29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– 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 basic principles of the existing health scheme which functions efficiently and economically.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Drury, Mr McLeay and Mr Wilson.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
We the undersigned citizens of Australia do humbly petition the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia that it might take such steps as may be necessary either to direct the Commonwealth Banking Corporation to preserve and restore The Palace Hotel or itself acquire the said Palace Hotel, St. George’s Terrace, Perth on its present site so as to preserve and restore it in perpetuity.
Further we do humbly petition this honourable Parliament to make such funds as may be necessary available to purchase the entire contents of the said Hotel from the owners thereof.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bennett and Mr Garland.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the Hornsby Legacy War Widows, e.g. the undersigned citizens of Australia, respectfully showeth:
That the deletion of travelling concessions to War Widows is causing hardship to these persons living upon a fixed income and contending with increasing inflation and the constant rise in the cost of living. It is felt that the amount saved by the Government is so paltry in comparison with the sacrifices made by the fighting forces to enable the Widows to maintain their present standard of living that it is considered an insult to their memory and an added burden to these women trying to manage without any cost of living adjustments.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government immediately restore all travelling concessions as heretofore.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. byDr Edwards.
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 undersigned persons believe that some literature and films being published and shown throughout Australia are detrimental to the wellbeing of the community.
Your petitioners thereby humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the publication and availability of pornographic and other material of that natureis restricted and that the people are made aware of the dangers to the community from such literature and films.
And your petitioners, as In duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Garland.
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 Human Rights Bill:
will tend to deprive free Australian citizens of religious liberty and freedom of worship, and parents and guardians of the right to choose the moral and religious education of their children in that:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House not proceed with the Human Rights Bill.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Hodges.
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 whale is an endangered species and should be protected by international agreement.
That whalemeat and all other whale products should be excluded from all Australian manufactured goods.
Thatno whale products should be imported into Australia.
Your petitioners humbly pray, therefore, that the Government will form legislation to protect the whale from commercial exploitation.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr McLeay.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House ofRepresentatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: (1.) Your petitioners believe in the principle that every Australian child, irrespective of the school he attends, is entitled to economic support for his basic educational needs from the funds placed at the disposal of the Australian Government through taxation. Further, they believe that this economic support should be in the form of per pupil grants which are directly related to the cost of educating an Australian child in a government school.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that, as an interim measure, the Government will immediately increase the current grants being made to children in non-government schools to at least 50% of the cost of educating children in government schools, thus enabling the non-government schools to continue to exist and fulfill their function of educating Australian children.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Staley.
– 1 preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for Housing and Construction, by asking him to bear in mind that the Prime Minister is on record as saying at the Premiers Conference that more low income families are to be given the opportunity tobuy homes of their own. In view of the fact that the Federal Government’s policy allows only 30 per cent of housing funds to be expended on purchase homes, does the Minister feel that home ownership is less desirable than rental occupancy? Secondly, bearing in mind that a tenant may make considerable improvements to a rental home, and then make himself ineligible to purchase through increased income because of the means test, will the Minister give consideration to amending the situation to allow the tenant to purchase in these circumstances?
– The Government has always upheld the principle of home ownership and in fact facilitates it very effectively through the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I might say that more money has been made available by this Government for these purposes than ever before. The facts are, of course, that through the pressure on the building industry State housing authorities in some instances were unable to expend the money made available to them on very concessional terms.
The honourable member has mentioned the aspect of home ownership as provided for by the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. I would like him to know that, whereas it is true that the present provisions are such that there is a 30 per cent limitation on the amount that can be made available for those purposes through the terminating building societies, the Prime Minister made it clear at the Premiers Conference that the Government intended to take a course of action concurrently with the States to break the nexus of 30 per cent, and to make it possible for the Government to provide an even greater amount for terminating building society purposes if events establish that this becomes desirable.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Northern Development. I preface it by telling him that I have received telegrams from members of the councils in the Cape York Peninsula area regarding funds for road works. I refer in particular to the roads between Laura and Coen and between Mungana and Wrotham Park. If those roads are the responsibility of the Australian Government, are funds available for such works? If they are the responsibility of the State Government and it does not have the funds for such works, has it approached the Australian Government for financial assistance to complete such works?
– I also have received telegrams from many people in that area regarding beef roads. In answer to the honourable member’s first question, let me say that the road between Laura and Coen has never at any stage been a beef road. The road between Mareeba and Laura was declared a beef road and something like $3m was spent on it over the last few years. As to the second part of the honourable member’s question, the beef road from Mun.gana to Wrotham Park is, of course, as the honourable member well knows, a most important link in the bottom part of the Peninsula. It is extremely important to the very large holdings around Wrotham Park as well as to the holdings on the shores of the Gulf of Carpentaria, such as Koolatah, Dunbar and so forth. It was part of the previous beef roads scheme and it is also part of the beef roads scheme that is proposed for the next 3 years. It has been estimated that approximately $3m will be spent on that very important Peninsula road. That will allow the progeny of breeding cattle to come out of that area into the eastern coastal country and also allow some of the fat cows and so on to be moved to the meat works at Queerah.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer to his description of the measures that the Treasurer announced the night before last as ‘part of the program’. Was the program to which he was referring originally intended to be an anti-inflation program? If it is no longer to be described as an anti-inflation program, what is the aim of that program?
– The statement which the Treasurer made the night before last was part of the Government’s general economic program. I enunciated one aspect of it at the Premiers Conference on 7 June. The Treasurer will enunciate another part of it on 17 Septem ber in delivering the Budget. The economic problems of this country are not only centred on inflation, although mainly.
– Has the Minister for Transport seen the report in the ‘Australian’ of 24 July that Qantas Airways Ltd is considering re-routing many of its services to Europe so that they will go through Kuala Lumpur instead of Singapore? It is a fact that Singapore Airlines Ltd is demanding far more capacity to and from Australia than it is entitled to? If so, is Qantas in a position to resist those demands? Can the Minister provide details of the present capacity at which Singapore Airlines operates and of the increase it is seeking?
– Singapore Airlines currently operates 2 Boeing 747 and 5 Boeing 707 services weekly to the east coast of Australia as well as 3 Boeing 707 services weekly to Perth. We agreed to this capacity last year but on the condition that Singapore Airlines Ltd would not seek further increases in 1974-75. Despite this, Singapore Airlines is now seeking to increase its capacity by 50 per cent between now and next April, by a further 25 per cent in 1975-76 and by a further 30 per cent in 1976-77. Qantas Airways Ltd rejected this proposal because the capacity sought is far in excess of the traffic available between Australia and Singapore, and is clearly designed to carry Australia-Europe traffic, to which Singapore Airlines has no primary entitlement.
The airline has filed its proposed schedule with the Department of Transport which deferred it pending further airlines talks. Qantas has been steadily reducing its dependence on Singapore as the major Asian stopping point on its route to Europe. It now has services through Bombay and Bangkok. A new commercial agreement with Malaysian Airline System announced on Tuesday gives it the alternative of Kuala Lumpur as well. Qantas is therefore in a position where, if necessary, it can move most or even all of its long haul services out of Singapore and have a small number of terminating flights purely for local traffic. This would be the last resort if the Singapore Government terminated the present air services agreement because of Australia’s denial of extra capacity to Singapore Airlines. If the new agreement were negotiated purely on the basis of Australia-Singapore traffic it would mean a substantial reduction in services that are at present held by Singapore Airlines. We will be resuming talks with the airline on Friday. We hope that at that meeting we will be able to work out an amicable arrangement whereby both airlines can get a reasonable return and operation out of the traffic which is available and which each generates.
– I direct my question to the Minister for the Northern Territory in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture. Now that the Government has refused to intervene in a shipping dispute that has had far reaching effects on wheat payments that are so urgently needed in this time of financial crisis - as the Minister for Transport told the honourable member for Mallee yesterday - will the Minister take up with the Minister for Agriculture the problems of delayed wheat payments with a view to trying to alleviate the serious financial position of primary producers created, first, by government policy and, secondly, by another industrial dispute?
– Yesterday the Minister for Transport answered a question on this subject in no uncertain terms. He expressed his view, and it is the view of the Government. In relation to the other aspects of the question, I will take them up with the Minister for Agriculture.
– Is the Minister for Labor and Immigration aware of the possible closure of Port Augusta as a shipping port as a result of the cessation of the shipment of Tennant Creek copper ore and concentrates through that port? Is the Minister aware that Pacinex Pty Ltd is to commence exporting copper ore from Mount Gunson, 80 miles north-west of Port Augusta and that the concentrates are to be taken 270 miles by road to Port Adelaide, bypassing Port Augusta? In view of the grave threat to the employment of Port Augusta waterside workers, can the Minister cause an investigation to be carried out to see whether Mount Gunson copper concentrates can be shipped out through Port Augusta in the same way that Tennant Creek concentrates were shipped out, and by so doing ensure the retention of Port August as a seaport?
– I will certainly be very glad to have my Department investigate this matter.
– Is this another conspiracy?
– I do not know. I do not know how far the honourable member is involved in it. The Peko mines have been sending material through Port Augusta for a long time. They are now contemplating sending their ore by road transport or by rail transport. I think that there is enough ore to be trans-shipped through Port Augusta to keep the port going until about Christmas time. The honourable member will be pleased to know that even if the port is closed it is almost certain that we will need to transfer the waterside workers who would lose their jobs at Port Augusta, to Whyalla where there is still a shortage of waterside labour. In answer to the first part of the question, of course I will be very happy to have my Department investigate this matter and I will give the honourable gentleman a written reply. He has talked to me about this on several occasions and I know that he is deeply concerned about the future of the port, as I am myself.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Will the honourable gentleman affirm to this House his election pledge to provide in the next Budget personal taxation relief for ail income earners receiving up to $14,000? Has his attention been drawn to the Treasurer’s statement yesterday on the Australian Broadcasting Commission radio program ‘A.M.’ when he said apropos of the Prime Minister on the issue of taxation that he was not going to answer for Mr Whitlam as to what Mr Whitlam did or did not say and when he also said, referring to the Prime Minister: ‘He has not made any firm commitment one way or the other’? I ask the honourable gentleman: Has he made a firm commitment? If so, what is it?
– My attention had not previously been drawn to the broadcast.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry. Has his attention been drawn to reports of unemployment arising in textile factories in Wangaratta, Victoria? Can he inform the House of the steps his Department has taken to meet the situation?
– Yes, my attention has been drawn to it. This subject has received attention in the Press and indeed in this House. The problem facing the textile industry in Australia goes back many years. It was because of that fact that the Government very early in its life last year set up the Textile and Apparel Industry Advisory Panel to bring the Department of Secondary Industry, as it then was, into closer relationship with the industry both at the management level and at the trade union level so that the Government had the benefit of the advice that the industry could give and the industry would know what the Government was thinking. Quotas had been placed on certain aspects of the industry to give some protection to it from certain imports as a result of the previous Government’s failure to negotiate a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade arrangement back in 1972. Those quotas remained in force until early this year when they were removed because of the success of this Government in entering into a GATT arrangement in respect of certain forms of apparel such as knitted wear and woven shirts. As a result of that the Panel has been kept in close consultation and imports have come into this country. During the election campaign, honourable members will recall, certain allegations were made which led the Government to make a reference to the specially created textile authority in the Industries Assistance Commission. That authority made a finding that certain forms of dislocation were occurring in the industry and the Government took prompt action on that. Restrictions are being imposed on imports from Taiwan, for example, and negotiations are under way with other importing countries.
As far as Wangaratta is concerned, the Government recently formed a special task force, comprising representatives of the Department of Manufacturing Industry, the Department of Labor and Immigration, the Department of Urban and Regional Development and, I think, the Department of Overseas Trade, to go to Wangaratta and investigate the position on the spot. Indeed, while there it is taking the opportunity to go to Shepparton too, because it is in the same area. I expect to have its report in the very near future.
– Wangaratta ought to have a decent commuter transport service with AlburyWodonga.
– Quite so. The Government sees the situation in towns like Wangaratta as providing a pilot study for what is happening in country towns that are excessively dependent on particular industries like, say, the textile industry.
– Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. In the context of your ruling yesterday, I draw your attention to the extraordinary length of this answer, which pre-empts the capacity of honourable members on this side of the House to ask questions.
– I ask the Minister to make his reply as brief as possible because quite a number of honourable members wish to ask questions.
– In addition, about three or four weeks ago, the Government established a special interdepartmental committee to investigate employment situations in country towns. I understand its report is expected to be received shortly. I will be taking it before the Cabinet.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Housing and Construction been drawn to the consumer price index figures released last Friday which indicate that the housing price group was up 7.7 per cent for the quarter ended 30 June? Does this confirm the accuracy of the view expressed from this side of the House that the building costs of a modest dwelling of, say, $20,000 is escalating at almost $120 a week? If not, what is the Minister’s estimate of the present weekly escalation rate?
– In regard to the consumer price index, the facts are that, taking all components into account, the overall increase in the index for the June quarter was 4.1 per cent. The component for housing, as revealed by the Commonwealth Statistician in the document with which all honourable members are familiar, was 5.1 per cent. It so happens that for the year ended June, taking all components into account, the overall increase in the consumer price index was 14.4 per cent, while the housing component was 13.8 per cent. In other words, for the year ended June, the housing component increase was smaller than was the overall increase. This is a gratifying feature of the figures, although everyone will readily acknowledge that the movement for housing and all components is too high and reflects the inflation that is in evidence in the country. The Government is well aware of the situation. The honourable gentleman knows of the steps being taken by the Government to arrest these trends in housing and other fields. That is the fact of the matter. I do not know what the honourable gentleman is advocating. He seems to have a Jekyll and Hyde attitude towards these things. On the one hand he appears to be concerned about the escalating costs in the building industry while on the other hand he does not seem to have any interest in doing anything about it. The Government is very concerned about this situation, and the electors demonstrated their concern at election- time. We are going to do something about it. It would be most useful if we could have the cooperation of the Opposition in the endeavours we are making to arrest the accelerating demand on the building industry.
One redeeming feature about the whole situation, of course, is that we still have high employment in the building industry. I do not know whether honourable gentlemen opposite are aware of the June figures relating to employment in the building industry, but the facts are that there were 1,836 vacancies with only 1,518 people seeking work. That happens to be the best employment ratio in the building and construction industry since 1965. I know it is very difficult to reconcile these facts, particularly if the honourable member for Boothby is as uninformed as his question suggests he is. His question began with a fundamentally incorrect premise. The fact of the matter is that the movement in the consumer price index attributable to the housing component was only 5. 1 per cent.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. Does the statement of the Treasurer indicating an expenditure of $34. lm on pre-schools and child care centres mean a slowing of present expenditure in these areas of social policy? Will it represent a retarding of the training of pre-school teachers or personnel for child care centres? Can the Minister inform the House of the expenditures and allocations for the financial year just closed? How do they compare with the proposals for this year? What problems led to the tentative nature of the statement by the Treasurer that expenditure might be larger?
– I congratulate the honourable member on his first question in the House. The Australian Government appropriated $10m for pre-school education and $8. 23m for child care centres during the last Parliament. The Sl Om for pre-school education was the subjeot of one of the Bills rejected in the
Senate when that House rejected Supply. That Bill was ultimately passed, but I say that to draw the attention of the honourable member to the date, 1 1 April. The authorities were not able to spend that $ 1Om between 11 April and 30 June. Of the SI 8.23m appropriated last year for capital and recurring grants only $8.6m was spent. Therefore, the $34m allocated for this year represents a quadrupling of last year’s expenditure.
The problem with this expenditure is that in some States local government - I dp not want to release in advance the details of the Coleman report, which in respect of the sum of $130m proposed has envisaged a very big role for local government - is not empowered to spend money on pre-schools or child care centres. Many local governments are not interested in doing so and we have found diathe Coleman report does envisage a very big culties in negotiating with them. As I said, role for local government - the expenditure of $82m by it - and I think it would take at least a year’s negotiations to get it up to that point of expenditure. The reason for the tentative nature of the Treasurer’s statement about the $34. lm was that it may prove to be possible to accelerate the program if there is greater interest in these areas. I also inform the honourable gentleman that as well as the $34.1 m there is at least about $4.6m for training of preschool teachers and personnel. When I say ‘at least’, we are not now precisely aware of the amount because in 14 colleges of advanced education and teachers colleges, in addition to kindergarten teachers colleges, there are now courses for pre-school teachers, and we cannot dissect from the general expenditure yet what is the amount allocated in that pre-school training direction. But that $4.6m at least must go on top of the $34. lm, and there is a further $4m for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Therefore the expenditure will be about $42m in all.
– I ask the Treasurer: Is he aware of the alarming fall in productivity in Australia? Is he aware of the figures of the Department of Labor and Immigration which show the following percentage change in each quarter from January 1973 to December 1973: March 1973 quarter 2.2 per cent, June 1973 quarter 0.6 per cent, September 1973 quarter 1.5 per cent and the December 1973 quarter minus 0.7 per cent? Does he agree that this falling rate of productivity is a contributing factor to inflation? Has the Government any plans to increase the incentive in the workforce and productivity in industry?
– The first thing that should be said is that there is not any very satisfactory index in Australia for measuring productivity. I simply say that if the honourable member looks at the figures that will shortly be published about gross domestic product for Australia for the period ended in June 1974 he will see that they will show a rise of about 20 per cent in the 12-month period.
– In real money terms?
– If the right honourable member will let me finish the answer I will explain. The figures will show an increase from approxmately $40 billion at the end of June 1973 to about $48 billion at the end of June 1974. Even when one corrects that large increase of about $8 billion to allow for price variations there will still be shown an increment of approximately 6 per cent. Even allowing then for an increase in the work force this year of about 2 per cent that will show real growth in the economy of the magnitude of about 4 per cent. That is a much more satisfactory, performance than was evident in the two or three years prior to that.
With regard to the elusive bird productivity - that is with the same input you get a greater output - there are some areas in the economy that it is very difficult to measure. One does not judge the quality of education, for instance, by the fact that school teachers teach larger classes rather than smaller ones. You would take the opposite point of view if you were an educationist. The overall figures in Australia are subject to some rather violent fluctuations because of what is called farm income as distinct from non farm income. All I would suggest is that the performance last year overall was much more satisfactory than had been evident for several years before.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Defence been drawn to a report which cites the report on the Army Cadet Corps by the Committee of Inquiry into the CMF as saying that private schools which maintain cadet units are entitled to compel students to serve in the cadets? Is this an accurate statement of the position which exists?
– I did see the statement referred to by the honourable member for Brisbane. It is incorrect. In 1973 I had a statement issued to all schools in Australia where school cadets were located informing them that- it was the Government’s view that membership of Cadet Corps should not be compulsory. Indeed, the Millar Committee report, which I tabled in this House yesterday, stated at page 24:
Where - as in the present situation - the Australian Government supports cadet units by finance and manpower, it is entitled to place conditions on their use, including the condition of voluntary service. Such a condition should not be evaded by intraschool devices.
The report went on to say:
There is no case for compulsory cadet service applicable to all schools with Cadet units when service in the Regular Army or the Army Reserve is on a voluntary basis. The element of compulsion should never be stronger in Cadets than in the Reserve.
Where there is a range of organised extra-curricular activities, including Cadets, and the school requires all students to participate in one or another, no student should be allotted to Cadets against his will.
This is in conformity with the instructions which I gave last year and which are well known to all schools. The Millar report on school cadets has not been considered by the Government, but this House may be assured that when the report is being considered by the Government I will strongly recommend that the recommendations made by the Millar Committee be accepted.
– I press my previous question concerning personal income tax in the context of the next Budget. If the Prime Minister does not recall or is not aware of what his colleague, the Treasurer, said of him and of his pledge on the radio yesterday, I still ask the honourable gentleman - with the hope and expectation that this time he will answer a question for the first time in some days - whether he made a firm commitment publicly to the cause of personal income tax relief? Does that pledge include personal income tax relief for all income earners up to $14,000 per annum? Does the honourable gentleman not recall that he specifically made that pledge in those terms during the recent election campaign? Will that pledge be honoured or dishonoured?
– Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 144 which states that questions should not ask Ministers to announce Government policy.
– The question asked does not relate to a matter of policy; it is in regard to a statement.
– I do not accept the honourable gentleman’s statement or summary of what I may have said during the last few months. If the honourable gentleman wants an answer to this question he can put it on notice in terms which are precise and in accordance with the Standing Orders.
– Is the Prime Minister aware of the ‘problems that Mrs Madonna Weber, formerly Miss Madonna Schacht of Brisbane, is experiencing presently .in Austria and Germany in attempts to gain custody of her child? Has the Australian Government assisted Mrs Weber in her attempts to gain custody of her child? If so, what assistance has been provided? Further, will the Australian Government consider providing legal aid to Mrs Weber for the custody proceedings in which she is involved? Will the Prime Minister refute accusations that in respect of the provisions of assistance officers of the Australian Government have been unco-operative and dilatory?
– I am well aware of the problems faced by Mrs Madonna Weber in her litigation in Austria and West Germany in attempts to gain custody of her child. The Government has received many representations on her behalf and has responded to each of them with an assurance that it will assist her in every way possible. Her case highlights the problems created by dual nationality. Honourable members will be aware that when a child is born to parents of different nationalities that child can, under the law of certain states, have dual nationality. Honourable members will recall that our colleague, Mr Al Grassby, spoke often in this place about this problem and, indeed, about how it had contributed to Mrs Weber’s problem. The question of dual nationality was referred to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in the last Parliament. The House decided last week that this Committee should be reconstituted to conclude its deliberations on this and another matter which had been referred to it.
The honourable member has asked whether the Government has assisted Mrs Weber in her attempts to gain custody of her child. Bearing in mind that law” suits for divorce and child custody are private legal matters solely within the jurisdiction of the appropriate courts in both Austria and Germany, as they are in Australia, the degree of assistance that the Australian Government and Australian embassies can offer is limited and must of necessity be less extensive than that sought by the various organisations and persons who have interested themselves in Mrs Weber’s case. The fullest possible assistance has been given to her by the staff of the Australian embassies in Vienna and Bonn.
I shall outline specific measures which have been taken. The Government has continuously provided the facilities of the Australian overseas communications network for the communication of urgent messages to and from Mrs Weber. The Vienna Embassy has translated documents for both Mrs Weber and the appeal committee in Australia and has arranged for a number of these to reach the Austrian Ministry of Justice. The Australian Ambassador in Vienna has made numerous oral representations to the Austrian Foreign Ministry. His Embassy on several occasions has sent formal diplomatic notes concerning her to the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has been in contact with the Austrian Embassy in Canberra. Mrs Weber, on her arrival’ in Vienna, was met by Embassy staff, and accommodation, local transport and interpreter services were arranged for her. The Embassy has facilitated contact with Austrian and German organisations which were able to help her, and above all the Embassy has remained in close and constant contact with her and her lawyers throughout her stay in Austria. The Embassy in Bonn has done the same in Germany.
In reply to the third part of the honourable gentleman’s question, I am happy to be able to inform the House that the Attorney-General has approved of the grant of legal aid towards the costs incurred by Mrs Weber in respect of custody proceedings in which she was involved in the Austrian courts. I understand that Dr Weber has appealed to the High Court in Austria. If that appeal is proceeded with, the Attorney-General will give further consideration to the question whether a grant of aid should be made to Mrs Weber for that appeal. The proceedings in Germany are, I understand, being conducted under a grant of legal aid by the German authorities. The honourable member mentions-
– Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Prime Minister is commencing to read another page. You have pointed out repeatedly that Ministers, no matter who they are, should try to curtail the length of their answers. The answer to the question could be made the subject of a statement after question time. The Prime Minister is abusing question time.
– Order! As I have explained on numerous occasions in the House, I have no control over the length of answers to questions. I can only appeal to the Ministers to make them as brief as possible.
- Mr Speaker, I would have thought that my answers to the previous 3 questions I had today were pointedly and commendably brief. The honourable member for Bowman mentions that there have been accusations that officers of the Australian Government have been dilatory and unco-operative in the provision of assistance for Mrs Weber. I presume he refers to accusations made in Press reports which Mr Bjelke-Petersen brought to my notice in a recent letter. These reports are completely inaccurate and unfounded. The specific measures of assistance which I have outlined and the legal aid which the AttorneyGeneral has provided prove this. In saying this, however, I should point out that the question of custody of a child is a matter for judicial determination, and the courts in Germany and Austria, as in Australia, are not subject to dictation or pressure by governments in the exercise of their functions. Honourable members may be assured that the officers of the Australian Embassies in Vienna and Bonn will continue to offer Mrs Weber all the assistance which it is possible and proper for them to provide.
– I address my question to the Minister for Education. In view of the Minister’s answer to the honourable member for Isaacs, will the Minister acknowledge that he has before him numerous requests for both subsistence expenditure and capital expenditure for new and existing child care centres and pre-schools, particularly a number from my own electorate with its large number of 2- income earner families? Is not the Minister’s answer on this matter an excuse for his lack of success in obtaining funds to meet these needs and an acknowledgement of Government priorities?
– Yes, I do acknowledge that I have numerous requests before me. I have 85 requests for child care centres and 236 requests for pre-schools. Of the 85 requests for child care centres my Department classifies 23 as very urgent. It classifies about 128 of the requests for pre-schools as very urgent. I believe that the $34. lm, and what will come additionally to that, will enable the capital expenditure to take place as fast as the institutions concerned can spend it. I draw the attention of the honourable member to the fact that $13.5m worth of approvals for child care centres were made last year under the legislation of the former Government and that the whole of that money was not taken up.
The honourable member must realise that many of these bodies, even after I have signed the agreement with them, have difficulties with regard to labour and materials. I certainly believe that the quadrupling of expenditure will go a long way towards every approved request. But I remind the honourable member that there is a system of priorities and that not everybody who applies will obtain approval in the first wave.. The honourable member would be aware that one comes up against the very old problem in connection with libraries, especially if one is working through local government, that in affluent areas where there is least need for library facilities, local government has put up libraries, and where in the homes there are the most books; whereas in the poor areas there are not. If one just approves requests on the basis of anybody’s application one will find that the most affluent areas will get kindergartens and pre-school centres, and the. industrial areas, where there is the greatest need and whose residents may not be so articulate or so able to state their case, will not.
– Pursuant to section 76A of the National Health Act 1953-1972, I present the second annual report of the operations of the registered medical benefits and hospital benefits organisations for the year ended 30 June 1973.
– I present the following paper:
Statement for the year 1973-74 of Heads of Expenditure and the amounts charged thereto pursuant to section 36a of the Audit Act 1901-1969 (Advance to the Treasurer).
Ordered that the statement be taken into consideration in Committee of the Whole House at the next sitting.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Integration of the Medical Services of the Armed Forces, March 1971.
– I present the report by the Tertiary Education (Services’ Cadet Colleges) Committee, January 1970. Because of the limited number of these reports available, copies have been placed in the Parliamentary Library for perusal by honourable members.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the annual report on the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Island for the year ending 30 June 1973.
– For the information of honourable members, I present an agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Government of the State of New South Wales and the Government of the State of Victoria in relation to the financial assistance for the development of the Albury-Wodonga area.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the interim report from the Australian Government task force to investigate modern housing techniques, dated June 1974.
– For the information of honourable members, I present an evaluation report of the Dartmouth project, together with the proceedings of the conference between the Australian Government and the State Ministers responsible for water resources and a summary of the decisions of the Steering Committee of the River Murray Working Party.
- Mr Speaker, I seek the indulgence of the Chair to rectify an error on my part. During the debate in this House last Tuesday on the motion of censure I referred to a Press statement issued by the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon). In fairness to him I wish to acknowledge at this, the earliest opportunity since the matter has been drawn to my attention, that I was in error in referring to his support for a reserve of 300c for 21 micron wool.
I had several notes on this matter and the conjunction of paragraphs in my notes led me to believe that the honourable member’s statement and another statement by the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association were such that they were the one Press statement. The views expressed by the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association were not those of the honourable member for Gippsland. I apologise to the honourable member for Gippsland. Having checked the validity of the case presented and recognising that subsequent events have reinforced the position that I established on that day, I repeat that I tender to the House and the honourable member for Gippsland my apology.
– Mr Speaker, 1 wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member for Boothby claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I claim to have been misrepresented by the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson). In answering a question I asked of him about the escalating costs of housing the Minister said that the figures I quoted were incorrect. I refer the Minister and the House to page 9 of the consumer price index figures just released for the June quarter and in particular to the group of figures appearing under the housing group. The figure on which I based my percentages was the figure of 7.7 per cent for ‘house price and repairs and maintenance’. That works out on an annual basis at $118.60 as applied to the weekly escalating rate.
The Minister implied that the cost of the housing group increase was the final figure on that page, which is 5.1 per cent. He did not reply at all to my question. If he had he would have had to concede that even that figure represents an escalation in costs of in excess of $80 a week. The figures on which I have worked could be made to look even worse because on the same page there is a reference to the fact that the figure does not include the cost of land or the interest rates charged on house purchases. As the House will know they have increased.
– I think the honourable gentleman has made the point he wished to make.
– Thank you, Mr Speaker. 1 wind up by saying that the figures I have given are completely correct and that the figures given by the Minister are incorrect.
– I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Speaker.
– Does the Minister for Housing and Construction claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I claim to have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Boothby. The honourable gentleman concluded his remarks by saying that the figures I gave to the House were incorrect. I refer to the Commonwealth Statistician’s publication entitled ‘Consumer Price Index - June Quarter 1974’. I refer in particular to page 9 of that document on which is given the final figure for the housing group in the consumer price index for the month of June. It is unquestionably the case that the figure is 5.1 per cent, as I quoted. I claim that the honourable member has misrepresented me in contending that I gave inaccurate information to the House.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Extradition (Foreign States) Bill 1974.
International Monetary Agreements Bill 1974.
– I have received a letter from the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The attitude of the Government to the accommodation and care for the aged in aged persons homes and nursing homes, which is creating a crisis situation.
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.)
– The Opposition raises this matter of public importance to draw to the attention of the Australian public and members of Parliament the crisis situation that has been caused by the attitude of the Government. The Government has shown its lack of depth of feeling and of compassion for the aged - particularly the infirm aged - in our community. It is all very well for the Government to say what it has done for pensioners and for the aged people. It has concentrated on headline procedures, talking about straight pension increases, but this has been only a thin veneer. When one looks at the other aspects of policy that are required for a complete cover for the aged one can see no continuation of this concern, particularly when one remembers that 80 per cent of all people in nursing homes in Australia are pensioners. When the Labor Government took office in December 1972 these 2 key areas of aged assistance - that is, aged persons homes and nursing homes - were left in very good order by the outgoing Liberal-Country Party Government.
– What rot!
– The subsidies for aged persons housing had been increased in January 1972.
– What temerity!
– I will leave the House. I will not listen to untruths.
– I gather that if the honourable member for Hunter is not prepared to listen to untruths he will not be prepared to listen to members on his own side when it is their turn to speak. When this Government took office in December 1972 these 2 key areas of aged assistance were left in very good order by the outgoing Liberal-Country Party Government. There had been increases in subsidies for aged persons homes in January 1972, less than 12 months before. Legislation passed by the outgoing Government in the Budget session would have created considerable increases in nursing home benefits in January 1973. I want to remind people that at that time, in the calendar year 1972 to which we are referring, the inflation rate in Australia was just over 4 per cent. It is most important to remember in this debate the inflation rate at that time and the inflation rate now because the difference is one of the causes of the. present crisis situation. It is this deliberate government action that has created the crisis with aged persons homes and nursing homes. In one year, in the calendar year 1973, this Government managed to increase the rate of inflation in this country from 4 per cent to over 13 per cent - a tremendous achievement by a government in one year - with disastrous results for those 2 areas.
Building costs skyrocketed, salaries skyrocketed, and the savings of pensioners to help them in these areas were considerably reduced by the ravages of inflation. During the heady early days - the first 12 months - of this Government it refused to recognise the havoc that it was creating. The Government had headlined its policy of 6-monthly increases in pensions to compensate for inflation, so it was obviously aware of what it was doing. But for 18 months, in spite of all the salary increases in nursing homes, there was no increase in nursing home benefits. For aged persons homes it was almost 2i years before there was any increase. This was at a time of record inflation and at a time when it was recognised that 6-monthly increases in pensions were absolutely essential for pensioners to stay up with inflationary increases.
Why did the Government refuse to move ahead and keep these 2 areas updated because of inflation? I believe it was because of the obstinate, doctrinaire policy of a group of front bench socialists on the other side of this Parliament who sit in Government, who are ideologically opposed to religious, private and community involvement in aged persons housing and in nursing homes. It was their clear attitude to squeeze out such involvement from those areas; to assume Government control - not just financial control, because in these areas the Government has had financial control for some years, but actual physical control and ownership, because of their belief that there is no place for religious, charitable or private groups in this field. What has been the result of this policy? There has been a belated recognition on the part of the Government, after the honeymoon period of the first 12 months was over, that it was impossible to achieve its aim of a Government takeover in these areas; and I hope there will be a recognition that the Government’s pacesetter policies in wage and salary adjustments have created or helped to create this crisis in building costs and the salaries of those employed in these places. It is only in the last few months that the Government has recognised that it cannot continue its previous attitude.
– Some members of the Government have.
– I agree that only some of them have. Their attitude is probably still the same, but reality has caught up with them. The Minister for Social Security has claimed that but for the double dissolution nursing home benefits would have been increased earlier. I believe that the double dissolution forced the Government to look at its own areas of weakness earlier than otherwise would have been the case, because it was not until the Minister’s policy speech on 1 May that any announcement was made on nursing home benefits. There was not one word from him until the double dissolution was actually under way.
If one looks at the time when the aged persons homes subsidy increases were granted one will see that it was not until late March that action was taken and by that time it was fairly inevitable that a double dissolution would occur. It is of no use for Government members to talk about the double dissolution retarding the generosity of the Government, because the double dissolution forced it into taking some action to give up, at least for the time being, this ideological approach which was causing this crisis in the field of aged persons homes and nursing homes. Even now the limited increases which have been offered are too little and too late. One only has to read the newspaper comments on the crisis which is facing aged persons housing and nursing home organisations to realise that.
Let me deal in detail with the problems, firstly, in respect of aged persons homes. As I said, the subsidy and subsidy limits were lifted in January 1972. A committee of inquiry was established in 1973. That committee presented an interim report in November 1973. The Minister had the report by at least late 1973 and, for all we know, he may have had it earlier. But when did the Minister adopt the recommendations in that committee’s interim report. It was not in November 1973; not in December 1973; not in January 1974; and not in February 1974. It was in late March 1974, with the increased benefits to come into operation on 1 April, which is probably an appropriate day in view of the attitude which has been adopted by the Minister. So it was 4 months after he received this report before any action was taken, and then only belatedly.
The figures on building costs used in that report would have had to be based on 1972 figures, because if the committee looked into the matter in 1973 they would have been the latest figures available to it. So, on 1 April 1974 an increase - the first since January 1972 - was granted on the basis of building costs in 1972. The annual escalation in building costs in that period was approximately 15 per cent.
– Now 40 per cent.
– I am informed that it is now 40 per cent. I am not criticising that committee of inquiry, because the inflation that this Government set in train has overtaken anything which that committee recommended. When the Minister announced these increased benefits in March the increase was a theoretical one. The subsidy limits are not a realistic recognition of present day building costs. Instead of organisations really receiving an increase in subsidy on a $2 to $1 basis, which is to be expanded to $4 for $1, the. actual increase is approaching only $1 for $1. This means that there is no increase. Actually, there has been a withdrawal from the previous position. I quote what the Brotherhood of St Laurence has had to say. Its statement was reported as follows:
Welfare services catering for the aged could be put out of business because of Federal Government financial restrictions, the director of aged services at Melbourne’s Brotherhood of St Laurence, Mr N. Brooke, said yesterday. ‘If the Government intends to put us out of business altogether, it should say so’, he said.
The Federal Minister for Social Security, Mr Hayden, recently announced the Government’s intention to double building subsidies under the Aged Persons Homes Act, bringing the new subsidy to $4 for every SI spent on buildings for the aged.
But Mr Brooke said since subsidies were restricted to units costing a maximum of $9000, the increased ratio was illusory.
Mr Brooke said it was clear the minister did not intend to raise the maximum cost level. Since $13,000 a unit was the average current price for individual self-contained units, voluntary agencies would have to find the extra $4000 per unit. ‘So the present grant is not 2:1. We are asking Mr Hayden to advise how building costs could be reduced any further. Any building plans he could produce that would not exceed $9000 would be welcomed’, he said.
The Government has promised to increase the subsidy to $4 for $1, but unless there is an increase in the subsidy limit - ‘all the information is that there is no intention to increase the limit and I invite the Minister to correct me on this if I am wrong - there will be no actual increase because it will be offset by the rise in building costs. The honest and realistic thing for this Government to do is not to wait for the final report of this committee of inquiry - because that is beside the point in the present situation - but to lift the subsidy limit.
– Which point do you mean?
– I am referring to the hopeless situation in which the Government has placed aged persons homes societies because of the limit which it has imposed. The effective subsidy is now about $1 for $1, and even if the Government increases it to $4 for $1 without at the same time increasing the subsidy limit it is not helping anybody. The realistic thing to do is to remove the subsidy limit, particularly at the present time, because of the inability of anybody to obtain a fixed contract in terms of building costs.
I move on to nursing homes. About 80 per rent of the 40 odd thousand people in nursing homes in Australia are pensioners. When we left office in 1972, under our legislation which was to come into effect in January 1973, pensioners would have been left with approximately one quarter of their pension for their own spending money. Since then wages and salaries for nursing home staff have increased. I will give the House some figures for the period January 1973 to June 1974 which have been supplied by the Research Service of the Parliamentary Library. Registered nurses in New South Wales have received a 48 per cent increase and in Victoria there has been a 44 per cent increase. Nursing aides in New South Wales have received a 77 per cent increase and in Victoria there has been a 36 per cent increase. Increases granted to all staff in nursing homes is a weighted average of 60 per cent in New South Wales and 53 per cent in Victoria. Yet there is to be no increase in nursing home benefits until 1 August. The benefits now being offered to nursing homes are inadequate because, as the Minister himself has stated, they will cover only 70 per cent of the people in these homes. As I have already told the House, 80 per cent of the. people in nursing homes are pensioners. In several States massive increases are in store. My colleague, the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson), will enlarge on this. If a pensioner is left with $4 a week, as the Minister has promised, that money will be swallowed up very rapidly. On present prices, in order to be equal to what pensioners had when we left office the amount would now have to be $8 a week.
I have with me a letter from the people who operate the Baptist Homes of Victoria and they certainly are not commercial people. Even allowing for the new increases in benefits which are to operate from 1 August, their 4 homes in Melbourne will have a deficit for the 6 months to the end of 1974 amounting to $47,000, and allowing for increases due to come in early next year the deficit will be $140,000.
– They will have to close down.
– Once again the Government has adopted a policy of giving too little too late. As the honourable member for Hotham has said, like so many other homes, they may have to close down. The Government must be honest and realistic and face up to the inflationary situation which it has created. It must spread its assistance to cover all these areas of need and not just the headline cases. It must do this so that the aged people who are in aged persons homes or nursing homes are compensated for the inflation that this Government has created. These people should be allowed to live out their lives in the dignity which they deserve and in which when we left office in December 1972 they had every prospect of living out their lives.
– Order! The honourable gentleman’s time has expired.
– The spokesman from the other side are certainly indulging in the careless delight of opposition. On the one hand, there is nothing that they would not fix with more money and on the other hand, of course, they lecture the Government on the need for fiscal restraints, which means very simply that the Government should be spending less. I do not know how they propose to harmonise these 2 things when they stricture us in this way, but I would be delighted to hear from them exactly what their economic program is, because from their program of economic management everything else flows - what they spend and where they spend it. I suggest that the comments made by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) were quite unkind and ungenerous and cannot be substantiated in fact. We cannot do everything we would like to do and we certainly cannot do everything that the public would like us to do. The intelligent members of the community realise this. Except in some halcyon state, which has not been achieved yet by any country, all governments face the problem of unlimited demands but limited resources and so one has to cut ones cloth as best one can in the face of these sorts of demands.
I suggest that our record is a thoroughly creditable one. It is a much more impressive record over all than that of any previous government in regard to providing assistance to and financially supporting the provision of services for the aged people in our community - the people who have contributed so much in the past. We are proud of our record. We have done more in relation to pensions than has ever been done before and that, of course, must be our first responsibility, to put real purchasing power into these people’s pockets and not to have them suffer the burden of economic discrimination as part of economic recessionary measures which past Liberal-Country Party governments implemented. For instance, if honourable members look at our total outlays on the provision of assistance for the aged, they will find that this area represents our biggest commitment in our Budget and it is growing faster than any other commitment. It is bigger than the outlay on defence. Most people tend to think that the outlay on defence is the biggest outlay that the Australian Government has, but under this Government it is not. The financing of services to the aged far exceeds outlays on, for instance, defence.
I will enumerate the sorts of things we are funding. Firstly and most significantly, there are the pensions and allowances; the aged persons accommodation program; home care services; delivered meals and similar services; pensioner medical and hospital benefits; pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners; nursing home benefits and domiciliary care benefits for aged; and the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement for accommodation for the aged. Our outlays in this area for the last financial year would have been of the order of $ 1,450m. That is some $200m more than we outlaid on defence and that is the difference in priorities that we have established.
That is a significant amount and we should start there and kill immediately any suggestion that this Government has not been concerned about the aged. I concede readily that many of these programs were instituted by past governments. We intend to change a lot of these. We are in the process, of course, of changing the pensioner medical and hospital services. Pensioners will not be treated as second class citizens under the program that we are bringing in. They will not have to go and stand in a cold and lengthy queue in the outpatients clinic at a public hospital and impose quite severe strains on the public hospital services. When they need specialist services they can go to a specialist of their own choice, under our program. The hospitals will be remunerated in the same way for pensioners as for other people. We will be getting away from these areas of discrimination.
This Government is moving quickly on pensions and allowances, as I mentioned earlier. We have already tabled a report in this Parliament on national superannuation. We are getting a different complexion altogether as to how these things will be done in the future. As the honourable member for Murray quite rightly pointed out, we have a committee of inquiry reviewing the whole concept of accommodation for the aged because, quite frankly, I am worried about aspects of this program. I will come to that in a few minutes. It is not as simple and straightforward as the honourable member for Murray suggests. I think there is room for a fundamental review of how this program got under way and that is what we have set about doing. But let no one say that this Government is mean. The most rapid in creases in outlays are taking place in the area of the services and need of the aged. The biggest commitment we have is for those people.
Let us go quickly through some of the things we have done. Believe me, it is not easy to discharge public responsibility at the national level with the difficult economic situation which exists. The honourable member for Murray was so unkind as to suggest that we generated it, as though there were some conspiracy on our part. I wish people in the community would just understand some fundamental economic principles. Surely by now they would have understood that there was a commodity boom which greatly favoured the Country Party areas of the community due to the high prices of wool, meat, wheat and other primary products. That spilled into this economy and increased the volume of money. There was a monetary boom which the last Liberal-Country Party government wilfully created in a moment of panic by spurting out a great expansion of money desperately to lift the economy again as an election approached. We have inherited those problems.
One of the areas which has been quite obviously affected is that of building costs, not only to the home builder but to other people too - people who provide accommodation for the aged. In the light of that situation, if we were just to continue to shovel out money as the spiral goes up, without any questioning at all and without any assessment in a quite rigorous way of economic performance and of the restraints which should be applied, we would merely aggravate the inflationary spiral. We have taken steps and they are working in the home building area. Costs are starting to level out. Indeed, the overall economic program is starting to work. Indices show that the economy is starting to level out, and this is happening in the building industry.
Let us look at some of the things we have done. In the field of aged persons accommodation we increased the amount of subsidy for single units from $5,600 to $6,000 and from $6,000 to $7,000 for double units. We instituted a land subsidy of $1,600 per unit. If honourable members opposite want to bleed their hearts publicly why did not they do that before, because they would surely have known, with something like 20 years experience of administering this scheme, how necessary that innovation was? In the field of aged persons hostels, we increased to $9,000 per unit the subsidy, the cost of which was $10m. That was done only a few months ago. We allowed local government to enter into this program, to take up the subsidy which was available and to use loan money to do this. That cost a further $lm. We took steps to allow hostels which did not want to take up their entitlement for units to transfer that entitlement to other insitutions. We have taken steps effectively to end the rather odious system of resident donations for the second and subsequent occasions in aged persons homes. We increased the personal care subsidy to $12 a week but we did not restrict it just to people over 80 years of age. We said that certainly they will receive the subsidy, but anyone who goes into a hostel on medical grounds - and no one should go into a hostel except on some sort of medical ground - will receive a subsidy of $12 a week. Why was that not instituted before? These things must be calculated within the overall program of things which we have done to assist in accommodation for the aged.
I do not want to go into the details of how we have tried to put a more human face on the administration of this sort of program by altering the rules so that people who live in these homes know how rules are set which affect their daily living and so that they can participate in decisions which affect them. The former Minister for Social Services, the. honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), who just made some sort of muffled interjection, should acknowledge the fact that this has been an area which has caused a great deal of criticism over the years. There are voluminous files in the Department of Social Security relating to this matter. We increased nursing home subsidies at a cost of $26m. The upshot of this is that with pensions, supplementary assistance and nursing home subsidies, we are providing more than 90 per cent of the income of, for instance, private nursing homes. The proportion of people in nursing homes who can now meet the costs of nursing home fees and still have about $4 a week left to spend personally as a result of pension increases we announced on Tuesday night, has gone up considerably. In New South Wales, it has increased to 85 per cent; in Victoria, it has increased to 80 per cent; in Queensland, to 87 per cent; in South Australia, to 82 per cent; in Western Australia, to 83 per cent; and in Tasmania, to 92 per cent. It is a very fine performance.
We are. handling what is a rather anomalous and unjust system of nursing home subsidies. We are unhappy about the differential that gives so much to Victoria, for instance, and so little to Queensland and we are going to have a fundamental review of that and, in fact, we are in the process of conducting that review. As I mentioned, the cost of those increased nursing home subsidies was $26m. We have increased pensions, as honourable members know. We did this on Tuesday night. The outlay there - and there was no meanness and no restraint no hesitation in this respect, as there was under Liberal Party-Country Party Governments of the past - was $350m, and we have taken the pension rate to the highest level as a percentage of average weekly earnings that it has reached at any time, since the 1940s. We have got it away from the long term erosion which has taken place in the past. Let us look at the situation. (Opposition members interjecting)
Order! The honourable member for Hotham will have his opportunity to speak at a later time after the Minister has concluded and I suggest that honourable members resist the temptation to interject.
– To face the facts is too challenging for them. Let us look at the need for a fundamental review. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) said in his confidential policy document, which I had the honour of first releasing for him in the last Parliament, that up to 40 per cent of nursing home patients are in nursing homes for nonmedical reasons. He went on to say in that document that this indicates that many elderly people in Australia are in nursing homes without any medical reason for being there. Why have honourable members opposite not addressed themselves to this very real problem? I must say that this is a higher proportion than is in fact the case. The figure is probably closer to 20 per cent to 25 per cent, as the ‘Medical Journal of Australia’ pointed out. I repeat, why have not honourable members opposite in the course of this debate this morning addressed themselves to this problem instead of proposing, as they have, that we provide, among other things, more nursing home beds? If we increase the number of beds without looking at the reasons for which people should be entering these homes and at what other services should be provided-
– I rise to order. I did not say that. I said-
– Order! That is not a point of order but a point for debate, as the honourable member well knows.
– That is deliberate misrepresentation.
– I have been in the honourable member’s company too much. The problem is infectious. Honourable members opposite have never questioned the system of services for the aged, and we are doing that. Let us move on to aged persons accommodation provided under the Aged Persons Accommodation Act. I am greatly concerned that so little of the money that goes into these centres comes from the voluntary agencies, as they are called, that have the administration of these places. Let us look at the figures. In 1973-74 the Australian Government gave nearly $19m by way of subsidy, residents’ donations were nearly $9m, and the organisations provided from their own funds a little over $3m, or about 10 per cent, give or take a little. What are called ‘residents’ donations’ represent 74 per cent of all the money against which subsidy is provided. The voluntary agencies say: ‘You can simply fix that up by increasing the amount of money you provide as subsidy one way or the other’. But that does not get away from the fundamental fact that there is an inequitable tax being imposed on people, not according to their means and the provision of accommodation is not made according to the requirements of the patient on some sort of socio-economic assessment but on the basis that if they have money they must provide it. It does not matter what their background was. That is inequitable, and I think it is an area for fundamental review. More importantly, do honourable members suggest that it is proper that we should give so much of the public money and that donors should provide so much money while the voluntary agencies provide so little? I can tell honourable members that there are quite a number of voluntary agencies which do not put one cent into these institutions yet sit in control of and administer them. We are changing the concepts. We have this review committee on accommodation for the aged, as I have mentioned. We will introduce deficit financing for nursing homes and we are proposing a situation under which there will be a regional arrangement so that there will be planning in relation to shared services such as those provided by geriatricians and laundry services and other services on the physical side. We will be seeking to involve local representation in these regional boards which will be involved with the planned development of these services. Local representation is essential. The taxpayers are providing the great bulk of this money - well over 60 per cent - and it is the most reasonable thing that that step be taken. 1 acknowledge that the voluntary agencies have done a great job in the community. We want them to continue to do so and we will continue to provide help. But we want the community to be involved also. We want a proper allocation of such services, with not too many in one area and not too much competition between voluntary agencies to build in one area. We want them to spread their services properly. Most importantly, we want to involve people in the way in which these services are conducted, in determining the standards which are to be achieved and to ensure that Australians have the best geriatric services in the world. I believe we will achieve this in the near future.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. A few moments ago the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) was good enough to mention me as the preceding Minister and asked why we had taken no action in regard to certain problems of the inmates of nursing homes. That is an utter misrepresentation. We did take action. Unfortunately the crash program for the aged persons hostels, which was one of the most important actions we took, has been muffed by the Minister. The crash program has fizzled out and that is the Minister’s fault, not ours.
Mr HAYDEN (Oxley- Minister for Social Security) - I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I did not make the statement attributed to me by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). What I said was that neither he nor the Ministers previous to him had taken action to protect inmates’ rights, which is something we have done. Also the hostels program, the honourable member will be happy to know, since he introduced it, is alive and well and growing rapidly.
– This morning we are debating a matter of public importance - the attitude of the Labor Government to the accommodation and care of the aged in aged persons homes and nursing homes which is creating a crisis situation. To listen to the remarks of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) one would imagine that we were talking about finance, about Budget figures and the $ 1,452m provided. That is not our concern today. Our concern is people - aged people, sick people, the individual who needs hospital or nursing home care and secure accommodation. This Minister for insecurity is taking away from the aged people of the community the security they formerly had under a Liberal Party-Country Party Government. Aged people are living in fear that they will not be able to find the type of accommodation they need when they require it. We need only ask the people whose names arc on the lists of charitable and benevolent organisations which have previously been able to provide homes for the aged through subsidies under the Aged Persons Homes Act. Ask them how long people have to wait to get accommodation. Many of these organisations which had imaginative programs for providing more accommodation have put those programs on ice because of the policies and attitudes of this Minister and his Government. Putting the programs on ice means that the aged and the sick are left out in the cold. In the area of nursing home care we find the same attitude. The present position cannot be better described than it was in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Adelaide ‘News’ recently. In that letter the correspondent said:
In view of Labor’s incessant propaganda -
I interpolate that we have had more of it this morning - on its concern for the poor and sick,, it may surprise many that while largesse is being distributed to all and sundry (including well-paid workers) the financial treatment of pensioners in nursing homes is 8 fill both heartless and shocking.
The public should realise that there are thousands of helpless old people who are simply being ignored as Ministers jostle for power while drawing government salaries of $34,000 a year. So much for the compassion under Labor.
– That is tripe. Fancy bringing that into the House.
– It is not tripe. Many aged people are in financial distress because of the inhumane policies of the present Government. The Government has failed to understand the financial pressures imposed upon the aged sick. The Minister talked about his desire to avoid economic discrimination. His policies over the last 18 months have been discriminatory against the aged sick. In January 1973 a very high proportion of the persons in nursing homes could afford the fees out of a pension and supplementary assistance income only. Since that time the situation has deteriorated very markedly to the point where aged sick people and their families in some instances have been paying as much as $60 to $100 a week over and above their pension income in order to have the type of accommodation that they deserve and require.
The Minister talks of his policy speech delivered on 1 May. It is interesting to look at that speech because on 1 May he said that he regarded the question of examination of nursing home benefits as requiring urgent action. In fact he promised urgent action. But what is urgent action? Action on 1 May? Action in June? No. In fact in June he told representatives of the nursing home organisations that they could not expect any assistance for their patients, the sick aged, until the September Budget. It was only as a result of massive public pressure that action was taken. People, the sick aged and their families and those who understood the problem, spoke out and took action. They drew the attention of the Minister to facts that apparently he did not understand. He did not understand that his Government, through its inflationary policies, had brought about a situation where there were very few nursing home beds available for people who were dependent on their pension income only.
He indicated on 1 May that in South Australia, for example, in order to right the situation it was necessary to increase the subsidy benefits by $1 3.20 a week. He gave the figures for other States also. But did he take action then? No. Did he take action in April? Oh, no. He said that there might be further increases in costs before the legislation could be introduced. Of course there are increases in costs. One has only to look at the politically determined increase in domestic salaries in the public hospitals in South Australia with the flow-on effect that it has had in the nursing home area - the consequential proper demand that it should be looked at with a view to increasing salaries of nurses in nursing homes - to find that over the last 18 months the wages bills in the nursing home area have increased at more than double the rate at which the normal cost of living has increased.
Yet the Minister said in May: ‘Oh, yes, §13.20 will be sufficient to enable pensioner patients to pay their nursing home fees.’ Then the pressure built up. It was through public demand that action was taken. Anyone who has seen what has happened here has before his or her eyes a clear instance of how public demand, through the representatives of the people in this House, can force a wayward and neglectful government to take action to take care of people - the sick aged. As a result of public pressure the Minister announced earlier this month that the benefits would be increased. The increases he announced were in most instances double those which he foreshadowed in May.
– And still not enough.
– They are still not enough, as my colleague has pointed out. Such is the rate at which inflation is roaring in this community. The Minister said that the increases will be introduced from 1 August. But what about the additional fees that patients and their families are committed to pay in respect of the weeks leading up to 1 August? The Minister, in a mean and miserly fashion, refused our request that those benefits be backdated. It is absolute nonsense to say that this could not be achieved. The clerical difficulties have been grossly exaggerated by this mean and miserly Minister. Furthermore, he has demonstrated his insincerity by telling this House that these benefits could be increased by a change in a regulation. That regulation, if it can be made now, could have been made in May or in April. If the Minister was aware of this - apparently he was not so out of touch with the problem - why did he not announce in April that nursing home benefits would be increased? Furthermore, why does he not tell the sick aged today that nursing home benefits will be index related and increased in the future as the inevitable increases in wages and other costs come to bear through the nursing home industry. We are constantly reading in the Press that nursing homes are closing. This is depriving people of much needed accommodation. We constantly read from people concerned in this area that the benefits that have been granted are inadequate, too little and too late.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The best possible answer I can give to all that has been said by the Opposition this morning is not only to refer to the many telegrams of thanks from patients in nursing homes in my electorate which I have received since the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) promptly increased the subsidy by up to $20 a week for patients in nursing homes, but also to refer to a telegram received by the Minister from a person who I think the Opposition will recognise and, I believe, respect. The telegram is dated 12 July 1974. It states:
Appreciate what you have done for nursing homes. Real trouble now is to finance wages to nurses until reimbursements are made to nursing homes. I am sure it would be appreciated by everyone if you could take action to expedite this.
It was signed by William McMahon, the former Liberal Prime Minister. He was expressing his thanks and appreciation to the Minister for the prompt action he took to give relief to the people in nursing homes. What an inappropriate time the Opposition picked to bring on this discussion, not only after this generous increase in subsidy was given to patients in nursing homes but also just after we increased the pension for single pensioners by $5 a week. Most of the persons in these nursing homes - 80 per cent of them we are told - are pensioners. I would venture further to say that the vast majority of them are single pensioners. So this is a most inappropriate time for the Opposition to bring on the discussion of this subject as a matter of public importance. As a matter of fact, some idea of what a higgledy-piggledy system private nursing home development has been in Australia is testified to by figures which I should like to cite about the distribution of nursing homes throughout Australia. If nursing homes are so urgently needed, if these private nursing homes need to be succoured in a way that is suggested by the Opposition, why is it that they are so ill-distributed over the continent of Australia? New South Wales has almost half of the nursing homes in Australia. As at 1972-73, there were 507 nursing homes in New South Wales out of the 1,236 in Australia.
– About the same proportion as its population.
– Victoria, the State from which the honourable member for Murray comes, is the State with the next highest number of private nursing homes at 263. That figure includes, of course, the non-profit private charitable organisation nursing homes.
– How many beds?
– I thank the honourable member for asking that question. I will be glad to oblige him with the answer. In the whole of Australia there was a total of 53,416 beds in nursing homes, including 24,257 in New South Wales. This in fact, represents close to 50 per cent of the total of beds in Australia. Does that not suggest to honourable members that there is something inherently wrong with a system that ill distributes nursing homes and nursing beds? Of course it does.
– What proportion?
– I do not have time in 10 minutes, which is nearly half gone, to answer the honourable member’s interjections. The fact that nearly 50 per cent of the nursing homes and almost 50 per cent of all beds are in New South Wales is an indication of the inadequacy of the system. As a matter of fact, the outgoing Liberal-Country Party Government in 1972 recognised the rackets that were operating in some of these private nursing homes. I do not want to be quoted as saying that all private nursing homes - including profit-making homes - are inadequate. Some of them, including some in my own electorate, are very good places and I commend them for it. But a lot of racketeering went on when private nursing homes were being hawked across the stock exchanges. Honourable members are aware of what has happened on the stock exchanges. The testimony of Senator Rae’s committee tells us a little about that. Private nursing homes were hawked across the stock exchanges and so the outgoing LiberalCountry Party Government set up a tribunal compelling the proprietors of these nursing homes to appear before this body to give evidence of the need to increase their fees. Until that time, it was an open slather, the nursing homes put up their fees and we the taxpayers of Australia had to meet this open go on the part of the nursing homes. That was the sort of thing that was going on.
I return now to the more positive things that this Government has done. The Minister for Social Security said that this year the Government will spend $14 lm supporting patients in nursing homes. I have referred to the increases which the Government has given both in terms of the subsidy for nursing home patients and also the indirect subsidy of the increase in pensions. This last pension increase is the fourth substantial increase in less than 2 years that this Government has given. In each case the increase has outweighed anything in the way of price increases.
The Government has gone further. It has guaranteed the debts of private non-profit making nursing homes. It has guaranteed their running costs in relation to their acceptance of day patients. What did the previous Government do about that? It promised to set up under a particular Act in 1969 a welfare system that would help to keep these kinds of patients in their own homes. The Opposition parties then in government said, and they said again recently in their policy statement, that about 40 per cent of these people should never be in nursing homes. They should be looked after in their own homes. That was all right, but the previous Government did nothing about it. It did not train the social workers and the ancillary staff needed for such work. It did not provide the necessary subsidies, such as housekeeper services and so on, to help people who did not have families to look after them or who had families who could not care less about their aged parents. The previous Government did not train the kind of people who were necessary to keep these aged people in their own homes.
A number of schemes now in operation are designed to do just this and to build public nursing homes and hostels to look after these people. We have that very ambitious program, the Australian Assistance Program, which is aimed to do the sort of thing I have just mentioned - to help to keep more aged people in their homes and to provide them with a comprehensive range of medical and social services. I am reminded that it is not only the Minister for Social Security who is engaged in this enterprise. The Minister for Health (Dr Everingham), who is sitting at the table, also is involved. The Sax Commission brought down a report in April 1974 in which it recommended the expenditure of S260m for mental hospital facilities, public nursing homes and health hospitals. The Government will provide a subsidy on a $2 for Si basis to the States to help in this matter.
The Australian Health Department through geriatric care services, including follow-up services and the like, is funding the community health program. In various places around Australia today there are springing up community health centres which enable aged people to stay in their own homes. These centres cater for people other than aged people but their establishment helps aged people to stay in their own homes, because they have the assurance and the security to which the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) referred. They have the assurance that if they take sick temporarily and need hospitalisation they can go to the local community health centre. If they need hospitalisation for only a day or part of a day they can go to the community health centre. If any honourable member wants to see this sort of service in operation in a wonderful way, he can go to Newcastle in New South Wales where it has been functioning for years. It takes people away from costly services.
What did the previous Government do about building public hospitals in Australia? A person spoke to me only the other day about her father who went to the local public hospital, was admitted and was kept there half a day. The hospital staff then said: ‘Look, we have not got a place for you here, you will have to go back home’. Within a few days that unfortunate old man died of pneumonia. There is, on the testimony of every State government in Australia today, a woeful inadequacy of public hospitals. Let people try to get into any public hospital especially if they happen to be geriatric patients. That is the testimony of what the previous Government did. It ill behoves the Opposition to preach to the Governmen about what it is not doing.
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion has concluded.
– I move:
I do not intend to speak at great length on this motion. As honourable members are aware, we have for the coming week a rather heavy legislative program which the Government is anxious to complete. The purpose of these hours is to fit in the business and to allow adequate time for discussion. Although the motion states that these hours shall stand for the remainder of the year, it is my intention to review the hours at the commencement of the Budget session. I accordingly advise honourable members of that intention. I do not say that these hours will continue into the next session. I know that on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings honourable members from both sides of the House like to be as free as possible. Because of the business which is to be placed before the House and political events that are pending, I ask honourable members to adopt this motion as a temporary measure at this stage. It will be reviewed later in the year.
– The Leader of the House (Mr Daly) gave notice of this motion. After receiving notice of the motion I said to the Leader of the House that because of the nature of these proceedings - unusual as they are and their duration being as it is - the Opposition parties would not at this stage raise objection to them. The whole concept of the 3-week sitting as it was originally intended was that it was predominantly to allow those Bills which were covered by the double dissolution requirements to be passed so that if it was necessary for there to be a joint sitting of the 2 Houses of Parliament that might take place. It seems that the Government has used this sessional period to introduce quite a deal of other legislation. In the circumstances of the inflation that is rampant in the country the Opposition was pleased, of course, to accord time for the passage of legislation that had the solution of inflation as its purpose. Unfortunately, to date very little of the supplementary legislation introduced by the Government seems to have any relevance to that purpose. The extension of hours is intended, of course, to enable the passage of the legislation that the Government has introduced. Because we recognise the necessity for the passage of that legislation and because we also recognise that if the Government is to prepare a meaningful Budget it will need time to do it, the Opposition parties do not at this stage raise objection to the hours proposed in the motion.
However, I intimate to the Government - I know that the Leader of the House has already concurred in this course of action - that we hope that the hours of sitting for the next session which will commence with the presentation of the Budget, will be a matter for further consideration, and that the passage of this motion will not mean that we will necessarily be sitting at these times when the House resumes in September or on whatever date the Government and you, Mr Speaker, see fit to call honourable members together. For that reason the Opposition does not oppose the motion, but merely canvasses its hope that in the time that is available the Government will take more meaningful steps to control inflation than we believe it has taken to date. We accept the motion on the understanding that the Government recognises that the sitting hours will be reconsidered prior to the resumption of the Parliament for the Budget session.
– I cannot resist the temptation to take up the time of the House for 60 seconds to put a personal point of view. I think I have the sympathy of the Leader of the House (Mr Daly), but it is because of the intransigent attitude of most members of this House that what I would like to see has never been introduced. I think it is a rare piece of insanity that 127 adult members come to Canberra each week and must have high tea between 6.15 and 8 o’clock. This denies all of us the opportunity of mixing with the Canberra community, dining as civilised human beings with the diplomatic corps and senior public servants and learning something about Canberra in a civilised way. As it is now, as you would know, Mr Speaker - this applies to Ministers as well, unless they can get leave - we have to leave here at 6.15 if we are to dine with people with whom we want to dine, such as members of foreign embassies.
– When you are as old as we are and more statesmanlike you will not worry about wining and dining.
– I know that the Minister resists all forms of social intercourse, but I would like him to allow us to continue to have that privilege if we want it. Seriously, we have to leave here at 6.20; we arrive at the ambassador’s home at 6.30 or 6.45; and we leave at 7.45. We have one hour for talking in a situation in which no real discussion or dialogue can take place. I make the plea that perhaps one night a week, Wednesday night, the House sit through to 8.30 and adjourn for the evening. I do not think we would lose much debating time, and 1 think it would be a much more civilised way of conducting ourselves.
– in reply- Briefly, I thank the Opposition for its support of this motion. I have listened with particular interest to the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). I, too, would like to see different sitting hours for the Parliament. I hope that between now and the Budget session we can look at the matter he has raised and see whether something can be done. In some parliaments of the world one night of the week is completely free, be it for committee work, social activities or desirable things such as that. The question of sitting through meal hours also is worth considening. I undertake to discuss this very fully with members of the Opposition before the Budget session to see whether we can work out something which will give us the same number of hours but at the same time cover the matters the honourable member mentioned. I think it is a matter the Parliament could well consider by forming a special committee, because not only this aspect but also other aspects of the administration of the Parliament could be jointly made much better than they are now. I undertake to look at the honourable member’s suggestions to see what can be done, and I will have discussions with the Opposition.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Mr Ian Malcolm Macphee made and subscribed the affirmation of allegiance as member for the Division of Balaclava.
Bill presented by Mr Clyde Cameron, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a Bill to make it easier for industrial organisations to amalgamate into larger and more efficient organisations than are now possible. The Bill represents in broad form the proposition which I introduced into the Parliament early last year and reintroduced later in the year and which on both occasions were rejected by the Senate. I think it is a great tragedy for industrial relations in Australia that the Senate rejected those proposals last year.
I welcome to the Parliament the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee), who does not seem to be even listening to what I have to say, because he is a gentlemen who has had a long association with employeremployee relations. He understands industrial relations exceptionally well. I suppose that, apart from the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who is now sitting at the table, he would be the best informed member of the Opposition on labour relations. I am sure that he will tell his colleagues on the Opposition side that one of the great troubles in Australia today is that we have too many small and inefficient trade unions. We should have fewer of them. We should have more efficient ones, ones that are able to represent their members in a more meaningful way than is possible with the work force divided among 303 separate organisations. Most of our demarcation disputes can be traced to the difficulties that at present exist under the law in bringing about amalgamations.
I will not go through the Bill with a fine toothcomb because the argument for easier amalgamations have already been canvassed twice before in the Parliament, but I ask that the members of the Opposition parties here use their influence, if they have any, with their Senate colleagues to ensure that the Bill goes through the Senate this time. In broad terms, the Bill provides that an amalgamation can be brought about by the committee of management of each organisation concerned being required to resolve upon the proposed amalgamation and to accept a scheme of amalgamation. Publication of the proposed amalgamation in the Press and in the journals of the organisation concerned will be required. The scheme of amalgamation will have to be filed with the Industrial Registrar. Other existing procedures in relation to the registration of organisations and the alteration of rules of existing organisations will then apply, and in regard to these matters objections can be lodged on specified grounds. The Registrar will then be required to conduct a hearing and to determine the objections raised.
Provision will be made that before an amalgamation can be finally registered there will need to be a ballot of all the members of both organisations or, if there are more than 2 organisations, of all of the organisations involved; but it will not be necessary to hold up an amalgamation merely because less than 50 per cent of the members eligible to vote failed to do so. The Act will require that every member of every organisation affected by the amalgamation shall be supplied with a ballot paper and given the right to vote. It will be up to him to decide whether he exercises the right. But those who choose to exercise the right to vote will be able to decide by a majority of their number whether the registration of the amalgamation is to be consummated.
The other new provision that I have introduced into the Bill is that in the case of one organisation wishing to amalgamate with another and the management committee of the other organisation unreasonably refusing to allow its members to have a say in whether the amalgamation should be entertained, by a petition from 20 per cent of the members of the second organisation to the Registrar for an officially conducted ballot on the subject, which will take the form of a plebiscite, the members of the second organisation will be able to have a say over the heads of their management committee on the question of whether their organisation ought to accept the amalgamation offer of the first union. The cost of these ballots or plebiscites will be borne by the Government. That is the provision that already exists in the law. The only exception to this provision will be in the case of the amalgamating union having 5 per cent or less members than the host union already has, in which case the host union will have the right to apply to the Registrar to obtain an exemption from the need to hold a plebiscite of its members to determine whether they will accept the amalgamation offered by the amalgamating union. It will be up to the Registrar to determine the question.
I will give one example of the sort of thing that the Registrar would no doubt take into account. If the Shipwrights Union, with less than 5 per cent of the total membership of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, sought to amalgamate with the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union although it would be compulsory for all the members of the Shipwrights Union to be given the opportunity to vote, the Registrar would be able to say, upon application from the AMWU, that he considered that the sort of work that the shipwrights were doing was so similar to and so much like the work that the AMWU members were doing that there was no need to have a ballot of the members of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. But if the Nurses Federation, with a membership of less than 5,000, decided to amalgamate with the AMWU, I would think that the Registrar would say to the AMWU, if it sought to be exempt from the provisions of the Act requiring that a plebiscite of members be held: The work that nurses do is so dissimilar from the work that boiler makers and other members of the AMWU usually perform that it would seem to me incongruous that your members should have to accept an association with nurses except by a decision of the members at a plebiscite.’
I will not delay the House any longer on this matter. I will wait until the conclusion of the debate when I will reply to any points which might be raised and which are worth replying to. I hope that the Opposition will give the Bill a speedy passage so that it can go to the Senate and become the first leg of a double dissolution, if necessary.
Debate (on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Clyde Cameron, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill is in terms identical to those of the Bill that I introduced into this Parliament earlier this year. It has not been altered at all. The speech which the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) prepared for that earlier debate, I have no doubt, he will proceed to read in this debate. The honourable member did say in the course of another discussion that I had with him some time ago that this Bill did not have the approval of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Well, the presentation of this Bill ought to be the best way, I think, of making my point that the ACTU does not control the Australian Labor Party or the Labor Government. The Australian Government supports the ACTU when it is right. If in fact it opposes the legislation now before this House, which I very much doubt, the Bill will go ahead nonetheless. This Bill is in line with the platform of the Australian Labor Party and I believe, notwithstanding the assurances to the contrary which the honourable member for Wannon has given from time to time, that the ACTU supports it too.
The principal provisions of the Bill are to ensure that when agreements are made between unions and employers they have the endorsement of the rank and file members of the unions concerned in the agreement. After all, an agreement which is made between a union official and an employer does not sell the labour of the union official, but sells the labour of the members of the organisation which the union official represents. If one is fixing the price of somebody else’s labour - if that is what the contract is all about - the person whose labour is being bargained for and sold ought to be given a say in whether the price agreed upon is a proper price.
I take no further time on this Bill. My views and the views of the Government have already been put very well by my good self earlier in the year. Once again I will follow the procedure that I have indicated I will follow with respect to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1974. I will wait to see whether there are any worthwhile points made in opposition to this Bill and if there are, or if I judge them to be worthwhile, I will of course reply to them at the conclusion of the debate.
Debate (on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser) adjourned.
Mr Peter Hertford Drummond made and subscribed the oath of allegience as member for the Division of Forrest.
Debate resumed from 24 July (vide page 617), on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I was pleased to see a change of attitude adopted yesterday by the Opposition to this legislation and the changes proposed by it. Perhaps that shows the value of the public debate that this Government gives to all matters that it brings before this House. It provides more time for the provisions and implications of Bills to be understood. I have taken note of the reservations expressed by the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony). The plan that the Labor Government has in mind for extending the scope of the Australian Industry Development Corporation begins with the creation of a National Investment Fund. The AIDC will have a special relationship with the National Investment Fund but will be separate from it. The AIDC will become a public investment corporation through which any individual citizen can gain a direct- interest in the development of Australian industry and through which he may share in its income. This role will be in addition to its role of funnelling overseas funds into Australia for the development of Australian industry.
When the first concept of the AIDC was introduced into this House by the then Minister for Trade and Industry, Sir John McEwen, he stated that the Government clearly approved of and would continue to encourage the inflow of investment from abroad. He went on to say, however, that it was a matter of national concern - this is the part that we should note - that overseas capital was usually obtained on terms which had resulted in predominantly foreign ownership of many of our greatest industrial enterprises and fastest growing industries. He went on to say that in establishing the AIDC the Government believed that it was taking a major step forward in policies for development and for Australian ownership. Sir John McEwen said that it would retain and expand Australian ownership.
That the original concept of the AIDC was far too restricted is proven by the vast growth of foreign ownership of Australian resources throughout the years. That proof is strengthened by the report of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control of Australian Resources of October 1972 in which it was stated:
The Committee is of the opinion that the Australian Resources Development Bank and the Australian Industry Development Corporation are both performing important tasks. However, at this stage of their development, due to causes beyond their control, their role is far too insignificant to be considered a major force in the capital market. The Committee recommends that the activities of both these two bodies be expanded further ….
With that report the Government concurs. The AIDC, if it is to be effective in this day and age and for future years, needs to be expanded and needs the amendments which will give to the average Australian the opportunity to invest in the future development of his own country. The Opposition continues to fail to recognise that we are not living in the 1950s or 1960s. Australian people are much more aware of the great sell-out of Australian resources and minerals, and much more vocal in opposing such a sell-out. The time for fooling all the people all the time has passed. I think that the Opposition will find now that it is increasingly difficult to fool any of the people for any of the time. Since the
Labor Government came to power more and more public debate has been taking place on all issues that come before this Parliament and people are much better informed. The Australian people endorse the concept of the AIDC as an exciting prospect. The average Australian will want to invest some of his income in the AIDC. He will want to share in the ownership of his own country. He will want to share in the profits to which his ownership will entitle him. Life offices, banks and other investment groups have a part to play, but it does not include any place in which ordinary investors can influence their work or policies, or share directly in the income from their investments, except in rare cases. With the AIDC the individual citizen can have an effect because be will elect a government on policies and philosophies that will be directly reflected in the projects of the AIDC.
The constant sniping from the Opposition in the previous Parliament about socialism by stealth was merely an attempt to draw attention away from the real issues involved and an attempt to cloud the judgment of Australians by raising bogies. It is really an insult to the intelligence of Australians consistently to raise this old socialist fear. No national project can be undertaken by the AIDC unless the Government submits, and both Houses of Parliament accept, a resolution to appropriate special money to cover the national interest investment, or a resolution is adopted by both Houses which guarantees the AIDC and the subject of the accompanying Bill - the National Investment Fund- that the Government will carry any losses should they provide the funds. The whole of the AIDC’s operations will be subject to audit, as is the case with every other business. The Board of Directors of the AIDC will be almost entirely the same as was first appointed by Sir John McEwen. National interest activities must first obtain the authority of the Parliament. Proposals must first be debated fully in public.
As well as making provision for the average Australian to back his country and to invest in the development of its resources and industries, the AIDC will also borrow funds from overseas so that we will be able to obtain that capital which our rate of growth requires but which we cannot obtain from within Australia alone. This overseas marshalling of fun will be done so that Australian equity will not be sold out to foreign control, as has been the case in the past. The AIDC will allocate investment funds. In making decisions, the AIDC will take into account the economic viability of the project and balance that with the nation’s needs for decentralisation of industry, protection from pollution, balanced employment opportunities and better use of resources. The AIDC cannot and does not seek to change the Australian industrial scene; but it can, by balancing commercial, national and social factors, provide the impetus to industrial development in areas in which it is needed.
I should have imagined that this Bill would have been supported before by the Australian Country Party. I am glad to see that it is going to support it now. After all, for many years the Australian Country Party has presented itself as being the absolute truth on the affairs of farmers. One would imagine that it would welcome the chance to help to finance the growth of producer and farmer cooperatives. This legislation will help to set up strong and efficient producer co-operatives. Rural communities should welcome this legislation. They are frequently at the mercy of large scale city corporations, many of which are foreign owned, which, by their control of the bottleneck between the producer and the consumer, exploit both the producer and the consumer alike. Farmers should be able to have a fair say in the marketing of their products and consumers should be able to benefit from genuine competition. The AIDC is not a vehicle that will be able to buy back Australia quickly, if at all. Indeed, the selling of Australia has gone too far for that. It is intended that the AIDC will provide an alternative source of funds to reduce or prevent the continued erosion of Australian equity by direct overseas investment.
I heard the Leader of the Australian Country Party mention that one piece of cake can be cut up into only so many slices. I do not see why there should be any fear of the AIDC getting a share of the cake. After all competition is supposed to be the breath of life today. The life offices, banks and so on can go into competition with the AIDC. Anyone who examines this proposition fairly, objectively and without politics and emotion must come to the conclusion that it is in the national interest. It is in Australia’s interests and it is in the interests of the average citizen who has a dollar to invest. I commend the Bills to the House.
– The honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child), who has just resumed her seat, expressed pleasure at the change of attitude on the part of honourable members on this side of the House to this legislation. The truth of the matter is that any change of attitude has taken place mainly on the part of honourable members on the other side of the House. The House has before it 2 Bills for debate. One is the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill 1974, which has been considerably modified as compared with a similar Bill introduced in 1973. I am gratified that as a result of those changes and subject to certain further amendments being accepted the Opposition broadly will be able to support the measure. The broad objective of this legislation is to enlarge the scope of the Australian Industry Development Corporation, as established by the previous Government, to enable it more effectively to carry out its twin objectives of encouraging the development of Australian industry and resources and of fostering maximum Australian ownership and control of Australian industry and resources.
Notwithstanding all that the honourable member for Henty said, those objectives - the exploitation by Australian initiative of Australia’s vast potential for development with a maximum of Australian ownership and control - are every bit as strongly held by honourable members on this side of the House as they are by the supporters of the Government. I concede that by and large- the Australian Labor Party has perhaps done a better job of convincing the electorate of its concern about these matters than honourable members on this side of the House. The Labor Party, with good nationalistic rhetoric, attacks the hated multinational companies and thereby adds an extra dimension of fervour to its story. But in practice the truth of the matter is that the . Government has not done anything very specific in this area. It has not laid down guidelines for foreign investment. It has not re-examined the taxation legislation that applies in this area. It has not toughened up in any sense; rather it has renewed unchanged the Companies (Foreign Takeovers) Act brought in by the previous Government, the legislation that was designed to protect Australian companies from overseas takeovers. The Government’s only policy initiative in the general overseas capital area - the noninterest deposit requirement on overseas borrowing - has in fact limited the borrowing capacity of Australian-owned businesses to a much greater degree than overseas companies. So it is a case of much talk and no action.
I repeat that this side of the House is resolute in its determination to see strong measures to ensure that Australians have maximum control and ownership of our national resources and industries, consistent with the fostering of the full and continuing development of this country that we all want to see. This Bill to enlarge the Australian Industry Development Corporation is an initiative in that direction. Of no little interest is the proposal for a mechanism for the participation in major Australian development of the ordinary man in the street, referred to by the honourable member for Henty, through the Investment Bonds of the National Investment Fund. As a matter of interest, I advocated something very much along those lines in an address given some years ago. I was keen then - I am still keen, and the cynical might aver that I am idealistic enough to want to see the small man get a stake in the ‘big time’. I do not mean a buy-back of General Motors-Holden’s Pty Ltd or something phoney like that, but a stake in a ground floor major Australian development.
But while that aspect of the National Investment Fund proposal appeals, unhappily there are other aspects of the very comprehensive proposal of the Government in this second Bill about which one can express only the deepest reservations. I sincerely hope that the Government in a spirit of constructive co-operation will accede to our view that the proper course is to await the report of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control of Australian Resources, established to consider the 1973 legislation. I hope that in the light of its considerations the Committee may assist with a proper assessment of the present measure, and that the Government will await that report before these Bills are finally disposed of by the Parliament.
Whilst the Opposition will be proposing some further amendments to the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill, it welcomes the changes that the Government has seen fit to make in the present legislation as compared with that introduced last year. Notable among these are the restraints now imposed on the AIDC against entering into any major business activity entirely on its own account. The Opposition has been
assured that it was never the intention that the AIDC should do so. We are gratified by that. I gather that the Government is sympathetic to a further amendment that the Opposition proposes to clause 4 dealing with the proposed changes in function of the Corporation, which will put this matter beyond doubt. To enter into a major business on its own account should not be the purpose of the AIDC. Its purpose is rather in the area of putting together or mobilising investment funds into large lumps, especially from overseas, where a body with the authority and standing of a government sponsored institution can have more success than an Australian company acting alone. Its purpose is to put these investment funds at the disposal of an Australian company where the Australian initiative or participation might not otherwise occur and, when the industry is established, to divest its holding to other Australian interests, as was required under the original Act. This is a useful - nay, a key - role in the future of Australian development for an enlarged AIDC.
One could say that there has perhaps been some lack in this respect in the past, especially in the more distant past. There have been perhaps too few companies such as the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd, big enough and enterprising enough to ‘do a Mount Newman’; that is, to take an appropriate Australian share in such a major development. I welcome the purpose of the AIDC proceeding in this way - mobilising funds, assisting and then divesting. Thus, properly, the new clause 8 (4) in the Bill restores clause 8 (5) in the original Act requiring the Corporation to divest in this way, a requirement which was to be deleted by the 1973 Bill.
The further main change in the present legislation which is greatly to be welcomed is the provision in clause 8 (5) which expressly provides that the Corporation shall not acquire control of an Australian owned company except where that is necessary to prevent the ownership of the company passing from Australian hands. The wording of the Bill at this point is not entirely acceptable but I understand that the Government is to put down an amendment to this clause. We shall be looking forward to that with interest. As the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) who preceded me in this debate said, these are major changes to the Government’s 1973 proposals - changes which were sought by this side of the House in the debates on the Bill last year. It is gratifying that, notwithstanding the charges of obstruction and perverseness to which we were then subjected, the Government now sees fit to concede our point so that the legislation can go forward and the AIDC, along with the Australian Resources Development Bank and other like institutions - the AIDC acting like the ‘TAA’ of the show, so to speak, and the others like the ‘Ansett’ of the show - together can get on with the job of furthering Australian development and enlarging the ownership and control of our Australian resources and industries.
Let me return to the philosophy and thrust of the legislation. Much has been made in relation to this measure of its providing the vehicle to ‘buy back the farm’, of getting back into Australian hands, Australian ownership, the mines and the factories now held by overseas interests and in particular by multi-national corporations. It is good stuff, bound to appeal to every red-blooded Australian. It certainly has always appealed to me; I say that categorically. But what I think is very important is to understand just what is and what is not sensible policy in this area. The fact is that a lot of nonsense is talked in the name of ‘buying back the farm’. The first thing to make clear is to ask: Will the operations of even an enlarged AIDC encourage additional domestic saving? It is difficult to see any reason why it should. That I believe was Sir Alan Westerman’s view as expressed to the Senate Committee. Will it so encourage additional savings through the new investment bonds of the NIF? Will it encourage Australians who hitherto have made a few investments here and there to say: ‘I took up some of these AIDC investment bonds instead of spending’? That is not likely, especially with the accelerating inflation we have had under this Government. One would want a return in capital gain or dividend that would outstrip the inflation rate. That would be some return in today’s conditions. In fact there is not any way, at least within the power of the AIDC, to increase saving. If we want to do this - by and large I believe that we ought to - it is a matter for overall general economic policy.
So far as the AIDC is concerned, what is involved in the domestic scene is a diversion of savings and investable funds from existing channels. That needs to be clearly recognised.
The matter has a number of aspects. Firstly, the use of the funds so diverted, for the purchase from overseas interests of existing enterprises in Australia, is more likely to disadvantage than to advantage this country when examined in the cold light of reason as distinct from the euphoria of the ‘buy back’ rhetoric. The recent Industries Assistance Commission report on the car industry underlined this point. ‘Buy back’ cannot mean the ex-appropriation of assets. It means acquiring the business of the overseas owned company, a going concern, at its present value, and that means the capitalised value of its future profit stream. And that valuation, for a successful enterprise, can be a lot different from, indeed vastly greater than, the ground floor outlays that established the business. The effect would be that you would buy back in this way, which might give joy to the genuine Australian sentiment of buying back the farm but in reality would have the reverse effect where what you are seeking is to cut back overseas ownership and control. After all, that is the key thing - control. But what you would be doing by this process would be to enable overseas interests to control a given total quantity of Australian resources for less money or more resources for a given amount of money as the funds realised by the Australian buy back are reinvested elsewhere.
The essence of bringing up the proportion of Australian ownership of our industries and resources, which we all want to achieve, is not an easy-quick, popular but largely phoney ‘buy back’ program but rather the slower and more sound and sure process of enlarging proportionately the quantum of Australian savings and investment through appropriate overall economic policy and within that enlarged quantum of domestic investible resources, plus funds from overseas, working through the enlarged AIDC as proposed in these Bills - acting as it were, as I said, as the TAA of the show - and other institutions, notably the Australian Resources Development Bank and like development finance institutions, to engage Australian initiative and enterprise in major developments at ground floor. That is the guts of the matter - ground floor investment in new development. For it is the ground floor investment that counts. Then Australia shares in the risks of the enterprise and also in the great potential rewards - as well, of course, as in the potential losses of the unsuccessful projects, and there can be a number of those.
With this sort of ground floor participation increasingly financed from Australian sources the proportion of Australian assets under Australian ownership and control will steadily rise - not perhaps as fast as would suit this rather impetuous Government but, as I said, in a sound and long term way. To achieve that, as I said before, we need an appropriate overall economic policy and an appropriate economic strategy and into that strategy an enlarged AIDC, for which these Bills provide, can fit in as an important part.
Backing up the AIDC - going along with it as its principal source of finance - is the proposed National Investment Fund. For my own part I can see only merit in the proposal for the investment bond as a vehicle for ordinary Australians to invest and to share in the development of the country. Of course, there would be large investments by larger institutions. But, as I have said, nothing in the creation of the AIDC of itself is going to increase the quantum of domestic investable resources; so inevitably what the AIDC captures is a diversion from other users of investable funds and other institutions. I could contemplate that with equanimity were I convinced that the Fund proposed in this legislation would not have, would not be given now or at some time in the future, advantages over other operators - if it were constrained to compete with like institutions in the private sector on equal terms. But this I find it difficult to be sure of.
There is the intended exemption of the Corporation - as provided in the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill - from Federal and State stamp duty on its lending and borrowing documents giving the paper of the Corporation the advantage that I can see of greater liquidity and therefore, greater desirability. There is the proposed capital subsidy of 10 per cent mentioned in the Minister’s second reading speech last year. There is the possibility of major tax concessions to oblige conformity with a new, say, 40-30-20 rule. There is in the National Investment Fund Bill clause 16 (3) which would empower the Fund to engage in saving schemes and other proposals where presumably exemption from stamp duty would be a considerable advantage.
In all the uncertainties I trust that the Government will not consider it unreasonable, first, to accede to the amendment referred to by the Leader of the Australian
Country Party which seeks to put a limit - and not a niggardly one by any means - on the amount of investment bonds that can be issued, at least within Australia. That is proposed as a new sub-clause 4 to clause 5 of the National Investment Fund Bill. Second, I think it is not unreasonable that the Government should recognise that deep misgivings of the Opposition about the National Investment Fund Bill are not without foundation. Surely it is reasonable that not only we, but also the Government which has already seen fit to make such considerable amendments to the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill, should await the report of the Senate committee of inquiry. Then we, and the Government, will be in a position to make a more informed and a more effective judgment about this important measure designed to foster the participation of Australians in the development of Australia with the maximum of Australian ownership and control.
– When the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) was speaking last evening he referred to the awesome scope of this legislation.
– That is primarily the 1973 legislation.
– Well, the 1973 legislation. But I take it from some of the comments that have been made that there is still a feeling on the part of members of the Opposition that this is a very radical change in the way in which we operate the financial structure of this country. I do not believe that there has been any great change of attitude on the part of the Government. Discussions have been held with representatives of business and financial corporations and the changes in this legislation are aimed at making those financial institutions feel more happy about the situation. There has been a willingness on the part of the Government to respond to some of these fears. I believe that many of the fears have been unfounded. This legislation is not, as some people have attempted to say previously, nationalisation by stealth or anything like it. There is a need for balanced investment in this country. There is a need to marshal our resources and there is a need for financial changes in a modern society.
Much has been mentioned recently in the Press and in other places about the crisis faced by capitalism, which is the system which operates in the Western democracies, and about a need for change. Honourable members will recall that there was a change in attitude after the depression of 1929 and we entered upon the Keynesian era of economics. I believe the world has changed a good deal, particularly in recent years, and there is a need for us to re-assess the way in which we use the resources of our country. There is a need for the whole world to re-assess the way in which it uses its resources and to fix the priorities for that use. One of the great advantages which legislation of this sort brings to the attention of the Australian people is the way in which we can marshal the resources that are available. In this country there are many people who would wish to invest in projects of national priority within their own country. Many people would be motivated by the fact that they would be assisting in the development of their own country. I point out to the House that the amount of money which will be organised through the National Investment Fund and operated by the Australian Industry Development Corporation under this legislation will be an extremely small part of the total amount of money invested in Australia. There are areas which require investment funds but which are not fully provided for by existing financial attitudes and institutions. I believe that this legislation will enable us, through the National Investment Fund, to marshal the resources which are needed.
The Bills under discussion are not radical. They operate within the traditional financial concepts applying in this country. Can anyone deny that it is to the advantage of this country and of the people who live in it to marshal those resources, and that there are areas of development which presently are not being undertaken but which could be undertaken with great advantage of this country?
I should like to refer to some of the provisions of the Bills. I mention first the changes proposed to be made by the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill. As honourable members would know, under the existing Act the AIDC is limited to providing finance for the development of manufacturing, processing or mining industries. The changes to the Act proposed by this Bill would enable the AIDC to promote a wider range of activity. They would enable investment in goods transport and distribution and also would promote the develop ment and use of natural resources and technology. People who ought to know tell us, for instance, that huge reserves of gas and oil exist in Australia. Legitimate argument can arise between the Government and the Opposition as to whether the development of such resources should be promoted by subsidies and concessions to companies many of them foreign owned, or whether we should not as a matter of national priority embark upon investment in our own right, giving ordinary Australians a chance to participate in the development of their country. Undoubtedly, private investment will continue in the future, but I believe that a case can be made out for investment in these projects by the public sector.
Other matters also deserve consideration. For instance, I believe that, with the continuing energy crisis in the world, there will be a need to use resources to develop such things as solar energy. Such projects will not appear immediately attractive to private investment; yet considered opinion may tell us that investment is necessary in that field of development, and an organisation such as the AIDC, through the National Investment Fund, will enable us to organise our resources to develop that type of industry, if such should be the need. As I mentioned earlier, the amendments to the Act proposed in this Bill have arisen from discussions with various sectors of private investment, financial institutions and business groups. The Government also has taken note of suggestions made in debates in this House and in another place and through the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control of Australian Resources. The provisions of the earlier Bill giving the Corporation power ‘to raise money otherwise than by borrowing’ and ‘to carry on any business or activity’ have been omitted from clause 5. The Government’s attitude has been to respond to suggestions which have been made.
In regard to the National Investment Fund Bill, its more important provisions are that the Fund will be administered by the AIDC and will consist of a number of financially separate divisions, organised to attract different categories of investors - for example, the general public, large institutions and foreign investors. It also will enable people to pick and choose as to the sort of investment into which they wish to put their money. In other words, if there is an investment which contains a good deal of risk as compared with other investments - such as investment in oil search or in the search for other minerals - obviously it is to the advantage of both the investors and the proper organisation of the Fund to separate those categories.
In the main, the Fund will operate by issuing investment bonds. I point out to the House that these are similar to investments in unit trusts and so on which have become part of the Australian financial scene. The bondholders will share in the income and capital growth of the division to which they subscribe. Of course, this has not always been the case with various other unit trust investments. Sometimes, people have invested merely on the basis of sharing in dividends and returns and not always in the capital growth. I believe that the provision contained in the Bill is very important.
In addition to issuing investment bonds, the AIDC will be able to offer superannuation, retirement or savings schemes to the public under section 16 (3) and any life cover included in these schemes will be arranged through established life assurance companies. In its administration of the Fund the AIDC will be supervised by an independent supervisory council to be established by Part IV of the Bill to protect the interests of the subscribers to the fund. I stress again that I believe that this is a marvellous opportunity for the ordinary investor - the ordinary man in the street whom the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) mentioned during his speech - to organise his assets not only for his own benefit but also for the benefit of the country. It is time that we started to rethink the way in which we operate. We live in a pluralist society not only in the social sense but also in the economic sense. Many examples exist of government enterprise working in conjunction with private enterprise, and I believe that in a balanced type of society - the sort of pluralist society, both economically and socially, in which we live - we should be encouraging that sort of investment.
This Bill is important because it enlarges the scope of the previous legislation. In my opinion, although this legislation is only part of it, the Bill is necessary to enable us to organise our resources so that we do not always have to look to foreign risk capital to encourage the development of our own natural resources or to assist in other development projects where money may be scarce.
I look forward to seeing this legislation not reduce the scope of investment in Australia but add substantially and significantly to the way in which we can enlarge and diversify our development.
I am pleased that the Opposition is supporting the main provisions of the Bill. I believe that the fears that were expressed before were unfounded. I point out to the House that the amendments that were moved when the 1973 Bill was before the House would have completely emasculated the legislation. I do not believe that those amendments could be regarded as being a serious attempt to improve the legislation; they were moved merely to block it. I do not believe that the changes proposed to this Bill by the Opposition, whether or not the Government agrees with the amendments, can be said to be obstructionist. To this extent, I welcome the change of attitude of honourable members opposite. I believe that there has been an exchange of opinions not only between Government members and Opposition members in this place but also in the community at large. I look forward confidently to the use of the resources, which this legislation will enable us to develop, for the benefit of this country.
Sitting suspended from 12.50 to 2.15 p.m.
Debate (on motion by Mr McMahon) adjourned.
Henry Arthur Hewson made and subscribed the oath of allegiance as member for the Division of McMillan.
– I think I can put my conclusions fairly accurately and my case as completely as I can by saying that I share the views of my colleague the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards), but I press my arguments too, I believe, a more rational conclusion and in a more intense way. Also it is accurate to say that I have been associated with the proposals relating to the Australian Industry Development Corporation and its related organisation for a longer period and in a more intimate manner than any other honourable member in this House. Shortly after I became Treasurer in 1966 a file was deposited on my table without any introduction at all and without any advice given to me by departmental officials. The proposals related to the formation of the Australian Resources Development Bank and had been within Treasury for some considerable period before I became Treasurer but had not been pushed to finality. The function of that Bank was to mobilise funds in order to enable Australians and Australian business to develop large scale Australian natural resources and Australian industry. It was approved by me and came into operation in 1967.
The Bank has been remarkably successful, but the one great pity I express about its achievements is that it seems to have completely lacked the ability to communicate with the Australian people in order to show them just how much it has achieved, how efficient it was and how competent was its management. I believe that this lack of communication and public relations activities was due to the fact that instead of appointing as chairman an independent individual from outside the banking system it insisted that the general manager of each of the banks have a period of one year in rotation, and I do not believe that they ever developed a public relations and communications approach to the problem. The bank operates in this way: It is funded to a large extent by the trading banks of Australia together with the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. It has contacts overseas and has raised roughly $75m overseas. It has the backing and support of those bodies in obtaining funds in order to carry out its functions. At the end of March 1974 the bank had loans outstanding of $344m with outstanding undrawn commitments of $170m, and during the period I have mentioned it has loaned $635m which has been directed towards the development of this country and towards ensuring major Australian ownership. It will be remembered too by many honourable members who have been here a long time that in the years 1966 onwards it was usual for there to be a sort of competitiveness between the department concerned with trade and the Treasury. Whatever one had the other one liked to have too. They liked to have something to play with and something with which to adorn their normal operations. Proposals were made for what became known as the ‘McEwen bank’,
McEwen being the name of a very able and talented member of the Menzies and successive governments and a man who made immense contributions towards the development of this country. These proposals were made over some considerable time - sometimes they were rejected - but finally in 1970 they were accepted and the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill, as we now know it, was put into law and into the statute books. At that time the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Treasury and my successors all agreed that it would be imprudent to establish the AIDC in any form whatsoever. And I had one good and understandable reason why this should not be done. Ours is a great saving country. In fact, our rate of saving is well up by world standards; I do not think we can say very much more. Approximately 25 per cent of all we produce, converted into money terms, is saved and consequently invested in this country. It was not accepted by those who were putting forward the AIDC proposals that no new savings would be generated, and as a result the operations of the organisation would enable a diversion of funds from the private sector to the public sector and take the funds away from the people who were trusted by the savers. Consequently, the formation of the company would develop the national estate in the way claimed at the time the proposals were considered prior to 1970. Honourable members can take it that that view, whilst not accepted at that time by the department controlling trade, is now without qualification accepted by Sir Alan Westerman. I mention too, and I believe this to be a critically important consideration, that at the time we were considering the charter, the Bill relating to the Australian Industry Development Corporation, we were conscious of the fact that there was limited constitutional jurisdiction. I believe that the doubts we had then were well founded, but on the best advice we could get from both within and outside the Public Service it was decided to go ahead. Having looked at the changes that are now recommended in the Bill now before the House, the 1974 Bill, I believe that the same constitutional question will arise. I have my doubts whether all the provisions of the clauses will stand up to a constitutional examination and a test to determine whether they are legitimate or ultra vires the Constitution.
However, the main reason I wanted to enter this debate today is to state my case against 3 aspects of the Bill and to examine a little more closely and in greater detail the problem I have referred to concerning the diversification of savings from the private sector of the economy into the public sector. There are 3 reasons why I fundamentally oppose this Bill. The first is that the introduction of these proposals is but another link in the chain of greater socialisation or nationalisation, whichever name one likes to use. Let us look at just a few of the Bills we have dealt with and give them titles. Others can think for themselves about what the contents of the Bill mean. Let us look at the National Pipeline Authority Bill, the Petroleum and Minerals Exploration Bill and this Bill which seek to give - and I have examined them closely - immense powers to nationalise, which I understand is the preferred word, very important sections of the Australian economy. I will refer to two clauses in detail. The second part I want to refer to relates to the national interest clause in relation to economic proposals which the Government considers to be in the national interest and should be administered and financed by the AIDC. As I have said before, I believe that whenever we want to finance an operation in the national interest the proposal should be brought before Parliament as the subject of a separate Bill to permit this House, which is after all the governing authority of this country, to examine the proposal and to enable it to say whether the risk should be taken and, if the risk is a big one, whether the national interest clause should be used. The confiscation or, to use the words of the Treasurer (Mr Crean), the hypothecation of the assets of the life offices and the superannuation funds of this country is critical. I repeat what I said about the probable testing of the power in section 51, placitum 31 of the Constitution. I believe that to a large extent these provisions will be found to be invalid.
I took a prominent part in the debates in this House when the 1973 Bill was introduced and in particular I took a very detailed and probably the most prominent part on this side of the House in the Committee stage of its consideration. What I am saying now was then accepted by the Opposition. I said no to each one of the amendments as they were moved in the Committee stage and I have no reason whatsoever for changing my views as to why I took the action I did, and I will sustain that position today.
Before discussing my 3 main objections to the Bill may I try to lay one ghost. Apart from political arguments, which I have always resented, I do not think that there is one member of this House - Labor, Liberal or Country Party - who does not want to ensure the maximum ownership of Australian resources and industry. That is why I was keen to promote the Australian Resources Development Bank. I had personal responsibility for bringing down a Bill in the concluding stages of the 1972 Parliament in order to prevent foreign takeovers of Australian assets. I believe that we all have the same deeply rooted feelings and instincts about Australia and Australian ownership and control. I believe we ought to have enormous pride in the achievements of Australia, particularly - if I may be a little political for the moment - in what we were able to achieve between 1949 and 1972. The only differences as I see it are the means and the timing within which we can achieve our goal. Labor proposals for socialism or nationalisation do not fit in with my philosophy. I believe that with the enormous potential we have it is the initiative of the private corporation and the individual in the market place that will be decisively important in determining how much we do, how quickly we do it and how well we are able to achieve any objective we set ourselves.
I want to lay this ghost as much as I can here and now because our standards of living depend upon this matter. I refer to the problem associated with capital inflow into Australia. After considerable thought I believe that we will need about $ 1,600m to $2,000m a year of overseas capital in order to permit us to develop our potential to the full. We have enormous undeveloped resources and enormous areas where the potential is great but where as yet we have not carried out the exploratory work and the development in order to ascertain what can be done. I am confirmed in this view because recently I read a speech made by Sir Alan Westerman in Zurich, and I believe also in Bonn, in which he came to much the same conclusion as I did, although he developed a little more fully as between equity and loan capital. In his view we need $ 16000m over the course of the next 10 years.
I hope that I have laid that ghost. I think it is now getting to be a rather mean and shabby political tactic. Mr Speaker, I think you represent the views of everyone in this Parliament. We want greater Australian ownership and control and we want to achieve it in the most efficient possible manner. I turn now to the provisions of the Bill itself and compare it with the 1970 Act, which had a more limited field of operations. Before I deal with that I should like to pay tribute to the concessions that have already been made by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns). He has listened very cautiously and carefully to the proposals that we have made. To the extent to which I believe he felt it was practical he has been good enough and thoughtful enough to make changes. In particular, I should like to refer to the part of the Bill which gives the Australian Industry Development Corporation the power to carry on any business whatsoever. A change has been made to section 5 (4) of the previous Bill relating to the disposal of assets by the Corporation when it no longer has the need for them. There have also been changes to the clauses providing for the necessity for guarantees by the Government of the national interest matters to be approved by Parliament and one or two other changes of that kind.
I come now to my arguments against the Bill itself, and they are these: The first one relates to the functions of the organisation. Up until the present there has been a very narrow context in which the Corporation may function. Under clause 6 of the present Act the functions of the Corporation are to assist in the provision of financial resources required by Australian companies concerned with the manufacture, processing or treatment of goods or with the recovery of minerals for the purposes of facilitating and encouraging the establishment and advancement of these industries.
But let us turn to what is now provided. It is very clearly set out in the explanatory notes given and it shows the extent to which the powers have been increased. I mentioned the former functions but the present Bill provides for 2 primary functions, promoting industry development and promoting Australian ownership and control, with which I vitally agree. Let us look at the words themselves which set out dramatically the extent to which this power can be exercised and the extent to which the nationalisation program may be pushed. Under clause 4, amending section 6, the proposals are that the functions of the Corporation are:
To facilitate and encourage the establishment, development and advancement of Australian industries concerned with the manufacture, processing, treatment, transportation or distribution of goods, or the development or use of natural resources . . . by - providing, or assisting in the provision of, the financial resources required by Australian companies engaging, or proposing to engage, in any such industries or in activities that are connected with, or incidental to, those industries; and engaging or participating in enterprises or developmental projects in relation to any such industries -
Clause 8 of the Bill is a very similar national interest clause as that provided previously. I will not go into that in any great detail because I do not have time to do so. However, I believe that this clause gives the power that should not be reposed in an Executive even though a guarantee has to be approved by the Treasurer before certain activities can take place. I have already dealt with this in the debate on the 1973 Bill. I want to get as quickly as I can to the next point because it is tremendously important to me. Under the provisions of the National Investment Fund Bill clause 16 (3) provides:
For the purpose of augmenting the moneys constituting the Fund, the Corporation may, in addition to issuing and selling investment bonds . . . establish and maintain superannuation or retirement schemes on such terms and conditions as the Corporation determines; and’ establish and maintain savings schemes on such terms and conditions as the Corporation determines -
I am led to believe that what is proposed is that what is called the 30/20 rule is to be amended to provide that there shall be a 40/30/20 rule and that instead of banks - we are coming now to the question of life offices as well - having to contribute 30 per cent of their assets in Government enterprises - not in enterprises that will belong to the people but that kind of enterprise - it can be compulsorily taken from the life offices contrary to the terms of the Constitution itself.
Last October the Treasurer said that he had told the life offices that their assets would be sequestrated by means of the tax laws. A month later the Minister for Overseas Trade said that he was not interested in compulsion and in March of this year he made a speech in Melbourne in which he said that there would be co-ordination of investment between the AIDC, life offices and others without compulsion. That was the written comment but he added the words: ‘preferably without compulsion’ and therefore distorted the whole meaning. This has worried the life offices because they know they are trustees for the interests of the Australian people, their own policy holders. They believe that as trustees they should invest in their interests and not pass the money over to someone else to do so. If in every 10 years 10 per cent of their increase in assets as well as 10 per cent of their existing assets, were involved it would mean a loss of funds of Si, 800m to the life offices. For these reasons, together with the reason I have already mentioned related to savings, I believe that this Bill is contrary to the interests of the Australian people. I repeat what I have been saying since 1966-67: With the extension of the powers proposed, the confiscation of the life offices assets would deprive the private investors of funds and would work against the policy holders and the Commonwealth’s interests as well.
– Order! The right honourable member’s time has expired.
– 1 rise very briefly to say how pleased I am that this Bill has been introduced. It is an extension of legislation which was brought in when I was Prime Minister and one for which I was very much responsible. I listened to the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), who has just resumed his seat. I do not think that the Australian Resources Development Bank is in any way affected by this Bill. The Australian Resources Development Bank certainly did not borrow any money overseas until such time as the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill was before the House. Certainly, it has borrowed money since, so has the AIDC and both of them work to the benefit of this country. One of the things which the right honourable member for Lowe saw as being against this Bill was the suggestion that there could be compulsion in taking people’s savings. I do not believe that that is so. I would like the Minister for Overseas Trade to mention that point when he replies. I do not believe that there can be any compulsion in taking people’s savings. But if there is to be an AIDC and if it is to have an opportunity to go to people, to dictate to people to give it money, surely the bringing in of a motion which allows the people to contribute to the AIDC must be for the people’s own good. Frankly I do not think that many people will voluntarily contribute to the AIDC through the national savings fund. I doubt very much if they will because they can get far higher interest rates elsewhere. But if they are to be given a chance, let us write into the Bill that there is to be that chance, provided that there must be no compulsion in the making of such arrangements.
I rise only to express pleasure that this Bill has been brought in. It does extend the present legislation, I think, to enable the borrowing of money inside Australia as well as outside Australia. That, I believe, is a good thing to do and one that is essential and necessary for the AIDC. The borrowing of money inside as well as outside Australia is essential to the AIDC. It is called upon to get rid of its shares, to survey its investments to see what it can get out of and it is required to get out of them. I think that is a concession by the Minister and one which I find alters the whole primary conception as it was previously. I rise merely to express my pleasure that the AIDC Bill in which Sir John McEwen and myself were so vitally interested when it first came in is being extended - I think in a proper way.
– Previous speakers on this measure have dealt with major principles rather than details. I intend, if I may in a few brief remarks, to follow the same course. This Government has modified the nature of the Bill in response to pressures perhaps from another place. But I would think that the Government’s intentions remain - sometimes covered up and sometimes openly - as the Government itself would say, socialist intentions. The Bill is an instrument of socialisation, yet I will support it and will give reasons for so doing. This Bill does not, in my view, add very materially to the power of the Government to subvert the Australian economy. It is an instrument which can be good, which is very powerful and which can be abused, but there are so many other instruments in the economy which could be abused that it is really not relevant to say this can be made an instrument of socialisation. Those instruments already exist and the course of our development will be decided not so much by this Bill or that Bill but by the nature of the government in power and the intentions of the government in power. Therefore, although this is a Bill which can be made an instrument of socialisation - I have no doubt the Government intends it is an instrument of socialisation - nevertheless I think it can be supported because there is no safety from socialisation except by getting rid of the present Government which occupies the Treasury benches. It is a very powerful instrument. I believe that the forces which generated it came largely from something which the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) and the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) both mentioned in the course of this debate, namely, the feeling on the part of Australians that we should have ownership of our local resources.
I want to recall to the House what has happened in this regard because it is not often realised what has happened. Australia has had what is known as an adverse balance on current account in most years and for a long time. This arose partly because we needed special development as a new country and partly because our savings were insufficient to carry that development. I am afraid that I take issue with the right honourable member for Lowe in this regard. I am afraid that the statistics do not bear out his view as to the very large nature of the Australian savings program. I put this as proof: Our development of productivity in recent years, having regard to the increase in our population and so on, has not been significantly greater than the development of productivity in those countries which have exported capital to us. We have been unable to make that development from our own savings, whereas they from their savings were able to finance their own development, have the same kind of increase in productivity and have an excess of capital available to export to us.
Whatever the details may be, by inspection we can see that in recent years the Australian savings program has not been adequate to our circumstances, When Sir Alan Westerman, who was quoted by the right honourable member for Lowe a few moments ago, can say that we need $1 6,000m of investment in the next 10 years in Australia, we get some idea of the shortfall in Australian savings. This shows itself in the adverse balance on current account in our foreign trade, and this has been endemic in the Australian economy for very many years. But a very vital difference took place in 1929. This is something which is not generally appreciated. Before 1929 our population was expanding rather more rapidly proportionately than it is today and our development was somewhat more rapid in comparison with that of other countries. We had an adverse balance on current account. That balance was almost entirely made good by public borrowings overseas. There was a large inflow of capital in the form of public borrowings - Federal, State, local government - and it came in in the form of debentures rather than equity. The consequence of this was that the inflow of funds became available through the Australian banking system for the Australian entrepreneur, and Australian industry was able to expand and maintain its own equity.
In 1929 or thereabouts 2 things happened. Firstly the Loan Council was established in terms of the Financial Agreement. I think it was passed by the referendum in 1927 or 1928. That centralised the power to borrow so that the States and local government authorities lost their access to markets overseas. Then there came a depression. I can remember Sir Otto Niemeyer coming out here and castigating us for the way in which we had borrowed excessively. From that day forward, with the sole exception of a small interregnum during the war we have virtually borrowed nothing overseas on government account. Indeed, I believe we have not even borrowed overseas on private account net because when the local borrowings of foreign firms are taken into account probably then also the balance is negative. If one looks at the details as I have looked at them for the sinking fund payments and things of that character, one will see that our debenture borrowings have been nil or negative since the end of the war. There have been small exceptions, but only very small exceptions. Yet during all this time we have had an adverse balance on current account running into hundreds of millions of dollars a year. This year it is likely to top $l,500m.
This has to be made good by foreign investment or, of course, to some extent by living on our accumulated reserves, which are themselves the fruit of past foreign investment. But this comes in in the form of equity - ownership of real things. Since 1929 Australian business has been strangled because the bank funds have not come in through borrowing. The equity funds came in, but they were never available to the Australian entrepreneur, so that over the last 40 or 50 years the guts has been kicked out of the Australian businessman, who has not had normal access to bank funds. In point of fact risk capital in Australia is very difficult to obtain. The disease grows on what it feeds on.
I come back to the Bill. The AIDC has the power to borrow overseas. I think this is why I would support the Bill in spite of the socialist dangers inherent in it. I would support it because I believe that this should be a means of mobilising debenture capital from overseas to make good our endemic deficiency on current account. It should be a means of mobilising capital and making it available either directly or through the normal Australian banking system to the Australian entrepreneur so that ownership will be increased in Australian hands. This is to my way of thinking the main virtue of the whole process.
Mr Speaker, I know that you would otherwise think I was out of order, so I make only passing reference to the fact that on the notice paper at present I have notice of a Bill to levy a tax upon foreign companies. This is meant as a means of inducing foreign companies to transfer the equity ownership of their things in Australia into Australian hands and substitute for it a debenture ownership. This will enable us - in the words, I think, of Sir John McEwen, who has been much quoted today - to buy back bit by bit the paddocks in the Australian farm which we have sold. I support this Bill. I support it as part of a process. As I said, the proposal I am making in the House for a differential tax on foreign companies would be part of the same objective.
– I do not think it is right for the honourable gentleman to debate something that is on the notice paper.
– 1 agree. I am only making a passing reference. I think you have been tolerant, Mr Speaker, to have allowed me to make that reference so far, and I will not pursue the matter further. The reasons I have given are very condensed, and I am afraid that because they have been overcondensed they may be a little difficult to follow. For the reasons I have given, in spite of the fact that this can be an instrument of socialism, I still support the Bill because I believe that this organisation can be a significant part of the process of returning the equity ownership of businesses and property in Australia to the hands of Australian citizens.
– in reply - The debate yesterday and today has been a very constructive one. I cannot avoid saying that it is in contrast with the one which took place last year when the amending Bills were first introduced into the House. I appreciate the attitude of the Opposition to the legislation on this occasion, especially the detailed speeches made by the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) and the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) in relation to the foreshadowed amendments.
One honourable member talked of concessions being made by the Government and not by the Opposition. I think the honourable member for Berowra put it that way. Concessions have been made both by the Government and by the Opposition. Some of the amendments foreshadowed by the Opposition, as well as the amendments proposed by the Government, clarify the functions and the purposes of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and are thoroughly acceptable to the Government for that reason. The amendments that will be moved by the Opposition are acceptable to the Government. They are useful because they clarify the functions and the purposes. They separate more clearly what one might call the General Division of the AIDC and the National Interest Division of the AIDC.
As the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr McKenzie) and the honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child) both pointed out, the National Interest Division is one for which the funds obtainable, however they are obtained, can be obtained only by resolution passed by both Houses of Parliament. The difference between the General Division and the National Interest Division of the AIDC ought to clear the minds of the Opposition. These amendments, taken in conjunction with the other amendments which the Opposition is proposing, make the position clear. The function of the AIDC in relation to the General Division of the AIDC is that of a co-ordinator. It works with private organisations to strengthen the Australian ownership in those operations and to widen the area of those operations. Both of those matters, I think, are thoroughly justifiable developments. Where the AIDC acts on its own, it is in respect of the National Interest Division that it will be necessary for funds to be obtained as a result of a vote in both Houses of Parliament. Those 2 divisions, therefore, are made clear by the foreshadowed amendments, and I am quite happy to have them made clear.
The Leader of the Country Party asked about the relationship between borrowings by the AIDC and the National Investment Fund and the variable deposit requirement, and whether borrowings by these organisations can come in from overseas without being subject to the variable deposit requirement. The right honourable member asked whether it will be varied in their case. The answer is that the variable deposit requirement on overseas borrowings does not apply to overseas borrowings either by the Government itself or by Governmental authorities whose borrowings are subject to supervision by the Australian Loan Council. Borrowings by the AIDC and by the NIF are subject to supervision by the Australian Loan Council. So, there is no question of the variable deposit requirement being applied to them.
I think it was the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) who asked: Is compulsion in taking people’s savings involved? The answer is no. He will know that these Bills do not impose compulsion on individuals or organisations. In both respects these organisations are competitive. They must compete for funds with other organisations and in every case they will be placed in similar positions to other competing organisations. There is no compulsion at all, present or implied, in either Bill. There are matters such as the 20- 30-40 rule, as it is now called. That rule is still the subject of negotiation and discussion between life offices, superannuation funds and other organisations and the Government. I did say that I would much prefer the arrangement to be one in which no change at all in this rule is made and in which there is nothing that can be called compulsion. But the negotiations are still under way and I have hopes that satisfactory arrangements will be arrived at in the course of these discussions.
I think the position that the Opposition took when the Bills were first brought to Parliament last year was: ‘We are going to throw them out, lock, stock and barrel, because they could be followed up by subsequent action by the Government. It could nationalise the world.’ Of course the Government could nationalise the world, as it were, if we could win the support of the people and the Parliament for that course. But simply to say that, as this is a Bill that can be added to by subsequent powers obtained through the Parliament, the Opposition will somehow form its attitude to a Bill because of that possibility is illogical. I said so last year. I am glad that the Opposition now seems to be totally uninfluenced by that view.
– That is with the amendments and the changes that we have agreed on.
– With the amendments, yes. There is nothing more I wish to say at this stage in closing the debate. The amendments proposed by the Opposition will be accepted. In the Committee stage of the Bill I will move 3 amendments.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 5 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Sections 8 and 9 of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections substituted: “8. (1) In the performance of its functions the Corporation shall have regard to the current monetary policy of the Australian Government and to the policies of the Australian Government in relation to trade practices, the environment, industrial relations and the efficiency of industry. “ (2) The Corporation shall act in accordance with sound business principles in the performance of its functions and -
it is in accordance with the policy of the Australian Government as notified to the Corporation under sub-section (1) that -
– I move:
In sub-section (1) of proposed section 8, after ‘industrial relations’, insert ‘, urban and regional development’.
The purpose of this amendment is to add to the matters to be taken into account by the Corporation which are set out in the Bill. Under the Bill the matters to be taken into account by the Corporation are the current monetary policy of the Australian Government and the policies of the Australian Government in relation to trade practices, the environment, industrial relations and the efficiency of industry. We seek to add to those matters the policies of the Government in relation to urban and regional development. I think that that is an understandable and acceptable proposition.
– The Opposition has no objection to this amendment. Under the Bill a number of new matters will have to be taken into account by the Corporation as well as the current monetary policy of the Government. It would seem to be quite appropriate to add to those. The Bill already goes so far as to include the policy of the Australian Government in relation to the environment, industrial relations and so on. The Opposition has no objection to the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
After sub-section (4) of proposed section 8, insert the following sub-section: (4a) The Corporation shall not, in the performance of its functions, seek to engage in an enterprise or project without the participation of another person or other persons except on a temporary basis or in a case where the Minister has taken action under sub-section (6) of section 8a in relation to the enterprise or project.
The reason for this amendment is that despite the deletion from this Bill, as compared with the 1973 Bill, of certain additions to the powers of the Corporation, in particular the power to carry on any business or activity, yet it seems to the Opposition from a reading of the present statement of the functions of the Corporation as set out in clause 4 of the Bill, that the combination of the suggestion that the Corporation be empowered in pursuance of this provision to engage or participate in enterprises, with the powers conferred under section 5 (a) (c), which relates to the power ‘to form or participate in the formation of a company’ would be to confer power on the Corporation to act significantly in its own right in a particular line of business. As the Minister has pointed out, the objective is that the Corporation should act as a co-ordinator and that it should work in conjunction with private enterprise to enlarge the possibilities and scope of that activity. So the purpose of this amendment, which I think the Minister has indicated is acceptable to the Government, is to make clear that the Corporation shall not seek to engage in an enterprise or project without the participation of another ‘person or other persons’. In short, it will proceed, in conjunction with an Australian enterprise, or on a joint venture basis, with another firm.
– The Government accepts the amendment. As has been pointed out it clearly separates the function of the Corporation in what I have been referring to as the general division from the national interest division. In the general division, in which its function will be exclusively that of a co-ordinator working with other organisations and individuals, the amendment requires it so to do. To engage in an enterprise or project without the participation of another person or persons is beyond its powers except on a temporary basis or under sub-section (6) of proposed section 8A, which is the national interest area, in which it may operate on its own. But that can be only with funds obtained by a resolution of both Houses. I think that the Opposition now has the safeguards it wants. This accords with what I had intended the Bill to mean in the first place. I am quite happy to have the matter clarified by the acceptance of the amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
Under sub-section (5) of proposed new section 8, omit paragraph (a), substitute the following paragraph:
the acquisition is necessary to prevent foreign persons from acquiring a controlling interest in the company; or
Proposed new section 8 (5) would then read:
The Corporation shall not, in the performance of its functions, seek to acquire, or to acquire a controlling interest in, a company in which Australian residents have a controlling interest except where -
This is where the amendment comes in -
– The Opposition welcomes this amendment to clause 6 of the Bill. It will be a protection against actions about which the Opposition had some fears when the 1973 measure was first introduced. This new provision states quite categorically that the Corporation shall not in the performance of its functions seek to acquire or acquire a controlling interest in a company in which Australian residents have a controlling interest. I repeat that the Opposition welcomes this provision. The Minister has pointed out that the Corporation shall not do this except where the acquisition will forestall, so to speak, or is necessary to prevent foreign interests or foreign persons from acquiring a controlling interest. The difficulty that the Opposition had with this provision, as the Bill was first drawn, is that the exception was couched in the terms that the acquisition is ‘considered by the Board to be necessary’. We believe that the substantial intention of the Government, as has been confirmed by the Minister, is that the acquisition is necessary to prevent this. Accordingly, the Opposition is gratified, firstly, for the proposed new subsection (5) being included in proposed clause 8 and, secondly, for the change that has now been accepted by the Government.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move:
At the end of proposed section 8, add the following sub-sections:
A reference in paragraph (5) (a) to foreign persons acquiring a controlling interest in a company is a reference to foreign persons becoming the owners of a substantial number of voting shares in the company within the meaning of the Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act 1972-73.
In this section, “ foreign person “ has the same meaning as in the Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act 1972-73.
The effect of this will be to define ‘controlling interest’ in the same terms as it is defined in the Companies (Foreign Take-overs) Act 1972-73, which does so by saying that where a person - that includes a company or organisation - holds 15 per cent of the shares or where a number of persons hold 40 per cent of the shares it is a controlling interest. This is the same as in the legislation to which I have just referred. It seems to be a satisfactory definition of ‘controlling interest’.
– The Opposition sees this amendment as merely consequential. Given the preceding amendment, a definition is necessary here. The Opposition accepts this proposal.
Amendment agreed to.
– I move: In sub-section (14) of proposed section 8a., omit ‘Minister appoints including a person appointed on the nomination of the Minister for Minerals and Energy’, substitute ‘Governor-General appoints’.
This matter arises in the context of the National Interest Division to which the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) has referred. It is a major new part of the legislation as compared with the 1970 Act. One hopes that in this area the Government will provide as soon as possible a more comprehensive statement of its policy and the sorts of principles it proposes to apply, particularly in assessing the national interest.
The proposed section 8a provides, amongst other things, for the appointment of a National Interest Committee which is given the task of advising the Minister on national interest projects. My colleague the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), in speaking to this measure last night, said that the Committee has a somewhat shadowy role and composition in this legislation. However, it would seem - given the importance of the matters that are likely to arise in this area - that the membership of the Committee should be as far removed as possible from the hurlyburly of the political scene and also that the appointment should be made in a way which enables the Parliament to have power to scrutinise and, if it were the opinion of the Parliament, to override the appointment. So the proposal is that the appointment in question should be made by the Governor-General as distinct from the Minister. No doubt in effect the Minister will make the relevant recommendation but by providing for appointment by the Governor-General the matter will come before the Parliament.
– The Government is quite prepared to accept this amendment. The appointment of members of the National Interest Committee will no doubt be a part-time appointment. I am quite happy to have that made subject to the provision that the Governor-General appoints the members. This, as distinct from the provision in the Bill, means that the matter will have to be placed before Parliament and that Parliament will have rights in respect to the appointment. The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) said that the National Interest Committee was a bit shadowy.
– That is right.
– I do not know that it is right. As the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) has just said, if the section is studied one finds that the addition that is being made to the Bill is most substantial. The National Interest Division assumes that certain projects will be examined by the Australian Industries Development Corporation Board and for some reason or reasons the AIDC Board may not wish to proceed with them. Then there is set out in relation to (he Division a very detailed procedure of exchange of letters and reports between the Minister and the AIDC Board. If the Minister, on the advice of the National Interest Committee, decides to proceed he may do so by a certain procedure that is set down in the section. As I have said, the final control is that the funds for this purpose, whether by appropriation or from the AIDC, can be obtained only by a resolution of both Houses.
The kinds of projects that we have in mind would be first of all, as the Leader of the Country Party said, projects which are perhaps so big, so comprehensive or so unusual that the AIDC would not feel justified in accepting the responsibility itself. They would need to operate under the National Interest Division and they would need to be backed by the authority of the whole Parliament. That is quite clear. That is one possibility. But I remind the Committee that the AIDC has to apply normal commercial or business principles. In my speech when I introduced these Bills I said that the AIDC was expected to pay its way. It would not be expected to help out people who were in difficulties, to be a lender of last resource. It would not be an organisation which would easily be envisaged as losing money. It is to apply the ordinary, hard commercial principles.
I emphasise that in addition to the big projects like the ones mentioned by the Leader of the Country Party there will be different projects. There will be projects which may be of a co-operative nature and projects in country areas - I particularly emphasise, that - where if ordinary commercial principles applied the AIDC Board might say: ‘This is not a project that we ought to go into’. I know that decisions like that have already been made because of the application of those principles. In cases like that we may very well say: ‘Even though this does not pass the test on commercial grounds it may pass the test on other grounds and if the Parliament agrees we want to back that project.’ So there may be relatively small projects. There may be projects that are different as well as the larger ones that the AIDC may not want to undertake without the authority of Parliament.
As to the appointment of members of the National Interest Committee, I would not be making recommendations that are all one way. I would want to acquire people of wide experience but I would not expect the Parliament to object to an appointment because some person happened to have the same philosophy or attitude to life that I have.
– Not like the Wool Corporation or anything like that.
– I know the attitude of the people on the Australian Wool Corporation and I know why they were appointed. I know why they were appointed so soon before the 1972 election. I am sure that an Opposition which, as a government, would appoint to the Wool Corporation people with the philosophy they had, would not object to my appointing one or two members to the National Interest Committee who might have a philosophy similar to mine.
– Whom have you in mind?
– Not you. I would be concerned, as I have been, to see that the AIDC Board is not single minded, that it has a comprehensive position and that it is made up of people with different viewpoints. I have renewed the appointments of all the people appointed by previous governments who could continue to serve on the AIDC Board. I have made 2 new appointments, one of whom is a long term member of the Labor Party. The other appointment involved a person who has a very different political association. I am pointing out that the National Interest Committee does have a need for a philosophy - not just one, but several. I hope that I can clarify even further the kind of guidelines and the kind of purposes that the National Interest Division will have. That is all I propose to say at this stage. I am quite happy to accept the amendment that has been moved.
– I would like to say something on the amendment to clause 6 which was moved by the Opposition and accepted by the Government. The amendment may appear to be a very small one. However, it seeks to include in the Bill the requirement that Parliament be notified of appointments to the National Interest Committee. We believe that the Parliament ought to have the right to disallow such appointments when it feels that it is necessary to do so. I think that we have good reason for apprehension in respect of appointments, mainly because since this Government has been in office the list of what we believe to be political appointments - that is, appointments of people who have doubtful merits and experience in the jobs to which they were appointed - has become fairly long.
We doubt very much the wisdom, for instance, in appointing Mr Bob Hawke, the President of the Federal Labor Party, to the Reserve Bank Board. No doubt he may have the economic experience, but in his dual capacity we doubt whether he can show the impartiality that is necessary. He would have to wear 2 very different hats - one to look after the interests of the Reserve Bank and the other to align himself with the philosophy and the policies of the Government and the Party of which he is the head. Recently Peter Westerway was appointed to the Industries Assistance Commission. This appointment certainly surprised those people outside who are looking to this organisation to give a good deal of advice and to make important recommendations. We doubt very much whether this appointment was made on the basis of his experience. Rather we think it was due to his political contribution to the Australian Labor Party.
There are many other appointments that I could mention. But I suppose that our concern is heightened by the accusations that have been made this week about members of the Australian Wool Corporation. Some of its members are being challenged because they have had some past association with the Australian Country Party. This may be true. I suppose it is very hard to find in rural industry organisations people who may not have had some association or affiliation with the Country Party. But in this case these men were not appointed by the Party. They were appointed by the rural industry organisations. They sit on that Corporation because of their long experience and the general acceptance by the industry that they are men of high reputations and men of distinction.
We view the appointment of people to this Committee as being appointment of men who in some cases may have some political sympathy. But I hope that that will not be a predominant requirement and that it will not hold largely in the mind of the Minister when he is selecting people for appointment. If it becomes a case of stacking this body, so that when it makes recommendations to the Government it is acting as nothing more than a dupe which will be mimicking the sentiments of the Minister or of the Government it will not be able to fulfil its role. This Committee must have on it men who have an independent view and men who will do their job as they believe it to be in the best interests of this legislation.
I am very pleased that the Government has accepted this amendment. However, I put the Government on notice that we will be watching these appointments very closely, and if we feel that some undue political bias is being used the Opposition will take action.
– I do not want to get involved at this stage in an argument with the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony). We have done very well with these 2 Bills up until now. But I would ask him to leave the matter to be judged when I make the recommendations and then to come to his conclusions about whether the Committee would be stacked or not. We had a discussion in this place the other day about the Australian Wool Corporation. The Leader of the Country Party compares that in some way with the Reserve Bank Board. The Wool Corporation is so designed that producers’ organisations appoint members to it. You could even design the Reserve Bank Board that way if you wanted to so that the trade union movement could appoint members to it. It would be just as relevant because the Wool Corporation is just as important to Australia as the Reserve Bank Board, but that has never been done and so far in this Parliament we have never accepted the principle that there are important organisations like the Wool Corporation where, as of right trade unions could appoint the directors. It would be the same thing. But this is the normal thing in an organisation like the Wool Corporation because this is the way in which the farmers and their organisations over the years have become involved in positions of power. Very often these people come from the Country Party.
Reference was made to the appointment of Peter Westerway and an accusation was made that he had been appointed for his political services to the Labor Party.
– You just kicked him upstairs.
– I think the honourable member is likely to be kicked downstairs rather than upstairs in contrast to Peter Westerway. Westerway’s appointment was an appointment of a very competent man. He has proved himself competent in quite a number of fields. I believe that organisations like the Industries Assistance Commission should have on them somebody who has a political attitude to life. The idea that people are altogether impartial and objective, that there are such people in the community that you can get hold of and appoint to the IAC is very deceptive. The IAC has on it people with a very definite ideology. That ideology is very clear in everything the IAC does. It is not a bad idea to have on it somebody with a different ideology. To my mind one of the qualifications that Peter Westerway has is that he has a different ideology - I think he has, anyway.
I think the realism of the situation is that you do not have on these important jobs people who are completely impartial and objective. When you are dealing with economic and social matters of vast significance, as do the people on the Commonwealth Bank Board, the Wool Corporation and the IAC, it is not possible to be impartial and objective. It is very often the case, as Lord Keynes said way back in 1931, I think, that some ideological assumptions are ideas that were expounded many years ago, often by some quite irrational person or in some ideology, and are now expounded as though they are today’s truth. I refute altogether this suggestion that there are some people who have a special claim to impartiality and objectivity and that there are other people who are subject only to ideological or political bias. Most of those who claim objectivity have an ideological bias which is only too obvious to anyone who understands their attitude of mind.
– Like the New South Wales Bank Board.
– Yes. When I come to the stage of making recommendations for this National Interest Committee, I think I will also satisfy the Opposition as to their quality.
– I would not like the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) to get across the impression that he has a monopoly on objectivity in the selection of people for various committees and tribunals. I would not like him to create the impression that the previous Government acted in a way which prevented a complete representation of different sections of the community on many of those boards and commissions which were in operation. The case mentioned by the Minister was that of the appointment of Mr Peter Westerway to the Industries Assistance Commission. It was during my period as the Minister for Trade and Industry that a request was made by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for some trade union representation on the Tariff Board and I brought forward an amendment of the legislation to provide for an additional appointment. I accepted a recommendation from the ACTU for the appointment of Mr McBride, who had been an advocate for the trade union movement. He was a person highly qualified for the job. He had had a good deal of experience and, I think, added to the overall opinions of that body. His appointment gave a much greater objectivity to the thinking of the Board and I believe he looked after a section of the community.
I return to my point that if people have a strong political association, great care must be taken that that does not lead to theirs becoming a dominant expression on such committees or boards. If a person with a particular political reference and a strong association with a political body is appointed, it would be in the interests of the community for a person with an opposing point of view to be on the board so that there could be a cross-exchange of points of view and so that the body would not be accused of having a strong bias but would be regarded as being objective and impartial. We have moved this amendment so that the Opposition can take action if it feels that the Minister is not acting with complete propriety.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Remainder of Bill - by leave - taken as a whole and agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns)- by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 16 July (vide page 215), on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– Mr Chairman, I move:
At the end of clause 5, add the following subclause:
The Corporation shall not issue investment bonds within Australia if, in the event of the issue of those bonds, the amount remaining after deducting from the sum of the amount paid to the Corporation for the purchase within Australia of investment bonds any amounts paid by the Corporation for the redemption or repurchase of those last-mentioned investment bonds would exceed$500m.
The Opposition considers this to be an extremely important amendment to which we hope the Government will accede. It is similar to an amendment moved previously by the Opposition. The purpose of the amendment is to put a ceiling on the fund raising of the National Investment Fund. The Fund is to be an associate organisation of the Australian Industry Development Corporation. Funds will be raised by the issuing of investment bonds and with those funds the AIDC will be able to carry out or assist in carrying out development works. But at the moment there is no ceiling on the amount of funds which can be raised. Whilst it might appear that imposing limits on the raising of funds could be rather restrictive, we know that amendments to other pieces of legislation could facilitate the marshalling of large amounts of money for the National Investment Fund and this could generate a certain amount of fear and apprehension within certain sections of the community which have some doubts and reservations as to the eventual outcome of the Corporation and its involvement in the business sector of the community. So it has been suggested that a ceiling of $500m be imposed.
Officers of the Government have suggested that$500m would not be a large amount of money to raise if it included foreign capital. They explained to me that they could visualise circumstances in which foreign money could easily build up to several hundreds of millions of dollars and that therefore the capacity to raise money locally would be very minimal, should such a ceiling be imposed. So, the complexities of this amendment relate to trying to distinguish between moneys raised in Australia and foreign capital. What the amendment does is to impose a limit of $500m on moneys raised within Australia by means which will be available to the Government, or through the provisions of the National Investment Fund as they stand at the moment. If money is fully raised and the Government feels the need to raise more money, it would have the opportunity to bring the legislation back before the Parliament and to ask for an extension of the limit. This is not unusual. It has been done with other legislation. The Export Payments Insurance Corporation is one such case which comes to mind. That body started as a relatively small organisation to help to provide insurance cover to exporters and, as it developed and succeeded, there was a necessity to expand its capital.
For the meantime, we would like to watch the operations of the National Investment Fund to ensure that it is acting in the national interest and is making a worthwhile contribution. If the Fund appeared to be operating satisfactorily and needed more money, the Government could take the action which I have mentioned. What this amendment really seeks to do is to limit to a net $500m the total amount of bonds issued in Australia, taking into account redeemable bonds that might be issued during the same period. I can understand that there could be foreign capital in large amounts put into the National Investment Fund. For instance, a foreign company operating in Australia which, for reasons of its own, feels embarrassed or would like to divest itself of its holding in an Australian enterprise, would divert part of that holding to the National Investment Fund.
There could be cases where the Government is interested in attracting foreign capital from overseas but cannot because to invest further in an enterprise would give an undue overseas equity holding which might contravene the regulations or the policy of the Government. But by investing foreign funds in the National Investment Fund it would not be contravening those regulations or policies because the actual power would not be conveyed to that enterprise or project but would remain in the hands of the National Investment Fund or, through it, the Australian Industry Development Corporation. In the case of a very large project I could visualise a division of the investment fund for one particular purpose, and that is so that the overseas interests might know exactly what their funds were being used for. It may be possible to negotiate certain terms and conditions for this division which will ensure a return - either a fixed interest return or perhaps a return on investment - and, if the capital value of the project grows, there could also be provision for the investors, if they wanted to, to divest themselves of their interest, when they might be able to get the benefit of the capital gain during the period of development.
I think there is real merit in the Government’s accepting the proposal for a limit of $500m because I do not think that that would interfere with its proposal to allow foreign capital to come into Australia which is, we believe, necessary for the development of many of our projects. We do want this limit imposed and there would be great troubles in another place, I think, if there were not this ceiling, because its lack would only exacerbate those fears and suspicions which people have that the National Investment Fund could become a great financial monster. It has been requested by many sections of industry and the general public that there be this limit on the operations of the Fund. Therefore the Opposition moves this amendment as a very important amendment to the functions of the conglomerate organisation, the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the National Investment Fund.
– The Government is prepared to accept this amendment, which limits to $500m the amount of money that can be raised by the National Investment Fund in Australia. As the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) said, it does not limit the amount that can be raised outside Australia but only that which can be raised inside Australia. As he pointed out also, should the Government require from time to time to increase that $500m it is merely a matter of introducing a Bill to do so, as we do in the case of the Exports Payments Insurance Corporation. What he said about overseas borrowing is correct, and I am sure that nobody in the House wants to limit the capacity of the
National Investment Fund to borrow overseas and bring money into Australia so that we get the funds without the overseas control. I hope that we can get large quantities of money this way.
During the course of the debate several honourable members opposite said that they did not think that the National Investment Fund would actually increase the amount of savings in Australia. They saw the situation as one in which the National Investment Fund would be competing with other organisations within Australia for savings. That might be the case.
– It needs to be supplemented by other policies.
– Yes. But I believe there is a distinct possibility that the National Investment Fund can increase the rate of savings. I have had hundreds of inquiries from people who would not normally invest in anything. They want to invest in the National Investment Fund because they accept the view that it is an important national fund for important national purposes. There are such things as concern and support for that kind of proposal in the community. Not every body is cynical these days, although I am astonished at the number who are. I think there are a large number of people who Wil respond to this as they did during wartime and invest in national funds for national projects. I have the distinct hope that quite a large number of people who do not usually invest in anything will invest in the National Investment Fund.
I have only one other thing to say. I have already expressed my approval of the way in which the Leader of the Country Party and the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) have received these 2 Bills, adding as they do quite significantly to the structure of the Australian Industries Development Corporation. I am very pleased to have the opportunity of being recorded in history as helping in the community. Not everybody is cynical in the development of something that Sir John McEwan began. I have often expressed in this House my acknowledgment of his contribution and I do so again now.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report - by leave - adopted.
Bill (on motion by Dr X F. Cairns) - by leave - read a third time.
Debate resumed from 23 July (vide page 524), on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
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 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 and the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill, as they are related 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 2 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
Is there any objection to that course being followed? There being no objecion that course will be followed.
– The purpose of this Bill is to increase charges for postal and telegraph services to raise an extra $140m. The rationale the Government puts forward for the decision is the problem of inflation. No one knows more than I do that inflation is a problem within the community. But I doubt the motives of the Government in raising postal and telegraph charges as the answer to that problem. During the course of the election campaign inflation became an issue because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) forced the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Government to recognise that the people of Australia were concerned about it. Finally when the Prime Minister joined issue on the question of inflation he did so, in my view, with a fair deal of deceit and we had such statements in advertisements in the newspapers as ‘only Whitlam has reduced inflation by onethird’. There were others, such as: ‘Only Whitlam could do so much in 16 months . . . Inflation falling’. These are the sorts of advertisements that greeted the people of Australia during the election campaign. There were others which claimed that the Government’s policies had produced ‘the biggest drop in the rate of inflation during the March quarter of any industrial nation’. Another stated: ‘Under Labor inflation in Australia has already fallen by one-third to per cent’.
This is the sort of garbage - if I may use that term - that was served up to the people of Australia during the election campaign. It is proved to be garbage by the very acts of the Government since coming back into power. It deceived the people of Australia on a set of figures - the consumer price index that was published for the March quarter - which showed a level of inflation less than that of the December quarter. Of course, the point was that it was the highest rate of increase for the March quarter in 20 years. But the Government went forward to the people of Australia and tried to convince them that it had inflation under control. The result came in the next quarter when we reached the high consumer price index increase of 4.1 per cent. I think that is almost the highest increase in history. That shows how bad was the deception by Ministers during the election campaign, and by the Prime Minister in particular. The deceit has come home to roost in this Bill. The Government is now foisting on the people of Australia savage increases to try to solve its problems.
– It is disgraceful.
– As my colleague the honourable member for Moreton said, it is disgraceful. We have said in Opposition that we are prepared to co-operate with the Government in order to solve or help to solve the problems of inflation, and so we are. What we are concerned about is the way the Government is going about it. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has said that a program ought to be put up for all the people of Australia to see and to share in. This, of course, has been ignored by the Government.
The real concern that we have when we see this Bill is whether the proposals are antiinflationary or simply measures to raise funds for a bankrupt government. Through its bad programming, the Government obviously has overspent and now is seeking to raise money as quickly as it can. The charges are savage, and it is no wonder that the people of Australia are objecting. The ordinary letter rate is to go up from 7c to 9c; the cost of a local telephone call from 4.75c to 6c; and for a call from a public telephone - the people’s telephone- the charge will be doubled from 5c to 10c. If we had been in government and had proposed such a measure, members of the Australian Labor Party would have been bringing this place down brick by brick.
The Government set up the Vernon Royal Commission and then totally ignored its report, which makes plain what the Commission believes ought to be reasonable charges in respect of this public institution. I quote from page xv of the report, which states:
The Commission sees the Australian Post Office as an organisation which offers services on the basis of a tariff structure which provides for the reasonable cost of those services to be recouped from revenues received from customers.
Quite clearly, the Commission said ‘reasonable costs’; it did not say ‘full costs’. Nor did it say that the Post Office should make big profits. Because of strikes, bad handling by the previous Postmaster-General and mismanagement, the Post Office has moved to a loss situation of $100m a year. Is the Government proposing to recoup $100m? It is not. It is proposing to recoup $140m. This will be a savage charge to ask the people of Australia to bear, especially when it is said to be a means of handling inflation. I shall come to that again later.
The worst feature is that the Government, having set up the Vernon Commission rather than implement the findings of that Commission and the efficiencies recommended in the report, has moved straight in with a heavy hand and savagely increased charges across the board. It is clearly unnecessary and a very unfair impost on the people of Australia. Contrary to the suggestions of the Vernon Commission, the Government has imposed these very significant increases. Indeed, in his second reading speech the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) recognised that the charges to be levied are higher than required or suggested by the Vernon Commission. The Vernon Commission suggested that telecommunications charges be raised by 7 per cent, instead of which this Government has put them up by 17 per cent. Similarly, the Vernon Commission stated that there was room for an annual increase in postal charges in times of heavy demand of the order of 15 per cent. This Government has put those charges up by 22 per cent.
Let us see what the people of Australia have to say about that. Since the measures were announced I have noticed that the newspapers have carried clearly to the Government the message as to what the various interested parties throughout the community think of the Government’s actions. One article states:
Industry pours scorn on Federal measures. The business sector has hotly refuted anti-inflationary aspects of the Federal Government’s mini-Budget
Industry spokesmen contacted yesterday were emphatic that the higher taxes and charges would only add to inflationary pressures.
They also agreed that price increases were inevitable.
Mr F. J. Darling, executive director the Employers Federation of New South Wales, described the higher postal and telephone charges as ‘sheer murder’. ‘The Govenment expects industry to justify price increases and be accused of malpractice - and then has the gall to raise charges for nothing more than an inefficient service. ‘It’s an utter disgrace that costs are up 33 per cent for what is a horribly depleted service.’
There is an impartial judgment made by a person outside in the community. The article continues:
Mr K. D. Williams, president of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, said the anti-inflationary tag given to the mini-Budget was ‘grossly misleading’. ‘It is obvious that the Government is looking at only one side of a 2-sided equation and ignoring the excessive demands being placed on business by trade unions, often to the point of disruptive strikes and other forms of industrial unrest’ ‘Present Government policies cannot control inflation without creating business failures and a wasteful degree of unemployment.’
I suggest that that is another unbiased, impartial point of view. The article continues:
Meanwhile, the acting director of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, Mr C. F. Sullivan, and the acting secretary of the Victorian Employers Federation, Mr L. J. Lockie, both accused the Government of failing to take proper action against the inflation spiral. ‘Postal and telephone charges are additional costs for both employers and wage earners whose net earnings will be lowered by the increased expenses for tobacco and spirits,’ Mr Sullivan said.
The list of such comments is endless. No matter where one turns in the community there is not one vestige of support for the Government’s action in savagely increasing the charges as it has done. The article reports the comments of Mr J. B. Griffin, another impartial person, as follows:
Mr J. B. Griffin, executive director of the Retail Traders’ Association of New South Wales, said the measures would only add to Government revenue.
I agree with that comment. I suspect that that was the purpose of the whole of the action - to increase Government revenue. Mr Griffin is reported as saying: ‘These are tremendous increases in costs and when you add 33 per cent on the cost of mailing for every company you are talking in big figures.’
I could go on with an endless list of comments by impartial judges who are sitting in judgment on the actions of this Government. The Government ought to recognise what they are saying and take it into account. These people are saying quite clearly that the measures are not anti-inflationary; they are inflationary. If honourable members opposite do not accept the impartiality of the judges I have quoted, perhaps I can turn to some who may appeal to them as being somewhat more impartial. I notice that in the Hansard of this Parliament there are reports of a number of comments by spokesmen who have said their piece on this issue in days gone by when increases in post and telegraph charges have been proposed. Let me quote from one as follows:
That is the Post Office- become tax gatherers for the Government and as such they collect a tax that is inequitable and iniquitous because it is not in any way based upon the capacity of people to pay. There is no certainty that a pensioner sends fewer letters or makes fewer telephone calls than anyone else in the community. The imposition of increased postal charges, telecommunication charges, radio and licence fees is in itself inflationary.
That is the impartial and unbiassed view of the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson). If Government supporters do not accept my earlier quotations perhaps they may accept what some of their colleagues have said. A second impartial view appears in Hansard of 25 August 1971. It reads:
Surely this action in itself is inflationary-
This honourable member was speaking at a time when the Government had proposed a very small rise in postal charges. The quotation continues: and the Government loudly proclaims that it is attempting to combat inflation. On the one hand, the Government appeals to the private sector to contain costs and, on the other, it aggravates charges in the public sector which will accelerate the situation and which are in turn passed on to the consumer.
Those wise words were uttered by the honourable member for Bonython (Mr Nicholls), now the Government Whip. If honourable members do not regard that as an impartial judgment I refer them the the fount of all knowledge. On 13 September 1971 these words were said:
To us this seems to run contrary to what is described as the overall strategy of the Budget, that is, the halting of inflation. Many of these charges can only aggravate inflation….. It increases charges the impact of which will be felt not only by individuals whose purchasing power will be reduced unless they can increase their incomes but also by business undertakings which have the ability to pass on the increased charges. To say the least, this Budget will accelerate inflation.
– Who said that?
– Those wise words came from the present Treasurer (Mr Crean) when he was the shadow Treasurer sitting on this side of the House. How views can change. The Treasurer rose in this place on Tuesday night to tell the world he was introducing antiinflationary measures by bringing down the most severe impost in postal and telegraph charges that this country has seen since federation. The same man, two or three years ago, said that such charges, if they were brought in, would be inflationary. That exposes completely the failure of this Government to understand what it is doing on this question of inflation. The Treasurer has made other unfortunate statements. I should not embarrass him by using them unless I am pressed.
– We will press you.
– As I am pressed to embarrass the Treasurer further - that is the only reason I do it - I quote from page 1164 of Hansard of 13 September 1971 where he is reported as having said:
It seems clear that whilst there may be some logic in increasing the charges on the postal services, there is certainly no logic whatsoever in increasing the charges on the telecommunications side, as that section already shows a profit by any kind of reckoning. The Opposition-
Of course, he was in Opposition at that time - has suggested that as this section is paying its way perhaps the principle of subsidy might seriously be applied to try to aid decentralisation.
– What a change.
– What a change that is from the present attitude of the Federal Treasurer. He has done everything in his power to cut back any form of decentralisation by the use of the Post Office. He has taken away even incentive possible for people living in country areas by taking measures against the Post Office. This shows how unreal this Government is in its approach to decentralisation.
When the Government was in Opposition it was crying from the roof tops about the inflation that increased postal charges would cause. The first thing it has done this session is to propose the largest postal imposts since Federation. All the earlier statements of
Government supporters make nonsense of the stand taken by the Treasurer in his speech on Tuesday night. He is condemned, indeed, by his own statements. He proves himself to be not only a misleading Treasurer - almost an untrue Treasurer - in telling the people of Australia of the effects of these measures but also he proves himself to be totally incompetent as a Treasurer.
So far the Vernon Commission report has been ignored by the Government. I hope it will do something about it. That report makes a very wise suggestion. On page (XV) of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office, appears a summary of its principal conclusions and recommendations. It suggests that the Australian Post Office should ensure that the community contributes to the revenues of the Post Office in proportion to the use each member makes of those services. That is a very important principle but it is running contrary to what the Post Office is, in fact, at this time doing. I have only to draw to the attention of honourable members the speech of the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) in an adjournment debate in this House the other night-
– It was a very good speech.
– Yes, it was. He said that in certain country electorates telephone subscribers are being asked to pay up to $3,000 to get a connection to what is an essential service. It cannot honestly be said that that meets the criteria laid down in that aspect of the Vernon Commission report. I hope that the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), representing the Postmaster-General in this House, will have regard for that aspect of the Vernon Commission report because the Opposition believes, as does the Vernon Commission, that there ought to be an element of service and not merely an element of profit making involved-
– And spread throughout the country.
– Yes, the whole nation should be serviced. That is how the Post Office operated when we were in government. Look how it has deteriorated since. There has been nothing but a series of strikes, lockouts and close downs. The Government is closing down post offices all over the country. The people of Australia have lost their Saturday morning services. The Government cannot even handle a strike. If there is a demarcation dispute between 2 unions the Government goes to water. The Post Office has never been in such a state, never been in such a mess. The Vernon Commission report raises a very important point of principle. It indicates clearly that for capital works there should be a subvention from the Treasury. We agree that there should be a subvention from the Treasury. It is an impossible proposition to ask people living in remote areas to pay $3,000 - I have heard that it can cost up to $8,000 - for what is really an essential service. The PostmasterGeneral (Senator Bishop) has said that the Post Office commercial accounts for 1973-74 indicate roughly a break even position. At current tariffs his expectation is for a combined loss of $100m in 1974-75. This loss could be expected to occur despite the write off of accumulated postal losses at 30 June 1974.
The Vernon report recently released draws attention to the dual aspects of the Post Office - the telecommunications section, which is a capital intensive and profitable sector, and the postal services sector which is labour intensive and unprofitable. Over a 14-year period from 1959-60 to 1972-73 the postal services ran at an accumulated loss of $138m while the telecommunications sector ran at an accumulated profit of $22 lm. The report notes that over the past decade tariff rates for postal services have increased at an annual rate of 5 per cent but the postal services have been handicapped by a relatively low rate of growth of demand. On the other hand, the telecommunications sector has increased its charges by only an average rate of 4 per cent. Yet the rate of growth in real terms of the telecommunications sector was about 3 times that of the postal services. The Minister representing the Postmaster-General should explain to the House the basis of the Postmaster-General’s profit and loss calculations. The Vernon Commission estimated a loss applicable to postal services of $83m in 1974-75 based on data supplied by the Post Office. It is realised that that calculation may have been somewhat upset by wage increases since then but presumably revenue has also responded to the much vaunted economic boom. That estimate of $83m should have been substantially affected by the intention to reduce the postal services interest bill by about $17m. Yet, in spite of this development, the total loss of $90m for both postal services and telecommunications estimated by the Vernon Commission for 1974 has now leaped to an estimate exceeding $100rn. This implies, taking the interest reduction into account, that since the Vernon Commission made these calculations some months ago costs have escalated very rapidly. Yet the Postmaster-General is silent on any productivity gains over that period.
There are 2 considerations relevant to this matter. The first is the question of the efficiency of the Post Office, in particular the postal services sector, which has run at a substantial loss over recent years due almost entirely to very large increases in operating and maintenance expenses. The PostmasterGeneral talked of writing off the accumulated postal losses and consequently reducing the interest bill. The interest bill for the postal services is only about 8 per cent of the total expenses of this service, while the telecommunications sector has a massive interest bill nearly 10 times that of the postal service, accounting for between a quarter and a fifth of expenses.
The principal facts are that real demand for postal services has been growing at a much slower rate than has the demand for telecommunications. In addition, postal services have been highly unprofitable. The Vernon Commission drew a conclusion that the rate of increase of postal tariffs over the past 10 years has clearly been inadequate. Yet over the past decade, while the consumer price index up to 1971-72 rose at an annual average rate of 3i per cent, the annual cost for postal services, that is the charge to the consumer, increased by 5 per cent. It could well be suggested that it would be highly appropriate for any further increases in postal services to be deferred pending 2 factors. The first is an economic study of the effect of further increases on demand for services, including transference of demand to what the Vernon Commission acknowledged to be increase in competition from private couriers. It is noted that the Post Office intends to operate its own courier service to attract some of this traffic to itself. It could well be that the elasticity of demand for postal services is such that further substantial increases in rates of the magnitude envisaged by the Government may be counterproductive. It is worth saying that, if as the Coombs Report points out, there are opportunities for productivity improvements in a highly labour intensive organisation like the Public Service, then there should be scope in the postal services sector.
The Vernon report discussed what the role of the Post Office should be in the community. The Vernon Commission considered that it was not correct to define the role of the Post Office in simple terms as either a social service or a business undertaking. Indeed, it mentioned the responsibility of the Post Office in decentralised areas. Yet clearly this is a matter on which we should expect policy guidelines from the Government. The Minister’s second reading speech is a confused document on this basis. It talks of the Government’s intention to ‘tackle concessional and uneconomic areas of Post Office activity which provide hidden subsidies to selected areas of the community’. There is one curious paragraph which states:
When a product or service is priced well below its cost, it leads to an artificially high demand for it. For a Post Office service, the cost of meeting that demand makes inequitable inroads into the national resources available to meet total community needs.
Having stated this, the Government does not seem able to make its mind on the role of the Post Office. If it intends to adhere to that paragraph, it would charge people in rural areas the full economic cost, estimated by the Minister as being over $3,600, of installing a telephone service. I feel that that is where we are going. As it is, the increases in charges proposed are a curious mixture of cost recoupment to the full extent and a reduction in what the Government calls the subsidy to the user of the service. The Opposition believes that this structure of increases should be deferred pending a detailed statement from the Government on the guidelines it wishes to establish for the Post Office or the 2 new corporations recommended. The fact is that the Post Office, to most people, is a monopoly service. However, the Post Office is not sure if it is intended to be. I think that is the anomaly that the officers of the Post Office find themselves up against. The Government plainly cannot make up its own mind. The Government for its part seems to intend that the Post Office operate as a profitable business enterprise, not as a community service. In view of its monopoly status, the economic efficiency of the Post Office is particularly important. Normal market competitive forces do not operate efficiently, although the growth of private courier services indicates the extent to which they probably would if competition prevailed. What is required is a clear statement of the extent to which the Government sees these services as being instruments of welfare and decentralisation and to what extent it sees them as being business undertakings. The report of the consultant to the Vernon Commission makes this point very clearly.
There is one other interesting point that emerges about the charges in this Bill, and that is the history that preceded them and their introduction into the Parliament. We all know from picking up the newspapers in recent weeks that there has been a great deal of speculation in the Press that large increases were imminent. That appeared to have flowed from meetings of what is called the kitchen cabinet. I do not think we could get a better name for the motley collection of Ministers meeting privately out at the Lodge over a cup of tea.
– Did they do the washing up?
– I wonder whether they did the washing up. The dirty dishes can be seen in this Bill. But the facts are that arising out of those kitchen cabinet meetings a decision was taken to increase postal charges very heavily. The extraordinary thing is that this has been denied by the Special Minister of State, who usually is very frank. In fact, when he was Postmaster-General we found him frank indeed. But he seems to have lost his frankness when the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) asked him a question which I think was a very fair question. In fact, I said: ‘Hear, hear’. But the Speaker said that I should not interrupt or interject. This is what the honourable member for Wilmot asked:
I direct my question to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. In view of the disturbing story that postal and telecommunication charges are heading for a massive increase, will the PostmasterGeneral and the Government consider the fact that already business is falling in thousands of post offices, especially in country towns?
– Who said this?
– The honourable member for Wilmot, But the Minister, not as frank as usual, got up and went on with a great deal of nonsense about the Vernon Commission but never answered the question. The next day the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in his usual clever way, also failed to answer a question which was put to him by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) about this matter. The Prime Minister denied that the Government was considering any of these matters. I think he said that there were no papers before the Cabinet. That is not the information that the Leader of the Opposition was looking for. He was looking for a truthful statement about the Government’s intentions because of the proposal that had been floating around for so long.
Because of all the reasons I have given, we believe that this Bill should be deferred. Accordingly, I move:
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order! Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak later.
– Having listened to the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) one would think that this Government had created the problems of the Australian Post Office. Its problems in the main derive from the lack of effective policy direction, long range planning and Australian Country Party rorts in the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party administration. The honourable member for Gippsland is a constant source of entertainment in this House and if he could have kept the smiles off his face I am sure we would be in a better position to take seriously what he said. His history lesson was an interesting one except for the fact that he did not mention anything about the role of the Country Party in interfering in the activities of the Post Office and that Party’s misguided policies over many years.
Members of this Government do not derive pleasure from legislating for increases in postal and telegraph charges. We are more reluctant than anyone to see postal rates go up, but economic facts have to be faced. On preliminary estimates available for 1973-74 it seems that the overall result of the operations of the Australian Post Office will reach a break even position only. If the present rate of tariffs were to continue unchanged throughout 1974-1975, a loss in excess of $100m would be incurred. Whilst good arguments can be put forward that postal services ought to be considered as a social service on the one hand or as a straight business undertaking on the other hand, the reality is that both points of view are incompatible. It is reasonable that the user of the services ought to bear the major share of the cost of providing the service, not the general taxpayer. Hence there is a necessity for increased rates and charges.
The Postmaster-General’s Department is the nation’s largest business operation. On average more than 5,000 letters are distributed and more than 6,000 telephone calls are completed every minute of every day. The postal service is a highly labour intensive operation and depends much on the willing co-operation of many people of differing skills and backgrounds. Because about 70 per cent of its operating costs are expended on labour and as community wage levels are rising, increasing costs are inevitable. The financial dilemma facing the Australian Post Office is not unique among the industrialised nations of the world. I refer to page 52 of the report of the Vernon Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office. The Committee in its conclusions stated:
The administration of these services in Australia faces problems which are common to many countries. Increased labour costs which cannot be offset by greater productivity through technical advances, are causing postal costs to rise substantially. The advanced technology of telecommunications and increasing demands for services, are placing strains on the financial resources of authorities.
It also stated:
The postal and telecommunications services provided by the A.P.O. function in much the same way as do the services provided by authorities in other countries. As an organisation the A.P.O. stands high in the opinion of its counterparts in other countries. The technical and administrative competence of its officers have been recognised by the positions recorded to many of them in the international forums and agencies concerned with problems of postal and telecommunications development.
For too long the Australian Post Office was administered as the private, political preserve of the Country Party. It was managed in line with policies that were based on political motivations rather than on sound commercial practice. One does not need to go beyond the highly expensive country telephone line program initiated in 1970-71 to find instances where it would have been literally a better proposition for the Post Office to have bought the farm than to incur the expense of providing a telephone service to the farm.
Mention must be made also of the decision in 1971 to increase the Government’s share of pensions and the decision of the LiberalCountry Party Government in 1972 to appoint Professor A. H. Pollard to inquire into methods of adjusting Commonwealth superannuation benefits. Resulting from his recommendations, the Superannuation Act 1973 provided for staff pensions to be adjusted by 1.4 times the percentage increase in the consumer price index. These actions increased future payments to past and present Post Office employees. Accordingly there must be a sharp increase in Post Office payments for superannuation liability. Post Office payments for superannuation liability increased from $49m in 1972-73 to $104m in 1973-74 and the provision for payment of $130m has been made in the Post Office budget this year to meet the cost of this item.
The present Opposition when in Government refused to initiate steps to place the Australian Post Office on a proper business-like footing and it took a change in government to see the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into Post Office operations, the result of which has been this Government’s decision to separate the Australian Post Office into 2 separate commissions. The increased and altered rates and charges provided for in these 2 Bills- the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill 1974 and the Post and Telegraph Bill 1974- should be seen as the first steps of a rationalisation of activities and charges of the Post Office arising from the report of the Vernon Commission of Inquiry. This particularly applies to the schedule of postal charges which introduces the classification of a standard postal article.
Those honourable members who have taken the trouble to check this section of the schedule will realise that the dimensions of the standard postal article cover most letters and in many cases will result in a saving on postal charges. A standard postal article will be any item of mail between the dimensions of 90mm by 140mm and 120mm by 235mm having an oblong shape with a ratio of width to length of 1 to not less than 1.4 and with a maximum thickness of 5mm, which is just under a quarter of an inch. I invite the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson), who is trying to interject, to listen and he will learn. On such articles there is no weight limit, which means that all standard postal articles over 20 grams in weight will bear postage of 9c, the new basic rate, instead of the 15c payable under the old schedule of charges. This is a reduction of 6c a standard postal article over 20 grams in weight.
For example, the 2 main envelope sizes used in this place both qualify as standard postal articles. If one cares to examine the trial sizes which I have drawn up for the benefit of members of the Country Party who have difficulty in reading they will see that ample opportunity is provided for the coverage of the majority of postal articles. It can be seen that the standardising of the size of envelopes will provide opportunity for the considerable savings in the handling of letters to be passed on to the senders. I repeat: The rationalisation in the. size of postal article - the introduction of a standard postal article and the ultimate introduction of envelopes of standard sizes - will bring economies to the Post Office about which the former government, of which the honourable member for Cowper was a member, did not see fit in those days to be concerned. The rationalisation that could have been introduced or commenced in those days could have started in that long period of almost a quarter of a century.
These economies are embodied in the rates to be charged for standard postal articles. Though it is not provided in this legislation, I ask the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) who represents in this place the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop), to give, consideration to the introduction of a special rate for greeting cards. We all know that millions of greeting cards are posted each year. People exchange all kinds of expressions by medium of cards - birthday cards and get-well cards - but I am thinking particularly of Christmas cards and cards at Easter time. I would like to see a special rate of 6c established for greeting cards to enable those less fortunate to maintain contact at festive times with those near to them. I am sorry that, by their attempts to interject, members of the Country Party indicate that they do not agree with my proposition. I know of people, especially aged persons, who find the postage rate on Christmas cards a burden but who derive much pleasure and satisfaction from sending and receiving greeting cards.
I wish to say something now about increased telephone charges. In the matter of public telephone charges the increase from 5c to 10c is unavoidable. Unfortunately, because of the type of unit selected by our predecessors in 1963, the only increase that can be made is in 5c steps, without incurring costs in excess of S10m plus the long delay that would be experienced in their replacement. Public telephone charges have not been altered since 1963. In the following 11 years average weekly wages have risen by 130 per cent. So the increase proposed is reasonable. Despite the proposed increase, the return from public telephones still will not cover the cost of providing the service. It will be more than 12 months before all public telephones are converted from a call charge of 5c to one of 10c. The rate at present on red telephones is 7c. The rate at present in some motels is 20c or higher for each call. I am at a loss to understand why a service such as the red telephones - again this was due to the Country Party’s administration - was not provided by the Australian Post Office instead of being handed over to private enterprise. The red telephone service is a profitable exercise. It is a service that should have been provided by the Australian Post Office and not given out to private enterprise.
I turn now to the subject of telephone rentals. It is equitable that business telephone rentals should be higher than private telephone rentals. After all, business telephones are used commercially to produce income and as such the rentals are a legitimate tax deductible business expense. Private telephone rentals will be increased by $10 per annum - a not unreasonable increase considering that metropolitan telephone rentals have not altered in 3 years and given the increased costs that have occurred since 1971 in providing the services. While we have heard much from the Opposition about the increased charges, no mention has been made of the decreased trunk call charges. That is in accord with the Opposition’s usual outbursts. Despite the fact that each member of the Opposition concerned has been advised in writing by the Postmaster-General of the reductions that will take place in charges in his electorate, we have not heard one word from the Opposition about the reductions.
Reductions are being introduced in relation to trunk calls over the distance of up to 50 kilometres charging distance. As a result of those reductions - they will be the second in less than 12 months - the cost of a 3-min- ute call that falls within this category will be reduced from 19c to 12c during the day and from 15c to 6c at night. The change that was made in October 1973 represented a benefit to telephone callers of $3.5m in a full year. The change that has been proposed will add about $2m a year to that figure. In my own electorate it means that calls from Newcastle suburbs to places such as Branxton, Cessnock, Pokolbin, Clarencetown, Dungog, East Gresford, Paterson, Karuah, Wyong, Doyal- son, Toukley and Wyee will be regarded as local calls. What has happened over the years is that the Australian Post Office has been left to carry the burden of those operations that are not profitable, that are labour intensive and that incur high costs.
The point on which I want to finish concerns the introduction of a courier service. Such a service is most lucrative. It is a service which could have been provided by our predecessors; but, like the red telephones, it was not provided because there was a dollar to be made out of it. As I have said, the Australian Post Office has had to carry the can for the provision of those services that are not profitable and has had to leave to private enterprise the services that are profitable and that produce income. Honourable members opposite ignored proper commercial practices over the years in their handling of the Australian Post Office. The burden of carrying the load of the expensive, unprofitable services has been left to the taxpayer. Most of the burden is due to the provision of services in certain areas purely for political purposes.
– I would be quite prepared to describe the speech that was delivered by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) as being a rustic speech, but I would hesitate somewhat to describe him as being one of the great lovers of the outback. For example, he would hardly fit my picture of the quiet stockman of Aeneas Gunn’s acquaintance in ‘We of the NeverNever’ and I would find it very difficult indeed, from looking at the honourable member and, in particular, from listening to his speech, to imagine that he would be roused to a point of exhilaration by the tang of the gilguy holes or the rustle of the galahs as he cracked a stockwhip while mustering in the channels of the outer Barcoo.
The honourable gentleman has delivered a speech which is atypical of the Australian Labor Party’s attitude to the whole of this country. It takes the view that this country consists of one, two, maybe three, cities and that those who live in the rest of it can make whatever arrangements they like. I do not propose to traipse over the honourable member’s speech in its entirety because that would be a burden that I would find rather difficult to undertake - at least cheerfully. It would be a burden that I am sure the House would regard as being a crashing bore. But I will come back to the honourable gentleman’s speech occasionally and touch him very lightly with the blades as I go by.
What amazes me about this entire enterprise is the approach adopted by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) in making the speech he made the other night in relationship with the speech made by the Treasurer (Mr Crean). The Special Minister of State has always given me the impression of being a reasonable man. Indeed, I suppose that it could be said that he is the personification of a reasonable man who would appear on the Clapham bus. But on the same day as he presented the Vernon Commission’s report concerning a proposed new Post Office structure and before we had an opportunity to consider the report in all of its ramifications, what did the Minister do? He came into this chamber and, after referring to the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) at the last Premiers Conference, said:
These are required-
The increases in postal and telephone rates being debated today - to ensure that the rates which customers pay for Post Office services are sufficient to cover costs and also provide a surplus which can be reinvested to help meet the growing demand for service.
I ask the Special Minister of State: Why does he not give the proposed new Post Office administration a go? Admittedly, the last 20 months of control by the present Government has put the affairs of the Post Office into a measure of mess, but it is not beyond resuscitation completely. I am quite sure that if it had behind it the splendid business mind of one of the commissioners who I understand will run the business side of the Post Office-
– Mr Kennedy?
– Mr Kennedy. I may speak from the prejudice of friendship in saying that I have a tremendous admiration for his capacity, for his imagination and for his drive. I am assuming that the Parliament will agree to the new structure that has been proposed. I am not arguing about the merits of it at the moment/Taking that as the assumption, why not give the new Post Office an opportunity to try to sort out the devastating mess that has been created in the course of the last 20 months? I think that that is a reasonable question to ask.
– Twenty years.
– My friend said: ‘20 years’. The honourable member for Shortland took the view that virtue had been introduced into the Post Office only in the last 20 months.
– He is right.
– The Minister should not be too impatient to get to the truth, because it will arrive even if it has to come to him by pony express. Let us listen to what the present Treasurer had to say, as a member of the Opposition, in 1968. That is not in the dim distant past. He said:
I for one have always expressed great admiration for the efficiency of the Post Office.
I do not know of a person in the country who would be prepared to say that today of the present Post Office administration under the control of the present Government. Indeed, the lamentations up and down the countryside in the last 20 months concerning the administration of the Post Office would put Ezekiel himself to shame. The present Treasurer, in dealing with the subject of corporations, also said in 1968:
Candidly, I have always been a great admirer of the Public Service form of operations for the Post Office and not a great lover of what is called a public corporations device. Many angles and aspects of the matter need to be considered.
If the Special Minister of State wants to say that what the Treasurer told the House the other evening was correct, I invite him to consider whether what the Treasurer said in relation to the Post Office some five or six years ago was incorrect.
I wish to deal now with the end of the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State. I shall deal only with the beginning and the end of it. I shall spare the House what lies in between. The House waited for him to come to his peroration. I suppose I would be entitled to describe the wait for that peroration, without exaggerating the position, by saying that a distinct hush came over the House. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) agrees with me. We were waiting for the end, and this is what he had to say:
The Government is concerned about the rate of inflation -
That was the first sentence of the peroration - ‘The Government is concerned about the rate of inflation’ - and will continue vigorous efforts against it with the object of reducing it to 8 per cent by mid-1975.
I hope he never tips racehorses to me. He continued:
In the meantime, however, the cost increases incurred by the Post Office must be passed on to a greater degree than formerly, as with other business undertakings.
There is no ambiguity about the honourable gentleman’s declaration. He says: ‘As the Government we are concerned about the rate of inflation.’ Let me test the proposition. I go back. I hope that I will not be accused of being a scavenger of Hansard but I listen avidly to everything the Prime Minister of the country says. I read avidly everything he writes. I recall an occasion when he was in this House as Leader of the Opposition, in 1971. Listen to what he had to say about postal increases. He said:
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 an 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. 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?
I fling those words back in the teeth of the Prime Minister. In 1971 he argued from this place in this House that postal increases as such contributed directly, dramatically, clearly, inescapably to inflation. Yet the Special Minister of State in charge of this Bill told us on Tuesday night: ‘We are concerned with inflation.’ Let me come back, in a glancing fashion albeit, to the honourable member for Shortland. He said that obviously the Post Office must pay its way.
– I did not say that at all.
– That was the effect of it. I am trying to be generous and kind, as I am instinctively in these matters, but the honourable gentleman said words to that effect. Let me take the words uttered in this House in 1971 by the present Minister for Science (Mr Morrison) - of course, in Opposition, in a role which I venture to suggest, indulging in a little prophesy myself, could come back to the Labor Party by mid-1975. He declared that the Government was 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. Whatever the honourable member for Shortland may have said this afternoon, he did not say that the Post Office should be a service agency. But the honourable member for Shortland was on this side of the House in 1971.
– Was I?
– Yes, indeed.
– I was not.
– At least in political sentiment, if not in presence. I understand that the honourable member arrived here after some travail and difficulty with preselection. But was the honourable gentleman moved to write a letter of protest to the Minister for Science in terms of affection and familiarity which now sweep over the Labor Party, starting off ‘Dear Bill, the views which you have expressed certainly do not represent my views’. Not a bit of it. The simple truth is that all of us on this side say now and have said for years that there are precepts to be observed in the running of the Post Office. It is certainly to provide a service, certainly to seek to ensure that sound business methods and administration are together observed. But to isolate one from the other is to reduce the entire function of the Post Office to the state of chaos that it is in today. Hundreds of courier services have come into being. People find it difficult today to get a letter sent from one side of the city to another in under 3 or 4 days. An almost overwhelming sense of ill discipline has come into the affairs and the conduct of the Post Office in the last 20 months.
Now I turn from those observations, which I hope will not be regarded as having been made in any partisan spirit, to the views put by one journal which has had, historically, significant links with the Australian Labor movement. I am referring to the Australian Workers Union, a union which was the birthplace of the great Australian Labor movement in the early days. What did it have to say in its editorial in ‘The Worker’ on Monday, 3 September 1973? The caption is: ‘Labor’s “stab in the back” ‘. It said:
In one fell swoop the Federal Treasurer-
That is the Labor 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.
The editorial continues in that strain; not any paean of praise but a stricture imposed upon the Labor Government. But there has been nothing from the Minister, no expression of regret whatsoever.
The last comment I would like to make is on what was offered by the honourable member for Shortland in his apologia which he gave to the House this afternoon. He said: ‘Look, even though these costs have been inevitable I have some good news for you. There have been reductions in certain fields dealing with telephones.’ He said that every honourable member received a personal letter. I would hesitate to describe it as a personal letter, but I received what I would describe as a roneoed letter. It did not start off in any exhilarating terms of affection such as ‘My dear Jim’. Here it is. It has the name there - Killen, D. J., Electorate Moreton, Queensland. It is described as a metropolitan area. It then goes on to list all the places, allegedly in my electorate, where telephone charges have been reduced. I hope that the Minister will not be too upset, but of all the places named there at least one of them is not within a bull’s roar of my electorate. Indeed some places are up to 100 miles away. It lists Caboolture, Bribie Island, Bryden, Northbrook, Toorbul and Mutdapilly. I can imagine that if the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) ever went through Mutdapilly it would automatically go through his mind and he would say: ‘I must go and ring up Jim to prove that I can ring at a cheaper rate’.
I do not think the Special Minister of State knows what is going on. To use the words famous in this place which were used some years ago dealing with Post Office matters, I think we are a little in the dark. I will say we are in the dark. I say this to the honourable gentleman: ‘Here it is. You are in Stygian gloom, in a great cavern. You cannot see any light. You are happy to see the Post Office dismantled.’ I wondered why in the course of the last few weeks you have been a different soul.
Order! The honourable member for Moreton will address his remarks to the Minister through me.
– I will. I say to the Minister, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the simple truth is that the Government does not know what is going on in the field of Post Office administration. The simple truth is that the Post Office today is in a calamitous state. The simple truth is that people are finding it increasingly difficult to get service. They are finding it difficult to get civility from many people connected with the Post Office admin istration. It all comes from the top. If this great enterprise is given leadership it will respond appropriately to that leadership. The ugly truth ‘is that today it does not have leadership. It belongs to the legion of the lost.
Mr MORRIS (Shortland)- I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do, by the previous speaker, the honourable ‘member for Moreton (Mr Killen). He stated that I was on that side of the House in 1971. The fact is that I was elected to this side of the House on 2 December 1972 to represent the electorate of Shortland.
– Wonders never cease. Today we have heard the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) speak on the Australian Post Office. I have been a member of this Parliament for a long time and I suppose this would be the honourable member’s first speech on the Post Office since, to use his own words, he swam bare-arsed in the Condamine. It has taken him as long to make that speech as I think it took the Liberal Party after the 1949 election to put value back into the £1. But today the honourable member was so stirred up by the changes in the Postal Department that he detached himself temporarily from the worries of his small debts practice, frustrated and indignant, suffering no doubt the pangs of remorse at the possible loss of increased rewards for his almost unlimited parliamentary talents, and gave us an entertaining oration on all that is wrong with the Post Office. What I like about this is that the honourable member is becoming better informed on this matter every day because he is reading the speeches of members of the former Opposition which are so indelibly recorded in Hansard. The more he quotes from them the better his speeches are. They are intelligent, we are receptive to them and we know that they are full of good meaty matter that he could not derive from any other study of parliamentary material. But the honourable member is frightened of the Vernon report. I wonder whether he is frightened of the size of it or the red covers. We know that he is somewhat averse to that colour. I think he is frightened to turn the pages in case he finds behind the vivid covers of that book something very informative and things to which he is not partial.
It is interesting to hear members of the Opposition, particularly the honourable member for Moreton and members of the Australian Country Party, demanding bigger and better services from the Post Office for less and less cost. It is a remarkable approach and it is so very different to the returns for which they ask - particularly the members of the Country Party - for those who produce the wealth in the country areas. Let me give the House an idea of some of the costs involved in running the Post Office. I am informed that it costs up to $3,000 to instal in any country city a telephone service and that it costs up to $9,000 in rural areas. Nobody complains that these services are not required but costs like those have to be met and it is for that reason, amongst others, that charges of this nature have to be imposed from time to time in order not only to provide the service but also to enable money to be available for it from the revenue that is received. Let it be clearly understood that if legislation of this sort is defeated it will mean that we will have less money for social services, less money for pensions and less money for health. The money has to come from somewhere and if we have to subsidise losses such as those incurred by the Post Office undoubtedly social services will suffer. That could easily be the result if legislation of this kind is defeated. In that case, there would have to be a cutback on the social welfare scheme. Interwoven into the economy is the need for organisations like the Post Office to pay their own way in order that we may be able to assist in avenues of social welfare those who are needy instead of subsidising a service that should pay its own way.
The Vernon report stated that the postal services were running at a loss and the telecommunications services were running at a slight profit, but by 1975 both the postal and telecommunication services would be running at a loss. This cannot be continued. Whichever Party might be in government on this side of the chamber it would undoubtedly have to face up to this responsibility. No one can deny that the Vernon report is an excellent document. The gentleman responsible for it is reputed to be of very high integrity and ability. He brought down the report which is a commendable one. It has been presented to the Parliament so that we all. may know his views on the Post Office. Both the services that I mentioned earlier should meet their own costs and should not run at a loss. That was one of the findings of the Vernon report. According to the Vernon report taxpayers should not have to meet the losses. Do those people who sit opposite disagree with that statement? Do they think the Post Office ought to be subsidised extensively or that no attempt should be made to make ends meet?
The proposed increases are an endeavour to make up this leeway and to make available money for social welfare schemes, pensions and other things of that nature. Post Office customers should cover the cost of the services which they use. That is not unreasonable. I do not think they should be a charge directly on the taxpayers. This would leave more money to the Government for education, health and matters of that nature. Higher wages, the increased price of materials and increases in the cost of providing and maintaining services have necessitated increases in postal and telephone charges, as every honourable member on the other side of the House knows. The charges for some of these services have not been increased for years. The public telephone call rate has not been increased since 1963. Telegram rates have not been increased since 1970. The local call rate was last increased in October 1971. The rates charged hardly ever cover the cost of providing the services although the rise in the connection fee - an increase of $20 from $60 to $80 - appears to be high.
– So it is.
– Even in the honourable member’s small debts practice a person could not see him for $20. Honourable members must bear in mind that the proposed increased connection fee covers only a very small proportion of the total cost of providing new telephone services particularly services in country areas. If I may interpolate at this point, whilst the honourable member for Moreton may charge more, I think a person would get only $20 worth of service. Some charges have been reduced substantially under this legislation, such as the charges for trunk calls. Members of the Country Party should be happy for once in a while if they can manage to smile occasionally. The shortest distance rate has been reduced by 20 per cent for calls during the day and by 40 per cent for calls at night. Calls at night up to 50 kilometres will now be charged at the local call rate. This will be of great benefit to country people. That is a real benefit which is being granted by the only country party in the Parliament - the Australian Labor Party. That is something that should have won commendation from the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) because he knows it is a valuable benefit. I know .that most of the people in his electorate probably go to bed early at night because it is a dairying constituency. But if they stay up a little longer at night they will find out that there is a considerable amount of money to be saved. So under this legislation people in country districts .will benefit. We think of all these sorts of things.
I do not want to list all the increases that have been proposed because they have been elaborated on by members on the other side of the House. The telephone connection fee has been increased by $20. Telephone service rentals for business and residential premises have gone up by $20 and $10 respectively. In both cases the rate was last adjusted in October 1973. Surely no one can quibble about the increases in those charges because the service is used particularly in the business field and possibly in the residential area for the purpose of attracting customers and things of that nature. Therefore the cost must be met. The rate for local telephone calls has been unchanged since 1971. It has been increased by 1.25c. The longest distance day rate has been increased by 25 per cent and the shortest distance day rate by 20 per cent, and the night rate has been reduced by 40 per cent. They are worth repeating because they are commendable efforts. In 1963 the public telephone call rate was 5c. It is now to be 10c - an increase of 5c after a period of almost 11 years.
– What is the percentage?
– The percentage does not matter; it is the length of time that is so important. The rate for telegrams has been increased by 50 per cent. The only person who will worry about this, as far as I can see, will be the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) who sends out telegrams in 800 lots. This increase might even steady up his expenditure because he has been speaking about saving on public expenditure. However, it will now cost him a lot more to send out 800 telegrams and perhaps he may be inclined as he seems to be taking on other things, to save a bit of money on things like this. Special fees are to go up from 20c to 30c, an increase of 10c. They have not been increased since
October 1973. All in all, whilst regretting the need to increase prices on anything, including commodities, there is a case to be made out at this stage to review the situation particularly when it is based on the Vernon report which went very deeply into these matters. The need to increase charges is substantiated by the substance of that report. The increases have not been imposed in the hapazard way adopted by the previous Government.
I was moved to speak by the enthusiasm of the honourable member for Moreton. One good thing is that evidently his mail is getting through because he read out a letter. I thought his mail might have been delayed but it is nice to know his mail is getting through. Under a former Postmaster-General when the letter machine was installed at Redfern people were getting their mail a bit at a time because the machine was chewing it up. At least the present Postmaster-General ensures that letters get through the machine at Redfern and people get the full letter, not a bit at a time as was the case when Sir Alan Hulme was in office. I support this important legislation. It will bring in revenue amounting to $140m in the ensuing year and this will be put to good effect and enable the social services scheme to be expanded. I do not think that people who use this great service will object to the proposed increases because they know that they are necessary if the service is to make ends meet. Let me say to members of the Australian Country Party that they have been subsidised very heavily by the amounts I mentioned a moment ago. I would have thought that they would enthusiastically support this Bill in order that the service may be maintained.
– Your assumptions were wrong.
– I am certain that the honourable member for Maranoa will rise to speak on this matter. I hope that he will pay credit to the Australian Labor Party for reducing the cost of long distance calls and for the contributions we have made to enable his electors to get in touch with him. He is one of the members of the Country Party who I think is probably worth ringing up occasionally, because he might do something. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the honourable member to pay tribute to the Labor Party for what it is doing for country people. As one who comes from Currabubula, I commend the Government on that section of the
Bill, knowing full well the benefit it will bring to country people. I support the Bill.
– I rise to support the amendment that has been moved to this Bill. Although I did not take part in the framing of the amendment, I endorse wholeheartedly the sentiments it expresses, because it sums up the views I had formed about these measures that were rushed in by the Government as a half hearted atempt to deal with the major problem facing this country - inflation. I wish to read again the terms of the amendment which was moved by the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) and which I so wholeheartedly support. The amendment states:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the House is of opinion that the Bill should not be proceeded with until the Government presents its total program to deal with inflation and to enable the full inflationary effect of the proposals contained in the Bill to be determined.
The increased postal charges proposed in the Bills are part of a total scheme which it was alleged will deal with the problem of inflation. It is important that we look today at the total scheme before us. The proposed increase in Post Office charges must be related to the whole program. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) who initially foreshadowed the introduction of these Bills said:
These decisions must be made in the context of renewed momentum in our inflationary spiral.
He went on to indicate that he was going to outline the Government’s assessment of the task it faced and to indicate the manner in which it would approach that task. In referring to a matter about which all honourable members on this side could have told him, the Treasurer further said:
The Government’s hopes that the rate of price increase was slackening have proved illusory.
It is something of which we are all well aware, although the Government attempted initially during the last election campaign to maintain that inflation was not a problem. I have in my possession an advertisement which I think has been used before in debates in this House. It shows that up until 16 May - 2 days before the election - the Government persisted in saying that inflation was not a problem. The advertisement states:
Only Whitlam has reduced Inflation by one third . . . Whitlam’s he’s so much better.
The Australian people today can see for themselves very quickly just how much better this man and his Government have proved to be, when they bring in proposals such as these to increase charges - charges that we all have to meet and charges that underprivileged people, more so than others, have to meet. However, I shall come to that point in a little while.
The Treasurer informed us that the plan was to reduce inflation and that the proposal to increase Post Office charges was part of the program. Yet we heard the remarkable admission yesterday in this place by the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) that this program would not deal with inflation at all. After that admission, I wonder why the Government is persisting with these Bills and its proposal to increase these charges when, in the view of the second highest man in the Government, the proposals will not be able to deal with the problem of inflation. The strong language that we heard in the Treasurer’s speech was not reflected in the proposals to deal with inflation. They did not in any way come to grips with the problems that we faced. We on this side of the House have been waiting for a program from the Government to deal with inflation. We did not get it before the election or in the Governor-General’s Speech, which we have not yet concluded discussing, and now we have not got it in the mini-Budget - or, as I have heard it called in other places, the micro-Budget - that was introduced last Tuesday evening. Although the speech of the Treasurer contained general language urging restraint, nothing in the proposals now before us in my view will bring about that restraint. Yet, the importance of the problem is still with us.
I should like to refer to the comments of someone who, in the past, has been a professed supporter of this Government - Professor Downing - although he holds a statutory office now. Professor Downing says that if inflation persists at the rate that exists today, the very democracy that we have in this country will be in jeopardy. I believe that these comments highlight the very nature of the problem with which we must deal. Yet the proposals that we have before us do not come to grips with the problem. It is for these reasons that the amendment has been moved. We require a plan and the Australian people require a plan that will deal with all aspects of inflation and not fiddle with the problem in the way that these proposals do.
I support wholeheartedly the proposals which have been advanced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden). I think they gain more credence every day; they have certainly gained more credence from the media. The Leader of the Opposition maintains that, as part of our proposals to deal with inflation, we should reduce these important impositions that the Government is making upon the community. I refer to his proposals for a reduction of income tax and interest rates and a reduction of these indirect charges which in fact feed inflation. That is the situation we have today. We do not have a proper approach from the Government to deal with the way in which we should go about increasing productivity. Surely the converse of restricting demand, as each of these Bills is designed to do, is to adopt the alternative approach and increase productivity. The Government does not seem to be able to come to grips with this problem. It is not prepared to come to grips with it. It is adopting what we know are tried and failed techniques of continuing to increase statutory charges.
In the concluding remarks of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) when foreshadowing these increased charges, he referred to the report of the Vernon Commission. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) who spoke immediately before me was most complimentary in describing the report of the Vernon Commission. He described it as a very well prepared report. The Vernon Commission said that the increased Post Office charges were expected to be of the order of 12i per cent, yet in his concluding remarks the Special Minister of State said: 4
At this point in time it seems likely that labour costs in 1974-75 will be about 25 per cent higher than in 1973-74, compared with the 12i per cent assumed previously by the Post Office and the Commission.
It seems remarkable that, although we are living in an inflationary situation and although these Bills are designed to deal with inflation, no attempt is made to solve the real problem from which the Post Office suffers in its own funding, namely, the cost of labour. By the very way in which this Government has functioned in office it has carried through to the Post Office a 25 per cent increase in labour costs, yet we have seen no attempt by the Government to grapple with this problem and to reduce the costs of labour.
I want to deal shortly with the matter of inflation and the way in which this particular proposal will be in itself inflationary. The
Special Minister of State in his second reading speech indicated that government and business telephone rental will increase by $20 to $75 per annum and residential and other telephone rentals by $10 to $65 per annum. The increase in those rental charges for business houses is 36.3 per cent and for private users 18.1 per cent. What are we going to have when the business houses pass on to the people they have to deal with a charge of this nature? Do honourable members imagine that the increased rental on phones and the increased cost of using phones in business houses and the increased cost of postage will not be passed on to the customers? Do honourable members imagine that the Prices Justification Tribunal will not include in its considerations these additional charges as charges proper to be passed on to consumers? If we accept that the Prices Justification Tribunal will include these as proper charges one must accept the proposition I am putting that the imposition of these additional charges will mean additional costs on every product that the end users purchase.
We saw also in the program that the Government introduced the increase in pensions, and I applaud that. But when the Government deals with pensioners in this way and writes out of the program proposals for the abolition of the means test and so leaves out other people who will be affected by these impositions, I ask: Where is this Government’s social conscience. A large number of the people who live in my electorate are superannuitants - I never hear their problems mentioned in this House - and they lose continually as a result of increased impositions and the effect of inflation on their meagre incomes. Then they have to suffer also the prospect that they had working for them, the abolition of the means test, being phased out in this program. I find little to applaud in the increasing of these charges. I must admit that I did applaud the comments of the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) and the proposals in the Bills that we have before us to reduce the charges for STD calls made from other parts of the metropolitan area to the more remote western suburbs. I consider the present charges to be quite iniquitous. I regard places like Penrith, Richmond and Windsor as part of Sydney and as deserving to be classed as part of Sydney for the purpose of making telephone calls: And to the extent that this change has been made, and it is only to a limited extent, I applaud the measure but I believe that the Post Office should go much further.
There are many other matters I should like to cover, particularly in relation to couriers. Here the Government completely missed the boat because of the inefficient service it has run. The establishment of the Central Delivery Exchange in Sydney for professional people so as to avoid the use of the Post Office is indicative of this poor service. Although I have not asked him, I dare say that the firm of which the Special Minister of State was a partner until recently is a user of this exchange in the city of Sydney. This indicates that all impartial observers believe that mail services in our city have not been efficient and that other means are necessary to overcome the problem of communicating with people in the commercial area. These failings of the Post Office clearly warrant looking at. They have been partially dealt with in the Vernon Committee report, yet to date we have not any indication that the total proposals contained in the report are going to be accepted by the Government. We had a general indication about 3 months ago before the report was published - I might add that it was published only recently for the perusal of members - and we were told that a statutory corporation would be established. Now when the Government wishes to increase postal and telegraphic charges we are given a look at the report because the Government is able to use it to justify the increases.
Yet the other proposals in the report are neglected. We do not hear of them. We know nothing of the program that the Government intends to introduce. We do not know whether the Government intends to adopt the many recommendations contained in the report, although following the remarks of the Minister of Services and Property (Mr Daly) in this debate and the laudatory way in which he praised the report, I very much doubt whether the Government could do anything but introduce the proposals in this report in their entirety. If it does, and adopts a commercial approach in dealing with the postal trade unions, and adopts a more realistic approach to the questions of seniority and the hiring and firing of staff and so on, we may well see a more efficient Post Office. But if the transfer of power to a statutory corporation is to remove from the eyes of members of this House and the questioning of the members in this House the responsibility of the Govern ment for the failings of the Post Office I believe it will be a mistake.
If all the recommendation are adopted and we see a real and efficient business enterprise come from it, then that will be worthwhile. However, if the program is introduced in part without the proposals that are intended to make it a more efficient and a well worth while operation then I think we will be making a big mistake because in the time I have been in this House - and it has only been short - matters relating to the Post Office, in common with social service and immigration matters, have been the major matters of complaint that have come to me and that I have had to raise on behalf of my constituents. If the intention is only to remove my opportunity to scrutinise and my ability to make representations on behalf of my constituents, on behalf of the important people in my electorate - and that is the totality of my electorate - I believe it will be a mistake. In other words, what I want to hear from the Government, and I hope we hear it from the Minister, is that this report will be adopted in its entirety. If it is that may well be a worthwhile step we will all applaud.
– Our postal and telephone services are in a parlous state - a situation created by the Government due directly to mismanagement - and the public will pay heavily as a consequence. Yet the Government now budgets for a Post Office profit of $60m, which is incredible, to say the least, in the light of all that has occurred in the last 18 months. It is beyond belief that in this short period the major public facility run by the Federal Government could become such a disaster for all concerned with it, particularly the public. Now the community is to be loaded with savage increases in postal and telephone rates while at the same time receiving less services. The Post Office is now being jeopardised by the backlash of deals between the trade unions and the Government. Of course, when we look at these very carefully we find that the rank and file union member will in the long run be worse off. The management of the Post Office by this Government is, to say the least, a disaster.
The Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen), representing the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop), told the House when he introduced this legislation that the Premiers Conference in Canberra on 7 June had been informed by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that there would be substantial increases in postal and telecommunications charges. These, he said, are required to ensure that the rates which customers pay for Post Office services are sufficient to cover costs and also provide a surplus which can be reinvested to help meet the growing demand for service. What hollow words! At that conference in Canberra when this was first mooted by the Prime Minister the Prime Minister took the State Premiers to task for what he alleged was bad management of State public services, in particular their railway services. What hypocrisy. The Prime Minister has the temerity to criticise the State Governments for bad management yet he starved the States of finance needed to do the job of making these public services effective.
The basis of the proposed increases in postal and service charges now put to Parliament is that it is intended to write off accumulated postal losses as at 30 June this year and finance a significant proportion of postal and telecommunication expansion from revenue. And this is supposed to be an antiinflationary measure! Then the gem in the story, as it unfolds, is that it has been decided as a de-inflationary measure to restrict Post Office borrowings in 1974-75 to the same amount as last year, $385m. With the proposed charges and the likely increases in wages, according to the Minister’s statement in this House, a profit of $60m is forecast. This is comparable to what was achieved by the previous Government in 1971-72, which of course was followed by a profit of $41m in 1972-73. This was done under very different conditions to those which apply today and to which the Minister has referred and laboured so much in what he told this House. It is obvious that the Government is playing with words, is engaging in deception on a grand scale, and is ignoring the real facts.
The biggest single business in Australia, the Post Office, run by the Federal Government sets no example to the States, to the private sector or to the community at large. On the contrary, it has announced a large cut in funds for capital works. However, it proposes to raise the same amount from borrowings as it did last year and to increase the charges enormously by a sum amounting to no less than $140m. This will result in a surplus of $60m. Just what can one regard this as other than a complete hotch potch? It poses the question: Just where are we going in all this confusion, double talk and political jigger) pokery?
Fundamental to this whole mess is the decision, delayed obviously by the Government, to implement the royal commission recommendations. We recall the Prime Minister’s grand announcement of December 1972 that a royal commission would be appointed to inquire into the operations of the Australian Post Office. Then in August last year there was a revision of charges with savage increases announced in the Budget which preceded the royal commission concluding its investigation. Now we have these drastic, far reaching changes that have been implemented in a sudden mini-Budget measure. What about the proposals of the royal commission? Why did this Government fail to make a statement to the House and have it debated as is customary after a royal commission has inquired into any matter and presents a report and recommendation to a government?
There has been no follow through as has been the standard practice in this Parliament over so many years. One can only assume that this procedure has been adopted for the purpose of subterfuge and, of course, to hide something. In other words, it is to get away from the so-called open government very quickly. The first major decision of the First Whitlam Ministry was to establish a royal commission to inquire into the Post Office. What do we find flowing from it? There has not even been a statement on the royal commission to this House for open debate. How long can the Prime Minister keep up this kind of double talk? It is patently clear that it is done deliberately because last week the Prime Minister answered a question in this House which asked whether the Government intended to introduce increases in postal and telephone charges. The Prime Minister said that the Government had not considered the matter. That was on Wednesday of last week.
On Tuesday night last the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, following a statement by the Treasurer (Mr Crean), announced drastic changes to these charges. Does anyone believe that these decisions were made between Wednesday and Tuesday? Of course they were not. To add to the obvious evidence of this deliberate attempt to mislead this House, the public at large and everyone involved, let us look at the real story. There was an announcement to the Premiers Conference on 7 June, a denial last week, and then the action was taken this week. How can we have any confidence in the Government in this matter of its handling of the Post Office, its consideration of the recommendations of the royal commission and the future planning of the Post Office as a consequence of those recommendations? There can be no confidence whatever.
For that reason I believe that honourable members must strongly support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) - that this House is of the opinion that the Bill should not proceed until the Government presents its total program to deal with inflation and to enable the full inflationary effect of the proposals contained in the Bill to be determined. That is a proper action, because of the circumstances in which we find this matter being dealt with in this House at the hands of this Government. As a consequence of this measure, if it goes through here and the other place, services will be slashed in a bitter, deliberate vendetta against certain sections of the public. The withdrawal of services over the past 18 months has been most drastic indeed. Now it is to be carried further regardless of any consideration of service to the community, which has been the traditional principle of the management, operation and structure of the Post Office as a public instrumentality over so many years.
Huge increases are to be made in postal charges to raise about $140m. As a consequence, service to the public is being cast aside as really not worth considering. One can have no other view of this measure. It is all very well for an honourable member this afternoon to refer to a new standard letter and to say that this will now enable a reduction from a previous rate of 15c for certain letters. Of course, he fails to recognise that this change is only to correct a blunder made in August last when that 15c level was introduced. There has been such reaction against it and undoubtedly so many letters have been flowing through the post office with insufficient postage on them that it has been proved to be a disaster, and this proposal is to remedy that situation. But what the honourable member does not admit is that the overall increase to 9c catches everybody else who posts an ordinary letter. So it is just begging the whole argument to say that there is some saving to the public in this matter.
In the field of telephone and telegraph charges, the variations proposed will raise no less than SI 09m. This is to be done by increasing basic rentals in the field of the private telephone, the business telephone and so on. This is an imposition that cuts right across the whole principle of doing anything to moderate inflation. I refer in particular to the category of postage to which the Minister referred in very strong terms when he spoke in this House on Tuesday evening. He said that it is unfortunate that some of the Government’s efforts to phase out concessions were obstructed, particularly with regard to newspapers and periodicals coming into the categories that receive special concessions and that this had cost $9m in 1973-74. He did not go on to say that there will be any drastic change to these rates because he well knows that by March or April next year certain of these concessions will be phased out anyhow.
I think the real truth of the matter was raised by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) when he quoted the real feelings of the producers of trade union journals and others who voiced their strong protest in this matter. So it has been quite unfair for the Special Minister of State and for members of the Government Party during the past year or so to criticise the Australian Country Party in the way they have. They have asserted that the Country Party gave concessions on a section basis, but they found out that this was a little untrue and that people in their own sphere of political thinking were being harmed also and they backed off fairly rapidly. We find that in the detailing of the postal rates in this Bill there is a big departure from the approach made in August last. It is at least some solace to some of us to find that the Minister has withdrawn from the kind of attitude he expressed in this direction last year.
Of course, the crucial issue is where are we going and who is doing the task that should be done in considering an effective plan. Certainly, we have not had any plan put before the House on this occasion. There has been no announcement by the Government of any positive proposition. I deplore that because I believe it is the responsibility of the Government - the responsibility of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) himself - to give a clear indication of intentions. Instead, the report of the Vernon Royal Commission was virtually put under wraps and kept under wraps until a couple of days ago. Obviously, there is an intention not to bring a proposition into this House at the time when one would expect that to be done. No practical proposals for the development of an effective service have been introduced, rather we see a curtailment of service. This is not good enough. Nothing has been done to restore public confidence or to provide a basis for a better relationship between the Government and the unions. Certainly, nothing has been done to lift the morale of the Post Office.
From the point of view of productivity, the disaster continues unabated and if we think in terms of what is around the corner in this direction there is no doubt that services will not match the increased charges that will be imposed upon the public. This is a disaster for everyone concerned with the biggest business operation in the hands of this Federal Government. It is a disaster that must be laid at the feet of the Prime Minister, the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) who is the former Postmaster-General and the present Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop). It is up to them to give the answers. I hope we will see some remedy for the present situation brought forth within a reasonable time.
– I have only a few minutes in which to reply, because other legislation has to be introduced. Out of courtesy to the House, I want to clarify a matter which has been raised in the course of this debate. I make it clear that it was this Government that set up the Commission of Inquiry into the Australian Post Office - the Vernon Commission. It was to inquire into what was wrong with the Post Office. The report was presented to the Government after the double dissolution. It was clearly announced by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that the Government would accept that report. I am pleased to acknowledge that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), in the course of the last election compaign, also said that he would adopt the recommendations of the Vernon Commission. I say to honourable members opposite: Do not come here tonight and say that you do not know what the Government’s attitude is in relation to this matter. The Government’s attitude was announced by the Prime Minister and accepted by the Opposition. The Government already has appointed Mr Kennedy as Interim Chairman of the proposed postal commission and Mr Gibbs as Interim Chair man of the proposed telecommunications commission. Honourable members could not get faster action from the point of view of showing the bona fides of the Government.
It was suggested that it was outrageous that ‘in dealing with inflation the Government should increase these charges. Let me make this clear: The charges bring in additional revenue and the need for additional revenue has been clearly stated. One item which would never be predicted to be a massive one is superannuation. I am not being critical of previous governments, but the superannuation scheme was introduced by a previous government. It is a very good and generous scheme. But when the Vernon Commission examined the question of superannuation and asked Price Waterhouse and Co. to calculate estimates it was found ‘that the scheme was $31 lm in arrears. It took the Vernon Commission to find that out. In one year this Government has to provide $130m for superannuation. So let us be clear as to what honourable members opposite were talking about when they referred to the efficiency of the business they were endeavouring to run. Let me make it clear that in future the Post Office will not have these problems because obviously the people who will be associated with the commissions will have business and commercial experience and will understand how to run them on a proper basis.
Honourable members opposite do not give credit for an important provision in this Bill which will erase the $200m deficit ‘that the postal services face. We will erase that deficit and save $17m in interest payments, which the Opposition parties when in government imposed in 1960 and which have been escalating ever since. Everybody buying stamps and paying for telephone calls has had to to pay to meet those interest charges. Interest charges will remain on the telecommunications service as a bona fide charge because the Vernon Commission has recommended it. However, it will not remain on the postal services. We have erased that debt.
Honourable members opposite speak about a postal charge of 9c as being outrageous. Let us examine this matter. In 1969 the ordinary letter rate was 5c; it was 6c in 1970 and 7c in 1971. The Opposition, when in government, increased the postal rate by lc for three consecutive years. It did not increase it in 1972 because that was an election year. There was no other reason. This is the first increase this Government has imposed. It has been imposed on the basis of what is fair and reasonable. Every time I want to talk about what Sir Alan Hulme might have wanted to say my good friends opposite invoke the Convention of Westminster regarding what might have been submitted to the Cabinet of those days. I suggest that if Sir Alan Hulme were here now he would be happy to think that I could say that he tried his best but failed. I assume that he failed because he did not get the support of the Country Party. It is quite clear that he was putting up propositions which would have accorded with good commercial practice and led to greater efficiency in dealing with postal matters.
It is clear that the Post Office cannot continue to run at a loss in certain areas. Registered publications is one such area. We have to meet another $9m loss because of the actions of the Country Party. If members of the Country Party want to claim it as a win, they should remember that everybody else has to provide that money. I do not have time to say much more. I make it clear that for once in their life the postal and telecommunications services of this country will be put on a proper basis. Concessions have been given in this legislation. We are introducing a courier service on a competitive basis. Honourable members opposite when in government never gave the Post Office that opportunity. They held it back. They always left the Past Office with the jobs that were never paying. They never gave it the opportunity to engage in activities which could have been profit making. If the Post Office has profit-making structures it can take the rough with the smooth and can give some benefit to the people in areas which perhaps are not paying their way; but the Post Office should not be left to service only areas in which losses occur.
The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) was very anti-employee in his speech. He wanted more discipline. He was worried about the fact that services were not being provided by workers on a productivity basis. I make it clear that the productivity of the Post Office has increased despite all the inefficiencies with which it is surrounded. But it does need a new concept - a new vehicle to make faster progress - and the Bill affords this opportunity.
The Government cannot accept the amendment moved by the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon). In discussing the real issues I need refer to only one factor - superannuation. This is a matter with which we have had to deal because of the inefficiencies and miscalculations of previous Treasurers and Treasuries. These are the real issues that should have been looked at. Fancy having to wait for the Vernon Commission to find out that the previous Government was so far wrong in that area. The Government is providing services which have not been provided before. We are helping, for example, in what is called the first trunk call zone. We have it on a better basis now. We are reducing the call rate from 15c to 12c and to 6c after 6 p.m. About 164 million calls will benefit from this decision. It is a gain of $2m to those subscribers who, in the main, are in country districts. Honourable members opposite should not say that this Bill is all one way - against the customer. It is not. From the point of view of the rationale of inflation, the post office in this structure, in this particular concept of Budget implementation, can work within its own income. It does not have to run into heavy subsidy situations. It does not have to take from the taxpayers moneys which can be devoted to education and social welfare. Such moneys can be used to increase pensions for the elderly people or for the repatriated - a very worthwhile cause. This is completely within the ambit of being an anti-inflationary measure because we are not, as in the past, seeking money on which interest must be paid. We are seeking to overcome existing inefficiencies. We can now work within a concept that money can be released for other purposes and at the same time be in complete agreement with the concept of the Vernon Commission. It suggested that postage stamps might have to go up to 10c in a short period. The predictions, projects, plans and Cabinet submissions of the previous Government, if they could be produced, would clearly indicate that costs would be well in excess of these. For those reasons the amendment is not acceptable.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! Before I put the question, I wish to draw the attention of the honourable member for Griffith to standing order 58, which provides that every member of the House, when he comes into the chamber, shall take his seat and shall not at any time stand in the passages or gangways. That includes sitting, as the honourable member is doing right now, on the side of a seat. I ask the honourable member to take his seat. I sent a message across to him, but he refused to take any notice of it. I ask him to take his seat in the proper way in the House.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. When you admonish a member on this side of the House, will you show exactly the same treatment to members of the Labor Party when they do precisely the same as the honourable member for Griffith did?
– I most certainly will give the same treatment to honourable members on the Government side of the House. There has been a tendency for some time towards this sort of practice. The standing order to which I referred used to be very strongly enforced in years past but it has not been enforced recently.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Nixon’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Mr J. L. Armitage)
Majority . . . . 3
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– This series of Bills has become necessary because of the increased charges proposed to be levied by the Australian Post Office. These increased charges are very largely due to the unsatisfactory industrial conditions which apply there.
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 23 July (vide page 515), 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 granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 23 July (vide page 526), on motionby Mr Hayden:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of this Bill essentially is to increase age and invalid pensions and unemployment relief to the extent of $5 a week for a single person and $6 a week for married people. Ordinarily, when the Opposition is confronted with a genuine rise in pensions, it can commend the Government for its initiative and for its humanity in improving the lot of the aged, the sick and other disadvantaged people in the country. But at this time, there can be no such commendation from the Opposition for the Government - only condemnation of its panic move to get itself out of a hole. This legislation represents one of the great pork barrelling exhibitions of this Government to try to patch up the rather extraordinary and catastrophic situation into which it has taken the economy.
We will, of course, support these increases. It is vital that they be supported because the catastrophic rate of inflation which this Government has inflicted on the nation demands this kind of panic move. It is necessary and vital so that pensioners will not be the ones disadvantaged because of the Government’s mismanagement. As a result of the policies of this Government, we have become used to talking in big figures. The first increase in pensions introduced by this Government was $1.50 a week. That figure was to be the average increase. Consequently it increased $3 a week and now it is $5 a week. As I shall show in a moment, the curve will go upwards and it will not be very long before pensioners will need to be receiving at least $80 a week to give them the kind of existence to which they are used at this time. Only 4 months ago, when the last increase of $3 a week was enacted by the Government, I foreshadowed this development. I said:
What will happen to the pensioner next week if inflation is maintained at a rate of 13 per cent or more? What will happen to him next week, next month or in the next quarter? There will have to bo another massive increase in the pension as there is now.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) uses expressions such as:
This is the greatest increase pensioners have ever received.
Of course it is - in absolute terms. It has to be. What the Minister did not say is that inflation in this country is now raging at a rate at which it has never occurred before. This is the result of the policies of this Government. The rate of interest now, caused by this Government which is allegedly concerned with social welfare and has a social conscience, is the highest on record in Australia’s history. The words of the Minister, that this is the largest increase, sounded very hollow indeed to the pensioner who listens to him. Let the Minister go with the pensioner into supermarkets; let him be with the pensioner while he or she pays his or her rent. Let the Minister ask any pensioner whether he or she is in fact any better off today than he or she was in December of 1972. The fact is that pensioners are not, as I shall illustrate by figures in a moment.
The increase in the single pension is $5 a week, bringing it to $31 a week. That is an increase of 19 per cent. That sounds, I suppose, impressive. In his second reading speech, the Minister said:
The new standard rate established by this Bill will be 26 per cent of seasonally adjusted average weekly male earnings for the March quarter 1974, the latest quarter for which figures are available. It will be almost 25 per cent of the estimated average weekly male earnings seasonally adjusted for the June quarter of 1974.
I know that figures are hard to understand if they are not before one, but I think that the figures that I am about to give will show the falseness of the Minister’s claim and can be understood. Average weekly earnings for the March quarter 1974 seasonally adjusted were $119.10. Let us assume that there has been a 5 per cent increase in those earnings in the June quarter. In that case, the June quarter figure would be $125 a week for average weekly earnings. At a single pension rate of $31 a week, as proposed by this legislation, the pensioner receives 24.8 per cent of that $125 a week. The Minister can claim with some truth that now the Labor Party has brought pensions up to 25 per cent of those average earnings.
– At this moment.
-We are saying that it is 24.8 per cent. So, I concede that point. But it would be utterly stupid for anybody to assume that that position will obtain for very long. We are now moving towards the middle of the September quarter. Assuming, conservatively, another 5 per cent rise in average weekly earnings in this September quarter, average weekly earnings would rise to $131 a week of which the new single pension would be 23 per cent. Even now that percentage has gone from 24 per cent to 23.7 per cent.
The next increase in pensions will not be until autumn 1975. To use the Minister’s own words, the next increase would not operate until the June quarter of 1975. If we make the assumption that average weekly earnings will rise by 25 per cent between the June quarter 1974 and the June quarter 1975, average weekly earnings would reach $164.
A single age pension of $31 a week in the June quarter of next year would be only 18.9 per cent of the average weekly earnings.
– ‘Presuming it is not raised before then.
– The honourable member for Robertson has a large number of pensioners in his electorate. The honourable member is one of my favourite interjectors because he always leads with his chin. Let him go into his electorate of Robertson in the autumn of 1975 and explain to the pensioners in it how the Labor Government has reduced their pension to 18 per cent of the average weekly earnings.
– That is the most dishonest thing I have ever heard the honourable member say and that covers a fair amount.
– I know that the honourable member for Robertson finds it difficult to absorb these figures. After he has read the Hansard report of my speech I challenge him to get up in this House or anywhere else-
– That assumes there is no increase in the pension between now and then.
– The honourable gentleman says that assumes there will be no increase in the pension between now and then. Yes, it does and I said that. But I did not initiate that statement. The Treasurer said it. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said it. Has the honourable member for Robertson not read their speeches or heard them? Are we not to believe the Treasurer and the Minister for Social Security?
– ‘There will be an increase in the March quarter of next year.
– Did the Minister for Social Security not say that the next increase will be in the autumn of 1975?
– Autumn is March.
-hI suggest that if honourable members opposite were to read the speech - some might have to read it twice - they might understand it. Even if average weekly earnings increased in that period by 20 per cent the $31 a week age pension would be 19.7 per cent of the average weekly earnings. The Opposition welcomes this increase, but what it really wants at this stage, what the pensioners really want at this stage and what the nation really wants at this stage is an anti-inflation program. I was amused to notice the other night - I think this has escaped the notice of most honourable members; naturally it has escaped the notice of members of the Press Gallery - that the statement in which the Treasurer announced the pension and other increases this week was headed ‘Ministerial Statement- Inflation’. That is how the statement was headed; yet yesterday a senior Minister in the Government admitted that it was not not an anti-inflationary mini-Budget. Good heavens, what sort of people do we have running this country when we have the Treasurer coming into this chamber with a statement headed Inflation’ and then the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) following him and saying that it was not an anti-inflation statement? I think that the ‘Australian’ showed great objectivity and great wisdom in calling it a whimpering little Budget and a knee-jerk reaction to something that is very serious.
The Minister for Social Security is very fond of saying that the age pension has risen at a greater rate than the cost of living index and of saying that he can put figures down to prove it. The Minister knows, but does not say so, that the prices of food and housing, both of which commodities pensioners need, are rising much faster under the Labor Government than the consumer price index. The massive increase in the cost to pensioners of food and housing must be having quite a devastating effect on them. Social security is a priority issue with the Opposition. We said so during the last election campaign. But we did not make any promises that we had no intention of keeping, which is apparently what the Labor Government did. We warned them that we would not be increasing spending at a rapid rate, particularly on the expansion of the Public Service, public relations campaigns through the Department of Media and direct Government involvement in pipeline construction, minerals exploration and all the other beautiful, grandiose schemes about which the Government made promises. Now supporters of the Government find themselves in the position where they have to break promises that they made during the election campaign because they did not heed the warnings of the Opposition.
Some good promises were made, including one concerning a child care program. I remind the Minister for Social Security that on 1 May this year, speaking about child care programs, he said:
The need for such a program is emphasised by the fact that there are at present in Australia about 1.3 million children of pre-school age and that, for more than 1 in 4 of these children, there is no parent at home during working hours. Of these only 1 in every 10 attends a child care centre. … At least 13,000 children are left totally unattended during the day. Thousands more are left to the care of brothers or sisters. Furthermore, for too many of our primary school children there is nowhere to go outside of school hours or during vacations.
The Minister went on to say that for this reason the Labor Government would move with urgency as soon as it was re-elected. It has been re-elected but those children will now have to go without that care. I know how much the Minister sincerely wants to implement such a program but cannot. The Labor Government cannot implement this urgent program because of the devastating situation into which it has led the economy.
The Labor Government has also broken another promise it made in the social welfare area, that is, the promise to remove the means test for persons 70 years of age and over. I have in front of me a telegram, a copy of which was no doubt sent to the Minister for Social Security, from the South Australian Public Service Association, the South Australian Government Superannuation Federation, the South Australian Government Superannuated Employees Association and the South Australian Institute of Teachers - most of which bodies I should have thought would have been Labor supporters and would have come out in support of the Labor Government during the last election campaign - expressing disenchantment with the Labor Government for welching on yet another promise that it made to them concerning fixed incomes.
Does the Minister deny that supporting fathers have a case for assistance? Of course he does not. They have a case. But can the Government do one thing lor them at this stage? Does the Minister see any justice in a man who has been deserted by his wife and who has been left with 4 children to care for receiving no assistance under the social welfare program of the Labor Government? The Minister is willing to bring in something on this matter but he cannot do so because of the hideous mess that the Labor Government has made of the economy.
Sitting suspended from 6.13 to 8 p.m. (Quorum formed)
– We are in the process of debating the social services legislation, the main thrust of which adds S5 a week to the single age pension and $6 a week to the married age pension and gives appropriate other increases to unemployment and sickness benefits, widows’ pensions and so on. Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I said that the Opposition supports this Bill and will give it quick passage. The Opposition believes that pensioners today, because of the economic policies followed by the Government, are in catastrophic trouble. In fact the Minister will testify that on Tuesday night I made him an offer on behalf of the Opposition to take the Bill that evening and to expedite its passage so that pensioners could receive the increase immediately. He informed me that there was no point in doing that because of the pay day falling due. So we agreed on this course of action of bringing it on this evening.
Before the suspension of the sitting I pointed out how necessary and vital it is for pensioners to receive this increase and for the House to expedite it. Because of the inflation now raging in this country due to the extravagances and mismanagement of the Australian Labor Party it is vital that pensioners have this massive increase, the second this year. Only 4 months ago I made a similar speech in this House when, because of raging and rampant inflation which the Government has caused, pensioners were given a $3 a week increase. Now only 4 months later we find it necessary to give them another $5 a week. And it will go on. The next increase will have to be larger than that, and the matter will be exacerbated.
I also made the point in response to the Minister for Social Security - some of the interjectors in the Labor Party did not seem to understand the point that I was getting at when I challenged the Minister’s figures- that now the pensions would be 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. I conceded that that will be so as soon as this legislation is passed. In fact, they will be 24.8 per cent. But I then amde the point and developed the argument that if inflation continues at the present rate and if average weekly earnings continue to increase, by the time the pensioners receive their next increase - which, according to the Treasurer and the Minister, will be in the autumn next year - the age pension will have been reduced to 18.9 per cent of average weekly earnings, a figure lower than the percentage when the Liberal and Country Parties were voted out of office in December 1972. This simply means that, notwithstanding the grandstanding of the Minister in saying that this is the biggest increase pensioners have ever received, the fact remains that by the autumn of next year pensioners will be worse off than they were in December 1972, in spite of their massive increases.
There seemed to be some merriment on the Labor side when I criticised the statement of the Treasurer which he made in this House last Tuesday evening. His speech was entitled ‘The Inflationary Situation’. The next day in this House the Deputy Prime Minister conceded that it was not an anti-inflationary statement that the Treasurer had made. Talking about inflation, the Treasurer said this:
I have no illusions about the magnitude, or the intractability, of the task we face. It must be obvious to all of us that, with prices and costs now rising at these rates, and with inflationary expectations now so entrenched, inflation cannot now be beaten without severe costs. It must be equally obvious that we would have preferred to avoid those costs. The plain fact is that we no longer have any real choice.
The Treasurer said that on Tuesday night. He then read a 17-page statement announcing to the House certain measures on which the Government had decided. Yet the next day the Deputy Prime Minister said to this House that it was not an anti-inflationary statement. One wonders how pathetic the Government is when that situation is reached.
It is not by talking about figures that we can observe the plight of the pensioners. We can talk about percentages but we do not know the plight of pensioners until we talk to them and hear how they fare when their rents are increased without supplementary assistance being increased.
– Just as you did not worry about them when you were in office.
– The honourable member is always so fancy with his smart alec interjections.
– You did nothing for them.
– The honourable member for Bowman is notorious for his smart alec witless interjections. I would like to be with him on a platform in Brisbane.
– Tell us how you looked after pensioners when you were in office.
– Order! The honourable member for Bowman will cease interjecting.
– I would like to be with the honourable member for Bowman in his electorate on my next visit to Brisbane and hear the pensioners in his electorate explain how they feel now when they have to pay increased rents, how they feel when they have to go to the supermarket, how they feel when they have to pay the massive increases in indirect taxation which this Government is levying on them. I would enjoy that occasion very much more than I enjoy his witless interjections. It is the human element of the difficulties of the pensioners which is caused by inflation.
I turn now to matters other than the pension. Let me talk about indirect taxes. It is a very strange thing that history shows that these so-called champions of the lower classes, these so-called champions of the working men, when they are in office are notorious for having indirect taxes higher than those imposed by Liberal and Country Party governments. I have asked the Statistical Service of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library to give me some statistics on this matter. When the Labor Party went out of office in 1948-49 the indirect taxes, as a percentage of total taxes levied by the then Labor Government, were 41 per cent. Of all taxes paid by the working man under the last Labor Government, 41 per cent were indirect taxes. Income tax and company tax amounted to 59 per cent. By the year we went out of office indirect taxes had been brought down to 31 per cent. We all know that indirect taxes include sales tax on motor cars and excise on cigarettes, tobacco and beer. The tax payable on those things is inequitably spread amongst the community because the working man or the pensioner pays just as much indirect tax on a packet of cigarettes as the millionaire. It is universally accepted that indirect taxes hurt the people on lower incomes. Under this Government’s policies we have now moved back to paying higher indirect taxes.
I will give some further statistics which I obtained from the Statistical Service of the Library. In 1971-72 - our last year of office - the average indirect tax payable by persons aged 15 years or more in the civilian population of Australia excluding defence personnel was $270. I remind honourable members that indirect tax includes sales tax, excise and so on. Under the proposed increases the average person will pay $332 a year in indirect taxes - an increase of 24 per cent. This is what the pensioner will have to pay after the H miserable years in which this Government has been in office. Let the speaker who follows me. in this debate explain that action to the pensioners in the electorate of Henty. Let her justify to the pensioners of Henty the Government’s action in making the working man and the pensioner in her electorate pay an increase of 24 per cent in indirect taxes compared with the average payment when the Liberal-Country Party Government was last in office. Does this Government not realise that pensioners smoke, drink and use petrol in their motor cars?
– What was the pension under your Government?
– For heaven’s sake; I have just explained that to the House. The smokers and drinkers are the traditional victims of any increase in excise which is brought down by a panic stricken government. What does an additional 4c a packet of cigarettes mean to people on high incomes?
– About $15 a year.
– What does a few extra cents on a gallon of petrol mean to a very wealthy man? The honourable member for Robertson said a moment ago that the additional excise on cigarettes means a few dollars a year-
– I said that it meant about $15 a year for the average smoker.
– Order! The honourable member for Robertson is listed to speak in this debate. He can explain all those things when he makes his contribution.
– The point I was about to make is that as soon as additional excise is placed on cigarettes and beer the demand for those products suddenly falls for a week or two. But it is notorious that within a couple of weeks the sales of beer and spirits and the sales of cigarettes and tobacco products return to the level which obtained prior to the increase. What that means is that the people on lower incomes are not smoking less because it is dearer; and they are not drinking less because, it is dearer, and they are not driving their cars less because it is dearer.
The fact is that these things just cost them more because of the iniquitous indirect taxes which are imposed. I was amused to read in a Press statement issued by the Minister the following words:
In the autumn of next year we will be increasing pensions again to ensure pensioners and others on fixed incomes -
Whom does he mean by the expression ‘others on fixed incomes’? Does he mean the person who has been thrifty throughout his life, who, at great sacrifice, has put his money into superannuation and life assurance and who is now receiving superannuation payments from his former employer? How will the Minister help such people if costs and prices continue to rise at the astronomical rate at which they are rising at present? I resent this. There are many people in the community who, when they were young, decided that they did not want to have to rely on a government to determine the standard of living they would have in their old age and so saved their money, made sacrifices and invested in insurance. But in two short years this Government has destroyed their hopes and taken that benefit away from them. If this rate of inflation continues, within a very short time everybody will be dependent on handouts from the socialist government in determining what fashion they can spend their old age. If those tactics are the kind to encourage thrift and to encourage incentive in order to make a bigger, better and more healthy Australia, then I am confounded.
I would like the Minister to look at a problem that I know confronts him. I refer to the differential between the single and married pension rates. I know that this is a difficult question. The Minister would know that as the base pension rate increases the differential narrows. It may well be that at this stage we are approaching a position which could be disadvantageous to married pensioners and which will have to be looked into with a view to overcoming the problem. I am also concerned at the amount paid for unemployment relief. This is due to the Government’s policy getting completely out of hand. I asked the Statistical Service of the Library to take out some figures on this matter. I will illustrate how ridiculous and absurd the present situation is for a married man on the minimum wage and with 3 children. I am not making a big point about this because there are very few, if any, people on the minimum wage. But it is a point that I do make. The average minimum wage throughout Australia at the moment is $68 a week. With child endowment and free health insurance less income tax, the net weekly income for a married man - if he is working - on the minimum wage is $69.40. If he is in receipt of unemployment relief, under the absurd and insane policies of this Government, he is getting $78.50 a week. So, a man gets about $10 more if he does not work. That is the kind of socialist dead-hand policy that this Government is pushing. That kind of policy is negative and self-destructive. We support the Bill, but condemn the Government for the chaos and injustice it has brought to the pensioners of the nation. >Debate interrupted.
– I desire to inform the House that this afternoon, accompanied by the Attorney-General and Mr Parkes, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, I waited upon His Excellency the Governor-General at Government House and personally presented for the royal assent the Statute Law Revision Bill, this being the first Bill ready for presentation following the swearing in of His Excellency. His Excellency, in the name of Her Majesty, was pleased to assent to the Bill which is now Act No. 20 of 1974.
– -I am very interested to hear the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) speak with such insight on pensioners. Speaking as one who has been a pensioner for many years and as an expresident of the Oakleigh Branch of the Combined Pensioners Society, I can assure the honourable member that he need have no concern about my explaining this Government’s policies to the pensioners within my electorate. I have shared their problems. I can assure the honourable member that an increase in the cost of driving their motor cars will not worry them too much because under the government of which he was a member none of them had motor cars.
The proposed pension increase of $5 is one more Government achievement in the field of social security. The Government’s achievements in this area have been quite dramatic in the short time it has been in office. I am sure that this Bill will have the support of the Opposition in both Houses. This Bill, with the extra money it gives to pensioners, is urgently needed. The honourable member for Hotham said that the extra money was needed to pay the rent. It would be a good idea if honourable members opposite spoke to their colleagues in the States and asked them to do something in the States about the inflated rents that pensioners are having to pay to the predators who put up the blocks of jerry-built flats, not just in my electorate but everywhere. The Government has a very real fear that when this pension increase of $5 goes into the pockets of pensioners it will go straight out and into the hands of the predators who will put their rents up by another $5 because the States exercise no control at all.
Our record in social security is all the more impressive when one looks at the record of the Opposition when it was in government. When Ben Chifley went out of office, the pension was 24 per cent of average weekly earnings. By 1954, under the LiberalCountry Party Government, it was down to 20.4 per cent and still falling. By the 1970-71 Budget, with its infamous increase of 50c - I can assure the honourable member for Hotham that I was a pensioner then and I know what I thought of that Government and its 50c - the pension rate fell to 16.2 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Opposition had such a deporable record in pensions that I was quite amazed this morning to hear the. Leader of <the Opposition (Mr Snedden) discussing the sufferings of pensioners who had just received a $5 increase from this Government - the largest single cash increase and the largest percentage increase in the history of social security. The Leader of the Opposition said: ‘The pensioners have been suffering from inflation. They get a $5 rise but it is forecast that they will not get another rise for another year’. The Leader of the Opposition would do well to study this Government’s proposals rather than make irresponsible and incorrect statements.
I understand that the Opposition in its policy thrown together before the last election wants to tie the pension to increases in the consumer price index. To me this says that they accept that the pension is quite adequate and that all is needed is cost of living rises. First, let this Government get the pension up to an acceptable level. It has been a long hard trek, the way pensions had been let go by the previous Government. To constantly compare increases in pensions with upward movements in the consumer price index would make for small increases which would be quite unacceptable to pensioners and, I can assure honourable members, unacceptable to this Government. The correct comparison is to relate pension increases to increases in average weekly earnings. Average weekly earnings give a fairly good indication of the average standard of prosperity within the country.
I feel quite sure, and felt quite sure before I came into the House, that we would have, the support of the Opposition for this Bill. While it was the Government, it constantly gave sympathy, compassion and understanding to pensioners. In fact, many times that was all they gave. If we remember the 1967 Budget, all pensioners got from the then Treasurer was sympathy for being left out of the Budget. Sympathy costs nothing and buys nothing. In 6 Budget brought down by the previous Government, pensioners go nothing. During its term of office, there were 5 Budgets in which pensioners got 50c. I received a table recently from the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners Federation and sought the leave of the honourable member for Hotham to have it incorporated in Hansard. He refused leave. He thought that the figures of that organisation were unreliable. I should like to quote from the table. In 1953-54, pensioners received an increase of 25c. In 1954-55 they received nothing. In 1955-56 they received an increase of $1, making a total increase of $1.25 in 3 Budgets Let us go on. In 1956-57, pensioners received no increase. In 1957-58 they received 75c while in 1958-59 they received nothing, in all, a total of 75c for 3 years. With a record like that I am staggered that the honourable member for Hotham can actually do anything but get up and say: ‘I support the Bill’. Attached to the table that was sent to me was a letter from the Federation in which it asked that the table be publicised as much as possible to show just who is guilty in regard to pensions and just who made the pensioners a forgotten generation.
I can tell honourable members a lot about being a pensioner. I had 5 children at school when I went on the pension. I will remember asking in astonishment how we were expected to live on that amount of money and know the children could stay at school. The reply I received was that if I went to the Victorian
Department of Education I would get special dispensations for my children to leave school at the age of 14. On looking into the situation, 1 found that 1,400 special dispensations were given in one year and on looking further into the matter I found that the majority of them were children of pensioners. So what honourable members opposite did was to make the widow a second class citizen and her children third class citizens and, after doing that, made quite sure that they stayed there.
The honourable member for Hotham mentioned assistance for supporting fathers. He showed quite a bit of concern for them and I agree with him. But I might remind him that under his Government one had to have a marriage licence to qualify for a class A pension. Everything costs the same for families, regardless of morals, and I do not think we should stand in judgment on them when we are handing down pensions. Pensions are not a charity; they are a right that we work for. We work had to get a pension and we pay for it in cold hard cash through taxation. This Government intends to make pensions looked upon as a right and not as a charity.
I was surprised to hear the honourable member for Hotham speaking of the increased assistance we are giving to the unemployed. I find it hard to understand how. when a man and his wife are thrown out of employment for any reason whatsoever, this community can then abandon the family, their house payments and their whole way of living and give them a sustenance on which to live. I just do not understand this type of reasoning.
– Keep trying; you will.
– No, I am not going to try. I prefer my own way.
– She cannot think like a Liberal.
– No, I cannot think like a Liberal, and having been a victim of Liberal policy in regard to social services, I never want to. I draw the attention of the honourable member for Hotham, who is no longer in the chamber, to a statement by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) that this Government stands firm by its commitment to increase pensions twice a year until they reach 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings. Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, the honourable member for Hotham seemed a bit confused about that policy. We have made a commitment to increase pensions twice a year and to tie them to average weekly earnings, and that is just what we will do. Pensioners under this Government have appreciated the fair deal they have received and they can continue to put their faith in what we will do for them in the future.
– 1 support this Bill and would like to say a few things about the position. Although these are big increases - I think they are deserved increases and I do not complain about them - they are still not quite as good as the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) would have us believe. He wants to tie the pension to 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.
– It is very close to that now.
– Right, but the Minister has not got as close as he said. His figures are deceptive.
– It is not that far off.
– I am glad that the honourable member for Hunter, as usual, is helping me with his interjections. Let me quote from what the Minister said:
The pension will be almost 25 per cent of the estimated average male weekly earnings, seasonally adjusted, for the June quarter 1974.
That is an exact quote of what he said. What he does not tell the House is that the figure for the June quarter actually relates to the middle of the June quarter so, he is talking about average weekly male earnings which applied somewhere about the middle of May, and now it is towards the end of July. So he is already that much behind. It did not mean much when prices and average weekly male earnings were relatively stable but it means a lot now. It was one of these deceptive little tricks. Perhaps, when he looks at the figures in detail, the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) will remember this and he will see that it will not be very long, with the present rate of inflation, before the pension as a percentage of average weekly earnings is down again to the figure that the Government derided. For these reasons, I do not think that this increase is too big. What I am saying is that the Government is being a little bit deceitful in its boasts of what it has done.
It is just a little bit of gilding, perhaps not a very great deal, but it is worth keeping in mind that the Government has not done as well as it said it would. It is worthwhile to remember also that the Australian pension is the highest in the world paid to non- contributory pensioners. In terms of purchasing power it is very much the highest and this again I regard as a good and not a bad thing. I am saying this not because 1 believe that the Australian pension should be lower but because I believe we should try to appreciate how good by world standards - and I am not saying other than by world standards - our position is. Again, I do not want my words to be twisted so as to be taken to say that pensioners should get less or that pensioners have got too much or anything like that; I am saying exactly the opposite. But I do remind the House that the Australian pension is the highest non-contributory pension in the world.
I should like now to put before the House something rather more substantial and constructive. After all, we are all trying to do the best for pensioners. We may differ between ourselves as to the methods we adopt to achieve this but there is no difference between us in our hope that we can do the best. I find it disappointing that the Government has concentrated too much on the rate of pension while forgetting other things. Again I remind the House that I am not saying that the pension should be lower. What I am saying is that other things should be taken into account. If they were taken into account we might be doing better for pensioners. The past Government, of which I was a Minister, was working to a plan which embraced the real rate of pension but it also turned to other factors. The honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child) who just resumed her seat-
– A good member, too.
– Yes. She deplored very rightly the rents that some pensioners have to pay. One of the main things that the Government can and should do to help pensioners is to assist more with housing. It is only a small proportion of pensioners - a sur- . prisingly small proportion - that live in rented premises, but those people need special help. I believe that the best kind of help to give them is to increase the housing that is available, either through state subsidised schemes or preferably through such schemes as the aged persons homes scheme. I am a little disappointed that the Government has failed to carry out the objectives of the aged persons hostels legislation which the previous Liberal Party-Country Party Government put through shortly before it went out of office. That legislation provided for a crash program over 3 years to provide very large numbers of hosteltype beds for pensioners. This was not the entire solution, of course, but it was a very great part of the solution.
In recent months, it is true, that plan has gone forward, but owing to the administrative difficulties of the Government - I would say almost the administrative clumsiness of the Minister for Social Security - for a year it practically stood still and stagnant. This was a great loss in terms of accommodation which, I agree with the honourable member for Henty, is the prime need of those pensioners who do not own their own houses. Then we come to this matter of supplementary assistance. This is the rent allowance which we pay to those pensioners who have not got their own houses. I am sorry that the Government has not seen fit to raise this allowance because, as the honourable member for Henty well knows, these are the people who are most in need. The figure was doubled under the previous Liberal Party-Country Party Government - I think it was in 1972 - and has been left stationary since then. Although prices and, as the honourable member for Henty said, rents have risen, we are doing no more for these people who are among the most deserving of the pensioners. The real value of supplementary assistance has been eroded. It would have been better if the Government had done a little more towards helping those receiving this assistance.
– Flat owners would take it in increased rent.
– I am told that flat owners would take it in increased rent. That is a very negative approach, and I do not believe that it is an approach that would commend itself to pensioners. We have now the honourable member for Henty saying that we must not increase supplementary assistance because the flat owners would take it all in increased rents.
– Do not misrepresent her.
– I do not think that that is a very constructive approach or a very - no, I will not say that, because I would not like to offend the honourable member for Henty, but-
– If he is that sort of flat owner he would take it anyway.
– Order! Honourable members cannot expect one man to deal with the lot of them.
– As usual, I am grateful for your protection, Mr Speaker. The honourable member for Henty interjected that it is no use because flat owners would take it all if we increased supplementary assistance. That was her interjection and I think that she perhaps would like to withdraw it at the present moment. But, in addition to that, we have done nothing about the means test on supplementary assistance, which is something very important to those people who are at the bottom, the neediest pensioners, those in most need of assistance. It is all very well to say: ‘We’ve put the pension up S5’ as this only just compensates for inflation and the rise in prices and rents. We have depressed the relative position of those at the bottom of the scale because we have not made the other adjustments I have referred to.
Mention has been made tonight of the failure to do anything for supporting fathers. I feel very unhappy about this because it is something which the previous Liberal PartyCountry Party Government should have done. We were working to plans. We were not only putting up the rate of pension but also were trying to help progressively with new areas in housing and rehabilitation and so on. But this is an area that we did not deal with. I believe we should have, and the fact that we did not do so is certainly no excuse for this Government not having done so in the last 2 years. We would have done it. It was next up on the list, and I can say that as the former Minister. It would have been done 2 years ago had we remained in power. I do not try to excuse us, but that does not excuse this Government. The position of the supporting father can be a very desperate one. He loses his wife, either by death or desertion; he has young children and he finds that in addition to the loss of his wife he may now be faced with the loss and dispersion of his family which he cannot maintain. There are probably only 25,000 of them in Australia; it is something of that order. Honourable members might say that 25,000 is not many people. The Government may say that 25,000 people is not many. I do not agree with that. This is a very important problem and it should be met without delay. I appeal to the Government to turn its mind to this problem and to do something about it. If we are talking about women’s lib and things like that, as we do, why should we deny to the supporting father with dependent children the same kind of privileges a3 we give to the deserted woman or widow?
There does not seem any logic or justice whatsoever in that.
I remember with some distaste that in 1972 some women’s lib people came to see me as Minister for Social Services. They asked me about various social service problems and I put to them that in justice one of the great things required was to do something for the supporting father. I was shocked and horrified to find that they had published an article ridiculing me and saying that I knew nothing about women’s problems because I was concerned only with supporting fathers. To my way of thinking that was a shocking thing to occur. In their way these 25,000 people are among the most deserving of help in Australia.
I am disappointed at the lack of coherence, imagination and human drive behind the Government’s policy. I know that there are some good things in it; I support those things. But I am of the opinion that the best is not being done with the available resources. Perhaps even a few more resources should be found. I am disappointed that the Government is going to renege on its means test abolition proposal.
– It is not reneging.
– I hope my honourable friend from Hunter is right. If the Government goes ahead with the plans it announced originally, I can assure him that it will have my support. I hope that he is right, but he would know more about the Government’s plans perhaps than I would. I hope that the initially announced plans will be followed. The means test is now becoming more onerous and rigorous as rising prices erode the old free area and bring more people within the restrictions which the test imposes. But I will not follow that point. I will not even say how disappointed I am that the aged persons’ tax allowance is being further eroded.
I want finally to mention what I think is the most important thing; that is, that the Government is as yet doing nothing effective for the young and the forming family. I will agree that this is a massive problem and that it is something which involves expenditure of an order of magnitude greater than is normally contemplated in the extension of a social service program. These problems come on us with increased impact now because of the changing position of women in society. That change, with so many young mothers working, with equal wages for women and things of that nature, is bringing quite a few social needs. In the last two or three years the need to help the young and forming family has been very much accentuated. I am sorry indeed that the Government - although I know this has been in the mind of Professor Henderson, whom I appointed originally to conduct the poverty inquiry - has so far found no chance to do anything effective or indeed even to suggest anything effective in this vital field. Instead of that I find something which, again, to me is distasteful.
The Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) has been at the table in the chamber recently boasting of the increases in the work force, patting himself on the back for this and saying that so many of the additions to the work force are married women. I see every reason why, if she so chooses, a married woman who has no family responsibilities should take outside employment. It is probably a very good thing. However, I see every reason why a married woman who has family responsibilities should not be compelled by economic exigencies to take outside work against her will. This has happened too much in the last 18 months under the stress of this new inflation. When the Minister for Labor and Immigration gets up in this chamber and boasts that because of these economic stresses these women with young families have been forced to take employment which they would not take of their own choice, I find it, if I may say so, a little distasteful. I am sorry that I have taken the time of the House in bringing up some of the fundamental matters. I support the Bill. I am glad that the pensioners are to receive this rise. I am sorry that the Government has not a more constructive program for them.
– I have been .somewhat disarmed by the address of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). I think some of those who knew him when he was on the Government side of the. House did accept that in social security matters his heart was far ahead of his head. One knows that he had great lack of success with his Cabinet colleagues in improving conditions. One can accept his rather old fashioned views on the role of the sexes in society but, when he relates the question of the working mother to the last 18 months only, it becomes rather laughable. Had he not heard of the 23-year period before that time when the economy was such that more and more women were forced into the work force because of economic circumstances and did not have the freedom of choice?
He spoke with some feeling of the supporting fathers. I would have liked him to develop that subject a bit further and to ask him whether he would have expected the supporting fathers to stay home and look after the children on the same social security payments that were paid to the widowed mothers. However, as I have said, he is rather disarming when he makes a thoughtful contribution on social security matters. One cannot say the same about the small T Liberal member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). I listened to his diatribe on inflation without finding one concrete suggestion as to what should be done. I heard him challenge the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh) to a debate in the Bowman electorate on the question of social security. I regret that the honourable member for Hotham has left the chamber. I issue a challenge to him. I should like him to come to the electorate of Scullin and debate with me his Government’s record in social security as compared with our Government’s record on social security. To show that it is not a case of inviting him into the lion’s den, I would be prepared then to do a repeat performance in the electorate, of Hotham. I trust that some of his colleagues will pass that challenge on to him and that we may be able to go through this exercise. I would take great delight in quoting some of the letters from pensioner’s organisations about the former Government’s record. The. Secretary of the Australian Commonwealth Pensioners’ Federation, in a paragraph of a letter, had this to say:
It must be noted that from 1961 to 1972, the Liberal-Country Party Government carried out a 2-sided policy; reducing pensions in relation to average weekly earnings in association with the liberalisation of the means test, culminating in 1972 with doubling the income and the assets of the tapered means tests at the expense of the ‘bread and butter’ of those dependent, or largely so, on the basic or standard rate pension for their means of subsistence - to limit expenditure on social services.
A further letter sent by that Federation to the editor of the Melbourne ‘Age’ stated in part:
Then began the premeditated assault on both pensions - slowly, but surely. It must be mentioned that ‘B’ Class and ‘C Class widows were not included in the standard rate. For those who had little or no means apart from the pension it was their ‘bread and butter’.
I might add that in 1973 the Whitlam Government - this Government - raised the pensions in those classes to the standard rate. The letter continued:
With the 1970-71 Budget of 50c the basic rate pension fell to 16.2 per cent of average weekly earnings while the standard rate fell to 18.3 per cent. This 50c rise exposed to the nation the LiberalCountry Party policy of perpetuating poverty in a land of abundance and great national wealth. Like the ‘Walrus and the Carpenter’ in Alice in Wonderland they wept for their victims as they gobbled them up. Who will forget the 1967 Budget when the then Treasurer, Mr McMahon, expressed sympathy for pensioners for being left out of his ‘investor’s’ and businessman’s Budget because the economy could not afford it.
I think it was on that occasion that he kissed one of the pensioners on the Parliament House steps to show his sympathy.
– The third step.
– The honourable member for Hunter assures me that is was on the third step. The letter continued:
Or the great words often tossed around in Budget speeches, such as ‘compassion’ and the ‘sharing’ of the wealth.
True, when Mr McMahon became Prime Minister he endeavoured to retrieve the situation and to make up to the ‘lost generation’ their losses. But it was too late as Mr McMahon found out . . .
One thinks that perhaps when the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), who was then the Treasurer, tried to retrieve the situation it was a cynical political exercise. I regret that the honourable member for Hotham did not allow the honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child) to incorporate a table in Hansard. It is far too long to read but the honourable member for Hotham should have allowed people to be able to check the figures in relation to the Labor Party’s record on pension increases. I can only assume that the honourable member for Hotham was scared of the facts contained in that table.
He then had the temerity to raise the question of rentals. I assume he was dealing with the rentals of private dwellings. The honourable member for Hotham comes from Victoria. He is a Liberal member from Victoria. I am not sure what Liberal faction he belongs to but since the Opposition has left government he seems to have traversed from the trendy to the conservative faction. However, he may have some relation with the Victorian Liberal Government where housing commission rentals for pensioners are raised by that State and its Housing Commission every time there is an adjustment in the pension at the Federal level. That action is quite inexcusable. Nothing is done to protect the pensioners from the private predators who increase rentals after an increase in the pension rate. The Victorian Government, I might add, made a hollow promise with regard to rate rebates for pensioners but they are still waiting for some benefit.
I have the uneasy feeling when we make adjustments to pensions, such as is now proposed, that a fair amount of patronage and charity goes into the debate. I do not point the finger at any members on either side of the House; I think we all suffer from it. That element should not intrude into the debate. Pensions should be the right of those citizens because of their services to the community. The rates of pensions should bear some relationship to their real needs in the community. In passing I refer to the Interim Report of the National Superannuation Committee of Inquiry because in this report the basis is being laid for bringing about this desirable situation for pensioners. That Interim Report in its introduction comments that although the national superannuation scheme covered contingencies such as voluntary, early or deferred retirement, invalidity, widowed survivor, mortality grant for surviving spouse, unemployment and sickness, they, the members of the inquiry, concentrated initially on the nature of a suitable scheme for ensuring adequate income for the aged. In that thoughtful report reference was made to many of the political and social values which must be assessed in dealing with this particular matter. While with this $5 increase this Government is getting somewhere near to its promise of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, I for one will not be happy until the whole pension scheme is replaced by a proper national superannuation scheme or a national insurance scheme.
One matter that has been overlooked in debate is that the increases to pensions will apply also to the unemployment benefit, the sickness benefit, special benefits, sheltered employment allowances and rehabilitation allowances. Unemployment and sickness benefits comprise an area which has come under attack in recent months. With this most recent increase unemployment and sickness benefits for married persons will increase by 106 per cent. Unemployment and sickness benefits for single persons aged 21 or more will increase by more than 82.4 per cent; for persons aged between 18 to 20 years by 181.8 per cent and for persons aged 16 and 17 years by 313.3 per cent. In other words, an attempt has been made to give these persons in the social security field some real value for what they need.
There has been an attack which suggests that many of those obtaining these allowances are bludgers and spivs. I want to combat that sort of conditioning that members of the Opposition are trying to carry out in the community. There will always be a percentage in the community who are unemployed because they are unemployable due to defects in character or mental makeup. We, as a deliberate act, must see that they are properly supported. I think the community owes that to them. There are others who have similar social, medical and psychological difficulties and who, if their difficulties are spotted, can receive appropriate assistance and retraining. I believe that the departments concerned in this area are doing just that.
In my electorate of Scullin, at the Northlands centre, is a local branch of the Department of Social Security. My office shares the same building as the Commonwealth Employment Service. I am impressed by the real effort that is being made to assist the people in the unemployed group and chronic illness group with retraining and proper placement in employment. I believe it is to be deplored that members and organisations are deliberately trying to abate the benefits that we are paying in this field by suggesting that there are so many who take advantage of them. I reject this argument. If these statements are made, I ask that we have not vague general stories about unemployed lion tamers but a few facts. I know my own area and surrounding areas, and I have looked at the figures. I have tried to trace some of these alleged abuses and have found very few indeed.
I put some time into that area of social security because so often the pension aspect of these social security measures overshadows everything else. I am sure that the $5 that is being granted on this occasion will be appreciated by those who will rightfully receive it. They have every right to receive it and to enjoy the benefits of day to day life. One of the things that concerns me - here I am getting a little like the honourable member for Mackellar and moving off into other areas - is the question of fringe benefits. I have already mentioned how the concessional rentals given by the Housing Commission of Victoria are eroded by rental increases after pension increases.
But there is also the question of fringe benefits that are given to pensioners. There are the medical services that are given by negotiation with the Australian Medical Association. There used to be a signed agreement. I can remember signing it once. But it is a matter of negotiation, not of right. Another benefit is hospital accommodation, which is a matter of negotiation with State governments and which causes some arguments. Transport privileges are also a matter for State governments. And so we could go on with a whole range of fringe benefits. In social security measures these have no real place. If the social security pensioner or beneficiary receives a proper amount there is no need for these transitory fringe benefits to be used. In increasing the amount of pension we have taken a step forward in improving the lot of the pensioner and recipient of social security benefits. There is still a long way to go, but I trust that in the life of this Parliament we will see a national superannuation scheme or national insurance scheme which will serve more fully the purpose we desire.
In conclusion, I reiterate that any time the honourable member for Hotham would care to visit the electorate of Scullin I will see that the Town Hall is made available and that there is an audience, and I will debate with him this Government’s record in social services and his record in social services. I hope he will offer the same courtesy to me in the electorate of Hotham.
– The pension increases which we are now debating are the only positive measures to come from the panic mini-Budget on Tuesday night. The proposals of Tuesday night served no useful purpose other than to provide a vehicle to allow these increases to be introduced earlier than usual. The measures announced on Tuesday night certainly were not antiinflationary. If honourable members do not believe the newspaper correspondents, the economists and those on this side of the House they only have to remember what the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) said on this subject yesterday. He said that the package certainly was not anti-inflationary. Whether he was saying that because he was ‘being honest or because he wanted to have a voice additional to and different from that of the Prime
Minister (Mr Whitlam), the Treasurer (Mr Crean) and the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) remains a point of conjecture.
I congratulate the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) on taking the opportunity to introduce these pension increases just about a month ahead of schedule. The introduction of the pension increases now and the statements by the Treasurer on the postponement of the abolition of the means test for those between 70 and 75 years of age until April next year highlight at least 3 problems with which the Government has to grapple in this area. The first one is the very difficult, if not impossible, budgetary task of abolishing the means test, keeping pensions at 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings and also increasing supplementary benefits, dependent children allowances, etc., to compensate for inflation. I think that the announcements made on Tuesday night in the Treasurer’s speech indicate that it is impossible to provide all of these things at the same time.
A further question is raised. I hope that the Minister for Social Security can answer this when he is summing up. The abolition of the means test for those between 70 and 75 years of age has been put off from this year until 1 April next year because of budgetary problems and the inflationary situation. What will happen if inflation is worse in March and April of next year than it is now? All indicators show that it will be worse. Will the abolition of the means test for those between the ages of 70 and 75 years be further postponed? If it is not postponed but takes effect on 1 April, and if we still have the present inflationary situation, will the original Government promise - it was certainly a similar promise to that made by this side of the House - to abolish the means test for those between 65 and 70 years of age be honoured in the next Budget or 12 months later? I am not asking these questions in a political point scoring exercise. I believe that people in these age groups are concerned that they should be able to plan for their own future and have some firm idea about when the means test will be abolished. Many of those in the 70 to 75 age group were planning on the abolition of the means test being announced in the Budget next month or, as it will be now, in September. They will have to replan for the future. I believe that the Minister should, if he can, make a positive statement on this matter.
This measure highlights another problem. Because of the excessive inflation that we have at the present time and with every possibility that it is increasing, when will the next pension increase take place? The present increase was to have taken place next month. The Treasurer now tells us that the next increase will take place in March next year. What happens if the inflation rate for the next 2 quarters, instead of being 4.6 per cent or whatever it was for the last quarter, is running at 5 per cent or even more and Parliament does not resume until some time in late February or in March? Will this Government, in an endeavour to keep base rate pensions as a respectable percentage of average weekly earnings, introduce into this Parliament further pension increases before the Parliament ends its sitting some time in December? I believe it is a distinct possibility that the Government will have to do this if it is to keep its great promise to bring pensions up to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. As the honourable member for Hotham has already said, with inflation increasing at the rate it is, by March of next year, far from being 25 per cent, it will be down around 18 per cent and the lowest it has been for some years.
This measure also raises the problem of supplementary benefits. With the progressive removal of the means test on age pensions the secondary means test or the means test on supplementary benefits and other fringe benefits will become more important and in fact will become the means test. This is where the greatest area of poverty is at the present time. Professor Henderson, in the interim report on poverty, makes this quite clear. Pensioners who are paying rent or who have dependent children have had no movement in their supplementary benefits for some time. If honourable members opposite do not want to believe what the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) said or what Professor Henderson said, let me quote somebody on their own side, the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson). Speaking on the last occasion when social service increases were debated in this House - namely 21 March 1974- he said:
First is the possibility that 26.2 per cent - let alone 25 per cent - is insufficient for supplementary allowance pensioners. That is more than a possibility; that one is almost certain. Secondly, that we should be seeking to advance the supplementary pension more quickly than what is generally referred to as the base rate pension. Thirdly, that the very strict and’ limited test for the supplementary allowance should be some what relaxed as it has remained on its present basis for a very long period during which money values have declined very markedly, and on its present basis it is starting to lose its reality.
Those are the remarks of a respected member on the Government side of the House in the course of the last debate on this subject. What are members of the Government going to do to help those in the greatest need in the pensioner area?
The rent allowance should be increased. The means test by which a person may earn a certain amount and still retain the full pension should be increased in line with inflation and also as an encouragement. Dependent children’s allowances should be likewise increased. I agree with the honourable member for Sc’ullin (Dr Jenkins) who talked about the hollow promise of the Victorian Government with regard to rate assistance. Talk of hollow promises seems rather incongruous coming from honourable members on that side of the House at the moment as we see more and more of their election promises being broken. But I certainly agree with the honourable member with regard to rate assistance and the actions of the Victorian Government. I believe it is essentially a Commonwealth responsibility and one that all of us in this House should accept because on many occasions there is greater poverty among those people paying rates than among those paying rents.
Other honourable members on this side of the House have mentioned the problem of single fathers. I ask the Minister for Social Security what he intends to do about handicapped children. In an election speech he made considerable reference to the handicapped but said nothing about the greatest area of need which is those handicapped children who are too young - that is, under 16 years of age - to receive the invalid pension and are unable to be accommodated in a home. If they are accommodated the Commonwealth pays assistance. If they are not accommodated the parent has to meet the additional expense of keeping them and the problems associated with those children and receives nothing at all from the Commonwealth. I believe that this is an area of real need which this Parliament should take up. I would like the Minister for Social Security to say whether his Government has considered the possibility of introducing a special benefit for handicapped children, reducing the age qualification for receipt of the invalid pension or introducing some other means by which these people can be accommodated.
I have one last question of the Minister. The House was debating this matter earlier today. In February the Acting Minister for Social Security, in response to a letter from me last year concerning the payment of pension cheques into bank accounts, said that that matter had been accepted in principle but there were administrative difficulties to overcome. I ask the Minister: When will these administrative difficulties be overcome? When will he be able to announce that pension cheques can be paid directly into bank accounts, with the ease and assistance this will provide for pensioners? I hope he can make an early announcement regarding this matter. Mr Deputy Speaker, the Opposition supports the pension proposals and wishes them speedy passage.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I listened with fascination this evening to the speech of the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). I am dying to look at the Hansard report of today’s debates to work out how he came to the calculations that he gave in that speech. What he was claiming - and what I think the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) was claiming - was that by autumn of next year the pensioner will be worse off. This, of course, assumes - and the Government was accused of deceit - that there will not be any pension increase between now and then. The argument that the Opposition is constantly putting forward is based on the proposition that one calculates the pension as it is at the moment as a percentage of average weekly earnings and says that in another 3 weeks that ratio will have diminished. If we use that argument the only way we will ever be able to keep the pension at a constant percentage is to adjust it daily, because clearly that percentage relationship will diminish daily. That happened in the time of the former LiberalCountry Party Government. It has happened under every government in history. From the day a pension increase is announced until the next pension increase the percentage relationship diminishes. The former LiberalCountry Party government increased pensions yearly and sometimes every second year. Of course the percentage diminshed. Then that government had to correct the situation by a further pension increase. I think I am right in saying that if the honourable member for Hotham looks at his speech tomorrow he will realise that he did not appreciate what the Minister for Social Security stated when he said that there will be a rise in autumn. I think the honourable member thought that autumn was in September of next year. There will be a further increase, as I understand it, in March 1975. This pension increase has come 2 months ahead of its normal time.
The fact is that the present increase brings the pension to almost 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Minister has been extremely honest because he could have said that the last announced figures, which were the March figures, showed that this percentage had risen to 26 per cent. But he said: ‘No, the June figures are due’. He has really based his claim that the new pension will be 24.8 per cent of average weekly earnings on figures that have not yet been announced. Rather than be deceitful the Minister was being extremely honest. The argument which the Opposition has constantly put that the percentage will diminish is one of the most absurd arguments that I have heard. It is totally dishonest of members to use it. Pensioners have also been affected by some of the increases.
It has been amusing to watch some of the newspaper headlines of the last few days both before and after the Treasurer’s Budget statement. Those headlines told us that it would be a horror Budget; the increases would be monstrous. Those views were repeated on the morning after the statement was presented. When the editorial writers had had an opportunity for reflection they said that in fact there was not really much in it. After they had a good look at it, after 24 hours of reflection, the charges were not at all that savage. What is there really in it? I am looking at this matter primarily from the point of view of the pensioner. Consider the pensioner who smokes. Not all of them smoke, of course. If he smokes a packet of cigarettes a day he must pay a further 28c a week, which is roughly SI 5 per annum. If he has a telephone he is up for an additional rental of $6, maybe S10 or S15 a year it’ he uses the telephone a fair bit. That amounts to S25. We have a total now of approximately $40. One cannot be exactly accurate in this calculation. If he writes a letter a week - and for the average person that it a lot of letter writing - he will spend another dollar a year. So we are talking about increased charges for a pensioner of $35 to S45 per annum. To offset that he will receive S260 per annum or, if he is married, $312 per annum. One point has been missed in this debate. In every Budget in my memory the announcement nf an increase in pensions in August has been proposed to take effect from the first or second week in October. The pension rises now before the House have been announced 8 weeks earlier than usual. Pensioners will receive an additional 8 weeks’ pension increase which amounts to at least $40. At least for the first year any increased charges that a pensioner will face if that pensioner is a smoking, telephoning, letter writing person -
– And drinking.
– I think the average pensioner does not drink whiskey but drinks beer, but we will not pursue that aspect. The cost of those new increases will come out of the extra 8 weeks’ pension that is being granted as a result of the pension increase being announced earlier than is usual. I understand that these increases will be paid from 8 August. Let me remind the House of the increases that pensioners received under the former LiberalCountry Party Government. I have taken out figures for the last 10 years. In 1964, pensions were increased by 50c a week to $12 a week. No increase was granted in 1965. The pension increase in 1966 was $1 a week. In 1967 no pension increase was granted. An increase of $1 a week was given in 1968. In 1969 the increase granted was also $1. In my first Parliament, which was only 4i years ago, the increase was 50c a week. That was a magnificent performance by the new found friends of the poor who sit on the other side of the House. In April 1971, which is when
Mr Gorton was unceremoniously thrown out, Mr McMahon, trying to take some of the pressure off himself, announced on his inauguration as Prime Minister a 50c a week increase in the pension. In the Budget in October 1971 the pension was increased by $1.25 a week. In May 1972, which is when it was in a bit more trouble, the Liberal and Country Party Government gave a further increase of $1 a week and the pension went to SI 8.25 a week. In its last Budget that Government granted on increase of $1.75 a week. Increases totalling $8.50 a week were granted in 8 years.
Labor has been in office for not quite 20 months. In March 1973 the Labor Government granted a pension increase of $1.50 a week retrospective to December. In August 1973 it granted a $1.50 a week increase. In March 1974 it granted a $3 a week increase. In August 1974 an increase of $5 a week is to be granted. That represents a total increase of $11 a week in about 20 months. It would be dishonest of me to say that that is a fair comparison because it is obvious that money values have changed. I am not going to make that sort of cheap political claim. But clearly anybody with any sense of fairness and fair play will acknowledge that the Labor Government has shown a much more impressive performance than its predecessor. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to have a table incorporated in Hansard.
Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
– Finally, I wish to express my disappointment about certain aspects of social security. All honourable members would be disappointed with the fact that there is to be a deferral of the promise by the Labor Government concerning the abolition of the means test for those between 70 and 74 years of age. That is a promise that the Labor Government has had to break. I regret that sincerely, as I am sure does everybody on this side of the House. But, in terms of helping to stem the rate of inflation, it is a step that has to be taken. I am sure that such an abolition of the means test will not be deferred any longer than is necessary.
Something about which I am concerned and about which I know the Minister for Social Security is concerned is the welfare of those pensioners who are at the very bottom of the rung - for instance, the ones who do not own their own homes. Many cases have been brought to my attention of pensioners who are in receipt of just the minimum rate of pension having to pay rents of up to $30 a week. The supplementary pension is simply not enough at the moment. It will have to be increased rapidly if it is to help those on the very base rate. We must remember also in trying to assist pensioners that roughly 50 per cent of the pensioners in Australia receive nothing but the pension or the pension plus an income of up to $5 a week. Now that abolition of the means test is within sight, although I do not know whether it will take place in April, June or October of next year, we should turn our attention to those groups of pensioners who are without their own homes and who have very little other than the base rate of pension that they receive. We will have to help them by way of, perhaps, the provision of a rate allowance and various other benefits. Because of the tapered means test and the abolition of the means test there are now some pensioners who are doing quite well but there are a lot more - the group about which I am now talking - who are very seriously disadvantaged.
– In speaking in support of the improvement in this measure introduced by the Government I would like to remind all Government supporters that they have little reason to be proud of themselves because it will not take long before the position that has been reached as a result of this increase has been totally and completely eroded and the people who are relying wholly and solely upon the age pension for their livelihood are again struggling to make ends meet. The honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen), who preceded me in the debate, referred in colourful terms to the achievements of the Labor Government. He begrudgingly made himself out to be an honest member of Parliament by saying that he acknowledged that there has been some change in the rate of inflation since the Labor Government came to power. The actual change in the rate has been to such an extent that if the Labor Government were not providing for increases of the size made possible by this Bill there would be a great increase in the number of people on the street of poverty.
One area which causes me great concern is the difference in the rate paid to married couples as compared with the amount received by single people living together. Over the years I have received a continuing flow of letters from married couples complaining about the difference which exists between their rate of pension and the amount which is paid to single people. I have always believed that 2 people sharing the same electricity for cooking, lighting, television and refrigeration for keeping food cold could live a little cheaper than 2 persons living apart. The stage has now been reached where I feel compelled to speak out on behalf of the married pensioners who are being victimised by the present Government because of the rates that have been fixed.
In 1965 - the honourable member for Robertson went back into history; therefore I think that I am entitled to do the same - the difference between the married rate of pension and the amount paid to 2 single people living together was $1 per annum. Between 1966 and 1967 it was $1.25. In 1968 it was $1.50. In 1969, 1970 and 1971 it was $1.75. In May 1972 it was $2.25. In October 1972, as a result of pension increases, the difference rose to $2.75. The situation has now been reached in which every fortnight a married couple receive in their pay packet $21 less than the amount which would be received by 2 single people living under a common roof in the place next door. It should be taken into consideration that if the married couple own their own home they have to meet the cost of maintaining it and they do not receive a supplementary rent allowance. Those couples are a long way behind. I raise my voice on behalf of those married couples who are in receipt of a pension and who are endeavouring to maintain their own homes at a standard which will not result in the ultimate destruction of the home through neglect.
The consumer price index indicates that there has been a rapid increase in the cost of maintaining and repairing houses. If we take the year 1966-67 as being the base figure of 100 and we move forward to 1972 we find that the base figure had increased to 125.2. That was when the Liberal-Country Party Government was in power. There was a movement of 25 points in a matter of 6 years. If we move into more recent history we see that between September 1973 and the end of June 1974 the consumer price index has moved some 23 points. It has taken a Labor Government 9 months to send up costs in this area to an extent which nearly rivals the performance of Liberal-Country Party governments over a period of 6 years. The message is loud and clear, that with tradesmen’s wages continuing to soar and with the high tax rate which is being maintained and exploited by this Government to finance its grandiose schemes, it is becoming more and more difficult for married people who own their own homes to retain the standard of those homes.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) was raised in my electorate. He does not need to be told about some of the poorer areas which exist on the near south side of Brisbane. If the Government continues on the path that it is following without awareness of or care for married people or single persons living in their own homes it will be creating new areas of poverty and slums throughout the various cities in Australia. Many of the areas which are regarded as presently needing attention for social reasons - because they are low cost housing areas, because their houses are neglected, unpainted and falling away - have been created in the past because two or three decades ago Australia did not have the prosperity that it presently enjoys. But if the Government continues along the present path it will create new areas like those areas which many Australians pretend do not even exist. I ask the Minister to pay close attention to the possibility of that happening. Perhaps he will be able to devise a scheme whereby the people who need to retain the standard of their homes are lent cheap money, financed through the Commonwealth Bank or some other such area, to enable them to keep up the standards. I do not know what would be the best possible scheme in the long term but what I do know is that we need to pay attention to this area. I hope that during the next 3 years the Minister will pay some attention to it.
It is the desire of both sides of the House to have this Bill passed and to let it go to the Senate so that the people who are awaiting this pension increase will receive it next week. I would like to make some comment on behalf of those people who in the past paid into superannuation schemes or saved for their future - for their old age or their years of retirement. Regrettably, in the last 18 months, since this present Government came into power, we have seen the erosion of their position. It is called inflation. Inflation is hurting every Australian. But this is another area where people are being hurt. I know that it is the intention of both the Government and the Opposition to eliminate the means test in the long term but there are a lot of people outside it who have in past years so secured their future, that they did not believe that they would ever be dependent upon a pension payment. The inflation that has been allowed to rage in this country in the name of progress or ‘going great’ has been such that many of these people are being reduced to the state whereby very soon they will become very dependent upon the pension.
I ask the Minister to give consideration to relaxing some of the concessions which presently exist for people on the pension for such things as telephone rentals, and to ask the various local councils and State governments to extend concessions in relation to transport and television licences. Perhaps the Minister will suggest that the pensioner medical scheme will be covered if he is successful in his endeavours to introduce a national health scheme. There is a case to be made for all people today who are no longer earning money and who have reached the stage of retirement or are on the pension. It covers the entire field. I hope that the Minister remembers these comments and when he next attends to improvements, will bear these people in mind.
– I rise because I wish at this stage in the debate to make a number of comments on the implications of the legislation before us. I support the legislation in that it is giving to the pensioners in the community an increase in their income. I do, however, express grave concern at the roaring rate of inflation which will result in the increase they are given today being of less value by the time the next pension increase is considered. But the aspect I want to deal with is on the taxation side. Last year in the Budget age pensions were made taxable. The old form of the age allowance was abolished and a new rebate system was introduced. Honourable members will recall that a heated debate took place about the implications of that rebate. In fact schedules were produced. Then all of a sudden, as a result of concern expressed in the community and by the Liberal and Country Parties, the Labor Government members awoke to the fact that many persons would be hurt by the imposition of taxation upon them when for years they had not been liable for tax or even to put in a tax return. So some significant alterations were made in the base level at which aged persons first became liable for tax and the number who benefited from the rebate of $156 out of the normal rate of tax.
Now the month is July. It is the time when those who may be liable to lodge a tax return must look at their last year’s income, determine whether they are liable to put in a tax return and make some assessment as to the extent to which they will have to pay tax to the Federal Government. My experience is that, as a result of the changed system of taxation, many hundreds or many thousands of aged persons are being greatly worried because of the complexity of the tax form, because of their obligation to fill it out, to put in their pension income, to put in their meagre investment income, interest from savings bank deposits, government bonds or some other form of investment on the nest egg they have put aside against the day of need. I point out by way of aside that the nest egg is rapidly losing value, and this fact in itself is causing the senior citizens in our community very grave concern.
We have a combination of inflation and 2 Government announcements. One is by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) stating that the rebate is to be progressively reduced and phased out, and the other is about raising pensions properly to an index level of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, necessitating in days of roaring inflation a large increase of money that will buy considerably less than that same money would have bought some 2 years ago. But as a result of the marrying of the Crean decision to cut the tax rebates for the aged and the Hayden pension increase a large number of pensioners who have not paid tax for years will have a tax bill staring them in the face in this current year. In the 1973-74 year the rebate was $156. In the current year it is reduced to $130. So for a significant group of age pensioners that reduction immediately imposes upon them an additional liability of $30 a year in tax, quite apart from all the other increased expenditure they have to pay out of the increased pension that this Bill will provide for them.
The Treasurer’s decision to reduce the rebate for pensions from $156 to $130 will have a cruel effect on elderly people on fixed incomes and many who are in receipt of age pensions. It makes a mockery of the Government’s phoney promises to increase pensions because it will cut a sizeable slice out of the increases that have just been granted. On my calculations, an age pensioner will not have to have savings of very great significance to receive an interest income in the current year that will make him liable for a tax bill which will erode the value of the $5 a week pension increase that the legislation which we are now debating will give to him. The effect of the reduction in the rebate is a sharp drop from $1,921 per annum to $1,746 per annum for the income level at which aged taxpayers first become liable for tax. If honourable members recall these figures they will see that $1,746 a year is not much in excess of a pension at the weekly rate of $31 and, if we add to the $31 that the pensioners will have from next week or the week after the absolutely essential increase in the pension that must be granted in the autumn of next year as a consequence of the impact of inflation on average weekly earnings during the forthcoming 6 months, we can see that pensioners with a pension income only will become liable for income tax and liable to fill out this huge and complicated form that I have in my hand and which frightens aged people.
I had a pensioner come to my office only this week to fill out her form and she explained to me that she did not know whether it was correctly filled out. She said her eyesight was failing and she did not know whether next year she would be able to complete the form. This Minister and this Labor Government are calling upon every age pensioner in the community to fill out a tax return, unless action is taken in the Budget to lift the level at which pensioners as well as other people in the community first become liable to tax. If a pensioner has no income other than the pension the rate at which he will pay tax under the Crean formula will be approximately 15c in each additional $1 by which the pension is increased. Surely to goodness people whose only income is the pension are entitled to expect it to be clear of tax. It is ludicrous for the Government to get so tax crazy that its Treasurer invents a system whereby the Government pays pensions with the one hand and then extracts a tax on that pension with the other hand. The bureaucracy, the red tape and the reams of paper in this mad formula are typical by-products of a socialist system. Already far too many of the elderly people ari being worried by the need to lodge tax returns on what can only be described as small incomes.
Part of the solution to the financial distress suffered by pensioners and all low income earners, particularly those with a family to support, is to make incomes on 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and below tax free. Some sanity should be introduced into the taxation system by beginning with commonsense relief at the bottom end of the tax scale. I hope that my remarks this evening have the effect of bringing sanity back to the deliberations that must go on in the weeks ahead as Government Ministers examine their Budget proposals. In doing so they will relieve the aged people of this community of the obligation the Treasurer has announced he will impose upon them - an obligation to lodge a tax return and pay tax out of a pension income that comes from the Government in the first place. Whilst the Government is doing this it should look at the whole structure of the tax scale at the bottom end so that those families with small incomes also have the benefit of paying no tax on an income which can only be described as meagre. If tax relief were given at this end of the scale much would be done to relieve the pressure on the low income family and others in the community to demand higher wages, which only continues the inflation spiral.
I support the increases in pensions. I urge the Minister to announce the regular halfyearly dates on which pensions will be increased so that pensions can truly be taken out of the financial and political considerations of the annual Budget. I was surprised that the Minister told me last week that he did not know when pensions would be increased and yet this week the Treasurer announced the increases. I think a Minister who does not know in the middle of one week what is going to be done in the beginning of the next week should be called upon to explain why he cannot tell a representative of the people in this House what his intentions are about raising the pension, when he will link it to average weekly earnings, and give the people an assurance so that they will know when their purchasing power will be restored, thus taking pensions out of financial and political considerations.
– in reply - I propose to reply first to the last point made by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson). I should say that what I tell representatives of the people in this Parliament, as he likes to put it, depends on how seriously I take them, I daresay. But I want to assure the honourable member that he is not high in my priority rating for confidences about major policy changes and about what the Government is doing. I would like to wind up the debate quickly and to compliment members of the Government who spoke in the course of it upon their perceptive and sensitive approach to the subject of the debate - social security benefits. As the succession of speakers from the Government side of the House pointed out, the achievements of the Government in this field have been outstanding and they far excel anything that has been done in the past 2 decades by successive LiberalCountry Party governments.
To be fair I feel that I must also commend the efforts of members of the Opposition who spoke in this debate. They have had quite a daunting task in trying to beat up a case against what we have done and, as deficient as they may have been, nonetheless their efforts in trying to present a case in opposition were sterling. But the gentle irony of it all was that the things they railed about most of all were the things for which they were responsible when in government in a succession of years. For instance one member of the Opposition railed against the differential between the married pension rate and the standard rate pension. But that was introduced in 1963 by a Liberal-Country Party Government. Perhaps I ought to point out quickly that the standard Tate pension is now roughly 60 per cent of the combined married rate, and as much as members of the Opposition may care to fume and fulminate about this ratio it is still not as generous in favour of the single rate pension as Professor Henderson proposes. He proposes that the ratio should be closer to 70 per cent - that is, that the standard rate pension should be about 70 per cent of the combined married rate.
Members of the Opposition cannot have it all ways. In various parts of a succession of speeches they presented they quoted Professor Henderson as an authority who more or less had the last word to say on a number of subjects related to this general topic we are discussing tonight. I am not disputing that he is such an authority. I will not enter into a debate on that. I have always been tremendously impressed by the views of Professor Henderson although I have not necessarily endorsed them all. But if they assert that principle, they ought to continue it through. They cannot be selective when its suits them and then neglect the other key principles he puts forward when that is embarrassing for them. But I repeat that they were the people who introduced that differential between the married rate of pension and the single rate of pension. Why did they introduce it if they are against it now? What is their policy now and what would be their policy if they were in government? They have not enunciated that. Opposition calls for responsibility, just as does government. It is more than a matter of merely criticising; it is a matter of putting up an alternative to which one is committed if one is in a position to fulfil an obligation to the people. What is the policy of honourable members opposite in this field?
The former Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), for instance, expressed disappointment that there is not a supporting fathers benefit. I express disappointment about that and about many other things, too. But surely he knows that there are limitations as to the available resources. There are many competing priorities and many things that we want to do, and it is not possible to do everything at once. But we have been a government for 20 months and we have done much more in 20 months than Liberal-Country Party governments did in 20 years. During the period of about 5 years in which the honourable member for Mackellar was Minister for Social Services, he did nothing for supporting fathers. So, we take more marks off the record of the Opposition in this debate.
Again, at least one other member of the Opposition expressed disappointment because supplementary assistance had not been adjusted in these adjustments to social security benefits. First of all, let me point out that the supplementary assistance was rarely adjusted in the period during which LiberalCountry Party governments were in office. It was introduced in 1958 at the rate of SI a week and was not adjusted until 1965, when it became $2 a week. It was not adjusted again until 1972 when it became $4 a week. I stress that the meaures we have taken are measures which we believe are essential and which had to be taken immediately. In the Budget in September, quite a range of other benefits - without specifying any or committing myself to any at this stage - which are the responsibility of my Department of Social Security will be adjusted upwards. I say quite positively that we have shown more good faith in the way in which we have adjusted a whole range of benefits in the short time we have been a government than any previous government did, and we will continue to show that good faith. So, there, again, the Opposition loses marks. Its record in this field when it was in office was positively disgraceful.
The last speaker, the honourable member for Sturt, was expressing what one might call rather muted demagogic concern about the taxing of pensions. First of all, I assert the principle that in this society we all have an obligation to pay according to our ability to pay towards meeting those responsibilities which belong with government by providing services and benefits in the community in order to improve our life style, however it is done. For instance, I think it would be quite anomalous when I retire from this place on the very handsome pension that my wife and I will enjoy, in addition to the means test-free age pension which we will receive by then, for us not to pay tax. Why should we be free from tax? Why should the honourable member for Sturt and his wife be free from tax when he retires on a very generous parliamentarian’s pension plus a means test-free age pension? Consider the situation of a young person with a wife and several children, who has to pay off a house and pay for furniture, a car - an essential item for most people these days, just by the nature of labour requirements - education, health and a multitude of obligations which we all accept, and gladly accept, in our desire to give our families an opportunity. That young person will have less income than we will have in retirement. Wh- should that be? I think there is an important moral responsibility there and I make no excuses for the fact that pensions are taxed and that people’s income in retirement is taxed.
I point out 2 other things to the honourable member for Sturt. Firstly, the rates at which the income of retired people is taxed are easier and at a concessional level compared to that applying to the rest of the community, due to the rebate which is allowable. Secondly, and more importantly, what humbug it is for a member of the Opposition to protest against the taxing of pensions when the Opposition proposed this very thing in this House and when the former Minister for Social Services, who has spoken in this debate, mentioned that this was a practice which would have been followed had the Opposition been a government. If there is any disputing that point, I will take the trouble of producing the record of the debates in the House.
Let us look at poverty. Members of the Opposition have expressed concern about poverty. They have asked why something has not been done. Well, a lot has been done. Goodness gracious, we have done more to improve social security benefits than any previous government did. Honourable members should look at what we did, for instance, with unemployment and sickness benefits. When members of the Opposition were a government, a married couple on unemployment or sickness benefit received $25 a week. The married rate of pension was $34.50 a week. There is a $9.50 a week difference alone. All those payments were well below the poverty level. We now pay the married rate of unemployment and sickness benefit at the same rate as we pay age and invalid pensions.
My good friend, the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) has reminded me of another innovation for which we have been responsible. I refer to the double orphan’s benefit. No one from the Opposition mentioned that. We introduced this provision in the last Budget and pay $10 a week to any unfortunate youngster who is a double orphan - that is, a child, both of whose parents are deceased. That was something that was not innovated in the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government and its cost was infinitesimal. Where was the moral concern in those 23 years, when nothing was done for these unfortunate children?
Pension payments, as we have lifted them, are now above the poverty level. Let us talk about poverty. Poverty did not suddenly erupt in the last 20 months. In 1966, Professor Henderson’s team at the Melbourne University pointed out the extent of poverty in Melbourne. It was not unreasonable to make some extrapolations; to use the rather raw figures available for other States and other areas and make some rough assumptions about the degree to which poverty existed in various parts of Australia. In fact, a very cautious series of assumptions would have led one to a cautious conclusion that poverty was at least as bad in other parts of Australia as it was in Melbourne.
Professor Henderson’s report, which I tabled in the Parliament this year, shows that in fact poverty in Australia, by and large, is much worse than it was in the city of Melbourne and it is worst in the rural areas. For instance, about every fourth person in rural areas of Australia who is not a farmer is poor or very poor, and that situation arose in the course of 23 years of Liberal-Country Party administration. Where are these fine dedicated representatives of rural areas in the Australian Country Party who allowed this to happen? Why was not something done between 1966 and 1972 by the previous Liberal-Country Party government? I find it a little paradoxical to look at that record and to find people in Opposition now who were members of that Government expressing moral concern about this problem in our society. They had the opportunity then when they were in government, and they did nothing. It seems that there is a direct relationship between the distance they are away from government and the degree to which they can perceive social problems in society. They are an excellent Opposition; they were a very poor government.
On the question of poverty, let me make one final point. According to Professor Henderson’s survey, every fifth family in Australia is very poor or poor. I hope to do a number of things additional to the things we have done already. Those people who have read Professor Henderson’s interim report on poverty in Australia and who have understood what he .has said on this subject - which is more important, and makes the audience to which I am talking in this House anyway, somewhat diminished - well know that the initiatives we have undertaken in regard to pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits, double orphan’s benefits and so on, for all these people for whom we have a great responsibility, have in fact been directed by a conscious concern to respond to the rather unsettling findings in his report. Now let me talk about the record of the former Minister for Social Services, the honourable member for Mackellar, who somehow or other tried to beat up an issue by saying that the Minister for Social Security - myself, in case the listeners do not know of whom he is speaking - is trying to deceive the people when he says that the standard rate of pension is near enough to 25 per cent of seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings. Then the honourable member tried to beat up a story about the statistical assessment being based - it is a moot point - on the June quarter or whatever his argument was. It is a spurious argument.
But putting that to one side, let us look at his record of achievements in the period he was in the government, and recall that he became Minister for Social Services in February 1968. He had a long period - 5 years - during which he could have done something for pensioners and achieved something significant. I now quote a series of percentages of the standard rate of pension as a proportion of average weekly earnings, seasonally adjusted, for the June quarters. In the June quarter of 1968 in his first term in the office of Minister for Social Services the standard stood at 19.5 per cent of average weekly earnings seasonally adjusted. In 1969 it fell to 19.4 per cent, in 1970 to 19 per cent, in 1971 to 18.1 per cent and in 1972, with a disastrous election looming before him, he raised it to 19.2 per cent. What a fine record! The standard rate pension as a proportion of average weekly earnings in 1972, even after the honourable member’s valiant effort - and note the irony with which I use the word ‘valiant’ - in lifting it from 18.1 per cent to 19.2 per cent was less than it was when he came into office. No one could feel proud of that record. It is deplorable.
There are some other matters that I ought to mention, and one of them concerns the poverty level and unemployment benefits. This is the subject that the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) raised. He said, as I remember him - and I quote figures roughly - that the minimum wage is about $68 a week now but a man with a wife and 3 children can get $70 a week on unemployment benefit. He expressed some indignation about this - as is his want to do often - without understanding what he was talking about. Not he nor anyone on the Opposition side, nor anyone on this side of the House, should feel any satisfaction with a situation where a man, with a wife and 3 children, on unemployment benefit and thereby getting more than the minimum wage, is still below the updated poverty level established by Professor Henderson. The poverty level is $81.91 a week. We are far from happy about that, and it is an area which I personally, as well as the Department of Social Security and the Government, am exploring. We want to close that gap. But bear in mind that the gap has been closed enormously during the period in which we have been in government. I do not think there is any need to take the time of the House any further on these issues. It is highly desirable that we get this Bill to the Senate and that the whole matter be concluded as speedily as possible in the interests of those people who stand to gain so much from this most generous increase in social security benefits for which we have been responsible.
Perhaps there is one final point that I ought to place on record. Expressed as a percentage of average weekly earnings and using the raw figures because seasonally adjusted figures commenced only in 1962, the standard rate of pension today is the highest that it has been at any time since 1946. Gone are the days of the long term erosion of pensioners’ living standards which were the symbol of the policies of the series of Liberal Party-Country Party governments. This Government intends to give social and economic justice. I restate for the record that there will be further adjustments in other benefits in the Budget a little later in the year; but we believed that the steps taken at this stage were our most important responsibility. Pensioners are being better served today, and so are other social service beneficiaries, than they have been in more than two decades.
Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar)- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) a few moments ago spoke about the taxing of pensions and said he would like to quote things that !I had said in this regard. I have always held that pensions should be taxable under the Income Tax Act but certainly in most cases I have made it clear that they should be subject to the exceptions provided under the aged persons tax allowance. The Minister is either deceiving the House or himself - I am not quite certain which - when he omits this very vital point. We have not complained about pensions being amenable to income tax. What we have complained about is that concessions under the aged persons tax allowance have not been made available to pensioners. I will not go into the other misrepresentations of which the Minister was guilty a few moments ago. I do take exception to his use of the word ‘spurious’ in respect of some statistics I had quoted and in respect of which 1 was quite correct.
Mr WILSON (Sturt)- I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. In commenting on my remarks earlier this evening the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) represented to the House and to the listening audience that I had advocated that pensions should not be taxable. If the Minister were to look at trie Hansard report of what I had to say he would see that my concern was directed at the fact that people whose only income is the pension will be liable to pay tax out of that income. The Minister tried to sidestep that issue by alleging that I was advocating that people on substantial parliamentary or ministerial pensions should receive those pensions without being liable for taxation. What I was talking about were the pensions fixed at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. I was drawing the attention of the House to the double take attitudes of this Government in saying it would give to pensioners 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, while at the same time it is phasing out the age rebates and making pensions progressively liable, for tax at the rate of an additional $30 a year until ultimately pensioners will be paying a substantial tax bill unless the taxation legislation is drastically altered to lift the income level at which persons become liable for taxation.
– I rise to order. I just heard the honourable member for Mackellar tell a deliberate lie to this House.
– Order! The honourable member for Kingston will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it, and say that the honourable member told a deliberate untruth.
– Order! I ask the honourable member to withdraw the words ‘deliberate untruth*.
– Mr Speaker-
– If the honourable member keeps defying the Chair I will name him.
– I withdraw the word ‘untruth’. The honourable member for Mackellar informed the House that he-
– Order! That is not a point of order. If the honourable gentleman wants to make a statement he has to seek leave of the House. He cannot get the call from the Chair unless he wishes to make a personal explanation. If he wants to make a speech he has to seek leave of the House to do so.
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 Hayden) read a third time.
– Order! I wish to inform the House of the following nominations of senators and members to be members of Committees:
Joint Committee on Prices
Mr Hurford, Mr Willis, Mrs Child and Mr Whan have been nominated by the Prime Minister. Mr Howard and Mr Hodges have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. Mr King has been nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in this House. Senators Gietzelt and Coleman have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Chaney has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House. Senator Scott has been nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in that House.
Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory Mr Fry, Mr Kerin and Mr Whan have been nominated by the Prime Minister. Mr Howard has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Fisher has been nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in this House. Senators Devitt and Milliner have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson and Senator Marriott have been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in that House.
Joint Committee on the Northern Territory
Mr FitzPatrick, Mr James and Mr Wallis have been nominated by the Prime Minister. Mr Kelly has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. Mr Calder has been nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in this House. Senators Keeffe and McLaren have been nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator Marriott has been nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Senator Sheil has been nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in that House.
– Order! I deem it my bounden duty in protecting the good name of this House to make a statement relative to an editorial which appeared in a Sydney metropolitan daily newspaper, which I shall name later. First, I believe quite strongly that if a democracy is to function properly and successfully it is vitally essential to have a free Press with the unfettered right to express a viewpoint without being inhibited in any shape or form, provided the opinion expressed in an editorial is presented in an acceptable form, whether it be constructive or destructive criticism.
Page 141 of ‘May’s Parliamentary Practice’ states:
Reflections upon Members, the particular individuals not being named or otherwise indicated, are equivalent to reflections on the House.
The editorial to which I refer appeared in the Daily Mirror’ dated 24 July 1974, only yesterday. I shall cite the editorial, which is under the heading ‘To Hell with these Greedy Cynics’. It states:
To Hell with the MPs, all of them, no matter their Party. They are a parliament of empty words without spirit. They are men without honour, and worse, gutless.
In the editorial there is some criticism in regard to the report on members’ remuneration to which I have no objection, because the Press has every right to express that. However, I fully appreciate and admit that any person involved in public life, particularly politics, does receive and must expect to receive critical and adverse publicity. That is part of a politician’s life and he or she must take it in good part. However, when it comes to justice and fair play, a line of demarcation must be drawn somewhere. The imputation that members of this House are men without honour I believe to be despicable, scurrilous and unworthy of any editor. Speaking personally and without malice, I would say unhesitatingly that every member of this House is possessed of honour as good as, if not better than, that of Mr Murdoch, the proprietor of this newspaper, and the person responsible for writing the editorial.
Debate resumed from 23 July (vide page 526), on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Mr LIONEL BOWEN (KingsfordSmithSpecial Minister of State) 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 and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill No. 2, as they are related 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 both Bills to be discussed in this debate.
– Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering both measures. There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
– The main purpose of the Repatriation Bill (No. 2) and the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Bill (No. 2) is to increase the war widows’ pension by $5 a week to $31 a week. There are about 50,550 widows receiving this pension, including 51 pensioned under the provisions of the Seamen’s War Pension and Allowances Act and 48 receiving ex gratia payments. The total cost of the proposed increase will be $13,143,000 for a full year. Other repatriation pensioners affected are service pensioners. Their pensions will be increased by the same amount as the age or invalid pension; $5 a week for the single service pensioner and $3 a week for each member of a married couple. My colleagues in the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party and I welcome the legislation, particularly that part of it which applies the increase of $5 a week for war widows. These ladies are the women whose husbands gave their lives for their country in various conflicts in the defence not only of their country but also of freedom around the world, and widows of ex-servicemen who suffered some illness or injury, broadly speaking, which was judged or assessed as being caused by war service and from which they subsequently died.
Because of the circumstances that produce war widows I feel it appropriate that we should always support any measure which will help these people. It has been my opinion for many years that successive governments have been extremely ungenerous, even miserly, towards war widows. Although this increase of $5 a week is a substantial sum compared with other increases that have been granted to war widows over the years it still takes the war widow’s base pension to only S3 1 a week. Of course, about 97 per cent of the more than 50,000 war widows receive not only the $31 a week but also a domestic allowance of $9.50 a week, taking their weekly payment to $40.50. About 21,000 of them also receive an age pension or part of an age pension. Regarding this new increase in pensions the question could be asked: Is it in keeping with the 1972 election promise that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made when referring to the war widows pension and relating it to the fact that the totally and permanently incapacitated pension would be increased to equal the minimum wage, the general rate pension would be increased to 50 per cent of the minimum wage, other pensions would be adjusted proportionately and allowances also could be included? I, and other honourable members, have continually asked the Government to define exactly what it means by other pensions and allowances being adjusted proportionately. For 20 months the Government has consistently refused to do this.
In the second reading speech it was stated that in the Budget other alterations would be made to repatriation pensions and allowances. I cannot help but wonder just how the Government will measure up to its promise which was made in 1972. The Government indicated that the TPI pension would be adjusted to be equivalent to the minimum wage and that the general rate pension would be 50 per cent of the minimum wage. The present Situation is that the TPI pension is about $8 behind the minimum wage-
– It is not taxable.
– It is about $8 behind the minimum wage.
– The minimum wage is taxable.
– That was not what the Prime Minister meant when he said that the TPI pension would be made equivalent to the minimum wage. He did not mean that tax would be taken into consideration. So the TPI pension is $8 a week behind. As each dollar represents $lm the Government will have to find another $8m to live up to its 1972 election promise. For the general rate pension to reach 50 per cent of the minimum wage it would need to be increased to $34 a week. It now is only $22 a week which means that it is lagging by $12 a week. Every dollar a week increase in the general rate of pension means an expenditure of $4m. If the general rate pension is $12 behind the Government must find $48m more in the next Budget to honour its promise about the general rate pension. I think the Government has overstretched itself. That is the situation. Nevertheless time will tell and the test will be in the Budget.
In the last 2 years this Government has increased the pension payout from $30 lm a year to $373m, when taking into account the provision of $13m which is included in these Bills. That represents an increase of almost $73m in 2 years. This is an enormous sum. Good luck to the people who are receiving these pensions. But the Government is still $56m behind with its 1972 election promise which was delivered by the Prime Minister. Will this be another Government promise that is not kept? I think it will be, but time will tell.
I speak briefly now about the Government undertaking that the Repatriation Department would be kept as a separate entity. That undertaking has now been broken. The Department has become the Department of Repatriation and Compensation. There is great concern among the 800,000 surviving ex-servicemen and women, the returned soldiers’ organisations and the ex-servicemen’s organisations that the Repatriation Department, as it was known, is starting to disappear. Calling it the Department of Repatriation and Compensation could be the thin edge of the wedge that will eventually mean the disappearance of the Repatriation Department and those 800,000 surviving ex-servicemen and women will see the disappearance of their specialised department which devotes itself entirely to the welfare and treatment of these ex-servicemen and women. I should like to elaborate more on these points but I am told by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) that the Government wants these Bills to go to the Senate tonight in order that they can be passed and, therefore, expedite the payment of the increased pensions at the first possible opportunity so I shall make my remarks brief. I should have liked to have spent more time discussing matters that relate to the Department of Repatriation and Compensation.
I raise now another matter I have raised before. I refer to cancer being automatically accepted for medical and hospital treatment for any ex-servicemen or women who served in a theatre of war. This is a grossly unjust decision to the many hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen and women who volunteered for service overseas but, through no fault of their own, did not serve in a theatre of war. I have consulted medical specialists on this matter and they agree that many types of cancer - there are hundreds of types - would not be caused because a fellow or a woman served in a theatre of war. Why should there be an automatic acceptance for medical and hospital treatment because a fellow served in a theatre of war whereas hundreds of thousands of fellows who volunteered for service overseas or anywhere that the exigencies of the Service demanded are denied this automatic entitlement for treatment of cancer. I make another plea to the Government to widen the provisions regarding the treatment for cancer.
I assure the ex-servicemen and women of Australia that we in the Country Party and the Liberal Party will continue to show a vital interest in the future welfare of the exservicemen and women of Australia. I am pleased to see in the Country Party 2 distinguished ex-servicemen - the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) - who I know will be of great benefit to the ex-servicemen and women in their advocacy on their behalf in this chamber. They will play a vital part and will look after their welfare. I support the legislation and regret that I have had to cut my remarks short because of time limitations.
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 Lionel Bowen) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 23 July (vide page 526), on motion by Mr Charles Jones:
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 Lionel Bowen) read a third time.
– It being half -past 10 o’clock p.m., and in accordance with the order of the House of 1 1 July, I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– Tonight I want to bring up the question of surf life saving clubs. I hope that the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) will not leave the chamber, because I want to mention the subject of postal charges in relation to the surf life saving movement.
– Will I get a chance to reply?
– It is up to you. There is no doubt that the Australian image overseas as generally seen by people living overseas is one largely of wide open spaces or of glorious beaches. Tonight I want to talk about the second part of that equation, the glorious beaches, and more particularly the work that the surf life saving movement does and has done for many years in relation to the patrolling of these beaches. All honourable members who have had experience of surfing on Australian beaches will, I am sure, join with me in recognition of the outstanding service offered over a great number of years by the voluntary members of the surf life saving movement. It is a world famous movement. In fact Australian methods have been adopted throughout the world. In any consideration of the benefit that the movement has brought to a great number of Australians, we should realise that well over 200,000 lives have been saved on Australian beaches which have been patrolled by the. surf life saving movement.
As I have said, the surf life saving movement is a voluntary organisation which exists solely to protect the public when they visit a beach. Surf life saving club members donate their time and certainly risk their lives without any personal gain. They do not receive out of pocket expenses for the costs of travelling to and from the beaches or for the cost of meals when they are on duty. Additionally they often suffer losses of clothing and personal effects when they perform the many necessary duties outside the rostered patrols. These people are not strangers to self-help. They are a selfless body of men, and I believe they deserve the highest commendation from the community as a whole, and I believe they deserve the utmost support from the various Parliaments in Australia. They take considerable pride in their endeavours, and they raise their club operating expenses mainly by methods of self-levy. In fact it costs them money, a great deal of money in many cases, to belong to these organisations and perform the selfless duties that they perform.
It is a fact that local councils are the main source of capital funds and maintenance for surf life saving groups. I would also pay a tribute to both past Commonwealth governments and the present Commonwealth Government for the degree of help they have rendered to the movement. The present Government has set aside a considerable sum of money to assist the surf life saving movement. But the point I want to come to is that the culmination of these factors means that a person from anywhere in Australia, whether he lives on the beachside or not or whether he is a visitor to Australia, can spend a day on the beach and enjoy the full protection of qualified life savers without any personal cost. The attendance at beaches is not confined to those whole live, near them or who pay the local rates which go to help maintain the clubs which patrol the beaches. As I say, protection is available to visitors from throughout Australia and from overseas.
The equipment costs of surf life saving clubs have risen dramatically in the last few years, as of course the sophistication of the equipment has risen. Whilst I acknowledge the part that many organisations have played in helping surf life saving clubs to meet these costs, nevertheless still a great proportion of the money needed is raised by the voluntary effort of the surf life saving members themselves. This is the point that I am glad the Minister has stayed to hear, because a key piece of surf life saving equipment which most of the 234 clubs in Australia must have on the premises is a telephone. This equipment is owned by all Australian clubs, and in this instance is used solely to protect lives. A surf club without a telephone - just imagine it - would not be of much use when a sudden emergency develops. The full cost of the telephone, that is the rental plus the calls, is met out of club funds. Over the years this has been a major cost which can only be met by club members leaving the beach to cadge the money by running raffles, by apprehending cars at traffic lights and by numerous other methods by which these clubs have existed and supplied the means whereby they have continued to serve the public in the past.
I acknowledge that the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) and his Department have expressed sympathy with the concept of a voluntary service organisation such as the surf life saving movement having its telephone rental waived. But under the regulations the Postmaster-General is powerless to waive these charges. Tonight I submit to the Special Minister of State and to the House that should the Government free the surf life saving clubs from the financial burden of meeting telephone bills it would probably be singularly the most welcome expression of gratitude the community as a whole could make, and it would cost each Australian family only about lc a year. Actually it would cost a little more than that because, as we all know, the Government has recently introduced savage increases in both rental and installation charges. With rapidly rising operating expenses, some surf life saving clubs are facing a decision this year to have their club telephone disconnected simply because the cost cannot be met. I believe very sincerely that if such a situation came about, if clubs were reduced to the prospect of having their telephones disconnected, the degree of service provided not only to members of the public who live near the beaches but also to a great number of other Australians would be severely curtailed.
Therefore I appeal to the Minister and to the House as a whole to support what 1 believe would be a just and appropriate decision by the Australian Government to approve regulations allowing the PostmasterGeneral to waive telephone charges to surf life saving clubs before the next summer season. Given the guarantee of a telephone to assist in summoning help when needed, this gesture would provide an added incentive for our active life savers to add next year to the proud record which they have of no lives lost on patrolled beaches. This record - it is a proud record - could easily be lost if through increasing rental charges and installation charges surf life saving clubs were forced either not to put a telephone on or to disconnect the telephone they have already. I believe that this gesture would be a just and reasonable one. I believe that it would provide active encouragement to a body of dedicated people and it would indicate to the public as a whole that this Government supported the voluntary service rendered to countless thousands of Australians and visitors to Australia by the members of the surf life saving movement.
– I wish to refer to the intemperate remarks made last evening by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron). Attacks were directed against me and officers of my Department, against their integrity, their objectivity and sense of fair play. They were attacks made against a group of officers and myself who have inherited the shocking neglect of the Liberal-Country Party Government in relation to the treatment of members of this House and of the Senate in the performance of their electorate and parliamentary duties - against officers who have assisted me in providing improved and reasonable conditions of service for members of Parliament. These officers do not expect thanks from the honourable member for doing their duty but at least they are entitled to expect a fair go.
I say without hesitation that I have received the compliments of honourable members on both sides of this House on the improvements that have been made in the facilities for senators and members since the Labor Party came to office and their thanks for the helpful attitude of my officers. Parliamentary officers in Brisbane are no exception.
Let me refer to some of the matters raised by the honourable member for Griffith last evening. It is of course possible for any person, with perhaps the exception of the honourable member, to make mistakes, and mistakes are made from time to time, although I by no means acknowledge that mistakes have been made in any of the instances to which he referred. With regard to the pool of relief secretary-typists which has been established on my initiative to assist honourable members to tide them over special difficulties associated with their office, as he admits, the establishment of the pool was assential because of the neglect which we had tolerated for so long under the Liberal-Country Party Government. Something had to be done and it was done resolutely. All appointments to the pool of secretary-typists are made by the Permanent Head of my Department and in no case have they been referred to me. In no case has the politics, race or creed of any individual secretary been relevant to appointments. All honourable members in this House will bear testimony to the extraordinary service provided by these girls who are appointed on the basis of their qualifications and ability, and on no other basis. Members of the pool are allocated to work for members of this House or of the Senate on the basis of priority established by requests to the parliamentary officer of my Department. I do not exercise and do not seek to exercise any direction over the allocation of these secretary-typists.
In Queensland and other States during the election period the secretaries were allocated in the normal course in priority of receipt of request. In search of something to smear my Department with, the honourable member says that he challenged the situation with a departmental official - unnamed of course - from the Department of Services and Property who told him that nobody else had asked for help. He acknowledges this situation but claims that they had not asked for help because of the instruction that had been issued relating to the misuse of the pool. I think that that is mischievous nonsense! It is true that ex-Senator Condon Byrne requested the services of a pool stenographer. His request was not refused. He was informed that a stenographer would be made available to him in order of priority and as soon as one became available. He accepted the situation like the man that he is.
The honourable member also states that I gave directions that these secretaries were not to be used for political purposes. No such direction has ever been given, as everything done in a member’s office both before and during election time is for political purposes. How absurd it would be to suggest that the pool could be increased to cater for the demands of all senators and members in a matter of one or two days. Senator Condon Byrne accepted the response that was given to him and there is no record of any complaint by him. It is interesting to note that, wallowing in his accustomed mire, the honourable member for Griffith received a complaint net from Senator Byrne but from ‘a person who was at that time vitally associated with the Democratic Labor Party senator’, to use his words. Why this anonymity. The honourable member’s reference to his experience in relation to the availability of extra space in the Australian Parliament Offices, Brisbane, is just as untruthful and malicious as his statement relating to the pool of relief secretary-typists.
I turn now to the appointment of the former electorate secretary to Mr Frank Doyle. Is the honourable member commenting on the competence of this lady? Of course he is not, because she is an extraordinarily able secretary who would command a position in any circumstances. Indeed, she has performed duties for the honourable member himself in his own office and we have no adverse report from him about her. But it is typical of the small-minded, puny approach of the honourable member that under the privilege of this Parliament he seeks to vilify a girl of such exceptional merit. The appointment was made by the Secretary of my Department who has no apologies whatever to offer for the action taken by him in ensuring that such outstanding competence as that displayed by her is available to honourable members. I might add that from time to time the Permanent Head of my Department employs a close relative of the honourable member in his personal office and this should convince honourable members that he is not given to partiality in these matters.
Those who are in this House will know that with the change of government it is customary for Ministers and members to take over the services of dedicated, competent secretaries and stenographers without regard to their political affiliations. I have the honour of having 3 such girls in my own office. The allegation of partiality in this matter is unpardonabale. May I remind the honourable member that the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott), a Liberal Party member, was a Solicitor-General and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), was a former employee of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Yet the honourable member for Griffith seeks to deny a girl a typing position because she happens to be a member of a political party opposed to his own.
The honourable member for Griffith has made an unprincipled attack under privilege upon an innocent, competent and defenceless young woman and it is to be deplored. I can assure the honourable member that in no circumstances would I tolerate any officer of my Department asking the political affiliations of any member of the typing pool, nor would .in honourable member be encouraged to reject the services of a pool secretary because of her political affiliations, such a suggestion would be condemned by all members of this House: We do not appoint by party affiliation.
Next, let me deal with the allocation of an office to Senator Milliner in the Australian Government Centre, Brisbane. It is true that there are certain conventions relating to seniority that are observed in the allocation cf offices to senators or members of Parliament but the whole situation has been so improved by my Department since this Government came to office that senators and members generally are quite happy with what we have been able to do for them. Senator Milliner approached my Department prior to the election. He mentioned that he had additional responsibilities by virtue of his position as chairman of the Parliamentary Publications Committee and chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on the Australian Capital Territory. He is also a member of the education, science and arts committee of this parliament as well as the library committee. In addition, his position as a senator makes heavy demands on his time attending to repesentations from all sections of the people of Queensland. In the circumstances he sought additional space.
At that stage there had been no request made to my Department for the allocation of Senator Gair’s office. Nevertheless, the matter was held over for some time and in the absence of further representations, the parliamentary office was allocated to Senator Milliner on a temporary basis and on the clear understanding that it should be available for reallocation for ministerial and other purposes in due course if circumstances necessitated. Senator Milliner, gentleman that he is. accepts this situation and is prepared to honour it. I might add that the area of the office is about 430 sq. ft. It is not a large office, less spacious indeed than I have planned to allocate to all members of this parliament as time and resources permit.
Subsequently and after the allocation of space the Honourable Kevin Cairns wrote to me about the allocation of the office to Senator Milliner and seeking information concerning the normal principles observed in allocation. I have written to him confirming the principles associated with allocation but it is relevant in this context to note that it is just not possible to allocate on a preferential basis space in Government offices to former Ministers who have been re-elected after a significant electoral defeat, particularly where the office in question is not vacant. I believe, Mr Speaker, that there is no point in wasting the time of the House with further information concerning the accusations made by the honourable member against my own personal integrity and the integrity of the officers of my department. His approach is puny and vicious, to say the least. I have said enough to indicate that what he has said lacks truth, lacks appreciation for what has been done, lacks objectivity and demonstrates a lack of the normal courtesies that one might expect to find in a member of this House. I would suggest that the decent thing for him to have done before be made these wild and unprincipled attacks on innocent people would have been to discuss these matters with me, as it would then have been apparent to him after discussion that there was no basis whatever for the allegations.
-I call the honourable member for Mackellar.
– Mr Speaker-
– Order! The honourable member for Griffith will come to order. 1 have not given you the call yet. You have not indicated what you want.
– I would like to be called.
– That is up to the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth).
– He has given way.
– I call the honourable member for Griffith.
– The honourable member for Mackellar is senior to you.
– I have always regarded the right of a member to speak in this chamber with privilege as a complete privilege, and never at any time have I abused that special privilege which very few people in Australia are given. But what I would like to say in answer to the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) is that everything I claimed last night to be correct has been acknowledged by him this evening as correct. Whether they be a series of errors or whether they be temporary appointments, the case as I presented it last night truly exists. I believe that the Minister has been a little unfair in saying I have never given him credit for the vast improvements that have been made since he took over the portfolio - because I acknowledged that in the opening of my speech. Regarding the allocation of secretaries throughout Australia 1 would dearly like to see the entire list showing where every relieving secretary in Australia worked. After the appointment of the relieving secretarial pool in Queensland we were told that the members of it were not to be used by us in our offices for party political purposes relating to campaigning.
– Who told you that?
– Can I tell the Minister later in private or does he want me to have the name recorded in Hansard?
– I do not care where you do it because you are talking a lot of rot.
– It is true. I do not abuse the privilege that is given to me as a member of Parliament. It is true that we were told not to do this. No member of the Liberal or Country Parties in Brisbane - I do not know about country members - asked for this kind of assistance prior to the election. The Minister has spoken about campaign funds. I saw this situation in the light that we were not to use these girls. We met out of our own funds the cost of employing a girl to work in our office for 4 weeks so that we did not break the rule that we believed existed.
As to the second question of the employment of the lass concerned, I repeat what I said last night: Without casting any particular aspersions upon the woman concerned, I do not believe that any person who had a background such as that woman possesses should be thrown into a situation in which she has to work, like it or -lump it, for the man - seeing that the Minister has mentioned the name of her previous boss - who actually defeated the man for whom she worked. I said last night that it was a tactless appointment and that there were 27 other Government departments in which she could have been given a position, which would have avoided the embarrassment which exists at the moment. Certainly she worked for me a couple of weeks ago and to my knowledge she has not broken any confidences that came into her possession as a result of her having worked for me. But it still places people in a very difficult situation. Because the Minister chooses to surround himself with certain people whom he is prepared to trust this does not mean that every person has the same attitude to staff. I hope that he continues to get loyal service from those people that he has on his staff. But the Minister should not expect every one else to apply the same criterion as he is happy to apply.
Thirdly, as to the office of Senator Milliner - another person whose name the Minister has introduced into the debate tonight - might I simply say in reply that the Minister’s pathetic and weak explanation that it is a temporary affair speaks for itself. As far as I am concerned, I am happy to let the matter rest there, as long as the rule of fair play applies in the future. If things are being done behind the Minister’s back it is good that he now knows about them.
– I am sure that all honourable members are appreciative of the fact that history is about to be created by the holding of a joint sitting of this Parliament for the first time since Federation and that the onerous duties of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) are probably more onerous at this time than they have been for any Minister for a long time. I take this opportunity to compliment the Minister for taking the trouble to come into this chamber this evening - to set the record straight and once and for all, I hope, to show to the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) just how dishonourable an honourable member can become, particularly when he uses the privileges extended to him as a member of this Parliament to enable him to be free from being called to account as he would be if he were to make statements of a similar nature outside this Parliament. How more scandalously can a person abuse that privilege than to attack a poor unfortunate person who is employed in the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Brisbane and who has provided excellent service there for many senators and members of Parliament including, as the Minister said, the honourable member for Griffith himself.
– I rise on i point of order. The honourable member for Bowman is indicating that the honourable member for Griffith attacked this girl. He did not attack her. ‘Mr SPEAKER- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. He should know that Standing Orders provide that he may take a point of order for himself but not for anyone else.
– Reference has been made to the fact that some time ago the honourable member for Griffith dismissed his secretary in very strange and unusual circumstances. I do not question his right to do this. I maintain that it is the right of any member to hire and fire his secretarial staff as he sees fit. But due to the circumstances of the dismissal a cloud of concern hung over the whole of the officers in Brisbane for quite some time following her summary dismissal. I know the reason that was given for the dismissal and. as I have said, I do not question it. I think it is appropriate that all honourable members should know that this lady had, I understand, performed meritorious service for the honourable member over a great number of years. She was known to me, to all honourable members who are accommodated in the offices and to others who had moved about in the Brisbane political scene to be an active supporter of a political philosophy in which she believed, and that philosphy was the Liberal philosophy. I can recall, when I was active in Labor Party circles, particularly in the Moreton area, seeing the honourable member’s ex-secretary working on polling booths for the Liberal Party. I am sure that the Party of her choice appreciated her work.
But following her dismissal, was there any question of her ability to serve members of the Labor Party when they were in need of additional secretarial assistance? There was not, because I know that one Labor member of the House of Representatives and one Labor senator gave this person an opportunity to undertake work in their offices as a relief secretary. Both of these gentlemen told me afterwards that they had the highest regard for her integrity and ability. Here is an excellent example, of course, of the way that members of the Labor Party approach such a matter as this. Their approach is impartial. It is an excellent example of how tolerant and understanding Labor Party members are when they are offered the services of a competent secretary.
I might also say for the record, without seeking to embarrass anyone concerned, that there were at least 2 other secretaries working in the offices in Brisbane who stood a very real chance of losing their employment as a result of the decisions of the electors of Australia in the recent elections. I know that my own efforts on behalf of one of the girls and the efforts of the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) on behalf of both of the girls were used unsparingly to see that they were placed in suitable employment. Both of the girls worked for senators who belonged to parties other than the Labor Party. Our concern for the staff makes it even more obvious tonight that such an attack as was made last night by the honourable member for Griffith was dishonourable in the extreme-
– The attack was cowardly and dishonourable in the extreme. I hope that the honourable member will take the oppor tunity when he returns to Brisbane tomorrow to do the decent thing, if it is still possible for him to do so, and apologise to the person he scurrilously attacked under privilege in this chamber last night.
The question of the allocation of offices, for which he wrongfully accused the Minister for Services and Property, was well known to all members at the time. Quite obviously, as has been said, no one raised his voice in objection to the fact that a certain senator was allocated the office in Brisbane that was previously occupied by the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party. I detest and utterly deplore the actions of the honourable member for Griffith last night. He was quite wrong in suggesting that he has never abused parliamentary privilege. I heard him do so not only last night but on several other occasions.
– Order! It being 11 p.m. the House stands adjourned until Tuesday next at 10.30 a.m. or such time thereafter as Mr Speaker takes the chair.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
The objectives of CIPEC are:
United States Establishments in Australia (Question No. 21)
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice:
DrJ. F. Cairns - The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister represent ing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the right honourable member’s question:
In the case of the People’s Republic of China and Saudi Arabia, Australia established diplomatic relations by accrediting an Ambassador on a residential basis. In the case of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the Australian Ambassador in Warsaw was accredited to the GDR on a nonresident basis. In the case of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam diplomatic relations were established on the basis of resident Charge d’Affaires. In all other cases diplomatic relations were established on a non-resident basis. 1(b)Australia has not broken off diplomatic relations with any country since 2 December 1972. In regard to China, the Australian Government recognised the Government of the People’s Republic of China as from 21 December 1972 and as a consequence transferred its embassy from Taipei to Peking.
and (3) There have been several changes in the status of our diplomatic relations with other countries. These are as follows:
The first Ambassador of Iran presented his credentials to the Governor-General on 19 January 1973.
Prior to September 1973 Australian Ambassador to the Soviet Union was also dually accredited to the Polish People’s Republic. By September 1973 Australia appointed its first resident Ambassador in Warsaw.
Australia announced the appointment of the first resident Ambassador to Switzerland on 20 April 1974. Accreditation had previously been from Vienna.
It was announced on 31 May 1974 that Australia would establish a resident High Commissioner in Kingston. Whereas in the past the Australian High Commissioner to Canada had been accredited on a non-resident basis in Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, accreditation will be handled from Kingston as soon as the office of the High Commission is established.
The Australian Ambassador to Peru is now also accredited (June 1974) to Venezuela. In the past the Ambassador to Brazil was accredited to Venezuela.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Does the Australian Government intend to take action to ensure that the Regent Theatre in Collins Street, Melbourne, will not be destroyed?
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
A submission was receivedfrom the ‘Save the Regent Theatre’ Committee on 2 March 1974. It was then too late for the submission to be considered by the Committee of Inquiry into the National Estate. It will however, be examined within the Department of Urban and Regional Development, in the light of the Report by the Committee of Inquiry and with advice from the appropriate local authorities.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the right honourable member’s question:
As at 2 December 1972 the total number of Australian personnel in Australia’s overseas missions was 1315, consisting of 649 officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and 666 officers from other Departments attached to the missions. The number as at 30 June 1974 was 1533 consisting of 754 officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and 779 officers from other Departments.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I shall not answer any questions bearing on the deliberations of the International Court of Justice particularly while litigation involving Australia is pending before that Court.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
See Question No. 654.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
and (2) There have been no occasions on which the deposit requirement has been waived for overseas borrowings coming within the ambit of the variable deposit requirement scheme. As I mentioned in my press release of 21 March 1974, the scheme makes no provision for exemptions. The following overseas borrowing do not come within the ambit of the scheme:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 July 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1974/19740725_reps_29_hor89/>.