disservice to the rural people and should be opposed with all the vigour that we can muster. The Government’s vindictive treatment of the rural people knows no bounds and in an endeavour to reduce the rural people to second class citizenship it is quite prepared to damage people who are politically close to it. We are concerned about not only country newspapers but also a host of other publications that had, quite rightly because of distances and place of publication, received postal concessions. These publications contribute to a valuable public service in the disseminating of news, opinion and information of a technical, scientific, educational, religious or other equally worthwhile purpose in a way that cannot be matched by any other means. The practice in most Western countries is for mail of this type to be distributed cheaply in the public interest.
It is well known throughout the length and breadth of the land that the Liberal Party is interested in and represents all sections of the community. I believe that the position of the rural community has been well canvassed and explained by the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony), the Liberal members for Moreton (Mr Killen), Angas (Mr Giles) and Herbert (Mr Bonnett) and the Country Party member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson). Being interested, as I have said, in all sections of the community, I would like to speak for and on behalf of the unions of Australia. In particular, I would like to speak on behalf of the Australian Workers Union since no one from the other side of the House has risen to defend its position; and speaking on its behalf, I speak also on behalf of all organisations like it I would like to quote extensively from the editorial published in the ‘Australian Worker’ of Wednesday, 29 August, because of the deep concern which this union has shown over these measures. The editorial is headed ‘We Believe’ and states:
In one fell swoop the Federal Treasurer cleared the decks, as he put it, to initiate Labor’s great welfare program and at the same time he put the kiss of death on every Union journal in Australia.
There is no Union in this country which can afford the absolutely intolerable postal charges amounting to at least a SOO per cent increase over the next three years that were announced in the Federal Budget.
The Treasurer, and the Cabinet, made a mockery of the ongoing Post Office Inquiry. The Inquiry was begun by Labor to find ways to improve the postal service. But did Cabinet, which is said to frame the Budget collectively, wait to hear the results of ils own Inquiry? It did not
Instead, the Treasurer waded-in and slapped down the users of the ‘B’ category postal service by announcing the phasing out of the concession rates. That means that within the next three years this newspaper, for instance, must pay the full going postal rate, and on present size it would cost around IS cents a copy to post- about $234,000 a year, for postage alone.
The Government’s decision is nothing less than a stab in the back to the Trade Union Movement which spawned at least some of those in Canberra who helped to make this decision. By destroying the Trade Union Press - and that is what the removal of this postal concession means - the Labor Party has lost one of its most loyal partners and the only real avenue the Party had to get unslanted political news to its supporters.
If those who have set out to destroy the Trade Union Press think for one minute that the general media will tell the story as it truly is, simply because Labor is presently the Government, then they ate stupidly naive.
– Do you share that view?
– I am giving the Australian workers the opportunity to be heard in this debate in this Parliament This report continues:
As important as that aspect of this monumental blunder is, the real damage will be to the ordinary worker. He, or she, must depend upon their Union publications to be informed on their Award conditions and proper rates of pay, as well as myriad of other industrial matters.
This Union has contended at the Post Office Inquiry that there should be no feelings of alarm over the postal service suffering a financial loss as shown in the balance sheet The fact is that most of the losses shown by the postal service are directly attributable to paper debts and interest payments to the Treasury. In other words interest paid by one Government facility to another on major capital works done for Big Business.
The article went on to state:
We warned at the Post Office Inquiry that if any further postal charge imposts were visited upon the Trade Union Press it would finish off those that have not already ceased publication as a result of the 125 per cent increases already loaded onto us by the Coalition Governments. Labor should think twice before putting this measure into effect.
I bring this quite seriously to the notice of the House because of the effect that this decision is having on the union publications and on all the other publications that I mentioned earlier. I hope that the Government will take notice of this powerful union and the last sentence in that article:
Labor should think twice before putting this measure into effect.
There may be a threat in that sentence for the Government and it might soon be realised if this legislation is put into operation.
– That the people of Australia were misled during the last election campaign and the period preceding it oan be easily demonstrated by this piece of legislation. It is typical of the whole anticountry people approach taken by the Government. The Labor Government has taken the opportunity to vent its spleen on all people living outside Melbourne and Sydney. When in office we lived through the pretence of great concern being expressed for people in country towns and country areas by one or two of the rural rump of the Labor Party - and pretence it proved to be. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) and the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) were the greatest pretenders of all great pretenders - no more, no less. This Budget is full of attacks on people outside the big metropolitan cities. I do not know where the Minister for Immigration was during the Budget discussions - he must have been representing the electorate of Riverina by hiding behind the door somewhere. It must have been the only time in his life that he could not find his tongue. That he has accepted these Budget impositions on country people so easily must disturb the people he represents. <This measure more than any other reflects the disturbing approach taken by the Labor Government to the dissemination of news throughout Australia. This measure will increase savagely the bulk postage rates affecting all newspapers. The postage charge for a 3 oz newspaper in category A or category B, a typical country newspaper, will be increased from 1.75c to 11c by 1 October 1976. The Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) has displayed in the House a certain amount of joy that country newspapers are to be affected so heavily. The fact is that the increased charges will be a direct impost on people who live in areas where posting is necessary. They will carry the load of these exorbitant charges. The newspapers will be affected seriously by cancellation of the subscription by the reader because of high postage rates. The PostmasterGeneral’s blatant attack on country people by means of postage on newspapers will mean that the postage will cost more than the newspaper itself. This will cause some newspapers to close down. I know that the Labor Government will get joy from that. One of the great aims of a socialist government is to control the media, and if a whole host of small newspapers are forced to close that job is made much easier. Country newspapers are entirely fair in their political reporting and are completely politically independent.
– That means they support you, does it?
– I hear cracks from honourable members opposite. I wonder what the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) or the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) or the honourable member for Eden Monaro (Mr Whan) think of a statement of that nature. Why do they not get out in their electorates and defend this legislation? Are they so lacking in stomach or support , for their electorates? Where are these silent people from the Labor Party? Where is the rural rump? What has happened to it? The people who comprise the rural rump have taken a beating in caucus and they are prepared to take a beating in the House. The Postmaster-General demonstrated in this House that there was no doubt that this move was made for purely political reasons. In answering questions he has shown more concern about the politics of the situation than the economics. The extraordinary fact is that in the same Budget the Government proposes to spend more than $1.5m to bolster the Government Publishing Service. This will become no more than a propaganda factory putting out material to suit the Labor socialists. They will vote unanimously to use the taxpayers’ money for their own selfish purposes. But now they want to abolish every incentive for people to stay in country towns. They want to destroy every prospect of developing the nation as a whole. They want to increase the inequities which face people living outside Melbourne and Sydney. They do not want a national goal of parity for those living in
Melbourne and Sydney with those living in towns and cities outside Melbourne and Sydney.
The Labor Party pretends to be a Party interested in decentralisation. The very thrust of this measure demonstrates how shallow that interest is. The local newspaper is a decentralised industry in itself and there is no greater vehicle for the promotion of an area than the local newspaper. That an action to destroy both a decentralised industry and the voice of the local people is being taken by the Labor Government demonstrates its insincerity and shows the Government in its true light. I wonder what people in country towns would say if they were told that when a newspaper fails it will be replaced by governmentrun media. Such a proposition is not beyond the bounds of possibility. As I said a moment ago, the Government has already started procedures for the publication of the Government’s story. A similar proposal* in Germany led to Goebbel’s full control of information prior to the war. If my memory serves me correctly, the last Labor government saw merit in government control of information.
Country newspapers play a unique role in communications in country towns. They are vital pieces of machinery for the dissemination of local news, markets, sport and social happenings. They are the only medium that can be interested in or available for the carrying of advertisements for the local chemists or shops or garages and the prices obtaining for fats and stores at the market on Monday. They are a vehicle for appeals by local charities, for accounts of shire council debates and for advertising of meeting dates for local organisations. Even the local Labor Party branches advertise in country newspapers. At least that is the case on rare occasions the local branch holds meetings in the Gippsland electorate, which occurs about 3 weeks before an election campaign. Apart from that it is flat out getting a branch meeting together. At the time of an election the odd senator might attend a meeting.
The local newspaper can tell the community what is happening in the way of romance and births and deaths. It can tell of the clash on the football field and whether the fish are biting. The local newspaper does not compete with the metropolitan dailies but if both arrive at a house at the same time, in most cases it will be the local newspaper which is reached for first. The local newspaper binds a town together, gives it a sense of cohesion, and gives the people a sense of belonging in a community. It cannot be replaced. Any government which is interested in decentralisation, national development or the people would set out to encourage local newspapers. One would have thought that a Labor government, of all, seeing that it has expressed concern about the media being in the hands of a few people, would have set out to encourage competition in the newspaper world. The fact that it is not doing so causes me to be concerned about the motives of the Labor Government in setting up its Government Publishing Service.
This Bill affects almost everyone. It affects every householder in Australia because it relates to the cost of postage. Whereas previously, as was pointed out so ably tonight by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), a 28 gram letter cost 7c, from now on it will cost 15c for everything in excess of 20 grams. This is nothing short of a confidence trick because as the Government converts to metrics it picks up a handsome profit on the way past. The sad thing about that is that although the Government has been appealing to the community at large not to increase charges while converting to metrics, the Government has set a very bad example itself by making profits in excess of 100 per cent on metrics alone.
Similarly, the Treasurer (Mr Crean) in his Budget Speech misled the nation by claiming that there was no change in postage rates when in point of fact the changes are immense. At the present time a parcel of 906 grams can be sent a distance of 50 kilometres for 35c. After this Bill is passed the postage on that parcel will be 45c, or an increase of 29 per cent. Beyond 50 kilometres the cost will increase from 45c to 60c, or an increase of 33 per cent So the sad story goes on. Postage on books coming into the country will be the same, but postage on books printed in Australia will increase from 31c for 750 grams to 85c between Melbourne and Adelaide.
But it is in the registered publications section, which affects newspapers and periodicals, that the biggest slug will come because the abolition of the various categories over 3 years will seriously affect all publications from charitable, welfare and religious organisations as well as from scientific, educational and technical organisations. Postage rates in this category will increase by 400 per cent by 1 October 1976. Category B relates to metropolitan newspapers, trade and employer organisations, professional and academic organisations and social, recreational, motoring and other commercial publications. In that category there will be an increase of 150 per cent for a 6 oz publication. Category C publications, for which the postage has been high enough, will suffer a further increase of up to 20 per cent by 1 March 1974.
It is completely objectionable that the Post Office should make a profit out of metrication, and it is of no use to say that the previous Postmaster-General had the same thing in mind. Such a proposition had never been before the previous Government and therefore it had neither been discussed .nor agreed to. The Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) alluded to this in the House and tried to pretend-
– That is not so.
– The Postmaster-General can find the Hansard and correct me in his reply.
– I will give you Sir Alan Hulme’s minute. Read it yourself.
– It is not the minute that I am concerned about; I am concerned about the facts.
– Order! The Postmaster-General will please stop the debate across the table.
– The Postmaster-General has shown again how callous this Government is. It produces all sorts of correspondence and files out of the previous Government’s records and tries to make a case out of them. What I am saying - and it was supported by the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) who was the Assistant Minister assisting the Postmaster-General - is: It might well have been a study in the Department; the former Postmaster-General may have been giving consideration to it. But so far as I aware, it never came before -
Mir Lionel Bowen - It was a Press release of 16 June last year.
– This is in terms of the weights, not the rates. What about the rates?
– Naturally the weights -
-Order! The House will come to order. There is constant interjection and barrage across the table. I invite the honourable member for Gippsland to address the Chair and I ask the PostmasterGeneral to make his reply at a later stage of the debate.
– I agree entirely with your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point I am making is that a decision may well have been made by the Postmaster-General - and this was pointed out by the honourable member for Cowper - that metrication would be introduced and an agreement reached on the weights. But the point in debate here is the rates. The point I am making is indisputable. From now on one will pay 15c for a 28 gram letter. There was never any Cabinet decision approving this as far as I am aware. This again is supported by the honourable member for Cowper. It is of no good making up fairy stories, which is exactly what the Minister is doing.
It is quite objectionable that the Post Office should make a profit out of metrication. Such a proposal was never before the previous Government and therefore had never been discussed or agreed to. But what is worse is that the Government has instituted an inquiry into the Post Office. This commission of inquiry has been taking evidence from all sorts of interested people throughout the county but the findings have been aborted by the predilection of the Coombs committee, and the extravaganzas of the Labor Government are an insult to the work of the commission. I join with the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) in this. I hope that Sir James Vernon and his commission will ignore the impertinence and rudeness of the Government in acting in this way before the hearing has been completed. Suffice it to say that evidence given, I think, by Post Office officials to the commission of inquiry pointed out that subsidisation of some postal charges is necessary and that the removal of subsidisation will not answer the financial problems of the Post Office. The Post Office should provide a service to the people of Australia as a whole. It should be used as an instrument of national development and not as an economic instrument. I support the amendment that is to be moved by the Leader of the Country Party at the Committee stage.
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
The First Schedule to the Principal Act is repealed and the following Schedule substituted: -
Part II - Air Mail Rates
Articles posted by air mail - the rate ascertained in accordance with the following table: -
Part III - Priority Paid Mail Rates
Articles posted by priority paid mail - the rate ascertained in accordance with the following table: -
Part IV - Bulk Postage Rates
– I wish to move an amendment to clause 5 of the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1973. I move:
Omit the clause, substitute the following clause:
Sections 6, 6a and 6b
Part I-ordinary Rates 1. Letters, lettercards and postcards- the rate ascertained in accordance with the following table: -
Category A publications and Category B publications, where the articles are posted -
Seven cents for each twelve ounces or part of twelve ounces of the aggregate weight of the articles, whichever is the greater, but, where the amount so calculated includes a fraction of a cent, the amount to be paid is the next higher amount that does not incude a fraction of a cent;
One-half of a cent for each additional ounce or part of an ounce, but, where the amount so calculated in respect of the articles posted by any one person at any one time includes a fraction of a cent, the amount to be paid is the next higher amount that does not include a fraction of a cent; and
Category C publications, where the articles are posted by the proprietors, printers or publishers of the publications or by a newsvendor or agent, subject to such conditions, if any, not being conditions that are inconsistent with the regulations, as are determined by the Postmaster-General, relating to -
Part II- AIR Mail Rates
Articles posted by air mail - the rate ascertained in accordance with the following table: -
Part III- Priority Paid Mail Rates
Articles posted by priority paid mail - the rate ascertained in accordance with the following table: -
Part IV- Bulk Postage Rates
Part V - Minimum Agreed Bulk Postage Rates
The amendment seeks to reinstate the old postage rates for periodicals, newspapers and books. In my contribution to the debate on the motion for the second reading of the Bill I announced that the new charges which would be imposed as a result of newspapers moving from category A to category B and of category B items moving to category C in 1975 would place an enormous burden on newspapers and periodicals in country areas. This amendment, which seeks to reinstate the rates which were formerly in existence, will give people an opportunity to see more clearly just how vicious an attack is being made upon the operations of the media throughout this country and upon the circulation of information and news to people throughout the community, especially those who live in country areas. Unless a reasonable increase is imposed many small newspapers in country areas will virtually go out of existence because the subscribers to those newspapers will not be able to afford to pay the postage rate which in many cases will be in excess of the actual value of the newspapers.
The periodicals which many cultural and technical institutions and community organisations circulate are all that holds those institutions and organisations together. I am afraid that they will be forced out of existence because of the imposition of these very
high rates. I am not saying that there should not be any increase in the rates charged. I think there have to be increases periodically in order to keep abreast of changing circumstances and conditions. But I do not think anybody could for one minute say that an increase over a 3-year period of more than 500 per cent is fair and reasonable. It is obvious, even from the comments of the PostmasterGeneral himself, that this is a deliberate attack on a section of the media. It is actually throttling the survival of many of these little institutions which need to have an independent voice to be able to express their opinions, to help educate people or to expose the operations of this Government. I have never seen a debate in this chamber which so vitally affected so many people and yet we did not have one speaker from the Government side. Not one.
– Order! If honourable gentlemen wish to continue to interrupt they will only be wasting the time of the honourable member who is trying to address the Chair. That is something that should not be tolerated and I ask them to be quiet.
– It is a sad sight when supporters of the Government, particularly those coming from rural areas do not have the intestinal fortitude to be able to rise and say their piece on behalf of these organisations to which I have referred. I look around the chamber and I see the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard), the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton), the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen), the honourable member for Patterson (Mr O’Keefe), the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) all prepared to sit back and be lackeys to their own party philosophies. They seem to want to see that independent expression in their areas is suppressed completely. I hear an honourable member ask: ‘Who owns the newspapers?’ I think that they are owned by a multitude of people throughout country areas. The insinuation that those people are supporters of the Country Party and that that is the reason why the Government has throttled the newspapers and put them out of business is a real indictment upon the Government and the Labor Party. That is exactly what the PostmasterGeneral has said.
I hear the Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones) trying to interject. It is interesting to hear him say that we are squaling because our form of media will be put out of business. This is yet another indication that this is quite deliberate. It is an arbitrary decision which is discretionary and aimed against a section of the media and against country people. It is quite clear that this Government does not care one iota about country people and is wanting to reduce free expression in the country as much as possible.
Until the Government can come forward with some reasonable proposal for increasing charges in these areas, the present proposals will be opposed by the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament. This Bill represents a vicious, arbitrary attack on a section of the media and a section of the community. It is for these reasons that I have moved this amendment to clause 5 of the Bill reinstating the present rates. I ask that the Government reconsider its attitude and be a little more reasonable and humane in the interest’s of people who are Australians, just like any other members of the community, and who have the right of access to educational, technical or cultural facilities and newspapers in order that they can be as well informed as other people and will not have to rely entirely upon the mass media of the Australian Broadcasting Commission for their information.
– The amendment moved by the Opposition is not acceptable to the Government. The position has been outlined in my previous statement to the Committee. I am rather interested to make this point: The debate tonight has been limited mainly to the registered publications. It is acknowledged that they have a political interest in them and it is often thought that they have a financial interest in them also because-
– To whom is the Minister talking?
-I am talking about the Country Party. Does the honourable member want to deny that? From the point of view of what my predecessor had to do, the position is clear. All that honourable members opposite are asking tonight is that everybody in Australia who posts a letter at 7c be made to pay 8c to subsidise registered publications. That is the Opposition’s argument. That is the position. While, under the previous government, the Post Office was losing $20m on postal services, the biggest loss was on registered publications. If honourable members opposite are interested in the facts, they should look at what my predecessor, who was an honourable man, a member of the Liberal Party, put to the Cabinet in the 1972 submission.
– It was knocked back.
– Of course, because you controlled Cabinet. You are the rump of the situation. In 1972 he said:
When Cabinet considered Post Office finances in 1970 and 1971, I recommended that the difference between the concessional postage rates for category A’ and ‘B’ registered newspapers and periodicals and normal printed matter rate be reimbursed to the Post Office. The concession currently reduces revenue by Slim a year.
That was a loss of $1 lm. He also said:
While there have been some indications of agreement with the principle of compensating for a concession given … no decision has been taken.
This was a submission to the Cabinet. No decision was made in 3 years. He also said:
The Treasurer has undertaken to review subsidies involved in the operations of all Commonwealth business undertakings, but the present position is that, after 12 months, the matter appeared to be no closer to the solution.
As a responsible Minister, must he not do that? The Post Office was losing Slim a year. Even now, with the reduction in the concession, the loss to the Post Office this year on these matters will be $9m. All we are doing is reducing the loss. I heard the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) talk about the Australian Workers Union’s journal. Of course there is a little dissension there. Somebody suggested that we were playing Party politics, but the honourable member for Forrest was quite correct when he said that we were dealing with the AWU’s journal as well. So, there was no Party politics in this issue. The AWU’s journal is up for an additional 65c per year.
I have with me a copy of a small Adelaide paper. It is within the 50grams. It is 12 pages. It could well go to 20 pages. It protests about the increased charges. The additional cost, because it is a weekly paper, is 1.5c. Yet the Opposition wants to ask every person to pay another lc to post a letter. Its plan is to increase the postage rate from 7c to 8c. It could not give a damn about the public. It is interested only in the professional publications which support it. We are still subsidising them.
The former Assistant Minister assisting the Postmaster-General, the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson), talked about what the previous Government did. Is it not a tragedy to think that when the previous Government was running the Post Office all that it did was put in a mangier at Redfern? The cost of running the mangier at Redfern is $22m a year; that is all right. Our proposition is to decentralise mail sorting, to put the mail where it can be sorted and not put it into a machine which cannot deal with it effectively. The cost of that machine was $4m. The maintenance cost last year was $2m. The former Assistant Minister wants to praise that.
– He ought to be ashamed of himself. That is the position. The only impressive part about the debate tonight-
– Order! The Minister will not address the Committee while I am addressing the Committee.
– I apologise.
– I would ask honourable members to remain quiet.
– Why do you not name them?
– I will name the honourable member if he interjects while I am addressing the Committee.
– One other matter was raised by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles).
– I take a point of order. The paper which the Minister was waving around was, I think, the ‘Angas Leader’. On its behalf I object to his saying that it is politically biased.
– Order! The honourable gentleman is making a speech; he is not taking a point of order. If he does it again, I will deal with him.
– I said that the extra cost was 1.5c a week. The honourable member for Angas raised the question about what happens to supplements. This requires an amendment to the regulations. It was not done by my predecessor. Admittedly, he may not have had time. Let us be clear about it. While he may have written a letter to the honourable member for Angas, he did not do anything about the regulations. It is for that reason that the supplements do not qualify. I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
– I should like to make one or two points on this matter. I ignore totally the fact that in the debate tonight the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) appeared to read from a previous Cabinet submission. If it is not a Cabinet submission, I would like to know from what source he was reading.
Motion (by Mr Keating) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr G. G. D. Scholes)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the clause proposed to be omitted (Mr Anthony’s amendment) stand part of the Bill.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr G. G. D. Scholes)
Majority . . 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole.
– I want to draw attention to something that has occurred in this debate, and it is very important insofar as the remainder of the Bill is concerned.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Chairman. The remainder of the Bill deals only with Schedules which relates to rates, and they have not been the subject of any amendment or discussion. There is no point in delaying the Committee. The honourable member wants to raise another matter.
– Order! There is no point of order. I do not think the honourable member has reached the stage where he is discussing anything. The remainder of the Bill also deals with the title of the Bill.
- Mr Chairman, I think the Postmaster-General is overreaching himself somewhat in his anxiety to get this Bill through. I can understand his anxiety because when the country members sitting behind him wake up tomorrow and read the newspapers
Motion (by Mr Hansen) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (Chairman - Mr G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the remainder of the Bill be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– Order! The question is “That the House do now adjourn’.
1- Mr Speaker-
– Mr Speaker, I require the question to be put forthwith.
– The question is “That the House do now adjourn’. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’; to the contrary ‘no’. I think the noes’ have it.
– I have risen on 3 occasions to speak—-
– The ‘noes’ have it.
– Order! The question now is ‘That I report the Bill without amendment’. Those of that opinion say ‘aye’; to the contrary ‘no’. The ‘ayes’ have it.
Bill reported without amendment.
Adoption of Report
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) proposed:
That the report of the Committee be adopted.
- Mr Speaker, first of all I seek clarification as to what—
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) put:
That the question be now put.
That the Bill be reported.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr G. G. D. Scholes)
Majority . . 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– The question is:
That the report be adopted,
Those of that opinion say aye, and to the contrary, no. I think the ayes have it.
Question resolved in the affirmative; report adopted.
Suspension of Standing Orders
– I move:
That so much of the Standing Orders by suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Gippsland from speaking forthwith on the motion that die report be adopted.
– Order! I had put the question that the report be adopted, and it was carried. There was no request for a division. I said: ‘I think the ayes have it’. The honourable member is now moving the suspension of Standing Orders.
– I am sorry to delay the House in this way, but tonight we have been treated with complete contempt by the Government. Earlier in the debate the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) read from a document which I suspect to be a Cabinet document. I would like to know from him whether it is a Cabinet document.
– It is not a Cabinet document. You know that. I told you that.
– Mr Speaker-
– I rise on a point of order. I ask that that allegation be withdrawn. The honourable member for Gippsland has just made an accusation that I knew that I was reading from a Cabinet document. I had told him that it was not a Cabinet document. It was a copy of a submission made.
-I think the correct procedure for the Minister to adopt would be to seek leave to make a personal explanation when the honourable member for Gippsland has finished his speech.
– We now have the extraordinary admission by the Minister that it is a copy of a submission. As he has quoted from this copy of a submission I ask that the document be tabled forthwith.
-The honourable gentleman is now debating the question. He must put the case for the suspension of Standing Orders. I ask the honourable gentleman to keep to the specific question of whether Standing Orders should be suspended.
– Standing Orders should be suspended because of that reason. We have this extraordinary admission by the Minister that he has read from a copy of a submission. He has taken part of it off. So I ask, because it has been quoted from, that as a courtesy of the Parliament, it be tabled. I think that Standing Orders state that it should be tabled. Therefore I ask the Minister to table the document.
– You are talking about the suspension of Standing Orders.
– I am talking about the suspension of Standing Orders.
-The honourable gentleman has moved the suspension of Standing Orders. Therefore I suggest that he direct himself to that motion. The matter he is now mentioning is not debatable. He is asking the House to suspend Standing Orders. He must give reasons why Standing Orders should be suspended.
– That is one reason. The Minister was quoting from a document which he claims is a copy of a submission. It is quite obvious that the matter ought to be debated by the Parliament as a whole. There should be an opportunity for all members to speak.
– You were in Cabinet at the time.
– Now the Minister says that I was in Cabinet at the time. So it must be a Cabinet submission. But we cannot debate the question.
– The request for the tabling of the document should be made immediately the document is read and not left to a later stage, but that has nothing to do with the question. You should be giving reasons why the motion to suspend Standing Orders should be carried.
– I believe that the motion to suspend Standing Orders should be carried because the Minister has been quoting from Cabinet submissions. The Parliament should debate that. According to May’s ‘Parliamentary Practice’, only somebody who was persona non grata would stoop to such a trick.
-It has always been the practice of the House that if a member seeks the tabling of a document it must be done immediately after the document has been read by a Minister. I was not in the chair at the time of this incident but I am informed that this was not done. The honourable member for Gippsland must confine himself to the reasons why Standing Orders should be suspended. That has nothing to do with the tabling of the document.
– I rise to a point of order. I draw attention to standing order 321 which states:
A document relating to public affairs quoted from by a Minister . . . , unless stated to be of a confidential nature or such as should more properly be obtained by address, shall, if required by any Member, be laid on the Table.
-Order! Nobody is actually quarrelling with standing order 321. I am concerned with the appropriate time at which to seek the tabling of a document. For example, a point of order must be taken immediately after a remark is made and not later. Ever since I have been a member of this House and ever since the longest serving member has been a member, it has always been the practice that it must be done immediately after the incident takes place.
– That is not correct.
-Order! I tell the honourable member for Warringah that I prefer the advice of my Clerk as to what is right and what is wrong in this matter to the advice of the honourable member. If the honourable member has any objection to make, he can always take the appropriate action of moving against my ruling.
– I did not say a word.
– I said that.
– One honourable member in that area said it. I tell the honourable member for Boothby that had his father been in the chair he would have known the procedure.
– Mr Speaker, you have ruled that the Postmaster-General does not have to table the document. I will let the matter pass. If the Minister was a scholar and a gentleman
– Order! If the honourable member continues to ignore my request to direct his remarks to why Standing Orders should be suspended I will have to ask him to resume his seat.
– With due respect, I have had great difficulty making my point because of all the interruptions coming from ratbags in certain areas, not looking at anybody in particular - much. During the course of tonight’s debate certain allegations were made about costs of newspapers and one newspaper was waved as an example of this. The Minister said it would increase in cost by 1.75c; it was a paper from the area represented by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles). The point that is to be brought out in this motion for the suspension of Standing Orders is that in 1976 the cost of that newspaper will be 1 lc, as I understand it.
– You did not raise that in the debate.
– I did not get an opportunity to raise it.
– That was in reply to the Postmaster-General.
– You spoke for 20 minutes.
-Order! I call the Leader of the Country Party and the Minister to order. The member for Gippsland is again debating postal rates. The question before the chair is whether Standing Orders should be suspended and I am asking the honourable member to make his contribution to it.
– Standing Orders should be suspended because the member for EdenMonaro (Mr Whan), the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), the member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen), and Government members for a couple of other rural electorates have not been given an opportunity to speak in this debate. This is the case also with the members for Maranoa (Mr Corbett), New England (Mr Sinclair), Moore (Mr Maisey) the Northern Territory (Mr Calder), Gwydir (Mr Hunt), Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), Canning (Mr Hallett), Paterson (Mr O’Keefe), McMillan (Mr Hewson), Wimmera (Mr King) and Kooyong (Mr Peacock). None of them has had an opportunity to speak on this matter. There is a great deal more information that these members-
– I rise to a point of order. The member for Gippsland is openly flouting your ruling, Mr Speaker. Your Speakership is at issue. You should sit him down. You have warned him 5 times.
-The honourable member for Gippsland will confine his remarks to his reasons in support of the motion that standing orders be suspended.
– I think it is true to say that the honourable members I named have not been able to contribute to this debate because the debate was gagged. Therefore I seek to reopen the debate so that the honourable members I named will be given a proper opportunity to debate the subject. I know full well that the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) and the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies), and a few other honourable members from rural areas, would like to tell the Postmaster-General what they think of him but they are not game. At this stage they should be given an opportunity in this Parliament to speak on the matter. The honourable member for Boothby also is very concerned about this matter and should be given proper opportunity to debate it. To think that we have gone through a debate of this nature without Labor members having the courage to get on their feet and do something about it-
– I take a point of order. The honourable member for Gippsland is reflecting on decisions of this House, and that is contrary to the Standing Orders. He is stating that the decisions of the House, taken in a number of divisions on motions that the question be put, were improper decisions. I suggest that the honourable member for Gippsland is out of order.
-Order! I call the honourable member for Gippsland.
– The time allowed for my remarks relating to my motion for the suspension of Standing Orders-
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. The motion before the Chair seeks to suspend so much of the Standing Orders as would enable the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) to speak on the motion for the third reading of this Bill. The reason he wants to speak is that he was gagged in the Committee stage. He had no chance to reply to the comments of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen), who refused to answer the charges and allegations made during the course of the second reading debate which was very limited. Many honourable members feel extremely strongly about this issue and they were deprived of the opportunity to speak. What did the PostmasterGeneral do? He got up and took advantage of the Committee stage to answer some of those charges. In the course of doing so he committed a major breach of parliamentary and Cabinet principle by quoting from a submission of a previous government.
– Which you knew of and which you were upset about.
– This is the first time I have known a government to do this. I am not concerned about the content of the document. The content does not worry me. For a person so flagrantly to pick up a Cabinet document and then try to duck presenting it by saying that it was not a Cabinet document when in reality it was a copy of a Cabinet submission is the height of arrogance and an abuse of parliamentary privilege.
– Order! I ask the right honourable gentleman to confine his remarks to his reasons in support of the motion that the Standing Orders be suspended.
– Thank you, Mr Speaker; I will heed your ruling. It was necessary to make that point. That is what engendered very strong feeling in my colleague, the honourable member for Gippsland, who no doubt wanted to speak on that matter. He also wanted to speak about the excuse that the Postmaster-General used when he was referring to a newspaper, the cost of which, he said, was going to increase by only 1.75c. Well, that was 100 per cent. This really was deceiving the Parliament and the public about what the true increase would be. It is true that that would be the increase next year and this in itself is a special concession to a trade union but by 1976-
– I take a point of order. The honourable member is debating the issue that was covered in the second reading debate on this Bill. He should confine his remarks to his reasons for suspending the Standing Orders.
-Order! The point is well taken. The Leader of the Country Party must confine his remarks to the motion to suspend Standing Orders.
- Sir, I think this is very relevant to the reason for moving for the suspension of Standing Orders. It is because of this sort of allegation made by the PostmasterGeneral that the honourable member for Gippsland and other honourable members want to speak on the motion for the third reading. I know it is not normal protocol in this Parliament to speak at the third reading stage, but when an issue comes before this Parliament-
– I rise on a point of order. The honourable member for Gippsland has moved that Standing Orders be suspended to enable him to speak on the motion for the third reading. I submit that it is not necessary to suspend Standing Orders. As the motion for the third reading has yet to be moved he will be entitled to speak anyway without having to suspend Standing Orders.
– There is no point of order. A motion to suspend Standing Orders may be moved at any time. I call the Leader of the Country Party.
– I said that the feelings of honourable members on this side of the House were very strong on this issue as a whole because we see in this issue a sinister move to gag free expression by newspapers and periodicals in this country, which of course is part of the philosophy of the socialists who would try to limit the number of organisations which can expose and question the practices in which they are participating. So I believe that my colleague, the honourable member for Gippsland, has every right, as has every honourable member in this House, to speak at the third reading stage. This is an all important issue. When the rate of postage on a trade union newspaper can increase by 528 per cent one would think that members of the Labor Party would be a little concerned, but they are like mutes saying nothing and allowing their own organisations to be persecuted along with country people.
– We do not support the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. Let me put it on the record that I agreed with the Country Party that it should have a number of speakers on this Bill and that consideration of the Bil] would conclude at 10 o’clock. It was agreed that I might have a chance to reply.
– I rise on a point of order. I do not want to get into an area of disputation with the Minister. In point of fact, what happened was that I approached the Minister
– There is no point of order involved.
– Then I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Order! The honourable member will wait until the PostmasterGeneral has finished making his remarks before making a personal explanation.
– The honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) even marked his name on the list saying: ‘As long as I can speak that will satisfy me, otherwise I will tear the place down brick by brick’. That was his attitude. I do not mind that, but we have to uphold the dignity of this Parliament. Those people listening to this debate will see that the Country Party is trying to make out that its members were not allowed to speak. About 8 or 9 speakers took part in the debate, and the Government asked that the Minister be allowed to reply and the Opposition refused. Apparently it wanted to take up all the time. I give credit to the Liberal Party. I think only one of its supporters took part in the debate.
-Order! I presume the Postmaster-General is opposing the suspension of Standing Orders. I ask him to keep to that subject.
-I am opposing the suspension of Standing Orders on the basis that the honourable member for Gippsland had ample time to talk. In fact, he demanded that he be allowed to talk. He was allowed to talk and thus virtually prevented everybody else from doing so. This was the arrangement made. It is making a complete farce of the Parliament to suggest that this debate should continue. The honourable member was given full opportunity to speak during the second reading debate, and that is when all those points were made. This motion is trying to make a joke of the Parliament and trying to prevent this Bill being passed. Accordingly we reject the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders.
Mr NIXON (Gippsland) - Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I claim to have been misrepresented. The Minister knows full well that I did say to him: ‘Look, I would like to speak on this Bill. If you do not let me I will tear the place apart brick by brick’.
-Order! That would be in order provided you did it on the Senate side of the building and not on this side.
– The Minister said at that time that he too wanted to speak on the Bill. I said: ‘I cannot answer for what goes on over there but I certainly want to speak. Be clear about that’. The Acting Leader of the House came to me and wanted to know whether there were any arrangements made. I said no, there were no arrangements made. That is the situation as it was.
– On the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders, as one who has not had a chance to speak—-
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) put:
That the question be now pat.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker- Hon. J. F. Cope)
Majority .. ..17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) agreed to:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
Motion (by Mr LionelBowen) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
MrDONALD CAMERON (Griffith) (11.33) - Thank you, Mr Speaker. I see in the eyes of honourable members an eagerness to depart. So I will hold my remarks until tomorrow night.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.32p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
Pensioner Medical Service: Payments to Doctors (Question No. 735)
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
MrHayden - The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
As indicated by the Treasurer in his Budget Speech it is proposed to remove the taxation age allowance concession and to tax pensions payable to people of age pension age. When these proposals are implemented the tax liability for an age pensioner couple will differ from that shown.
PricesJustification (Question No. 758)
MrLynch asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
How many companies are not subject to the Prices Justification Act by reason of (a) section 5 and (b) exemptions granted by the Tribunal under section 18.
What was the total turnover of all companies specifiedin parts (1) (a) and (1) (b) during 1972-73.
How many companies are not included in parts (1)(a) and (1) (b), and what wasthe total turnover of those companies during 1972-73.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) Section 5 of the Prices Justification Act sets out the basis on which companies come within the provisions of the Act. The number of companies not subject to the Act is not known.
As at 31 August 1973, 480 companies (including subsidiary companies) had been granted such exemptions. Most of these exemptions cover part only of the business of the companies concerned and relate to particular types of sales e.g. competitive tendering, to which the notification provisions cannot readily be applied, or provide a rational basis for dealing with large numbers of items in retail stores. As required by the Act these have been published in Australian Government Gazettes Nos 95, 103, 106, 106d and 106e, 108, 115 and 118 of August 7, 16, 21, 22 (2), 23, 28 and 30.
asked the Minister for Services and Property, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I am advised that the provision and control of parking spaces in the city is constantly under review. The introduction of paid car parking by the Department of the Capital Territory is awaited before any decisions are made about total provisions in parking.
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The necessary information is being compiled. When this is received I will make it available to the honourable member.
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
, (3) and (4) To meet the needs of the citizens of Canberra it is proposed to:
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
Is he now in a position to answer my question
No. 244 regarding the establishment of a Housing Authority; if not, why not.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
No. Several major inquiries are current which have a bearing on any future Housing Authority. I have requested the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory to examine and report on the most appropriate form of self-Government for the Territory, The issue of an independent Housing Authority seems related to the self-Government inquiry. There is also a wide ranging inquiry into systems of land tenure and disposal which may impact on future arrangements for provision of accommodation.
asked the Minister for the Capital Territory, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1), (2) and (3) I have continued the practice of seeking the advice of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council on proposed Ordinances for the Australian Capital Territory which would, if made, be administered by the Minister for the Capital Territory. As a matter of course draft Ordinances are sent to the Advisory Council but there have been several occasions when for reasons of urgency it was necessary to submit proposed Ordinances to the Executive Council without prior consideration by the Advisory Council. As far as practicable the Chairman has been informed of the action being taken and the reasons for the urgency.
The honourable member can be assured that I value the advice of Council administrators.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Different levels of output of the Department require different levels of resources - of men, money and materials. The planning process involves balancing the demand for resources with the likely supply of resources. The Engineering Division participates in this process throughits line management.
The Personnel Branch, in conjunction with the Public Service Board, provides the recruitment function for all Divisions of the Department. Staff levels, including those of the Engineering Division are constrained by a ceiling notified by the Board, and by the Department’s own integrated plans. Within these constraints, a common Staff Estimating Procedure is applied by all Divisions, including the Engineering Division.
The Supply Branch arranges the usual procurement, inventory, warehousing and distribution functions for all the Divisions, although most of its activities relate to engineering materials. The specification of these engineering items is the responsibility of the Engineering Division. The quantities of engineering materials to be purchased are determined by the Engineering Division, except for items comprising a small value of purchases which Engineering has assigned to Supply.
One objective of the Department has been to eliminate potential duplication of functions. Consequently, it is not agreed that there have been ‘double administrative costs’.
On the contrary, it can be argued that there are administrative economies in the present method of provision of the finance, personnel and supply functions through common service units, rather than an alternative system in which there was duplication of these functions in Engineering and non-Engineering Divisions.
In fact it has all the authority it needs to perform its allocated functions. The Department reviews its operations regularly and any economies obtained are passed on to the public in tariffs lower than they might otherwise have been.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 September 1973, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1973/19730917_reps_28_hor85/>.