29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. J. F. Cope) took the chair at 10.30 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 assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas uranium found in vast quantities in Australia is the raw material for the nuclear fission reaction,
And whereas presently assured reserves of uranium in Australia represent a potential production of over 540,000 kilograms of Plutonium 239 if utilized in Light Water Reactors overseas,
And whereas the Maximum Permissible Inhalation of Plutonium 239 is 0.00000025 gram,
And whereas Plutonium 239 is one of the most dangerous substances human society has ever created, causing mutations and cancers,
And whereas there are no methods of safely and absolutely confining Plutonium from the biosphere for the requisite quarter of a million years,
And whereas Plutonium coming in contact with the air forms an aerosol cloud of micron-sized particles, its most dangerous form,
And whereas the export of uranium may return to us an import of Plutonium particles dispersed in the global environment via the circulation of the atmosphere,
And whereas there are no sure safeguards against the military use of nuclear fission, and the nuclear proliferation represents a prime environmental threat to all forms of life on the only earth available to us,
And that it is therefore an act of self-preservation to demand a halt to all exports of uranium except for bio-medical uses,
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Enderby and Mr McKenzie.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of undersigned Citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government will forthwith do all things necessary to return to the states of the Commonwealth all monies raised by way of taxes and excise on Petroleum products.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr England and Mr Lucock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble Petition of the undersigned residents of the Australian Capital Territory respectfully showeth-
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government not to proceed with the introduction of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory until the residents of the Australian Capital Territory are consulted, by means of a referendum, on the issue.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Enderby.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
That the Barton Highway is one of the main entrances to the National Capital and that it is used by visitors from many parts of Australia,
That this highway is in a sub-standard and dangerous condition.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to accept responsibility for the upgrading and maintenance of the Barton Highway as a main entrance to the National Capital.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Fry.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth-
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should not admit into the law of this land the principle that marriage is only temporary and the family no longer the fundamental unit of society.
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 the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we strongly oppose the easing of restrictions on the importation, production in Australia, sale or distribution of pornographic material whether in films, printed matter or any other format.
That any alterations to the Television Programme Standards of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which permits the exploitation of sex or violence is unacceptable to us.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the existing Television Programme Standards or to permit easier entry into Australia, or production in Australia, of pornographic material.
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 the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
Whilst the Australian Government is granting freedom and independence to Papua and New Guinea, the once free
Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are occupied by the Soviet Union and their citizens are continuously deprived of personal, civil and religious freedoms.
We humbly beg to draw the attention of the House of Representatives to this fact and ask that the matter be raised in the United Nations by the Australian Government.
We beg the House of Representatives to disallow any steps by the Australian Government which would amount to recognition of incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take measures to rectify this injustice, as it applies to all the people, no matter what their incomes or political affiliations. by Mr Katter.
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 Universal Health Scheme is essential to the well being of all Australians, in so far as it will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will hasten to introduce this much needed scheme so that health care services in Australia can begin to function equitably, efficiently, and economically.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Klugman.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of certain citizens (electors of the Division of Hume), hereby respectfully sheweth:
That citizens of this Division place great value on the sanctity of marriage and are greatly concerned that under the proposed provisions of The Family Law Bill 1974, a women who has performed her duties of wife, mother and homemaker in a praiseworthy manner, can neverheless find herself placedin a most unjust and unfair position, even if an innocent party.
Your petitioners therefore humbly request that greater consideration be given to preventing such positions of injustice from occurring.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lusher.
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. byMrMcLeay.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Is the Minister aware that letters have been received by major hotels in Australia from the Australian Performing Right Association seeking increased levies based on the rate of $15 for each record player, $15 for each tape recorder, $15 for each background music system, $10 for each radio set and $10 for each television set? Is the Minister aware that the previous total charge levied by the Association was in the region of $8.85? Does the Minister regard that type of charge as being equivalent to television and radio licensing, which is the constitutional right of this Government? Can he inform me of the rights, if any, of such an Association to charge tourist hotels in this field? Does he realise the consequence that the action of the Association, if allowed, will have on costs associated with the tourist industry?
– I thank the honourable gentleman for the question. My attention has not been drawn to the notices to which he refers. I will certainly bring them to the attention of the Attorney-General in the Senate. I offer this comment here, having heard the account for the first time: It may well be that some of the provisions in the recently enacted anti-restrictive trade practices legislation might be relevant in this case. But I will bring the matter to the attention of the Attorney and will see that a proper answer is given.
-The Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory will recall that earlier this year Parliament was informed that legislation would be introduced to provide financial assistance towards establishing an adequate water supply for the Gascoyne plantations and the town of Carnarvon in Western Australia. I ask the Minister: What stage has been reached with respect to this very necessary and indeed urgent requirement- one which, as the Minister knows, was always resisted by the Liberal-Country Party Government? Also, can we expect the legislation to be introduced in this session of the Parliament?
-The current situation is that this matter is under consideration by the Government. Certain environmental problems have been raised. These have now been satisfactorily resolved between the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia. At present, I am having discussions with the Treasurer regarding certain aspects of financing this proposal. When those conditions are straightened out, I will be in a position to make an announcement regarding this scheme.
– I propose to address my question to the Treasurer. It is about Air Niugini. I wish to make it clear that my question intends no reflection on the Government of Papua New Guinea, its agencies, or the action being taken by them. Is the Treasurer aware that Air Niugini has written to suppliers in Australia saying that: . . . as from 3 1 October 1 974 Air Niugini will no longer be forwarding . . . instruments - to Australia for overhaul? This letter in particular comments:
We regret the necessity of having to take this action but due to the escalating costs in Australia and the uncertainty of supply and other matters beyond the control of all of us, we find it necessary to terminate our work in the Australian area.
We thank you for your assistance in the past and hope that when the industrial climate in Australia becomes more stable, we may be able to renew our association.
If inflation is a worldwide phenomenon, why is it that Australia has lost its competitiveness in world markets? Is this not another indication of the seriousness of inflation in Australia and the need for the Government to indicate clearly when it will announce a full program to meet the need to control inflation?
– I am not aware of the specific example which the honourable member gave. I find it a rather curious way to promote the question that he has asked. I am as fully conscious as anybody else of the seriousness of inflation.
(Mr Duthie proceeding to address a question to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry) -
– Order! The question is out of order. It is not in order for an honourable member in asking a question, to quote what somebody outside the House said, unless it comes within a Minister’s portfolio. What Mr Snedden said has nothing to do with the Minister in the House. I call the honourable member for Gippsland. I will come back to the honourable member for Wilmot later if he rephrases his question.
– The Minister for Science will know of the disastrous beef prices and the equally disastrous loss of overseas markets, and that large numbers of cattle are likely to be forced on the market in the summer months. The Minister also will know that refrigerated space for the storage of beef in Australia is both scarce and awfully expensive. Is the Minister aware that the world’s largest and cheapest refrigerator lies a few hundred miles south of Australia in the
Antarctic at the Australian base of Mawson? Will he therefore investigate the practicability of shipping meat there in container loads for storage and for reselling on the world market at a more appropriate time?
– The honourable gentleman has raised an interesting proposition. It is true that we have access to a large and natural deep freezer in that southern region. The honourable gentleman will also be aware that there are certain difficulties of access to that deep freezer which do not apply to local deep freezers either in homes or in country towns. The only opportunity of getting to the natural deep freezer he mentioned would be during the summer time so that meat taken there would have to remain there for at least a year. The suggestion holds some promise and I assure the honourable gentleman that I will make inquiries and let him know the results.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the interest shown by members of all Australian Public Service unions in the proposed new superannuation scheme? Is the Treasuer aware that the new superannuation scheme is of particular value to a great majority of low and middle range public servants? Can the Treasurer give any indication when a decision can be expected to be announced by the Government to implement the new superannuation scheme and the date of its implementation?
– I am well aware of the interest in this particular matter. I suppose there has been more correspondence individually on this matter than on anything else in my purview for a long time. Following the actuary’s report representations have been received from the Public Service organisations themselves and also written submissions. I hope that it will be possible to have legislation introduced into the House at the beginning of the 1975 program.
-Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that textile firms in Tasmania face a shutdown early next year if substantial orders are not received soon? Will the Minister agree that import quotas would give relief much more quickly than an increase in tariffs? Will the Government immediately impose quotas on the import of textiles in order to give the earliest assistance to manufacturers and employees in the textile industry in Tasmania and elsewhere in Australia?
– The Government is well aware of the difficulties of textile firms in Launceston although there are reports of reemployment in one or two cases and an improvement in their prospects. I think it important for us to bear in mind the possibilities of closedowns and retrenchments but I really do not think that the continuous repetition of these possibilities is of any advantage to industry or anyone else. It is necessary to bear in mind the possibilities but in the last few weeks when I have heard of such and such a company about to close down and have sought to verify that with the company I have found very often no justification for the suggestion. I do not say that this is the case here because I have not verified it but one should take care before saying that an industry is to close down. In his question the honourable member referred also to quotas. I point out that with respect to knitted and woven textiles voluntary quotas imposed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade- GATT- already operate. They are to fix the limit to the quantity imported in the year ended May 1974. It may be said that that is still too high. The matter is one for the Textile Authority. No government would decide on the imposition of quotas without having a proper investigation. Further textile matters are before the Textile Authority and on receipt of its report appropriate action will be taken.
It is true that quotas will be much more effective than would be tariffs and under existing circumstances it is doubtful whether any reasonable tariff would have the desired effect. It also has to be pointed out that quotas take time to work. Orders have to be given and letters of credit issued. Unfortunately in this matter there was a great deal of overbuying and stocks are accumulating already. These are bound to limit and curtail orders in the future. But whatever action is taken there is always a certain amount of lag and so the Government tends to regard the method of direct assistance through the principles on which the Structural Adjustment Board is established as the best way of dealing with the specific cases like Launceston. It seems to me that it is through that means that the most positive action can come.
-I ask the Minister for Labor and Immigration a question concerning the national employment and training scheme- NEAT. Can the Minister inform the House whether it is a fact, as claimed by the Opposition spokesman on industrial matters, that people who are not genuinely looking for work are exploiting the scheme? Can he also say what precautions are taken by his Department to ensure that such exploitation of the scheme does not occur?
-Over the weekend I did hear a statement by the honourable member for Wannon. It was a highly irresponsible statement and I should like to give some advice to the honourable member who does not seem to arrive in Canberra until about Wednesday of each week and is not here today to hear my answer. If he ever hopes to become a Minister who will be listened to with respect, he ought to moderate his language and try to be more responsible in some of the statements that he makes. The honourable gentleman is earning for himself the reputation of being one who will say anything at all. He shoots from the hip. He nominates any figure that comes into his irresponsible head. In this case he said that the scheme would cost $40m a year in Melbourne alone and that the cost throughout Australia could be beyond comprehension. He then went on to make some stupid statement that an unemployed married couple would have the right to get retraining at 20 hours a week and then receive something like, I think he said, $180 a week tax free. It is sheer nonsense to talk of these sorts of things. It is not possible for a person to enter the scheme and to get a tax free allowance. The allowance given is taxable and it is not possible for people already employed to go into the training scheme when people who are out of work or people who are affected by tariff decisions of the Government are trying to get into the scheme.
We have a list of priorities. Those who are affected by tariff policies are placed in first priority; people who are affected by technological change are put into the second priority; people who are unemployed for any other reason are given third priority; and the final priority goes only to people who are in employment and seeking to better their conditions. This applies when all of the other categories have been provided for. To say what a man and his wife would get if both decided to come into the retraining scheme is like saying that if a man and his wife were both on the High Court they would get about $70,000 a year between them. It is stupid to talk about it. But the statement underlines the hostility which the Opposition parties have- if one assumes that the honourable member for Wannon does officially represent their view- towards women. It shows an underlying prejudice against women.
– That is what you think.
-Oh, yes, it does. It shows an underlying prejudice against women. And the Government is determined -
– I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I object to that statement. In point of truth the statement of the honourable member for Wannon underlines our objection to unemployment.
– Order! There is no substance in the point of order. I remind the House that frivolous points of order are completely out of order. That was a frivolous point of order. I also ask the Minister to be as brief as possible in his answer.
-The Government is very proud indeed of the new deal that we have given to women. We walk with our heads held high among the women of our community because we know as Labor members of Parliament that we are the only ones who have ever done anything to uphold the dignity of women and the rights of women to have equal opportunities with men. We make no apology for the fact that a wife has as much right as a husband to participate in NEAT if she wishes to do so.
– Does the Minister for Housing and Construction recall his meeting in Perth on 8 October with members of the Independent Home Buyers Action Group, including the honourable member for Swan and myself, at which there was submitted to him a scheme for relief for home buyers from high interest rates based on a rebate on tax payable related to increased payments due to the higher interest rates of recent times? Has the Minister seen Press reports of late last week reporting that the Government is considering a scheme of direct subsidy said to cover up to 5 per cent of interest on a home loan? Is this the scheme proposed by the Independent Home Buyers Action Group or a similar scheme? How far has the Government considered such a proposal? How serious is the Government in its consideration of a rebate or subsidy scheme of that kind, either as an alternative or as a supplement to the tax deductibility scheme which has yet to see the light of day?
-The question involves a matter of Government policy and as such I do not think it appropriate to give any information along the lines of the question.
-Can the Minister for Minerals and Energy provide an outline of measures being taken to develop phosphate rock deposits in
Queensland? What effect will this supply have on the domestic prices of superphosphate?
– Can you read the writing?
– This is my writing. I can read it quite well, thank you.
– The recent discoveries in Queensland of rock phosphate are most heartening and of great economic value to Australia and to Australian primary industry. The deposits are located at Lady Jane, Lady Annie and Duchess and are of the order of 2,700 million tons of 17 per cent rock phosphate. That would be 480 million tons of P2O5, which would be the equivalent of about 160 years of current consumption of phosphate in Australia. We are fortunate in that we already have guaranteed supplies from Christmas Island of some 2 million tons a year, where we have a contractual arrangement with New Zealand for the operation there, and there is a similar arrangement for a much lesser amount in respect of Nauru. The deposits at Ocean Island, of course, are being rapidly depleted. We have been doing everything possible that we can to help BH South in this regard. The planning at the present time is to achieve in 12 months time a production rate of about one million tons a year. The rock will be transported initially by road. A rail extension of about 70 kilometres will be constructed by the Queensland State Government so that the rock may be taken to Townsville where it will be crushed, beneficiated and brought up to a percentage of about 31.
The question then arises as to how the product can be integrated with supplies that we have at present. Here again it is at least heartening to compare Australia’s position with that of overseas consumers. Morocco, one of the leading world suppliers, is marketing the product at an f.o.b. price of $67. We will do considerably better than that. My colleague the Minister for Agriculture and I in consultation with other interested Ministers will be having a look at what can be done in respect of tying in with Australia’s future requirements the development of our phosphate rock deposits because I am certain that in the future Australia will have an increasingly large role to play in respect of expanded grain production and pasture improvement. I commend the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his interest in these fields and his assiduous attention to the needs of his electorate.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Secondary Industry. Has his attention been drawn to the fact that many small businessmen and sub-contractors are being savagely hurt by the large number of company liquidations? If so, will he assure the House that special financial arrangements embracing long term low interest finance will be made to ensure the continuing viability of these small businessmen and sub-contractors? In particular, will the Minister initiate appropriate action to establish a small industries design and development institute which would be available to small business?
– I think it would be well recognised by all honourable members that a significant number of small businessmen and contractors are adversely affected when certain large corporations fail. We have all had our attention drawn in recent times to the way in which some large corporations, particularly in the area of land development, have failed because they tried to overstretch, particularly in regard to financial matters, and have gone into areas in which they have had little or no expertise. I need not mention some of the firms which I am sure are well known to the honourable member. Other terms that have been used to describe the failures include financial irresponsibility, aggrandisement, not taking account of the economic signs and recklessness on the part of some levels of management in some of those land development concerns which are hardly other than speculative in some ways. It is deplorable when their failure adversely affects so many small and more vulnerable people who have become dependent on the activities on the big land speculators and big land developers. With regard to what should be done, the Government, of course, watches the situation very closely, as indeed it has to.
– The Government has done nothing.
– I think the Government has done a great deal. It is a pity that the honourable member is not aware of the facts. He mentions a small business-type agency. The Government moved to create such an agency about a year ago. It would have been towards the end of last year that we approved the creation of an Australian small business bureau, its charter being to give assistance in all manner of matters such as consultancy, expertise and access to markets in order to make them more viable. It is true that the organisation is in its early stages. It is hoped that it will grow into an organisation modelled on the American small business agency. It will be represented in each of the capital cities in Australia and will provide some of the services that the honourable member obviously has in mind. I would offer this thought as well: It is a great pity- one has to say it over and over again- that Australia had to wait for so many years before initiatives of this kind were taken. Indeed we had to wait for a Labor Government to come into office before initiatives of this sortthe creation of a small business bureau- which assist small businessmen were taken.
-Is the Minister for the Capital Territory aware that the recent increase in the interest rates for Commissioner for Housing loans has resulted in many people in Canberra having to abandon their plans to build a home despite the ready availability of land? Will the Minister consider raising the maximum limit of the Commissioner for Housing loan to $15,000 so that second mortgage borrowing can be reduced, thus off-setting to some extent the burden of the increase in interest rates?
-As a matter of fact, I was going to announce today that loans for people wishing to build a new home would be raised to $ 15,000. It is true, unfortunately, that the level of interest rates is inhibiting people building homes. But it is also true that the people of Canberra obtain the best serviced land at the cheapest rates in Australia and it is more readily available than anywhere else in Australia. It is also true that there is more home building being carried out in Canberra in proportion to population than in any other capital city in Australia. It is also true that gradually we are overcoming the inhibitions and restrictions placed upon the development of this city by our predecessors.
– 1 ask the Deputy Prime Minister: Is it true that he intends going overseas shortly for the purpose of stimulating an inflow of capital into Australia- in other words that he is on a search mission to find capital? From what sources does he intend to attempt to find the capital? Is it to be short term Arab high interest money?
– You know nothing about Arab money if you say it carries a high interest rate.
– On what conditions as to equity will the money be allowed into the country? Who does he propose should be the borrowers of the money? Does he not understand that there would be plenty of capital inflow into Australia if his Government would only state as its policy in clear and precise terms that the Government welcomes the inflow of capital into
Australia on a partnership basis to protect Australian equity as far as possible, that Australians should have control as soon as possible and majority equity holding in the future but until such statement is made, there is no prospect of capital inflow into Australia?
-I am very glad now that there is complete unanimity on both sides of this chamber on this matter. It is not so long since a distinguished former Prime Minister of this country said that Australia had been lying on its back like a puppy having its stomach tickled by every investor from overseas. It is not very long since Sir John McEwen, the distinguished former Leader of the Australian Country Party, said that a bit of the farm was being sold out every day and that Australia was going to end up as a series of holes when all resources had been drawn out. This was a fair summary of foreign investment policy under the Opposition parties when they were the Government. This was a fair summary of their policy for over 20 years- the selling out of Australia without concern for equity, without concern for the joint operations which the Leader of the Opposition has now embraced as his policy. I am very glad we are unanimous about this now. We have reached this stage as a result of a great deal of work done over a period of years in this Parliament in awakening the Australian community to the great importance of these principles. So now we are in agreement.
On my forthcoming journey overseas, if that should take place, I intend to go to New York and to Washington. I want to find out what is happening about the flow of funds from the oil importing countries to the oil exporting countries. It is clear that some $80,000m to $90,000m in a year will be moving from the oil importing countries to the oil exporting countries. Most of that money will be returned by way of reinvestment. The money available from these sources is not offered at high interest rates. By way of interjection a moment ago, the honourable member for Blaxland, said that the Leader of the Opposition obviously knows nothing about what he calls Arab money if he thinks it is lent at high interest. It is not lent at high interest at all.
– It is long term.
-It is long term. I would be very happy to see our own banking system, our own financial system, being much more alive to these possibilities, because while there are groups of people going all around the country offering $100m, $200m, or $l,000m and sometimes sums greater than that at low rates of interest, and while there may or may not be anything in their offers they have not been adequately followed up. My purpose is to have a look at the situation in the United States just to see where these funds are flowing to and to ascertain whether there can be more expedition in the provision of them both to Australian private investors and to bodies like the Australian Industry Development Corporation. The policy of the Government has been quite clear on this matter. It was made abundantly clear at the ministerial conference in Japan last year. A great deal of publicity has been given to it and it is just no good any longer the Leader of the Opposition or anyone else saying that there is no clarity about this matter. Australia welcomes overseas investment in this country on a partnership basis in a way that will safeguard equity and will maximise Australian ownership and control in every area. The position is clear and it has always been clear that this Government welcomes overseas investment in Australia on conditions which will safeguard, protect and increase Australian ownership and control of the operations in which the investment takes place.
(Mr Duthie proceeding again to address a question to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry).
-Order! As I pointed out to the honourable member before, what the Leader of the Opposition said in Launceston has nothing to do with the Minister’s portfolio. The question is out of order.
– I rise on a point of order.
- Mr Speaker, I am standing for the call to ask a question.
-Order! Unless the Leader of the Opposition has a motion on the notice paper in regard to the matter, he is not entitled to answer any question in which he has been mentioned.
- Mr Speaker, I am asking for the call to ask a question.
-Order! A question has been asked by an honourable member on the Government side. The question is out of order.
- Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask you to consider the fact that the honourable member for Wilmot asked whether the Minister can reaffirm the Government’s specific plans. I submit that that is not out of order.
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. There is no point of order involved. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
-My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister. Will he say here and now and without qualification that the remaining provision about the variable deposit requirement which still exists and the limitations on the inflow of capital for under 2 years will be immediately removed- that they are not compatible in any way with his search for capital inflow into Australia?
– The answer to the question is no.
– I call the honourable member for Wilmot.
– I am going to try again, Mr Speaker. I hope I get through this time.
– Order! Whether the honourable gentleman gets through or not is a matter for himself.
-I ask a question of the Minister for Manufacturing Industry.
– A point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely the honourable member is reflecting on the Chair.
-Order! I call the honourable member for Wilmot.
– Can the Minister reaffirm the Government’s specific plans to assist Launceston ‘s textile industry?
– I am indebted to the honourable member for his perseverance and I can positively and as vigorously as I am able reaffirm that policy that he refers to. The Government has taken a number of actions during the last 12 months related to the textile industry and many of them, of course, relate to the situation in Launceston. I should add that no group of people has been more active in bringing about this action than the - (Opposition members interjecting) -
-Order! Interjections will cease or I will take the appropriate action. I am not going to have a Minister interrupted every time he is answering a question. I will take action if anybody interjects.
-No group of people has been more active in making representations to the
Government on the situation in cities like Launceston than the Labor members of Parliament from Tasmania. The situation has its amusing side. We are told that the Leader of the Opposition recently went down to Launceston with some of his colleagues and spoke about the need for the creation of a textile authority to assist the textile industry. That is an indication of his lack of knowledge of the situation. A textiles authority of that very kind was created perhaps more than a year ago, created at the request of the industry, set up as a special authority, for that special industry, within the Industries Assistance Commission, and was received with praise from the industry groups concerned. Honourable members will recall that in April or May of this year, during the election campaign, a reference was made to the textiles authority, the first one -
– A point of order, Mr Speaker. We have the same problem. If I am misrepresented then the correction of the misrepresentation can be made later, I know, but I think there really ought to be an opportunity -
-Order! There is no point of order involved. I advised the House before that I am willing to have personal explanations made during question time, but that will be at the expense of the Opposition, I can assure you. If honourable members are willing to accept that, I am willing to abide by it, but if personal explanations are made during question time you are going to rob question time of a lot of its time. Otherwise, if a personal explanation is to be made it will have to wait until after question time.
– I was saying that the first reference to that textiles authority, apparently not known or at least not appreciated by the Leader of the Opposition, went to the authority in April or May of this year. It reported in the affirmative in the case of some aspects of the textile industry and not in the affirmative in the case of others. For example, it held that a case had not been made out in respect of woven shirts. We then instituted immediately a system of negotiating voluntary restraints with overseas exporting countries- Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, India and the People’s Republic of China- with considerable success. It is also apparently not known by the Leader of the Opposition that on 1 1 September 1974 another reference went to the Textile Authority, of which he is not aware, asking it to investigate a whole new wide range of yams and knitted fabrics, towels and towellings. Its report is expected to be received on 1 1
November, which is only a week or so off, because there is a 60-day time limit on these references. When that report is received it will be immediately and promptly considered by the Government.
It also should be appreciated that under the legislation setting up the Industries Assistance Commission the Government cannot legally take action unless there is a reference to the Commission and a report received from the Commission. The Government has been very prompt about these matters. In recent times we have taken other steps, as the honourable member for Wilmot put in his question. We have announced the commencement of a new, novel, far reaching scheme to give selective forms of assistance to firms established in country cities and towns which might be having difficulties. In that situation, if an application is received and processed by the Department and is accepted as being valid money will be paid to that firm to prevent its closing down, to prevent its retrenching people. It is not only an instrument to alleviate hardship and to stop retrenchments occurring, it is also an instrument- a device, if you like- to facilitate moves by firms in country towns into more profitable areas. If they in their best judgment deem that they would be better off employing their people in that town in some other area of activity, the Government will assist them to do so. So it is a new, quite novel and important initiative by this Government.
In addition there is the regional employment development scheme- RED- which is administered by my colleague the Minister for Labor and Immigration and which is also designed to fund moneys to towns like Launceston in Tasmania so that they can better improve facilities in those towns-the infrastructure, the building of recreational community halls and houses and that sort of thing- so that the people in them have a better standard of life. Of course behind it all is the NEAT scheme- the national employment and training scheme. In conclusion I might add one final thought. We have recently decided to widen the terms of reference to the very Textile Authority which the Leader of the Opposition does not seem to have heard about yet, even though it has been operating, and operating well, for over a year.
-I direct a question to the Minister for Northern Development. Is it a fact that thousands of tonnes of brisket beef are being rendered down by operators owing to depressed market conditions? Is this a valuable protein food? In view of the distressed condition of the meat industry will the Minister approach the Government immediately with a view to purchasing this meat for providing aid to underdeveloped countries? Would that assist the Australian meat industry and at the same time help our foreign aid policies?
-The honourable member knows full well that meat is one of the world’s best sources of protein. He would also know that there is listed on the notice paper for discussion a matter of public importance dealing with this problem. I expect it to be well aired by both sides of the House in that debate.
– For the information of honourable members I present the report on diesel engines exceeding 1500kw, dated 15 August 1974, of the Industries Assistance Commission.
– Pursuant to section 39 of the Australian Shipping Commission Act 1974 I present the annual report of the operations of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission for the year ended 30 June 1974, together with financial statements and the Auditor-General’s report on those statements.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Papua New Guinea Loan (International Bank) Bill 1 974.
Papua New Guinea Loans Guarantee Bill 1974.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the right honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented.
-Yes, Mr Speaker. I was misrepresented by the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby) when he asserted falsely that I had not any knowledge of the establishment of a Textiles Authority. Of course I have knowledge of that. What the honourable gentleman does not have knowledge of is the need for that Textiles Authority.
-Order! I would remind the right honourable gentleman that he can explain only where he has been misrepresented and not deal with what the Minister said.
-That is right. What the honourable gentleman does not understand is what I was talking about. That is, that the Textiles Authority ought to have a capacity to make recommendations for emergency action to be taken now, not after the long period that elapses between the report of the Textile Authority being submitted to him as the responsible Minister, and from him to the Cabinet, and to the Caucus and all the tear-about that that means. What I was saying- and where I have been misrepresentedis that in terms of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade, there is not the power for a roll back in the recommendation by the Industries Assistance Commission. The roll back is limited. With the roll back of quota restrictions at the level which would be applicable in GATT, it would represent no protection whatsoever to the textile industry. Therefore, it has to be done under an emergency power to be given to the Textile Authority.
The Minister said that I was unaware of these things. What I was doing was putting the matter in the context of the 1,200 unemployed in Launceston. The emergency measure needs to be taken now and not at some time in the future. I made a statement at a meeting in Launceston on Friday night which 1,300 people attended, and on the following day at a rally in a Launceston park, which 2,000 people attended. It is those people -
-Order! The right honourable member is now debating the subject matter in regard to a meeting. This has nothing to do with where he was misrepresented. I hope that the right honourable gentleman will conclude his explanation of where he has been misrepresented, and will not debate the subject.
– The misrepresentation is the allegation of lack of knowledge on my part. Quite clearly the honourable gentleman was not present when I spoke; nor were any members of his Party who were invited to be there to express their concern but who did not bother to come. The Minister misrepresented me by trying to cover up his own total disinterest in the subject, by alleging a factual deficiency on my part.
-I have received a letter from the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) proposing that a definite matter for public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The depressed state of the meat industry and the need for urgent Government action to relieve it.
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)
-Early in 1974, at the Australian Agricultural Outlook Conference, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics presented an assessment to the Australian public of what it saw as the immediate prospects for the Australian meat industry. On page D6 of the publication it said:
Recent trends in slaughterings indicate that Australia’s output of beef and veal should rise by a further 10 per cent or so during 1973-74 and reach nearly 1.6 million tonnes.
It spoke of earlier expansion in the industry, of the 26 per cent growth of slaughterings in the previous year and the exceptionally good seasonal conditions prevailing throughout Australia.
In the course of its remarks the Bureau of Agricultural Economics said that export markets should continue to be reasonably buoyant for the remainder of 1973-74 although prices might average somewhat lower than the record levels reached in the first quarter of the year. Similarly for mutton, although there was reference to the fact that the prices expected to be paid for mutton would depend on those paid for beef there was reference also to the fact that buoyant wool prices and above average seasonal conditions in most sheep producing regions of Australia were likely to encourage producers to continue rebuilding sheep flocks and adult sheep slaughter rates were likely to be well below those of recent years. The Bureau spoke generally of the market forecasts as being slightly better. It said:
Higher prices are likely to attract some of the limited supplies available in 1973-74 to export markets but most output of mutton should be marketed within Australia.
It said that in 1972-73 60 per cent of production was exported but this probably could well halve in this current fiscal year and total exports could be little more than 50,000 to 60,000 tonnestwothirds lower than last year.
In other words this year opened with bright forecasts for those 2 parts of the meat industryfor beef and mutton. At present the only part of the meat industry where reasonable prices prevail is in the pig meat industry, but for all parts of the Australian meat industry there is emerging a crisis which needs to be recognised by all members of the Australian community. The meat market has changed dramatically since February 1974. As many honourable members in this House, and certainly those from country areas of Australia, would realise, our Australian beef industry is an industry which supports significant large sectors of the agricultural heart of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. With the collapse in wool prices in recent years it has expanded into New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania and all parts of the pastoral industry today are more dependent on beef than they have ever been before. The beef industry, while it is an industry which has a market in Australia, is very dependent on export opportunity. Indeed, over 60 per cent of Australian beef is exported, by comparison with an average of only 7 per cent of world beef production. This means that the Australian beef industry is highly susceptible to world price fluctuations. Total Australian meat exports for the first 9 months of this year were less than half the total for the same period in 1973; in other words, some 291,000 tonnes against 614,000 tonnes in the previous year. Australia has 3 principal markets to which 90 per cent of our beef goes- to the United States of America, Japan and the European Economic Community.
The reason I raise this matter today is to try to identify the conjunction of circumstances which affect the meat industry in Australia at present. First, there are very good seasonal conditions prevailing throughout the country. As a result, significant numbers of cattle are being held off the market and, even though there has been a significant drop in the quantitive form of meat exported, cattle numbers in Australia have reached a peak. About 31 million head of cattle are expected to be in the Australian herd by the end of this year- an increase of 8.7 million over the last 5 years. The increase in cattle numbers of 35 per cent between 1969 and 1974 has not yet been reflected in an increase in slaughtering. Slaughtering has been increasing but beef production has been increasing slightly faster and at the moment a large number of cattle is being held simply because seasonal conditions are good and because the expected availability of markets is such that it is most unlikely that if those cattle were slaughtered they would be sold profitably. Indeed, figures from the Bureau of Agricultural Economics indicate that over the whole of Australia 1.7 million head of cattle, which under ordinary conditions would have been slaughtered by now, are being retained by producers. In Queensland alone 700,000 head in excess of normal numbers are being withheld. The problems facing the cattle industry are indeed the greatest in Queensland and the
Northern Territory because most of the production there is exported to the United States for the hamburger trade, and United States imports have dropped so significantly. The BAE has estimated that for Australia as a whole saleyard prices in July 1974 were 77 per cent of prices in 1971-72. In a world where people are customarily learning to live with increasing prices it is paradoxical that in one of the fundamental industries of the Australian countryside there is such a marked deterioration in returns. Currently prices are running at about 60 per cent of 1971-72 prices but the fall in some categories of cattle, particularly bullocks and cows, has been greater than for yearlings and vealers
In the last fortnight the position has deteriorated even further. Only some weeks ago it seemed that perhaps 1 6c or 1 5c a lb might well be the floor and from that level prices might rise again. Last week sales for bullocks have been quoted at down to 10c a lb and there seems every indication that the market might well collapse even further. Certainly if good seasonal conditions did not exist throughout much of Australia there could be quite a disaster in the number of cattle that would be forced on to the market in order just to be realised because pasture conditions would no longer be able to hold them. There is another factor, however, which is influencing the turn-off of stock, that is, the nonavailability of finance from normal commercial sources to enable cattle men to see their way over the current quite serious downturn in market conditions. It is a serious problem in the dimensions of the depreciation of capital value itself. It is estimated that the total capital value of properties running 50 beef cattle or more is $9, 837m, of which cattle values in 1971-72 represented 21 per cent or $2,083m. On figures, that have been given to me it would seem that already there has been, in terms of a downturn in the value of properties and livestock, a fall of what is said to be something like $5,000m. This figure was given to the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony), the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and myself at a meeting that we convened last week to discuss what we saw as the quite critical developments in the meat industry and in an endeavour to try to identify first the problem and then to see in what way Parliament might be able to do something about it.
The position as far as the beef industry is concerned is that stocks are up and markets are down. Of our meat markets, the United States alone is today taking some meat but the quantity of meat being admitted is very small by comparison with last year. The cattle lobby in the United
States is very vocal and there would seem to be a possibility that at the least some type of voluntary restraint might be called for by those who are exporting to the United States market. If this occurs it is essential that the Australian Government does its very best to ensure that we in Australia have the maximum possible opportunity to maintain our continued flow of stock to that market. The representatives of the Australian Government abroad, both in the United States and in the European Economic Community, I know have done an outstanding job. Mr Jack Smith and Mr Pat Donovan, the senior commercial counsellors who are responsible and were responsible within the course of the discussion that took place in the United States a week or so ago, are men who have done their best in the market place, but we have to do something about the market itself.
The problem is increasingly acute. The reason I raise it in the Parliament is first of all on a factual basis to look at what must be done, and secondly to look at what the Labor Government has not done. First of all, I refer to what must be done. There is a critical financial position. There is an impending tax burden on all those who are operating in the rural sector. There is a problem regarding provisional tax and early payment of company tax. There is a problem relating to the inadequacy of tax averaging. There is a problem in the maintenance of the export tax levee. All these are areas within which the Labor Party can take action immediately to relieve the financial incidence upon those facing a critical downturn in their expected market returns. In addition, there is a series of measures which can be taken. The World Food Conference is taking place in Rome next week. The Australian Government has a responsibility, as a major producer of the world’s major source of protein, as the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Rex Patterson) acknowledged earlier today, to take action to ensure that there is not a downturn in the availability of protein in a country such as ours, and to make sure that that protein can be utilised to the advantage of the starving people of the world, if not directly then through world food aid programs.
The other area relates to the discussions that are coming up this week with Prime Minister Tanaka of Japan. There is every reason to expect a multi-commodity arrangement to be entered into, if not through the Treaty of Nara then through direct negotiations. The Japanese want to buy our natural resources. They want to buy our minerals. They need to buy our protein and our fibres. There is every reason in the discussions that are due to take place this week for us to express to the Japanese our alarm at the market deterioration in available conditions in the Japanese market. There is an opportunity for us within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and elsewhere to force an opportunity in the EEC to ensure that we can continue to export meat into those markets. With the downturn in availability of food grains for livestock, there is reason for us to look at new areas by which we, with our well-fattened pasture fed grains might be able to make some inroads into countries such as those in the Middle East. Recently the Shah of Iran was here. Iran has been purchasing some quantities of livestock, particularly live mutton, from Western Australia, but there is reason to think that there is a greater opportunity there than to date has been developed. This Government has a responsibility to do something about it.
There has of course been an assault by the Labor Government since it came to power on the beef industry. On the election of the Labor Party the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) of course called for the Australian Meat Board report on how to lower prices. The finger was pointed by Labor at the meat industry. It was suggested that meat prices were too high and that meat producers were going to be penalised.
– Do you agree with that?
-Now the meat industry is collapsing and the honourable member for Hunter and his colleagues are doing not a thing. They are quite prepared to sit by and fiddle while $5,000m of Australian capital is destroyed. As honourable members will recall, the Prime Minister was not satisfied with setting up an interdepartmental committee. He referred the question of meat prices to the Parliamentary Committee on Prices. He then referred it to the BAE. It is now back to the Prices Committee. At no stage has the Prime Minister or the Labor Government come out and said: ‘This is what we are going to do to help the beef industry’. The Prime Minister said: ‘We think that meat prices are too high. The customer has to be protected ‘. Let me assure the House that the customer at the moment is in a serious state of threat. He is at threat because the quality and quantity of meat protein available in Australia is likely to be seriously curtailed because the whole of the nature of the cattle industry and, I would suggest, of the sheep industry, is threatened through inaction and the direct destructive action of the Labor Party in Government. There is a critical need for the Labor Party to look at markets, to look at the adequacy of finance, to stop mucking around with meat prices and to come out with positive solutions that will enable meat producers throughout Australia to continue to play their part in providing cheap and quality food to the people of Australia and the people of the world.
– In the main the contribution of the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) was, I believe, non-political although he did make a few passing references to the politics of the matter. I hope he will allow me to deal with the matter in a similar vein. It is perfectly true that the principal reason for the crisis in the beef industry today is the collapse of the world price of beef. I hope the House will allow me some indulgence for a few minutes to deal with some aspects of the history of the beef industry. The cattle industry of Australia is a unique industry. Before the war the major areas of Australia which contributed to beef exports were in northern AustraliaQueensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberleys. In fact very little beef was exported from southern Australia. At that time the principal type of beef exported was the chiller type carcassesthe small carcasses such as those of poll herefords or Aberdeen Angus and frozen carcasses. That was the main type of trade. Australia, with the Argentine, dominated the world beef trade. During the war, of course, there was an upheaval. The Governments of Britain and Australia combined to try to provide Britain with beef. Then the emphasis was on frozen beef as distinct from chiller beef. There was some stability during the war and after the war until 1954 when rationing ended in the United Kingdom.
The domestic Australian beef market was not lucrative for northern Australia and the Northern Territory. The beef was purely for the export market. As I said before, very little export beef came from southern Australia. The 15-year meat agreement was introduced in the early postwar period. The British Government actually asked the Australian Government to use its best endeavours to increase beef production to provide Britain with a ready supply of meat. We did this. At that time the Australian Government spent money on beef roads in the Channel Country and took other measures to increase beef production. In 1958 the position was somewhat similar to the present position. The world beef market collapsed. Honourable members who were associated with the beef industry then would know that the deficiency payments under the 15-year meat agreement- perhaps to a minor degree but to some extent- were able to prop up beef prices for Australia. I can remember very vividly going to meetings in 1958 of the Australian Meat Board and of various cattle producers’ associations at which doom was forecast.
Out of the blue, one might say, the American market emerged. Then beef prices rose and continued to rise. From that point onwards we saw a tremendous stimulus in beef cattle production in southern Australia, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, principally as a sideline to the dairying industry. It was shown scientifically that cattle raising in association with subterranean clover and rye grass could improve not only the carrying capacity of sheep but also beef production itself. Since that time, from 1958 through the 1960s and into the 1970s we have seen a steady increase in beef production, particularly in southern Australia. Then arose the Japanese market which, of course, helped tremendously with the American market. The European market opened up and the whole picture of beef production in Australia looked extremely rosy. In fact there was a transformation of the whole structure of the cattle industry.
For almost 100 years practically all the beef for export was produced north of Rockhampton. Cattle moved from the north to New South Wales, from Alice Springs to Adelaide, for local consumption. But since 1958, during the 1960s and 1970s, there has been a major change in the whole pattern of beef production and a tremendous stimulus in beef production, principally for export. Of course the Australian industry is in the vulnerable position, as it is with other industries such as wool and sugar, that unless it is protected with secure markets, by long term agreements and stable prices violent fluctuations in export prices have a tremendous and disastrous effect.
As the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party said, there has been a major impetus in cattle production. I understand that the present cattle population is about 30 million. It has been only very fortuitous that in the last 12 months we have been able to hold the turn-off of cattle. There have been industrial disputes. Of course there have been very good seasons in the areas which export cattle and for this reason cattle producers have been able to hold their position. But this will not last. Early next year, after the wet season we will see a tremendous surge of cattle on to the market, and this will be the major problem.
The whole basis of the Opposition’s attack is: What has happened; what has caused it; and what is the Government doing? Firstly, let us make it very clear indeed that the principal crisis is due to the collapse of the overseas markets. The policies of the European Economic Community, which includes Britain, are such that under its common agriculture policy it has a policy of self-sufficiency. When world beef prices increased tremendously several years ago both Britain and Japan bought heavily on a rising market- Chiller and freezer storages were stocked to maximum capacity. As has been so common in recent years in the behaviour of commodity prices- of wool, of sugar- beef prices skyrocketed and then within a matter of years the prices went down to bedrock. It is quite obvious that a country like Australia has to have stability in those industries which export to live, particularly the beef, sugar and wool industries. We have to have policies which will give stability. I think that is agreed to by all members of the Parliament and all those in the industry. The prices today are certainly only about half what they were several years ago.
– Or less.
-Or less. The areas most adversely affected, without a shadow of a doubt, are in the Kimberleys, the Northern Territory and the northern parts of Queensland. Those are areas of monoculture beef production. They have no wool, wheat, dairying or coarse grain industries to support them. They are basically 100 per cent monoculture cattle enterprises completely at the mercy of overseas markets. What has the Government done? Top level delegations have gone to the EEC to try to persuade the EEC to change its policies to take Australian beef in the short term and to work out long term problems. So far we have not been successful. The Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) has personally gone to Japan and talked to the Minister for International Trade, Mr Nakasoni and the Japanese Minister for Agriculture in an endeavour to change Japan’s policy from one of simply buying tremendous quantities at one stage and then buying practically nothing, as we have seen over the years, to one of stability. Also there have been top level discussions in Washington with the same objectives in mind, to try to get the United States to change its policies and to help Australia by buying more beef. There have been repeated discussions at the Cabinet level regarding the proposed visit of Mr Tanaka. The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party was quite right when he said we have to look at this problem from a multi-basket or multi-commodity approach. Japan desperately needs certain commodities- minerals and sugar, for examples. We may have to have a look at the possibilities of Australia trading with Japan in a multi-basket or multi-commodity relationship rather than having individual negotiations about separate commodities.
– Why do they not need meat?
-Because they have stocks of meat on hand now. When prices were rising Japan bought extremely heavily. Everybody knows that most of its storages were chockablock with meat. Also, as the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party said, there are serious policy problems in the EEC, Japan and the US which mitigate against the importation of meat.
– Tell us about the Russian side of it.
– If the honourable member wants me to deal with this question seriously he should not interject. The Opposition has asked what we are doing. I have told the House what we have done with respect to international negotiations. As regards some areas which are suffering financial distress, such as the brigalow areas of Queensland, which are newly settled, the Department of Northern Development and the Department of Agriculture are co-operating with departments of the Queensland Government. I have approached the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for a complete review of the provisions of the Act which established the brigalow scheme with a view to having at least a moratorium on the fixed types of costs such as rentals and repayments for the beef producers in the brigalow areas. I have also approached the Treasurer (Mr Crean) with respect to the special problems of taxation in these developing areas. I have been able to arrange for long term carry-on finance of $40,000 for the flood-hit areas of northern Queensland on low interest rates in an endeavour to help producers in those areas who need such help. The overall tax situation is also being looked at. I have been able to arrange for $24m for future beef road construction. I know that this is not the immediate solution; nevertheless it is an expression of faith in the future of the beef industry. There is provision for $24m for Queensland, $5m for Western Australia and quite a large sum of money for the Northern Territory roads.
The immediate problem, and obviously the one which confronts us now, is one of liquidity. It is a problem of carry-on finance. Without doubt there has to be a release of funds to the crucial parts of industry to allow them to carry on. I am not the Minister responsible for the beef industry, the Australian Meat Board or the marketing of beef. But I can tell the House that from the point of view of the Northern Territory I have taken urgent action. I will have before the Government very soon a proposition in respect of the position in the Northern Territory. The basis of the Northern Territory proposal is as follows: I can inform the House that I had discussions only a few weeks ago with the Chairman of the Cattlemens Association of Northern Australia. Last week my 2 Departments were in active consultation with that Association and also with meat exporters in the Northern Territory. Industry representatives are now examining with my Departments a buffer fund proposal. They will discuss this in detail at a meeting of the Northern Territory Cattle Producers Council on 22 and 23 November in the Northern Territory. Discussions so far have helped to firm up several aspects of the proposed scheme and a detailed paper on the Northern Territory beef industry is . being prepared by me. As the killing season is almost over, we have at least some months in which to introduce a stabilisation scheme. This is being looked at seriously in consultation with the Cattlemens Association of the Northern Territory and meat exporters in the Northern Territory.
Obviously the problem is one of liquidity. I have taken steps in the Northern Territory for consideration of a moratorium in respect of those producers who are in financial trouble over payments to the Government, whether they be for rentals or other types of government finance. On Sunday my Department had discussions in the Northern Territory again with Mr Tapp on behalf of the Northern Territory Cattle Producers regarding a further finning of a stabilisation scheme for the Northern Territory. The basis of the scheme is a cattle industry buffer trust account. Money could be provided initially by way of loan either by the Reserve Bank of Australia under Government guarantee or by direct appropriation from consolidated revenue. Loans will be repaid from industry contributions once cattle prices improve and the fund will be self supporting thereafter. In other words, there will be maxima and minima with the Government and industry contributing in the normal way.
– Tell us why you lost the Russian sales.
-Why not wake up to yourself? This is a serious discussion. As regards the future, I have always stated in papers I have written and in statements in this House that I believe that of all our primary industries the beef cattle industry is the one that has the soundest future in the long term. It has a comparative economic advantage over other countries in that it can produce calves off grass and it has a comparative advantage also with respect to our immediate Asian markets. I believe that one of the greatest problems it faces is in the international markets where countries will buy tremendous quantities when prices are rising, as they have done with wool and sugar. They then store the goods and then, when the prices are very high, they stop buying. The whole market then collapses. I can assure honourable members that I personally recognise the problem. In the Northern Territory I am doing everything that I possibly can to alleviate the problem.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has indicated some action he has taken in respect of some sections of the meat industry. But that is not good enough. Time is running out. Detailed papers are all very well, but they will not help in the present crisis situation. There must be a comprehensive attack on the present problems of the meat industry. This year many Australian meat producers are not facing just a reduction in incomes- all of them are facing a reduction of the order of 40 per cent to 50 per cent- but also many producers are facing the prospect of no income at all. The fact that this is a unique situation is no help to those who are involved. After a period of some years when the meat industry was virtually the only primary industry whose prices were keeping pace with costs we now have a situation in which of all primary industries it is the worst off. This rapid change in circumstances should not go unnoticed by the Government and the industry. It highlights the sort of problems which inevitably will arise if, as the Australian Labor Party Platform states, we assume that it is possible to tailor production to meet realistic market demands. As so often happens, unusual circumstances make nonsense of such a policy.
The situation that the cattle industry is in today is due partly to the years of low prices for wool and sheep, the high cost of running sheep, and also wheat quotas. These have resulted in a huge increase in national cattle numbers. Fortunately this coincided with a world wide strong demand for beef. But the Australian beef industry is vulnerable: Firstly, because over half our * production goes in exports and, secondly, because our ability to sell in the major markets is not determined always by consumer demand but frequently by political decisions in the countries concerned. That also is worth remembering in the present context. Whether Australia has access to payable markets will depend largely on domestic political pressures in the countries concerned. If we put barriers on trade from those countries which buy our meat we can expect some form of restriction in return.
But the present situation, as I mentioned a moment ago, is a crisis. Whilst the Government has a responsibility to negotiate access to markets, that will not help cope with this crisis. It must be remembered that whilst the beef industry is the one principally affected at the moment there will be major flow on effects to all meats. When more beef is forced onto the domestic market because of a lack of overseas markets it puts tremendous pressures on other forms of meat, particularly sheep meats. We will soon see meats such as pork and poultry feeling the effects as well. Therefore a very large proportion of primary industry will become involved in what is at the moment principally a cattle problem. There is an urgent need for Government action to prevent a major collapse of the Australian meat industry and despite the detailed papers and high sounding words of the Minister for Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) there is no indication at the moment that the Government is even aware of the time bomb which is ticking away in this country.
Because of our very favourable season meat producers have been able to keep stock off the market, but they cannot do that for ever. Already over l.S million cattle have been carried forward, for another year representing a loss of income of about $200m. But even more serious than that, eventually these cattle, plus a similar number as a result of the normal breeding increase this year, will have to come onto the market. This will have 2 consequences. It could knock the bottom out of the local stock market. Also it will put tremendous pressure on our killing capacity, which could happen irrespective of market conditions if seasonal conditions worsen. Then we would have a quite impossible situation.
The Government must indicate how it would propose to deal with this problem. It is of no use just sitting pat and hoping that disaster will not hit the meat industry. I hope it will not; we all hope that it will not. But industry must know what the Government intends to do. The most urgent need at the moment is to provide carry on finance. Certainly that will not help sell meat, but producers have to live and they must be given the chance to ride out the present very difficult period. There is a very real danger that if carry on finance is not available a large proportion of the meat industry could pass into the hands of a few large companies. Individual producers just do not have the resources to enable them to survive a situation like the one we now have. If finance is not available they will be forced to sell out at disastrously low prices to those with access to large financial reserves. The Government has a responsibility to stop this happening. Everybody agrees that the long term outlook for meat is good. There is a world wide shortage of protein and Australia is one of the most efficient protein producers in the world- perhaps the most efficient.
The demand for meat will strengthen in the future, and probably in the not too distant future. Our industry must be helped through the period between now and when the market improves. This period may be a year, it may possibly be 2 years. But if one thing is certain it is that the world will be short of meat in the reasonably near future. Cattle are being slaughtered in the European Economic Community at a far greater rate than they are being replaced by breeding. Japan is steadily becoming more meat conscious and the present glut of meat in the United States will not last indefinitely.
Therefore, as I mentioned a moment ago, carry-on finance is the urgent requirement- urgent in the sense that it is wanted now, not some time in the indefinite future. Producers must have confidence that they will be helped through this period; otherwise they will have no alternative but to put stock on the market at whatever price with all that implies. Secondly, the Government must by all possible means improve access to the markets of our principal customers, and that may require some reciprocal action by us. Thirdly, the Government could improve the returns to producers and encourage more meat on to the market by considering the temporary suspension of the levy imposed by the meat export charges legislation. The industry did not question the reasonableness of paying for meat inspection and for tuberculosis and brucellosis eradication when prices were high. But the industry believes that when prices are disastrously low consideration should be given to suspending this levy. It is worth pointing out that at present prices the levy of 1 .6c per lb represents approximately 6 per cent of the value of an average export steer and 15 per cent of the value of a chopper cow. This is a severe burden on the industry and inhibits the selling of our meat overseas.
Finally, the Australian meat producer is just not prepared to stand by and let this Government with its disastrous record in primary industry preside over the disintegration of one of this nation’s greatest assets, the meat industry. The producers need help now and they are entitled to sympathetic consideration by the Government, not merely in their own interests but in the national interest. There may not be much time left.
– What would you do?
– I have said the 3 things that I would do. They are carry-on finance -
– He was not listening.
-That is right, he was not listening. I have said the 3 things that the Minister could do, namely to provide carry-on finance immediately -
– I have said that.
-Negotiate to open up markets and to give consideration to suspending the 1.6c per lb levy on export meat. They are the 3 things that I have suggested. There might not be much time left. The Government must let our industry know that it will not be allowed to go to the wall. The Opposition has indicated what needs to be done and the Government must take the necessary action now and not the sort of action that it has taken in the past.
Let us look at the assault there has been on the meat industry by this Government. After the election the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) called for the Australian Meat Board to report on how to lower prices. He was not satisfied with that report so he set up an interdepartmental committee. Then he referred this question to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Prices. The Government was saved from making a damned fool of itself by the minority report of this Committee which was put in by the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon), the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and other members from this side of the House. Then he referred the question back to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics. It is now back with the Prices Committee. No wonder there has been a collapse in the meat industry. Primary producers, particularly those in the beef industry, have been called upon to take the brunt of successive revaluations which have severely affected our ability to compete on our major export markets. This is the sort of action that has been taken by this Government. The industry is entitled to know now that it will get more sympathetic consideration in the immediate future.
– I commend honourable members for the sensible way in which they have approached this debate. I would take issue only with marginal points made by Opposition speakers. We accept without question that the beef industry is entering and has in fact entered a very serious crisis. But to accuse this Government of not recognising this is without foundation. I wish to quote from a Press statement issued by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) on 13 June 1974-5 months ago- which stated:
The Australian Government viewed with deep concern the growth in recent months of trade barriers affecting Australia ‘s beef export trade.
Dr Cairns said this after senior officials of the Departments of Overseas Trade, Primary Industry and Northern Development had met with representatives of the Australian meat industry in Canberra____
The Press statement pointed out that in recent months the Government had taken steps to approach the EEC and Japan, to criticise them for severely restricting their beef imports in the face of difficulties confronting their domestic beef industries. The Press statement continued:
Dr Cairns went on to say that in recent months the Japanese Government had reduced previously announced levels of beef imports and had, very recently in effect, suspended imports of beef and veal for an unstated period.
This Press statement was made 5 months ago. It continued:
Dr Cairns said that, arising from a series of representations, official consultations were to be held shortly with the EEC to explore possible ways and means of alleviating the effect of restrictions on Australia’s trade.
These negotiations have been carried out ever since at a formal and informal level.
This brings me to the most recent statement on the subject which was made by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). A Press statement issued by the Minister stated:
The Minister said that it had always been accepted that solutions to the immediate problems of the meat industry had to be sought in bilateral discussions with those principally concerned, the EEC, Japan and Canada. In the case of the EEC, consultations in the GATT, on Australia’s initiative, are scheduled to take place next week.
Bilateral discussions had been taking place with Japan over some time and would be continued in the near future. In the light of the efforts made by Australia to meet specific Japanese requirements for meat, particularly in 1973, in reponse to continuing requests, the delay of the Japanese Government in removing its embargo on the import of beef, is of particular concern. In view of the obligation felt by Australia last year to maintain supplies to Japan we would expect that some positive steps would be warranted in return given that Australia, rather than Japan, is presently in difficulties, said Mr Bowen.
In the meantime, Australia will be taking action to maintain the momentum which the Washington meeting has created for closer and more effective consultation and cooperation on meat at the multilateral level.
The Washington meeting to which the Minister referred was convened at the initiative of the Australian Government and included representatives of the United States of America, Canada, the EEC, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The meeting was made up of both consuming and supplying countries. This was an initiative that has never been taken before in this area.
Having taken all action available so far as the formal mechanism of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and other bilateral agreements were concerned we were then able to convene this informal meeting at which the various nations which I have listed and which are involved in the meat industry could put their views and look for a solution. The EEC will be coming before GATT to explain its actions in placing restrictions on the import of Australian meat. Japan has already been to GATT to put its case for restricting trade in meat.
There is, of course, an implicit contradiction in the position taken by the Opposition. On the one hand it calls for a restraint on restrictions so far as Japan and other importing countries are concerned and on the other hand- this point of view was put even today at question time- it is looking for more and more restrictions on our trade with those countries. This is clearly an issue which must be resolved in low key consultations in which the various trading countries arrive at a solution which balances the pluses and minuses for all concerned. The Bureau of Agricultural Economics statements quoted by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) were appropriate at the time they were made. They highlight only one thing about agricultural markets and that is that long term predictions are very rarely a satisfactory indicator for short term variations in market prices. The only satisfactory conclusion one can draw from experience in any agricultural market is that short term variations are unpredictable whereas, of course, it is possible for us to say with confidence that the long term future for meat, particularly beef, is sound. We can never at any stage predict what the price will be 6 months from now. The variability of these markets has been demonstrated time and time again. This Government has recognised this fact in relation to wool. It has been possible with that commodity to provide a Government support which will cushion the shock suffered by wool producers because of prices falling unpredictably.
We have different problems with meat, which is a commodity that cannot be stored. The only satisfactory solution to the problem is a long term meat agreement such as was negotiated with the United Kingdom immediately after the war. Clearly a long term meat agreement must be negotiated when the trading parties have some area for bargaining and some area for agreement. Some 12 months ago we held the whiphand in regard to long term agreements. In retrospect, it would have been very satisfactory for the representatives of the meat industry to have sat down with officials of the member countries of the European Economic Community, Japan and other countries and negotiated there and then long term agreements with discounts on existing prices at that stage. But the industry was not prepared at that stage to accept such a proposition.
The reasons for the present short term downturn in prices are basically over-supply in our consumer countries and the fact that the market mechanism has been frustrated by political decisions made by Japan and the EEC and by the American Government. Up to date, America has played the game fairly straight, but its recent political decision was the result of an over-supply situation. It is interesting to note that in Ireland, for instance, prices have also fallen below the bottom of the market. Irish producers are in even more difficult straits than are producers in Australia. The beef problem is a world-wide problem. Stores in the basic consuming countries need to be dissipated. We also face the prospect of a fairly heavy supply behind those stores.
Some reference has been made to the Parliamentary Prices Committee. If we shear away the political emotionalism from that Prices Committee, a number of things emerge. The Committee’s inquiry into meat prices provided the first forum for producers and all other meat interests to talk to the Government and to backbenchers. A consultative process was opened up and advice given to the Government was available to be read by all interested parties-. It was the first time such a forum had been provided. The advice given by producers on that occasion was twofold. The Government was asked to keep out of the meat industry and the Government did. The Government was told that the only solution to the problem was to increase meat production. It would have been the wrong solution in the light of subsequent events. It is understandable that the industry should approach the Government on those issues.
Two very important technical issues, which may seem small but which ought to be seized on and carried through, emerged during the inquiry. One was that we ought to be looking very carefully at the storage properties of lamb to extend the selling season for lamb. A lot more research needs to be done on that, as the evidence in the meat prices inquiry shows. The second thing was that we need to be developing consumer sympathy towards freezer meat and the more extensive use of deep freezes in Australia to build up a storage capacity in the deep freezes in the kitchens of Australia. That means an examination of retail outlets, and that is the explanation for the second reference to the Prices Committee. It is a reference relating to retail outlets, and retail outlets alone. If members of the Opposition were more conscious of the opportunities that the Prices Committee offers the Government, they would know the nature of the reference and be more hesitant in extracting political capital out of what is a conscientious effort to give an open forum to industry groups.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Consideration resumed from 24 October.
Department of Agriculture
Proposed expenditure, $49,418,000.
– It has been written that nations may fight and war among themselves, but in the final analysis the land will care for those who look after it. I was disturbed by the speech of the member for Eden Monaro (Mr Whan), who was the concluding speaker on this discussion of the matter of public importance. His speech followed 3 good speeches by the member for New England (Mr Sinclair), the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). Unfortunately the lounge chair lizard farmer from Eden Monaro indicated the Government’s mania to destroy the agriculture centre of our economy. This is indicated by an examination of the Estimates. The 2 departments which are basically concerned with primary industry are the only 2 departments which have shown a decrease in their allocation. The allocation for the Department of Agriculture is some $5m less than last year, and the allocation for the Department of Minerals and Energy is some $13,000 less than last year. This indicates the concern that we of the Opposition must have with a government which does not care about primary industry and which allocates in the Budget for those 2 departments sums of money which are less than the sums of money set aside in previous years.
The present Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) has given the Australian rural area massive doses of traumatic experiences. He at all times comes out with nice sounding and flowery pieces of rhetoric, but his announcements are no panacea for our economic ills and they are coming to be regarded with suspicion. I submit that total perversion of the truth where liberty of expression is directed without regard to its moral dimensions will eventually infect and corrupt the truth itself. The Minister now is the victim of his own environment and I think it is pertinent to record in this debate some of the failings that the Minister has had.
It is no wonder that it is time the Minister was stopped in his tracks. We submit- the argument was advanced by the honourable member for New England in a debate last week- that the Minister should be relieved of his portfolio because of his inability to govern and administer. We on this side of the Parliament suggest that he should be given the good old fashioned bushman’s treatment and be sent to the boiling-down works. His administration certainly has not inspired confidence in the rural areas, rather it has given them increasing reason for concern. In this Estimates debate I think we should point out to the Australian nation the true position of the
Australian primary industry and the tremendous impetus it gives to our economic life and the great contribution it makes to employment and to the development of our natural resources.
Before analysing that position I want to place on record the debt position of the Australian rural community, excluding debts for hire purchase, to trade creditors and to private lenders, and these are Reserve Bank figures as at June 1974. The amount is $2,22 lm, and that is a staggering debt for the rural producers of Australia to face, often at interest rates in excess of 12 per cent and 13 per cent per annum. Additionally, costs have increased and these costs have been a deliberate instrument of the Labor Government’s policy to cut down the role of private enterprise in our economy. Costs have increased from $3,038m in 1972-73 to $3,548m in 1973-74, and for 1974-75 it has been estimated that costs will increase by 17 per cent, a staggering $603m, to a grand total of $4, 15 lm. I submit on behalf of the Opposition that these staggering increases in costs and the overwhelming increase in the debt of Australian rural producers have been caused by the inability of the fiscal policies of the Australian Government to give emphasis where it is due. Australian farmers have never had it worse. In addition, the problem has flowed over to other sectors and we find that in March 1973, as compared to March 1972, there was a decline of 9,000 workers on rural holdings. Again, this is indicative of the trend of Government policy being directed to the large city areas.
I spoke earlier of the importance of the Australian farmers to our export income. In 1973-74 primary industry produced 51.4 per cent of our exports and its production of gross domestic products in the years 1970-71 to 1973-74 showed an increase from 6. 1 per cent to 9.05 per cent. It is submitted therefore that, on these figures, agriculture is growing continually and is of great and significant importance. Of course, the administration of the minister has been a disaster. I was disturbed, as I know my colleague the member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) was disturbed, to read last week that the price of a loaf of bread had increased in Sydney to 41c, yet the flour content of that loaf costs only 6c, the price it has been for the last four or five years. Obviously, the relativities are getting worse and the cost of manufacture is having a disastrous effect on the take home pay packet of the Australian worker. These tactics are typical communistic tactics. They analyse the position, set up an antithesis, and when everything else is fractured they come up with a synthesis which is a complete nationalisation of production.
In the remaining few minutes available to me I want to comment briefly on division 104-3-0 1 of the Estimates concerning wheat research, and I want to submit the proposition that some emphasis in our wheat research in Australia must be given to producing a hard wheat, which is much in demand in the world market because of its high protein content, its resistance to extension, its high water absorption capacity and its high extensibility. In addition to emphasising rust research we must put emphasis on frost research. Finally, I appeal to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and to the Minister for Northern Development to heed the plea of the Premier of Queensland, that great man, the Hon. Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and all other thinking Queenslanders for some contribution to fight the present locust plague. As the Minister at the table knows, many thousands of acres of crops may be wiped out. Businessmen and the people are concerned and they are contributing to a fighting fund to beat the locusts. But this centralised Government here in Canberra has not heeded the pleas of the Premier, has not heeded the pleas of the great industry leaders, has not heeded the pleas of the Australian primary producers to make a contribution towards the cost of turning back these hordes which are threatening to wipe out not only Queensland ‘s winter crops but also our emerging summer crops such as sunflower, maize and sorghum. It is an intolerable situation when we have a Government which is in control of the nation’s purse strings sitting idly by and not making a contribution to a fund to wipe out the locusts.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Agriculture I would like to congratulate the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) for the fine job he is doing in implementing the Government’s policy on primary industry. I think every Australian is behind the Minister in the difficult negotiations that lie ahead on the subject of meat. As has been already discussed in the debate on the matter of public importance this morning, the meat industry faces very serious difficulties. The Minister for Agriculture has indicated his earnest intention to do everything that can be done to support the industry in the difficult times that lie ahead.
The meat industry problems at the present time are not, of course, due to anything that the Government has done, they are due entirely to world conditions and to circumstances quite beyond the control of the present Government. But I think it is worth pointing out that if a LiberalCountry Party government had been elected to office last May then meat prices no doubt would have fallen due to deliberate Government policy. It is worth remembering the completely hypocritical attitude of the Liberal Party in particular in this matter. Before the last election the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Snedden, was advertising on radio, saying something like this: ‘Meat prices are very high. You can do one of 3 things. You can eat less, you can pay more for your meat or you can vote Liberal. ‘ So it is quite clear that the intention of the Liberal Party anyway quite deliberately was to bankrupt the meat industry by bringing meat prices down.
I pointed out at the time, and the Adelaide Press was good enough to point out, that other people, particularly the Country Party, would not tolerate any policy which allowed meat prices to go down because, although housewives were paying higher prices for the meat, the corollary was that somebody was receiving higher prices for the meat. Sure enough, before the election a few days later the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) said: ‘We are all for freezing the price of commodities but, of course, this could not possibly apply to perishable goods. ‘ So the attitude of the Leader of the Liberal Party was completely hypocritical. If he meant what he said, all he would have done would have been to bankrupt the meat industry completely.
In congratulating the Minister for Agriculture I should particularly like to remind the House of the fine effort he has made in getting under way a further 5-year wheat stabilisation plan. My main reason for referring to that plan is that I should like to suggest to the House that similar proposals be implemented in the case of the wool industry. Honourable members will recall that quite recently the Government provided a loan of $ 150m to the Australian Wool Corporation to give support to the wool industry. It is rather ironic that none of the protesting national farmers groups have had the grace to acknowledge the substantial assistance that has been provided to the wool industry, but I suppose we cannot expect too much from that direction. I would certainly like to give credit to .the Minister and to congratulate the Government on this generous assistance that was provided to the wool industry. Apart from the support that it will give to the wool industry itself, it will have very beneficial effects on the whole of the economy by increasing liquidity in general. However, I would like to suggest a modification to the other part of the proposal to provide price support for wool to the average level of 250c per kilogram.
I suggest that the same sort of proposals as are being implemented for the wheat industry be implemented for the wool industry; in other words, instead of providing a flat floor price, advance payments be made from the sales realised by the Australian Wool Corporation and that the balance be paid to the growers after the final sales have been completed, whether the sales are by auction, by direct selling, by treaty or however they be. I do see problems in having a flat floor price for wool. I see the proposal as being fraught with 2 great dangers. Firstly, there is the danger of substitution. We must remember that there are substitutes for wool. Secondly, if we have a flat floor price and we try to insulate the wool industry from market forces, I believe that we will be promoting and perpetuating inefficiency in the wool industry, which is something this country cannot afford.
I think that we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of having a floor price of 250c per kilogram and whether it fits in with the general context of agricultural policy. In my view our agricultural policy should have 3 aims: Firstly, to provide food and natural fibres for Australians; secondly, to provide agricultural commodities for the rest of the world, especially for the underprivileged two-thirds of the world; and thirdly, to provide foreign exchange at minimal cost. If we are to have this support for the wool industry and we are to satisfy those criteria, the modifications I have suggested should be examined fairly closely by the Government. In the context of Government policy it is in Australia’s interests to build up a very powerful and efficient wool industry. I make no secret of the fact that the Government’s objective is to transfer some of the resources from the private sector to the public sector to provide those goods and services of which we have been starved for so many years and to improve the quality of life of all Australians. To do that and to be able to continue our trade I believe that it is absolutely essential to have our private sector running at maximum efficiency and competitiveness. Particularly fundamental to that are economic and efficient export industries.
In the case of wool we have to ask ourselves whether a fixed floor price is really going to promote efficiency in the industry. Frankly I doubt whether we can make any industry efficient by isolating it from market forces. The other problem, as I mentioned earlier, is the problem of substitution and of whether we might in fact price ourselves out of the market if we try to force the market. We must bear in mind that just because we say that the price of wool is such and such does not mean that the buyers are going to accept that that is the price. I would like to draw the attention of the House to an article which appeared in the ‘Quarterly Review of Agricultural Economies’ in July 1970. It refers to the result that has been experienced in the United States of America of an artificially high wool price. In that case the artificially high wool price was induced by import duties imposed on wool imported into that country. The effect of that has been to make wool relatively uneconomic. In the long term, the result has been to make the synthetic fibre industry more competitive. I would like to quote a couple of brief extracts from the article:
The higher domestic price resulting from the imposition of this duty has tended to reduce US raw apparel wool consumption and it has weakened the overall competitive position of wool on the fibre market of the United States.
Later the article goes on to say:
The raw wool tariff, however, appears as a significant factor in the US wool textile manufacturer’s increasing use of man-made fibres and is believed to have contributed to some extent to wool’s diminishing importance vis-a-vis man-made fibres on the wool type fibre market of the United States.
What does worry me is that by trying to force the market we might find ourselves in the same position. I strongly support the Government’s proposal to provide long term assistance to the wool industry. No matter what side of the political fence one comes from, I think it is important to have an efficient wool industry, but I do think that if maximum benefit is to be derived from the money which is being outlaid the scheme will require some modification. I suggest that the money which is being provided should be provided in the first instance for advance payments to the growers, and that when all the funds are realised subsequently from the sale of the wool the balance should be paid to the wool growers. I think that that would be of benefit not only to the wool industry itself but also the long term health of the Australian economy.
– I take issue with the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) on 2 points. The honourable member outlined very conventional and sound economic principles when speaking about the wool industry, but does he really believe that 250c per kilogram for clean wool is a price which is going to force the wool market and result in a resort to substitution? Does he really believe that at that price the industry will be able to carry on at the level to which we have been accustomed? I suggest that at that level it will be only a potholing exercise. We are holding it at minimal levels. It is merely a smoothing of the market in its up and down flows. In relation to his comments about the beef industry, I suggest to the honourable member for Kingston that he should look at how much of the price of beef in a butcher shop goes to the grower. One can have high beef prices and a low return to the grower. I would like also to take issue with the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie). Speaking about the Government he said:
Not everything we have done has been bad, as some honourable members on the other side of the Parliament would try to make us believe.
What an extraordinarily undemanding criterion he is using to defend the Government. All I say in answer to that is that not everything the Government has done has been good either.
– It has not missed out by much, though.
– The honourable member for Moreton said by way of interjection that the Government has not done very much that is good. The honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) has pointed out that the estimates for the Department of Agriculture are down and that it is one of the few departments for which the estimates are down. I add to that by saying only that the fall in money terms of some 10 per cent is in real terms a fall of some 30 per cent, which is an extraordinarily high fall. It is quite consistent, of course. The Australian Labor Party did not win too much support in the rural areas at the last election and it believes that it will have to get by without the support of the rural areas.
I wish to speak briefly about one function of the Department of Agriculture, that is, its function as a provider of information to primary industry. That is a very major function which should not be underrated. The benefit derived could be very substantial indeed if the information is reliable, timely and widely disseminated, but if it is not the benefit derived could be minimal. I refer firstly to market information. The Department should be, as far as possible, a provider of information as to market trends. That is a very difficult exercise, as was quite rightly pointed out earlier by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan). In that respect one has only to look at the history of the beef industry and the predictions that were made about the beef industry, and compare them with events as they have occurred and the difficulties facing the beef industry today. However, it is not completely impossible to provide any information. Such information as we do have, particularly provided in a form in which the reliability of the information can be adequately assessed, can only add to the function of the market place and to the reliability of the market system. It is proper that the Federal Government should provide, as one of the services it provides to industry, for the collection, dissemination and analysis of market information.’ In this respect I refer to paragraph 6.129 of the Green Paper on agriculture, which reads:
In view of the need -
That is the need for information-
Evident in the past 2 decades for the Australian farmer to be able to respond readily to market circumstances, well researched information on market trends and structural developments is essential.
Buyers and sellers, if they are equally well informed, provide for the best allocation of resources. However, if one party is better informed than the other, or if buyers and sellers are not equally as well informed as are other buyers and sellers, a more wildly fluctuating market situation than is necessary is created and the misdirection of resources and inequity between the 2 sides of the market result.
It is a proper role for government to provide reliable information to the producers and to those who handle the products. It is also a proper role for government to explore new marketing outlets for existing products and for new and alternative products. When one industry is in difficulties, sometimes its resources can be applied to new products; sometimes they cannot. But it would be very sad if, when there is an alternative use for those resources, we did not avail ourselves of that use. For instance, do we know what a market outlook there is for lupin flour? Perhaps there is not one. But again, perhaps there is. Have we explored the possibilities of selling large quantities of low protein feed wheat which ships cheaply compared with other feed grains? This is the sort of exploration that is a proper role for government and a proper assistance to many small producers.
A Government also has a role in the provision of technical information and research for new knowledge and need exists for pure research, but there is also a great need for applied research. For instance, it is not much use exploring the possibilities of increasing the number of awns on wheat in the hope of increasing wheat yield when one can select for wheat yield per se. In passing, I add that it would be a useful aid from the Government if the wages of some research technicians were met on a permanent basis so that these people might make careers of their research. At present such payments are met from periodic research grants. This system works very well in those areas of research where the technicians can be part of the teaching and the training process. It does not work so well in agricultural research.
Finally I wish to say a few words about extension. All the research in the world is of no use if it is not known to those who must use it, that is, to farmers, their agents, the factories which process farmers’ goods and to the service industries that provide goods and services to farmers. When information is wrong, and people get hurt, we find that these are the people who get hurt more than most. There is a long lag between the finding of a new piece of information and its use by farmers in their paddocks. One piece of research that I have seen suggests that the lag is on average as long as 10 years. I am not suggesting that this is the last word on that subject. Rather what I am doing is deploring that this is the only piece of research that I can find on the matter. We need to know why this lag exists, why it needs to be as long as it is, and what we can do about it. Extension is and will be a skilled profession. But those who provide knowledge to farmers and those who service them must be skilled not only in the knowledge that they are imparting but also in the handing over of that knowledge itself. In fact, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner’, they must be able to hold their audience by sheer personality and by technique.
- Mr Deputy Chairman-
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Proposed expenditure agreed to.
– I suggest that the order for the consideration of the proposed expenditures, agreed to by the Committee on 15 October, be varied by next considering the proposed expenditure for the Department of Housing and Construction and the Department of Services and Property, followed by the Department of Northern Development and the Department of the Northern Territory.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)-Is the suggestion of the Minister agreed to? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
Department of Housing and Construction Proposed expenditure, $160,707,000.
Department of Services and Property Proposed expenditure, $83,3 10,000.
-There are very few people in the community who do not believe that the home building industry in Australia is at the verge of total collapse. The Opposition has been warning the Government for months. All sections of the building industry, the building finance industry and State Ministers, both Labor and non-Labor, have been alerting the Government to the signs of a rapidly approaching disaster. The Government has ignored all the available advice, and we believe that unless a rescue operation is mounted immediately, and unless home building is given the priority we gave it in Government, the industry will be destroyed.
When the Liberal-Country Party was in Government very nearly every Australian who wished to do so could buy his own home and service it on his own income. Flat accommodation was freely available at competitive and relatively low rentals and housing commissions were able to make a positive contribution in the so-called welfare housing section of the community. Under a Liberal-Country Party Government homeseekers had access to finance on reasonable terms and conditions, and home ownership was actively encouraged. This remains LiberalCountry Party policy.
In government we shall ensure that housing for the Australian people recovers the priority it enjoyed before Labor started to pull it to pieces. The more damage the Government does to the industry the longer it will take us to repair it. We believe that it can be done by co-operating with the States and with private enterprise, by encouraging initiative and thrift, not penalising it, by encouraging moderation and restraint in Government spending as well as in wage claims, by reducing, not raising taxes, by encouraging overseas investment- in fact by adopting the whole range of policies consistently advocated by the leadership of the Liberal and Country Parties. What a sick joke it is to learn that after all the ranting against foreign capital, multinationals and so on, the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) is now going overseas to try to drum up some foreign investment for Australia.
The Labor Party went to the people on a range of policies now totally discredited. This purports to be Labor’s housing policy:
The integration of all housing policies with urban, regional and social welfare policies in such a way as to ensure that every family can secure accommodation of its own choosing, appropriate to its own needs.
These are fine sentiments and the words would read well in any Party’s manifesto. But that is all they are- words without action- and in the process of implementing Labor’s policies to restructure our society the first casualties have been the very people Labor claims to represent- the low to middle income earner, the family man struggling to maintain a wife and children and the frail aged. Only the very wealthy can under this Labor Government ‘secure accommodation of its own choosing, appropriate to its own needs’. In its doctrinaire bid to soak the rich Labor has actually snowed the poor.
In the last year of a Liberal-Country Party Government, 156,000 dwellings were commenced in Australia. In 1973 commencements totalled 176,000. For the current year commencements will probably be around 142,000. The significant point is the rate of commencements. For the second half of this year it will be somewhere around 1 1,000 a month, and could be even less, depending on what is left in the pipeline. This means that the commencements for next year will be approximately 130,000 dwellings. There should be an immediate assessment of Australian annual housing requirements involving representatives of the private as well as the public sector, and this is one initiative the Opposition suggests to the Government.
In the absence of suitable research we must assume that the annual demand for dwellings is at least the old pre-inflation rate of 156,000 a year, which means that we shall end this year with a shortfall of 14,000 dwellings. If the true demand is in fact what the industry was able to produce last year, this year’s shortfall is 33,000 dwellings. Either way the Government should be tremendously concerned. These figures spell disaster and the Government has nobody to blame but itself. Next year there will be an annual commencing rate of only 130,000 dwellings and a shortfall of somewhere between 14,000 at best and 30,000 at worst to make up. Comparing the present shortfall of houses and other living units with next year’s under supply, there will be at best 50,000 dwellings and at worst 79,000 dwellings short by this time next year. Figures released by the permanent building societies last week show a projection next year of only 1 5,000 societyfinanced houses for the whole of Australia. This is a reduction in the annual rate of 60,000 dwellings in the 2 years since Labor gained office. Loan approvals by the major institutional lenders for housing are the only true indications of future commencements. For the 3 months ended August 1 974 the savings banks were down 45.8 per cent and the permanent building societies 44.4 per cent. We believe these figures are absolutely staggering.
In its short 22 months of office the Government has made a fantastic mess of the housing industry and it will take a long while to clean it up. In the first place it has severely retarded production and thereby created a shortage of homes and flats and put thousands in the building and supporting industries out of work. Secondly, it has allowed costs of production to escalate at an annual rate of approximately 25 per cent. The weekly increase in the cost of building a modest home is more than $125, which is nearly the national average wage. This has effectively destroyed the value of saving and made the possibility of home ownership a distant dream for all but the very wealthy. Thirdly, the Government has increased interest rates to a level which precludes income earners in the range of $130 to $200 a week from being able to service a mortgage at current interest levels. Repayments on a $20,000 mortagage have gone from $36 a week to $47 a week and the interest which a person with a $20,000 mortgage will pay over the average term of 30 years is $47,000.
None of the measures announced by the Government will help resolve the mess it has made of the home building industry. Pushing money through the terminating building societies means only that low income families will be able to arrange mortgages of $ 12,000 to $ 1 5,000. This will not help many of them get into a home or unit. It is simply not possible to buy an acceptable family dwelling in any urban area today for less than $20,000. Few people on middle incomes, much less low incomes, can afford the deposit gap which is anything from $5,000 to $15,000. As the Director of Defence Service Homes noted in his annual report last week, the average cost of dwellings financed by his Department rose by almost $5,000 last year. There is not a single policy, or even foreshadowed policy initiative, by the Government which will make the slightest difference to the major problems facing the home seeker today. This is obvious to everybody in the community but the Government. Australia needs a housing corporation like it needs a hole in the head. If the Government sincerely wants to save the building industry it should abandon this plan for yet another wasteful and unnecessary piece of socialist empire building and making the money available through the banking system to home builders now paying 15 per cent and more to stay in business. It should also immediately stop the discrimination in overdraft rates forced by the Government on the banking system. Why should a business with an overdraft of $50,000 or more pay 1 per cent to 1 .5 per cent more than those beneath this limit? As it is, 11.5 per cent is an intolerable burden. Does the Government regard a builder or any business enterprise with an overdraft of $50,000 or more as the epitome of capitalism which must be destroyed at all costs? What has happened to the promise of the Treasurer (Mr Crean) on 28 April? Unfortunately there is not time for me to read his promise into Hansard but he promised that housing finance would remain at a satisfactory level. He said he would look after home buyers and small businesses.
The Government must reduce pressure on costs caused by its support of irresponsible pacesetting wage demands. Until now the Government has poured kerosene on the fire of wages cost inflation. It must substantially reduce interest rates. It was this Government’s action in establishing a bond rate of 11 per cent which jacked up interest rates to the fantastic levels now quoted in the market place. If a person can secure second mortgage finance today- few can- the going rate is 19.8 per cent. It is not so much the availability of mortgage loans for home seekers which the building industry needs so desperately, what it needs is a reduction in the interest rate and, therefore, a reduction in the cost to the home buyer of servicing mortgage loans. Initially this may be a mildly inflationary measure to adopt but there is a monumental amount of government spending which can and should be trimmed to offset it, not the least being the stupid and unnecessary waste of $25m to establish a government housing corporation. We believe that the Government is totally irresponsible in managing the Australian economy. It is no good blaming everybody else for the present economic mess. Eventually the Government will have to realise that it cannot be all things to all people. It must take some unpopular measures or look forward to another 23 years in Opposition. It has had more practice at being in Opposition than in government and it is obviously very much better at it.
– I wish to make about four suggestions to the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) in relation to the Government’s housing policy. The first relates to the proposal foreshadowed in the Budget of making the interest component of home mortgage repayments deductible from taxable income. This proposal has the potential of making home purchase more accessible to people on relatively low incomes. One of the more unfortunate effects of the increased interest rates which have occurred over the last year has been to make buying homes very difficult for people on low incomes. If their incomes are low enough to qualify them for money under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement that is well and good but over and above this particular income level it can be difficult until a person gets into very high income levels. For instance, if a person’s weekly earnings are less than 85 per cent of the national average that person and his family are eligible for a public authority- a housing trust or housing commission- home at an interest rate of *4V** per cent. If the income is above that but below 95 per cent of average weekly earnings money is available through the home builders account for 5% per cent. That also is subsidised interest money. Above that income level of 95 per cent people do not qualify. People who are only just over that level find it difficult, with present increased interest rates, to get housing loans at all until they reach an income level of about $200 a week.
As I understand the present situation a person requires an income of about $ 10 a week for each $1,000 of loan. Before interest rates were increased about a year ago it was possible for a person to obtain a home loan equivalent to about times his annual salary or wage but since interest rates increased that ratio is now only twice. With the forthcoming introduction of tax deductibility of interest payments there is great potential for increasing the availability of private home purchase to people on relatively low incomes. If this proposal can be introduced as soon as possible it has the potential of reducing the effective interest rate to something like 2 per cent or 3 per cent. This will increase the capacity of people on lower incomes to service the interest repayments on their homes. It will surely make it more possible and easy for lending institutions to lend to people on relatively low incomes. The ideal way of implementing the proposal would be to make the tax deductibility deductible from pay-as-you-earn income tax but I understand this is not feasible. The Commissioner of Taxation advises that this cannot be done. If this cannot be done I would like to see the proposal modified so that an arrangement can be made with the lending institutions, building societies and banks whereby payments can be varied at different times of the year. At one time a lower level of interest and home repayment might be made- say $100 a month- and later when income tax refunds are paid the payment could be $200. If this could be done I believe it would be possible for people on relatively low incomes to finance the purchase of homes.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was pointing out the great potential benefit which will be made possible by the proposed tax deductibility of the interest component of housing loans. I ask the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) to negotiate with the lending institutions to schedule home repayments to take maximum advantage of this proposal. The tax deduction on interest will come at the end of the financial year. I suggest that the monthly repayments be made smaller and that there be a single larger repayment in the months when the tax refund is made. This will enable those workers on relatively low incomes to meet the repayments on their loans, and home ownership will be brought well within their reach.
The second suggestion I make is to ensure that no retrenchments or any run down occurs in the various industries supplying building materials. I think it would be a relatively inexpensive and very economic proposition for the Government to consider subsidising the interest rate on overdrafts if any of these building materials firms find themselves having to carry excess stocks. There is nothing surer than that the demand for those stocks will rise again and I believe it will be sooner rather than later because Australians will always want houses. If we can do that, we will not only be able to avoid retrenchments but I hope early next year when demand starts to pick up again we will not find ourselves again running into a lot of shortages. We should take advantage of this situation to ensure that stocks do not run down.
The next suggestion I make is in respect to the Government’s retraining scheme. I should like it borne in mind that the building industry is an industry which has a very large capacity for absorbing a great part of the Australian workforce. It is not an unpleasant industry in which to work compared with the standards which many other Australian workers have to endure. I think this is something that could be given a great deal of attention. Of course there has been some reluctance on the part of some people already engaged in the industry and I do not in any way blame the building unions for their apprehension on this matter. I should not like to see anything happen which will reduce the job security of those people already employed in the industry. We could make this a completely different ball game if we provided for permanency within the building industry. I should like to see an authority similar to the Stevedoring Industry Authority established in the building industry which would provide job security for all building workers. If this were to happen we would find that any government expressing its hope in the future of the building industry would be ensuring not fewer jobs in the building industry but more.
The fourth suggestion I make is in relation to aged persons housing. Only part of this matter comes under the portfolio of the Minister for Housing and Construction but I urge that we go ahead as expeditiously as possible in the construction of home units for elderly persons. We have to remember that many elderly people in Australia who occupy a full sized house no longer need it. It is too large for their requirements. When their children grow up, get married and leave home the elderly people cannot cope with a full sized house and would be quite happy to have accommodation in a unit. If they have a house to sell or to vacate when occupying the unit we would be providing further accommodation for a family unit. This amounts to providing accommodation for a family at the cost in money and resources of a home unit. I believe this is a very economic proposition and I ask that consideration be given to it.
I am pleased that interest rates in general are now starting to come down. I believe this will be of very great benefit to home buyers and will make easier the task of the Minister who is doing a very good job under very difficult conditions. I reject the claim that has been made by Opposition spokesmen that today’s problems are the fault of this Minister. When the present Minister became the Minister for Housing and Construction the previous Government already had sown the seeds of the property boom which took place in 1973. This is what the Minister and the Government inherited and I strongly support the Minister’s initiatives in overcoming these problems which are not of his own making.
-Pursuant to section 45 sub-section 4 of the Industries Assistance Commission Act 1973, I present the annual report of the Industries Assistance Commission for the year 1973-74 together with a statement by me on that report. Pursuant to section 45 sub-section 5 of the above mentioned Act, I also present a statement outlining the action taken during the year 1973-74 on reports made to me.
-The estimates under discussion are those for the Department of Housing and Construction. I was very interested to hear the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) mention how enthusiastic the socialist Government now is about Australian people owning their own homes. This harks a long way from the admissions made by the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) when he was first appointed to the portfolio and set himself out to make sure that the Australian people in fact did not get the chance to own their own homes. The money the Australian Government provides for housing is made available through the State Governments and is then dispersed in 2 sectors. Firstly the Government agency, or the Housing Commission as it is known in Victoria, gets approximately 70 per cent of the grants that are provided. The balance, 30 per cent, is provided through what is known as co-operative housing schemes. The Housing Commission funds are designed to provide a number of homes for both rent and purchase to the very low income earner. The income target set for this category at present is not to exceed approximately $104 a week excluding overtime.
The co-operative housing societies for many years have provided housing to the person just outside that bracket but nevertheless to what is considered a fairly low income bracket. The persons in that category were able to borrow up to 90 per cent of the value of their home. For many years this always allowed this particular type of person to purchase a home with a minimum deposit and only one mortgage. Unfortunately today under this Minister’s guidance, the limit set is approximately $ 1 1 5 a week including overtime. If one bothers to do a little calculation it is not hard to realise that $ 1 1 5 a week less overtime is very close to the $104 a week as for the Housing Commission rate. In effect the Government virtually has abolished the opportunities for persons in the wage bracket just above the low income earner of ever having the chance of owning their own home unless they are prepared to involve themselves in a steep second mortgage. This is brought about because of the other factorthe limited amount of the loan.
At present the money provided under this cooperative scheme is made available on the basis of a limit of $ 1 4,000 or $ 1 5,000. Not many areas exist today where land can be purchased and a house built on it for $ 1 5,000. This socialist Minister has an attitude of saying- he proudly admits at times to being a socialist; I do not think he has ever denied that- ‘We do not want people to own their own homes. We will make conditions so stringent that they will not be able to borrow the money.’ After all, they have to borrow $ 14,000 at the fairly low rate of interest provided by the co-operative but then have to borrow another $5,000 or $6,000 at an extremely high interest rate on second mortgage, which means that on their incomes there is no way in the world they can afford to meet the repayments. These people are therefore reluctant to commit themselves to borrowing money from co-operatives. That is what the Minister wants. He wants homes rented, not bought. So much for the argument from the honourable member for Kingston.
The Victorian Government has at least taken the step- I compliment it on the step- of lifting the wage limit to $120 exclusive of overtime. This will cover a wider range of people than those who can afford only to go into a housing commission home because of the level of their income, and will take in many thousands of young people who are earning more than $ 104 a week. They will be able to look forward with some hope to owning their own home and borrowing money through the co-operatives. Also, the Victorian Government has taken another positive step in as much as it has lifted the borrowing limit to $20,000 and is in fact talking of lifting it to $30,000, being realistically aware that the cost of housing, luce all other costs in Australia under this Federal Government, is going up and up and up. The Minister’s present scheme will not allow people genuinely to own their own homes. They will put themselves on the hook for life and be struggling to make ends meet. I think that is something he should look at if, as the honourable member for Kingston has said, his Party is interested in Australian people owning their own homes- something I doubt very much.
There is a great need for housing. The Minister stated this himself. He said that there needs to be some injection into the housing industry. There is a need for finance. The Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) is fluttering to the multinationals and other people overseas to get money. I shall give the Minister some statistics from the permanent building societies, which make up the third avenue of providing homes to people. In June 1973 $55,205,000 worth of housing loans were approved. In June 1974 the figure had dropped to $32m. In August last year it was $89m and it is down to $39m in August this year.
This shows that there is a great drop in the amount of money being put out through the permanent building societies for housing. Again, this perhaps is what the Minister wants in his attempts to bring in total socialism. I do not know, but I hope not.
I should like to put forward a proposal to him that perhaps the government could advance moneys to the permanent building societies on the security of their insured mortgages. In the year ended June 1974 the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation insured 26,100 mortgages valued at approximately $4 10m. It does not take much reflection to realise that by using these mortgages as securities the Government could provide money to this sector providing housing finance, the permanent building societies, on a secured basis and therefore allow a great flood of money to go into the area where it is desperately needed to bolster the housing industry. I hope the Minister gives this proposition serious consideration. I believe it is an area that has not been looked at and that should be looked at because it could provide the third tier which provides building finance with more capital.
There are the housing commissions, the cooperatives, which are government based, and then there are the permanent building societies, all trying to provide means whereby the people of Australia can achieve that goal they all want, their own homes. The proposal would provide them with the necessary funds at a reasonable rate of interest. The Government could secure its investment with the permanent building societies by using the mortgages as a straight-out security or alternatively have the interest on assigned mortgages paid directly to them and merely pay a fee to the building societies for the collection of the money and administration costs on the repayment of the existing mortgages. I believe it is a worthwhile thought. It is a way by which many hundreds of millions of dollars could be made available- based on the amount that is already under mortgage to the permanent building societies. It would be a very equitable means of raising money. The money would be protected and guaranteed by the Government’s own Housing Loans Insurance Corporation, so I cannot see how it could miss. It would provide a certainty that the people of Australia would have the chance of getting extra housing. The industry would have a chance of getting the shot in the arm it badly needs and in overall effect it would be for the benefit of the Australian people.
-It is a great personal satisfaction to me to speak on the estimates for the Department of Housing and Construction because I am firmly of the opinion that there is no greater problem facing the people of Australia than the housing problem. That is in spite of the fact that under this Government last year a record number of 152,727 dwellings were completed. Housing still remains a heartbreak to thousands of low income earners and to pensioners. It is untrue, as the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) has just said, that this Government is not interested in people owning their own homes. It is a fact that we recognise what previous governments have not recognised, that many people in this community cannot own their own homes and are forced into renting. It is to those people that we must turn our attention as they have been neglected for the last 23 years.
When the Opposition was the government the housing industry was awash with funds. Shortages of labour and materials became acute and that Government did not make any plans at all for the provision of extra supplies of labour and material. It is no wonder that the price of labour and materials rose so sharply. If goods are in short supply the costs will rise and when the costs rise the very people who cannot afford to buy homes are forced out of renting homes. They are the ones who are penalised all the time. The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) before. the suspension of the sitting for lunch, blasted this Government and its housing initiatives. He said that when the Opposition was in government it kept up with the demand for the provision of homes. He stated that Australia needs 156,000 homes annually. The 1971-72 Budget speech of the then Treasurer, the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), shows that the Liberal-Country Party Government saw 146,000 homes completed in that year, so I guess that in its last year in office that Government was 10,000 homes behind the need in Australia.
What else happened while the LiberalCountry Party Government was in power? Millions of square feet of office space sprang up all over Australia when people were wanting homes. We did not need office space. There was 2 million square feet unoccupied in Melbourne alone. Office buildings were going up at a rate of knots. Men, labour and materials which were in short supply were pouring into office buildings some of which are still untenanted. An office building at St Kilda Junction still has not got a tenant in it. The men and materials, the work force, were dragged away from where they were neededthat is, in the building of homes and hospitals and schools- and poured into these great buildings in the cities. That is what happened and that is why we are so far behind with the building of homes. The homes, I insist, are to rent or buy.
In my electorate alone most of the people who come into my electorate office have in one way or another struck misfortune. They have lost their homes or their husbands or they are deserted wives and they do not have the capital to invest in buying a house. They want to rent a house but they cannot find a house at a rent they can afford to pay. So we need this welfare housing and we need it desperately. When the honourable member for Bendigo is praising the Victorian Government for various things he might draw to the attention of the House the 4-year lag on the Victorian Housing Commission home waiting list for people with 4 children. If you go into the Victorian Housing Commission to apply for a home you will be told to have another baby because people with 5 children go to the top of the list. He might also point to the fact that the price of land in Victoria is the direct responsibility of the Victorian Government and that rent control also is the responsibility of the Victorian Government. That Government made no effort whatsoever to use any of the controls that it has in these fields. There is very little in regard to housing for which we could praise the Victorian State Government.
I think it was the honourable member for Boothby who earlier called for restraint in Government spending. That is a catchcry which we hear often these days. But no member of the Opposition will tell us in what area his Party would restrain spending if it was in government. If the restraint comes to housing I guess it will be in the field of welfare housing because this is the area which those opposite have consistently neglected. I have coming into my electorate office people who are paying one-third of their weekly wage in rent. This is not for houses they are buying; this is what they are paying in rent. It is complete heartbreak to see that pensioners who have received increases amounting to $ 1 1 in the pension since this Government came into power, plus a rise in rent assistance, are finding that they are off on the rat race once again. They find that the one-bedroom flat which they were renting 12 months ago for $17.50 is now costing $26. There is an absolute and urgent necessity for welfare housing. Builders need the work; people need the houses; material is available for building; and this Government is now supplying the money through these estimates.
I would like to see the whole building program put onto an emergency basis. People have to be housed. Some people on housing commission waiting lists are paying rents that they cannot afford. They are getting into debt. When they get into debt they will not be eligible for housing commission homes because they have a record as bad payers. So it is not something on which we should be playing politics. I do not really care whether they are renting or buying. It is so ludicrous to keep on calling us socialists who do not want people to own their own homes. We get down to the very childish political ploy here. Honourable members are talking about people and they are talking about homes. Without a home there is complete heartbreak. If a person cannot afford the rent there is complete heartbreak. I am as anxious as anybody else to see young people or those who are able own their own homes.
I think that in this Estimates debate the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) should be congratulated for the way in which he has diversified the interest that the Government is now showing in housing. He is initiating an Australian housing corporation. I think it is a great innovation. Those for whom the Australian Government have constitutional responsibilities will have a rare opportunity to own their own homes. I also applaud the Minister’s foresight in saying that he expects to see the Australian housing corporation self-sufficient. It will not need consistent or continual injections of money each year; it will be able to support itself.
One other area about which I wanted to have a word is homes for defence personnel. I believe that it was right and proper that this Government allowed single men the same right as we have allowed single service women to buy defence homes. We do not want to be discriminating against men any more than we do against women. But I reject the Opposition’s consistent criticism that we are responsible for the downturn and for the chaos that it has stated exists in the building industry. I agree with my colleague the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) who said that we inherited the situation that we now have. We are coping with it as best we can. But when you inject an amount of money into the building industry as irresponsibly as Opposition members did in their last year in government there is going to be a backwash of the kind with which we have been coping. Far from the States not spending their allocations under welfare housing provisions as happened last year when they returned to the Treasury an amount of $25m, I am pleased to see that the builders are now co-operating and tendering for the construction of welfare houses.
The way in which the Minister has also given some attention to homes for aged people is to be commended. Pensioners who are renting these small flats find themselves in tremendous difficulty with the rents. To provide accommodation for the aged at the amount of the rent subsidy is, I think, a very humane way of facing the building problems. I still would stress that millions and millions of square feet of office space- the construction of which was approved by members of the Opposition when they were in office- is one of the main reasons why the cost of building a house today has soared sky high. There were times when contractors building in the city were outbidding each other for labour and scarce materials at a rate which was sending up the price even of nails.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Berinson)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I wish to address myself to the estimates for the Department of Services and Property, particularly in relation to the cost of leased accommodation for Commonwealth departments, statutory bodies and so on in the various capital cities. On 16 October the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) provided an answer to question No. 1 1 87 which I placed on the notice paper seeking information about the current cost of leased office space in the city of Sydney. A similar question No. 1191 was placed on the notice paper seeking similar information in respect of Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart. The Minister provided an answer- if an inadequate answer- to that question as well. However, it is now clear that we have experienced a dramatic rise in rentals in our capital cities.
Let me look at Sydney first. The annual cost of leasing space in Sydney is as follows: As at 27 September 1974 a total of 257,600 square metres of space was leased, costing $14,314,000. This compared with the leasing of 143,400 square metres at a cost of $7,42 1 ,000 as at 30 June 1 974. Thus while office space leased has increased by nearly 80 per cent in a 2-year period, office rentals have nearly doubled in the city of Sydney. This is an incredible increase in a 2-year period. I understand that office space is not in short supply in Sydney. I am led to believe- perhaps the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) who is sitting at the table can tell me whether my belief is correct- that we are in a more competitive situation as far as obtaining leased office space is concerned in the city of Sydney. But the staggering aspect of this revelation is that the cost to the taxpayers in a 2-year period has completely doubled.
In the other capital cities office space leased has increased from 331,200 to 492,100 square metres, the cost of which has increased from $12,371,000 to $21,703,000. This, of course, is a fantastic increase in rental costs. I regret that the Minister was so unco-operative in scheduling the information I sought in parts (3), (4) and (5) of question No. 1 187 which I placed on the notice paper. I will read them to the House. They read:
The Minister’s reply to those questions reads:
The information requested by the honourable member is tabled regularly in an abridged form in both Houses of this Parliament in accordance with section 7(3) of the Lands Acquisition Act.
I do not propose to provide further details for a number of reasons, particularly that to do so would be an unwarranted intrusion into the private affairs of individual lessors; nor would it be in the interests of the Australian Government in negotiating further leases.
His answer is certainly brief and not very helpful. In fact I almost detect an angry tone in his reply. The attitude that seems to pervade it is: ‘To hell with him. He is a member of Parliament and he can make his own inquiries in another way’. A similar question was placed on the notice paper by the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison) when I was the Minister for the Interior. His question related to accommodation in the city of Sydney and my Department listed the lessors in accordance with the information that he required. I believe that the Minister for Services and Property could have asked his Department- no doubt the Department would have been prepared to do this- to catalogue the information that we require, as my Department did when I was the Minister. Yet the Minister for Services and Property, of course, is not averse to giving detailed information, particularly information in great chapter, verse and detail, about the use of charter flights that were approved by me when I was the Minister.
– Why did you not approve the building of more office space?
-For the very reason that the Committee on Public Works, of which the Minister was then a memeber objected to the building of office space at Woolloomooloo in Sydney and also in the city of Melbourne. I remember saying to the honourable member across the table at the time that the taxpayers of Australia would pay dearly for this because those who have office space to let will put the Australian Government over a barrel, and that is precisely what these lessors have done. Admittedly there has been a proliferation of task forces and commissions and no doubt additional space has been necessary to try to house them.
– Sydney is not the only problem area.
-That is right. I said in the early part of my comments on these estimates that every capital city has shown a substantial risenearly double what is was 2 years ago.
– Because you did not build.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Berinson)Order! I would like to interrupt the friendly discussion across the table and ask the honourable member to direct his remarks through the Chair.
– The Minister for Services and Property could have gone much further than he did. in reply to the questions which I have read to the Committee. I intend to press the questions again in another way, particularly in view of the Auditor-General’s report on the Department of Services and Property in which concern is expressed about the space for which the Commonwealth is paying rent but for which there is no occupier. This situation has existed for some time. It even goes back to the time when I was Minister for the Interior. Apparently we are still paying rent for space which is not being used. The Auditor-General has quite rightly drawn attention to this in the hope that the Minister and the Department will do something about it.
The critical issue of course is that the Australian Government now is paying nearly double the rent that was being paid in 1972. 1 want to know why this is so. Is it due to the proliferation of various statutory commissions, bodies and task forces or is it because the Government has decided to find plush accommodation rather than the type of accommodation that was available in 1972? Is it because rentals have increased across the board? I would like to know the reasons. I think that the Committee and the public have a right to know the reasons. The AuditorGeneral’s report reveals that in one case the Commonwealth is paying $110,000 a year in dead rent for rented office accommodation because no Commonwealth department is in fact occupying the space. Surely good reasons will have to be given either to the Committee or to the Public Accounts Committee as to why there should be such extravagance in this area. I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction, on behalf of the Minister for Services and Property, in this debate, can be more explicit in answering the questions that cause me some concern than the Minister himself who apparently has chosen to treat the whole issue in a cavalier fashion. If we do not get the right sort of answers I think that the Public Accounts Committee could well look at some of the extraordinary costs and will want to find out the reasons for the fantastic increases in the rental of accommodation used by Commonwealth departments, bodies and so on. Surely any payment which doubles itself in a 2-year period is a matter of some considerable concern.
– I propose to discuss the estimates of the Department of Housing and Construction. Before doing so I believe it would be appropriate to say a few words in answer to the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). The situation is that over a large number of years the Commonwealth has relied far too much on rental accommodation. The Commonwealth Government cannot put up blocks of offices in a very short space of time. This sort of development needs planning and money for this purpose needs to be provided each year in the Estimates. We are faced with the position that the previous Government over the 23 years it was in office did not take the action which it ought to have taken to provide accommodation in buildings owned by the Commonwealth. I believe that the honourable member for Gwydir is treading on very dangerous ground in criticising the present Government for the situation that applies in regard to rental accommodation on which he and his Government should have taken action many years ago.
I would like to congratulate the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) who is sitting at the table. I believe that we have seen some substantial changes in the portfolio for which he has jurisdiction since he became the Minister. Previously the Department of Housing, as it was then known, was responsible principally for defence Service homes, making grants under the housing grants scheme and various other peripheral matters. We have seen the development of many new services since the present Government took office. I would like to list them for the benefit of the Committee. They are: Welfare housing, changes in the Defence Service Homes scheme, housing for the aged, indicative planning, the Australian Housing Corporation, the Australian Housing Research Council, the housing information and advisory service, modern housing techniques, uniform housing standards and housing tax relief. All of these matters stand very much to the credit of the Minister and his Department and I would like to congratulate them.
What was the position of housing when the present Government took office? The amount of money for housing had been increased by 20 per cent in the year before the Government took office. In fact, there was an increase of about 16 per cent in the last 6 months of the previous Government’s term of office. It does not take very much nous to know that when there is an increase in the money supply in the economy without a subsequent increase in the amount of goods and services available we have a situation in which too much money is chasing too few goods and the result is inflation. We have reaped -
– What did you do about it?
– We have reaped the trouble that has grown from the seeds sown by the previous Government. I will get to the question of what we did about it in a moment. As the honourable member for Angas has raised the question, I would just like to quote to him what a former Treasurer and Minister for Housing in a Liberal-Country Party coalition Government had to say about that situation. The honourable Leslie Bury, then the honourable member for Wentworth, is reported at page 1511 of Hansard of 1 May last year as having said:
If the Government does nothing at all to restrain the development of the building sector the inflationary problem will become worse and worse.
On page 1512 of the Hansard, Mr Bury is reported as saying:
The pressure has to be eased. Someone has to take the unpopular role of reducing the pressure on the building industry.
That is what one of the members of the Opposition said. The amount of money supplied by various lending institutions has increased from $ 1,250m in 1970-71 to $2,987m in 1972-73. Of course we all know what happened in the building industry because of that great amount of money being supplied too quickly. There was no extra supply of labour and materials and we were left with one of the periodic booms which have hit this country under successive LiberalCountry Party coalition governments.
I mention for the information of the Committee that loans approved in the last 18 months of the Liberal-Country Party Government numbered 288,844. In the first 18 months of the Labor Government, 335,469 loans were approved. Other figures are comparable. Of course, because of this great supply of money and the fact that building prices rose and people were unable to obtain goods, it was necessary for the benefit of the economy as a whole and ultimately, I believe, for the benefit of the building industry, to take certain action. Therefore, liquidity was cut down. Nobody likes doing this sort of thing, but as I pointed out before, even thi members of the Opposition were suggesting that this ought to be done. Without it we would have had such an increase in inflation in the building industry that nobody would have been able to get a home.
That period has passed and we are now in a situation in which there is a need to increase liquidity. Bearing in mind that the building industry takes time to slow down and time to build up, measures to increase liquidity will take time to reach optimum effect. But we have adjusted the variable deposit ratio applying to foreign investment in Australia, and we have devalued the Australian dollar. Both these measures will promote capital inflow. There has been a reduction in the rates of interest paid on Treasury notes, which will force money from the public sector into the private sector. Statutory reserve deposit releases have been made, and the purchase of Treasury notes and commercial bills has been undertaken by the Government.
– Eight hundred million dollars.
– As the honourable member for Blaxland reminds me, $800m has been put into the economy, This Government will not be satisfied until it has reached a stage where it has proper planning of the building industry. The Government’s aim will be the prevention of the boom and bust cycle which has been with us ever since the end of the war. Honourable members will be aware of the situation. Unfortunately the building industry is always the first industry to be hard hit, and we are determined to do something about it. I congratulate the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) on the steps which he has taken. In December 1973 a committee was established to organise an indicative planning council. The council’s job is to plan building activity and to examine the resources which are available to the building industry. It proposes to set national guide lines not only for its own benefit but for the benefit also of other levels of government, State and local, and for the industry as a whole. As on previous occasions, the industry will be invited to participate in the working committees which will be set up. Research programs on needs and projections will be established and the council will discuss and give recommendations on how resources may best be used and their availability.
The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay), when he was speaking before lunch criticised the Government for establishing the Australian Housing Corporation. I think the words he used were something like ‘$25m down the drain’. That criticism is completely unfounded. No better argument could be put in favour of having such a corporation than the situation which we see in the Australian Capital Territory. At the moment in the Australian Capital Territory land prices average $5,500 for a residential block, which is much lower than practically anywhere else in Australia. Certainly prices are much lower than in our major capital cities. I was told the other day by people in the land development industry that it is costing them something over $8,000 merely to develop land with services. The fact that land prices have been kept so low in the Australian Capital Territory is something greatly .to the credit of this Government. It shows what can be done in a properly planned situation. It only strengthens what I said before about the need for proper indicative planning.
Under the Australian Housing Corporation, the functions, assets and liabilities of the Director of Defence Service Homes will be taken over. The corporation will cater for all persons who come within the Government’s constitutional responsibility, that is, the people who work for the Government, defence personnel and so on. It will have initial funds of $25m and it will give immediate assistance to low and middle income earners at low rates of interest. This Government has nothing to be ashamed of in its record on housing. The industry has problems but the Government is facing up to its responsibilities. We will do something about increasing liquidity, but, and this is more important still, we will do something about planning the industry properly so that the boom and bust which occurred under the previous Liberal-Country Party Government will not be with us in the future.
– As we are discussing estimates for the Department of Services and Property and for the Department of Housing and Construction, I would like to refer the Minister for Housing and Construction to the comments made in the Auditor-General’s report in relation to the Minister’s administration of his department. First of all, I wish to know why cheques totalling $2m were paid in June 1973 and held for several weeks, in many instances into July 1973. It seems a most odd situation and I think the Minister owes an explanation to the Parliament. Secondly, with reference to section 3.9.5 of the Auditor-General’s report, I want to know why overpayments to works supervisors required to be on call for extra duty outside normal office working hours occurred. I appreciate that the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) is not in the chamber, but on looking at the estimates for his Department, I want to know why properties valued at $5,233,000-odd owned by the Government have been unoccupied for extended periods. This matter is referred to in section 3.19.1 of the Auditor-General’s report. Fourthly, I want to know why dead rent amounting to $406,000 has been paid in 3 cited instances other than cases not specified, ranging between $12,000 and $80,000 in each instance. The reference number is 3. 1 9.2.
Having said that, I think that the Committee would do well to take notice of the honourable members on the Government side holding swinging seats who have been talking on the estimates for the Department of Housing and Construction. One can imagine the determined approach with which they have grasped at every available straw in the wind. The honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child), for instance, made great play of the proposition that the Liberal-Country Party Government built office blocks instead of houses. What relevance this has to do with the chronic condition of the housing industry today, I do not know. In the last year of a Liberal-Country Party Govern- ment-1972-156,000 dwellings, not office blocks, were commenced. I go along with the comments by the honourable members on the other side of the chamber that too much demand was being exercised in this field. The number of current year commencements went from 156,000 dwellings in 1972 to 176,000 dwellings in 1973. The rate of commencement for the following year, that is 1974, will be approximately 130,000 dwellings. This is a fall that is plain for everybody to see. It is no earthly use the Government saying that the Liberal-Country Party when in government built too many office blocks when we also built a hell of a lot more houses.
The people of Australia today are not that interested in whether the Government is pushing funds into the terminating building societies. They want to see that houses are being built. The last speaker mentioned the shortfall of buildings and the fact that there is a lag in construction. Under this Government, houses are not being built and there is a shortfall of anything up to 40,000 a year at this point of time. Now, that is the issue, not whether we built office blocks, not whether there was too much liquidity in the economy around 1973 when this Government had been in office for a year and had done nothing about it. That is not the issue. The issue is that the housing industry of this country is failing apart and this Government is not pushing into it the funds that it should be pushing into it. That is the issue as I see it.
Another point on which I should like to dwell for a minute refers to the position of building societies as an important integral part of the housing system. The figures I have to hand show quite clearly that, compared with the present shortfall of houses and other living units, next year’s under supply at best may be 50,000 dwellings or at the worst 79,000 by this time next year. Those are figures taken as well as I could glean them from current statistics that are available. But I wish to get the position of permanent building societies, because they show a projection, from figures they released last week, of only 15,000’ society financed houses being built for the whole of the nation during the coming year, which is a reduction in the annual rate of 60,000 over the last 2 years- in other words, it has occurred since this Government took office.
Again I say that it is no use plucking out excuses, it is no use trying to say that we did build something and not another thing. The situation shows that there will be a shortfall of houses available, houses that should be constructed and will not be constructed due to the current economic mismanagement by this Government. Let us look at the mismanagement side of it. I am not going to bring up the subject of rash expenditure. Some people might think of ‘Blue Poles’ or other things. Frankly, I like ‘Blue Poles’. I do not like the fact that it is falling to pieces, and I am not competent to judge its market price; but I do want to talk about the range of rash government expenditure that has been responsible for the economic conditions we see today in the housing industry, conditions whereby there is a deposit gap of anything between $5,000 and $15,000, conditions under which the price of a $20,000 home has gone up by $5,000 during the current year- an increase of $125 a week. I point to the fact that under these economic conditions people cannot afford to purchase their own homes without using the most stringent self-denial programs in order to do so.
No matter what this Government says, it is absolutely true and certain that up to 2 years ago almost every person in this country could afford to purchase his house. It is almost certainly true that every person in this nation could raise a loan to do so. It is equally true, I think, that out of their wages and salaries they could afford to service the repayments and to service their interest payments. This condition must be reached again. The rapid escalation of costs is due to a variety of factors. A nation which has been 70 per cent selfsufficient in oil and which ranks third among all the OECD nations in its insularity, in its capacity to insulate itself against imported inflation, should have had a better record in the fiscal and economic field. This rapid escalation in costs is the prime reason for the current problems in the building industry.
I feel very sorry in many ways for the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) who is at the table. I notice when they picked the national cabinet the other day they only referred to him as the drink waiter. I do not even know the reason for that appointment, but perhaps if his hospitality by implication is as great as that I will come down with my shadow minister for housing, John McLeay, and we will try to explain to him a few of the facts of life, where his own Department, his own Ministry, are running so foul of the people of Australia today due principally to the fact that houses are not being built, that there is a shortfall of houses, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for people to purchase them, even if they were available.
-I should like to address my remarks to the estimates for the Department of Housing and Construction and I will deal with a number of matters relating to the work that has been put into this Department by the Minister and for which he ought to be applauded. The honourable members for Angas (Mr Giles) talked about people who could certainly get a deposit for a property, no matter how small it may be, and I will refer later to some of the matters raised by my colleague, the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow). Sure, they got a deposit on the property, but they were spreadeagled by speculators who took them for every cent they had in the world, and people like the honourable member for Angas and his colleagues in Victoria were the perpetrators of that.
To deal specifically with what this Government was confronted with when it took office, the housing industry was bursting at the seams. Walk up and down Collins Street in Melbourne and you will see the great edifices that were built when people were still waiting and hoping for housing commission homes. We were confronted with a building industry which was short of labour and this shortage was causing the cost of building construction in Victoria to skyrocket. And whose fault was that? The people who sit on the other side of this chamber and their colleagues in Victoria, because none of them supported the propositions that were consistently put forward by the Labor Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions calling on the people whom honourable members opposite represent to apprentice carpenters, plumbers, electrical mechanics in order to relieve the pressures on the labour market. What we have today represents exploitation of State departments, who are the only people training skilled labour. We have a labour shortage for which the Opposition is responsible. If it had taken the necessary steps some 10 years ago we would not be in the sorry plight that we are in now. There was absolute liquidity, maximum liquidity, poured into the building industry which also aggravated the situation. That is why this Government had to take the steps it did to correct the demand on the industry. Having done that, unlike our predecessorsand I point out the sharp difference between the policies of the Opposition and the policies of the Government- we then set about planning for the future. We set up organisations with a view to coming to grips with the labour problem and doing the sorts of things for which the Government will reap the benefit in a short while.
When we talk about shortages of housing at the present moment let us reflect on the track record of that great paragon of virtue, the Minister for Housing in Victoria, Mr Dickie. There is a great record! I will read from the Victorian Hansard a question asked by Mr Edmunds, the member for Moonee Ponds, of the Minister of Transport on behalf of the Minister of Housing. Mr Edmunds asked how many tenancy and purchase applications respectively were outstanding in the following categories of families in the metropolitan area: (a) up to 3 children; (b) 4 children, and so on. It is an inglorious record and one that the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) ought to have a look at. In Bendigo there is a total of 219 people who have to wait 18 months for a house. Great stuff! The answer contains several pages of detailed information. I seek leave to incorporate this document in Hansard.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Berinson) -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
(Question No. 69)
Mr EDMUNDS (Moonee Ponds) asked the Minister of Transport, for the Minister of Housing;
Mr MEAGHER (Minister for Transport): The answer supplied by the Minister of Housing is-
– As I do not have much time at my disposal I will not go through the list, but honourable members opposite from Victoria who represent electorates embracing the areas concerned should look at it. It is a record of which nobody ought to be very proud. Before honourable members opposite are critical of the efforts of the Australian Government to move the industry out of the situation in which it found itself when the present Government took over from the previous Government, they ought to apply some pressure on Mr Dickie whose efforts in this regard are a matter of record.
The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) criticised the proposed setting up of the Australian Housing Corporation. If he knew of the material which has been produced by the
Master Builders Association, the Housing Industry Association and the building unions in conjunction with the Victorian Trades Hall Council and the steps that are necessary to be taken within the ambit of the projected Housing Corporation, he would know that it will bring about the sorts of things to which we have made reference and that it will show in a practical way the blocks of land available in Victoria. All we need is co-operation by Mr Dickie with the Minister for Housing and Construction and we will be able to come to grips with the difficulties confronting people in Victoria with respect to housing.
I turn very quickly to the matter of how speculators get to individuals who are at their mercy.
In the contracts of sale of some of these speculators who exploit purchasers to the maximum, there is a clause which provides that the purchaser takes over the whole of the vendor’s liability. Therefore the purchaser has to make good on settlement the difference between 14 per cent and 17.5 per cent- an additional 3.5 per cent- on $10,000 for, say, 4 1/2 years. Those sorts of things have been pointed out clearly. I do not have the time to deal with each instance of such deception in respect to vendor terms. I again congratulate the Minister for the initiative he has taken in setting up an advisory body which will be available to provide advice to individuals buying homes under those circumstances. I am not for one moment suggesting that all agents are the same but a hell of a lot of them fall into the category I have mentioned. One individual- a director of, I think, J. B. Winston and Co. of 187 Mount Alexander Road, Ascot Vale- has offered to set up that type of service in his own premises to provide housing information and advisory services. I understand that the Minister has taken the necessary steps to bring about this facility as quickly as possible so that it can deal with documentation- the meaning of expressions and terms used in documents generally- in words one can understand. At present one can hardly read them let alone be aware of the hidden costs incurred by the purchasers. Sometimes these are not known.
There are two or three other directions in which the Department of Housing and Construction has moved. For instance, there is housing tax relief. In his 1972 policy speech the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said that until interest rates could be substantially reduced a scheme of tax deductability for home interest payments would be introduced. He said that this scheme would commence operation as from 1 July 1974 and that, unlike the previous Government’s home savings grant, would provide direct tax relief not only for the new home buyers but also for nearly all of those people who are presently paying off their homes. He said that all buyer-taxpayers whose combined actual income was $4,000 or below would be entitled to deduct 100 per cent of their interest payments, the percentage of total interest payment which is deductible to be reduced by one per cent for every $1,000 of income in excess of $4,000.
– That is better than the old scheme.
-My word. It is a far cry from the way in which those people were treated previously. I repeat that the Minister for Housing and Construction is to be congratulated on his brainchild- the modern housing techniques which he has introduced. He has set up the wherewithal to do so. I commend him for his efforts. I am sure that they are in the best interests of the people who are in the very near future are going to benefit from my Party’s policies.
– It seems to be the vogue in this debate today to offer one’s congratulations to the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson). I suppose I could offer the Minister my congratulations for being able to do the best possible job with an absolute botch of a job by the Government. One could certainly look at the number of Press statements he has issued on this subject since the problems have become evident- so evident, in fact, that one is able to draw certain conclusions from the remarks of honourable members opposite who have spoken in this debate to date. It is pertinent to note that the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) spoke a little earlier, as did the honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child) and the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr McKenzie). I do not believe that any of those honourable members will be a member of this chamber in the next Parliament. It is more pertinent to observe that the Government then brought into the debate the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes). We heard from him an attempt to perpetuate class warfare in this community by implying that it was honourable members on this side of the chamber and the interests we represent who had caused the problem with which we are faced today. Each honourable member opposite attempted to make excuses by saying to the voters in their electorates who might be listening to the debate today: ‘We are terribly sorry, but it is not really our fault. We have inherited it. It was the dreadful LiberalCountry Party Government which provided homes in this community for 23 years which failed you. When it went out of office it left a legacy which you are continuing to reap today even though we are the people in office and the people responsible for making these decisions’. In that respect we have had a series of Press statements -admirable Press statements- from the Minister each reiterating the same thing. He issued Press statements on 27 September- in fact he issued two on that day- and 30 September, 4 October, 11 October and 16 October each saying: ‘We have come up with the answer. We are going to push in a bit more money’. What is the reason for the Government having to act in this way, in a stop-go manner? It is clear from the Budget Speech of the Treasurer (Mr Crean) that the building problems we have in our community today were initiated by the Government. The Treasurer said at the commencement of his Budget Speech:
The Government acted decisively to ease the excess pressures on the economy prevalent during most of 1 973-74.
I could take honourable members on to a letter I received from the Treasurer in answer to a request from me that he look into the situation of a particular builder who had been driven out of business by the Government’s policies. In it he said:
The Government’s policies over the past 18 months have been directed towards reducing the excessive availability of housing finance …
Who reduced the availability of such finance? It was not the Liberal-Country Party Coalition. Yet that is one of the inherited problems we are hearing about at the moment. The Treasurer went on to say that that situation was now being alleviated. He also said:
These measures are designed to bring to fruition our aims in the field of welfare housing . . .
I would like to direct to the attention of honourable members the purposes the Government has in mind. If honourable members turn through the Treasurer’s Budget Speech a little further they will find that the Government’s answer- it is one I fear the most- is in terms of the Australian Housing Corporation. The Government intends to bring to fruition policies in the field of welfare housing. Its intention is to take away from the young people in our community the right and the opportunity to be able to buy their own homes and to substitute the Government. The Treasurer said in his Budget Speech:
The Government proposes to introduce as soon as possible legislation to establish an Australian Housing Corporation to undertake all of those housing functions for which the Australian Government has constitutional power. This will include direct lending by the Corporation to families for housing.
The Treasurer said that the sum of $2Sm was to be provided this year. That is what is happening. We have the undertaking now by the Government of lending functions. It turned off the tap and it now wants to undertake those functions itself. The consequences are that we now have growing unemployment in the building industry.
In accordance with an agreement reached, I must terminate my remarks now so that other people may address themselves to this debate. I propose to do so now. It is pertinent to note, in the breakdown of statistics for unemployment in recent years up to September 1974, the increase which has occurred under this Government. With respect to skilled people in the building and construction works area, in 1971 there were 1,995 unemployed; in September 1972, 2,281; in September 1973, 1,151; and in September 1974, 3,290. This is a human problem. It is a problem on which this Government has failed and failed dismally. The Minister may be a nice fellow. I certainly have had no difficulty with him. Notwithstanding his character and the manner in which Government supporters compliment him, the Government has failed and he, like the Government, must wear that fact.
– I wish to deal briefly with the estimates of the Department of Services and Property in the manner in which these relate to the facilities provided to members of Parliament. It is appropriate that I should mention this matter at this time as the estimates for the Department of Housing and Construction are being debated cognately with the estimates of the Department of Services and Property. The independent Remuneration Tribunal in the report which is presented earlier this year recommended, amongst other things, that members of Parliament be provided with research facilities. This assistance was to be provided to all members but particularly back bench members. A specific recommendation in the report dealt with this aspect.
We have reached the perilous position in this Parliament where the functions of a complex modern government in this day and age are so mammoth that it is becoming more difficult for the average back bencher, particularly Government back benchers, to deal with the enormous legislative tasks which are thrust upon them. A requirement exists for some additional research facilities to be created. At the moment the only staff that a member of Parliament has is secretarial assistance in his electorate office. This is provided by a stenographer. These stenographers in most cases pull more than their weight by doing work which they really are not paid to do, that is, constituent’s work while members are absent. They deal also with what is clearly specific policy work on matters on which members have a responsibility. These matters include such aspects as economic affairs, health, social welfare and whatever a member’s interests may be, particularly in dealing with certain aspects of legislation. Despite this, it is almost impossible now for members to deal adequately with the work load.
I was elected to this Parliament 5 years ago. The Budget of the Australian Government has doubled in that period. I am not suggesting that its functions have doubled but they would certainly have increased by at least 50 per cent. If we compare the current position with that of our predecessors 30 years ago we find that, in terms of the work load which they had, they were in dreamland.
There is a constant campaign- I think a very worrying campaign by the Press Gallery in Canberra and the Press generally in Australia- to denigrate the work of members of Parliament. By and large I think it is fair to say that the average member of Parliament works 70 hours to 80 hours a week in this Parliament. Yet this occupation is portrayed as a perk and lurk ridden one. I do not know what the purpose of the campaign is- whether it is designed to bring about some lack of confidence in the general democratic process- but it is a sustained campaign of vilification by what is fundamentally a lazy group of incompetent people in the Canberra Press Gallery. Apart from a dozen or so stars, if I might so describe them, who are able to do a job, it is fair to say that all that really happens in the Canberra Gallery is straight reporting of news and a consistent anti-MPs campaign by members of the Press Gallery who feed upon the Parliament and its members for the purposes of their own occupation.
This is something to which the Parliament must give a great deal of interest and with which it must concern itself. The Australian public must realise the qualities of the people who come to the Parliament and who give up occupations to be paid at the level of a class 10 clerk in the Third Division of the Commonwealth Public Service. The people who give away professional occupations and who accept that sort of salary find that they are equated to a class S clerk on a 40-hour week basis. Anyone who thinks that the national Parliament with the enormous responsibilities that it has to the nation can be run on that basis along with the fact that members of Parliament are being sniped at by people who have been referred to as the ‘scribblers of the Press’, has another think coming. The Australian people should be appraised of the fact that they have a hard working Parliament in Canberra. I cannot speak for the position in the other States. I think that the States are probably losing functions and that the Australian Parliament is attracting them. But the work load here is reaching the point where if no additional research facilities are made available the place cannot operate efficiently.
On a bipartisan basis in this Parliament due concern should be paid to the sort of rubbishing articles that are written by members of the Canberra Press Gallery and the Australian Press generally, and particularly to the headlines which appear in the tabloid newspapers in the capital cities. What I refer to is something which is very real. It is a sustained campaign to denigrate the role of members of Parliament and Parliament generally. I would have liked to devote 20 minutes or half an hour to this topic as this is the only opportunity that I will have to raise this matter in the Estimates debate. By agreement, only S minutes is available to me and that time has expired. I do commend to honourable members the thoughts that I have raised.
-The debate on the estimates for the Department of Housing and Construction has given us a very clear picture of what is the intention of the Government. It is to control the hearts and the minds of the Australian people by control of their housing needs. We of the Opposition are concerned at the inability of many Australians of all ages to obtain adequate housing. We deplore the attitude of the Labor Party in advancing sums of money to the States on very restricted terms for the purpose of buying land on a leasehold basis. The money is not a grant but rather a loan. When the land is distributed to builders, it will attract a leasehold rental of S per cent of its value on a continuing basis each year. If the prospective home owner does obtain the land, he cannot obtain finance even on the present Shylock terms to build his home. Even if this is possible, he cannot plan with certainty for the future because he probably will not have a job. This situation in which there is a lack of security in the Australian building industry is deplorable.
We submit that housing is the linchpin that holds Australia together. Everyone has an ambition to have his own home. Our submission would be that the best type of home is a home which is owned rather than rented. The industry has the shakes. The people are shattered and the industry has ground to a halt. Figures for August show that loans by building societies have fallen from $59.1m 12 months ago to $39.2m. Savings banks loans were down some $10m to $62. Sm. The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) indicated that there is a need in Australia to build some 175,000 homes each year. In the present situation, only some 1 10,000 homes will be erected this year. It is interesting to record that in Queensland building construction dropped 23 per cent between July and August and were the lowest since December 1968.
The greatest problem facing the home building industry is that home buyers cannot scale the high interest wall. A loan of $22,500 at 1 1% per cent per annum over 25 years requires repayments of $233 per month. The same loan for the same period at 9% per cent requires monthly repayments of $210. These repayments are well in excess of the repayments that can be met from the average weekly wage of $130. We also witnessed a staggering increase in the cost of building materials. This has been estimated at S.6 per cent in the June quarter for all groups materials.
The end result is that people cannot obtain their own homes. I submit that one solution is to reduce further the interest rates on home loans. The Government can do this by direct subsidy. In this way the loan rate could remain at a fairly reasonable level. A further method would be to permit mortgage interest repayments to be a tax deduction so that the tax rebate would apply on a pay as you go basis. I charge the present Labor Government with completely reneging on the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) prior to the last election when he promised that his Government would introduce a variable repayment mortgage loans scheme in which the loan repayments would be lower in the early years of a loan and higher in its later years. This seems to indicate that it is prepared to promise the world prior to an election but when it is saddled with the responsibility it will not live up to expectations.
We submit that it is absolutely essential in the early days of a person’s married life to have repayments low and that these should be staggered and increased progressively later in life when family responsibilties are fewer and there is the fair chance that the income is higher. It is worthy to advocate a proposition that smaller deposits should be required for home ownership and it is reasonable and feasible that in certain instances 100 per cent loans should be advanced to people desirous of purchasing their own homes. Additionally, a case can be made out for increasing the amount of finance that is available to building societies. The interest accrued on home building accounts in building societies should be tax deductible, thus increasing the amount of money able to be attracted by building societies. I have to conclude my remarks but I appreciate the courtesy of the Opposition Whips and of the Minister in allowing a second speaker from the Country Party to be associated with this debate.
– I say at the outset that I have appreciated the tenor of the debate and the many constructive suggestions that have come from each side of the House. A great variety of issues has been raised, but time will not permit me to cover them all today. After all, we are talking about a very large-scale department. The estimates for the Department of Housing and Construction aggregate approximately $969m. Of course, the Department not only incorporates the old Housing Department and the old Works Department but also covers Commonwealth Hostels and the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. So honourable gentlmen are concerned with ramifications extending all over the country. In the near future honourable members will have the opportunity to discuss housing matters under a number of other headings. We soon will be introducing Bills associated with the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. We will also be bringing down a Bill which will facilitate a greater flow of money under that agreement. In addition we will be debating the defence service homes legislation which is very wide in its ramifications and which even the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) will acknowledge represents a great improvement on provisions that prevailed in bygone times. A State Grants Pensioners Dwellings Bill will’ also be introduced in the near future. I believe all these matters will give a clear indication of the very considerable initiatives taken by the Government under the general heading of housing.
I know that every member of Parliament is concerned that there are people needing houses who are unable to afford them. I suppose it is always the intention of all governments that prevail to do what they can by the standards of their priorities. Of course, there was a great deal to be desired in the priority extended to public housing by the Liberal-Country Party Government which preceded the Labor Party Government. It is highly fortunate that we took office in 1 972 because since then we have lifted the amount of money made available for State housing authority purposes to $3 10m. We have more than doubled the expenditure for public housing purposes and as I go to the conferences and meet State Housing Ministers, as an aside they will often say to me, in effect: ‘Thank God you came along. We have this money for 53 years at 4 per cent interest, which is a lot better than the one per cent less than the bond rate which was operating when the Labor Party took office’. Of course, this means that people who would have had no other chance of getting a home-either to purchase or rent- are now being given the opportunity. The adequacy of the funds were such that the States were not even able to spend what we made available in that first year of office.
We are not unhappy about that situation, but we will make many other important improvements. For example, as honourable gentlemen know, 30 per cent of the funds can be made available through the homebuilders account for terminating building societies. We hear disparagement about the Labor Party being opposed to home ownership but we wrote into the housing agreement the provision which enables up to 30 per cent of the funds to go out for home ownership. Honourable gentlemen opposite will be interested to know that we are now proposing to vary the housing agreement to make it possible for an even larger proportion to be allocated for this purpose.
Everything we have done in respect of the defence services home scheme is aimed at facilitating home ownership. How can we be taunted as being opposed to home ownership when one considers the number of blocks of land set aside for the provision of homes for servicemen- for homes of their choice? In June 1972 there were 4,992 such allotments but by September 1974 we had more than doubled that number to 11,428. Of course it is the objective of the Labor Party to facilitate home ownership. I want to contrast in statistical form the performance of this Government as against that of the previous LiberalCountry Party Government. If one looks at the figures in respect of housing approvals during the last 18 months of the Liberal-Country Party Government and the first 18 months of the Labor Party administration- I will use round figures- it will be seen that there were 239,000 approvals by the Liberal-Country Party Government and 282,000 approvals by the Labor Party Government. In respect of housing commencements, in the last 18 months of the LiberalCountry Party Government there were 227,000 commencements and in the first 18 months of the Labor Party Government there were 257,000 commencements. In respect of houses completed, in the last 18 months of the LiberalCountry Party administration there were 220,000 completions and in the first 18 months of Labor Party Government there were 224,000 completions. Yet we are taunted -
– They were houses started before you took office.
-There you are. Every statistic one takes demonstrates the competency of the Labor Government. The fact of the matter is that we have just concluded a financial year in which more houses were built than were ever built in a year in Australia’s history- nearly 153,000. I am not sure the honourable gentleman knew that and may be many people in the country do not know it. A record number of 153,000 houses were completed in the year ended June last. Probably at this very moment we have more houses under construction than we have ever had before. That is not to say that there is not something wrong with the housing industry. We know the position. In fact, there nearly always is, one way or the other, and that is why we have always had stop-go; that is why we have had this intermittent change from buoyancy to decline.
One of the things that is happening now is that the Government has taken steps- again for the first time in the country’s history- to plan the housing industry. We do not like the situation that operates now and I know the situation in the housing industry is giving concern to many people. I have acknowledged that many times. One would be a fool not to. The trouble is that the Opposition never indicated concern when it got the situation into a mess. It never started a planning process. The Labor Party has. The Indicative Planning Council is now a fact of life. We have not reached a point of perfection by any means, but we have appointed Professor Neville, one of the country’s leading mathematicians, to shows us the way to relate manpower, materials and money instead of getting them out of equilibrium as happened during the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party Government.
Make no mistake, in the Liberal-Country Party Government’s 1960-61 credit squeeze there was a lot more disaster in the building industry than there is at present or is likely to be. There were probably 5,000 to 6,000 builders going into liquidation in that period. That is the record of Liberal-Country Party administration. Australia now has a government which is showing a bit of concern and which is setting off, first of all, to plan. It is now proposing to establish what the Opposition was always ready to disparage- a new housing corporation to give the Australian Government a real facility to do something about housing. If we had had a housing corporation up to now, we could have got money out at variable interest rates to people for home ownership. Why are members of the Opposition opposed to the proposition that the Australian Government should set itself up in such a way that it can lend money to people above the echelons who receive it now through the housing commissions at rates of interest which the people can afford? What is the criticism in respect of that proposition? We are going on to plan and to establish that facility to support home ownership. Of course we are establishing the process of achieving standards in the building industry so that we can get costs down. We are looking at the modern ways of building houses. We are doubling the money for aged persons housing. We are waging an onslaught against the high and spiralling costs of land which members of the Opposition did not care less about when they were in office.
It is true we have liquidity problems. There is inflation around the world. That is unquestionable. It is also true that we are taking monetary initiatives which will alleviate the situation. I do not doubt that if things are allowed to go along on their present course fewer houses will be produced in this current financial year than in the previous financial year. We were under strain last financial year as everybody knows. That is why housing costs were rising. That is why it was taking longer to build houses, and something had to be done about it. Any party in office would have had to do something about it. Does the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) tell me that he would have remained indifferent, that he would have allowed the industry to be pressured with excess monetary supply? Of course he would not, and neither would this Government. So we have checked the money supply and now we are taking initiatives which will allow the industry to return to a state of equilibrium again.
Many opportunities are looming, as I have mentioned, to discuss all these things. I hope to be bringing in legislation tomorrow which will enable me to amplify the points I have raised. One matter raised by the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) is worth some reference because it could be construed as a reflection on the people who work in my Department. It was about the Auditor-General’s report and accelerated expenditure in the Department of $2m. I did not know much about this, to be frank, but I have obtained the information. I will not read it now because time is very short. I will make it available to the honourable member for Angas. I can say to him without any equivocation that there is nothing wrong in this matter except the enthusiasm of the officers concerned who were anxious to get their activities under way as quickly as possible, and so there was some disparity in the flow of funds for these particular purposes. I take the opportunity of paying tribute to the officers of the Department of Housing and Construction who, I think every honourable gentleman in the House will readily acknowledge, fulfil their public obligations in a very desirable fashion. It is a competent Department. It is developing greater competency and I have no doubt that in the not far distant future Australia will see itself set on a course which will not only maximise the total building force and resources of this country but will also give stability and provide for the people of Australia the housing opportunity which we all desire.
– I apologise for the absence of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) who, as honourable members know, is indisposed because of an injury. We wish him well and a speedy recovery. In the course of the remarks that were made some criticism was levelled at the Department which the Minister represents. In the main the criticism was on the basis of what is known as dead rent which apparently was an expression used by the Auditor-General. It is true that for some years now there has been a problem of dead rent. It appears to be one of the problems facing governments in that they have to acquire a lease on premises and then have to try to renovate the premises to suit their requirements. Some of these premises are very extensive and accordingly the renovations are very extensive. It follows therefore that the renovations require a long lead time. For example, one of the premises referred to indirectly by the Auditor-General is premises in Sydney which were leased by the Postmaster-General’s Department for engineering staff. The necessary alterations required a lead time of some 10 months so we get 10 months dead rent. When I was in Opposition I had the same problem myself. I acquired a small office. The Government paid the rent on it, I think for 8 months, before we could even get a table and chair. I know the practice is not efficient, nevertheless the problem seems to be in having to acquire a lease before any other work can be done.
In the time of our predecessors some 2 years dead rent time was paid in respect of the Carlton Centre. I have no doubt that everybody in the Parliament would agree that we should start to own more of our own premises. It is bad to be relying on some landlord. It is not good business. It is good business for the landlord but not for the lessee which, in many cases, we appear to be. For example, the Taxation Office in Sydney is spread over 7 different premises. There are 40 million files scattered around. I understand the estimated cost of getting those files is some $3m or $4m per annum. The Department of Defence is scattered over 2 1 different sectors of Sydney. It follows that there has not been the best use of our resources. I have no doubt that the Minister is very keen to ensure that we become able to acquire more of our own premises and if need be buy them on terms, financing ourselves rather than to be in the position of outlaying so much rent.
The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) was anxious to know why the figures have escalated so much. Some figures given to me by the Department of Services and Property clearly show that the escalation was taking place when he was in charge of these matters. For example, between the period December 1970 and December 1972 rental space increased by 80,000 square feet but the rental increased by $6m. Now of course rental space has gone up another 200,000 square feet and the rental has increased again by about $13m. If one looks at the ratio of those figures one sees that if 80,000 square feet was rented for $6m it is still not bad business to have another2½ times that area for $13m. As at June 1974 some 782,000 square metres are occupied for a rental of $38.3m. In December 1970 some 500,000 square metres were rented at a cost of $19m. In December 1972 579,000 square metres were rented at a cost of $2 5. 3m. Honourable members can see that the escalation was already taking place.
The points raised were worthy of an answer. Nevertheless the answer is in accordance with what would have been given if the Opposition were still in Government, namely it has been the practice to take up leases and pay the rental well before occupancy. It is a practice that could be avoided, I think, if we were able to build and plan our own structures which I am certain we will do with much more rapidity. . By the same token it should be recognised that facilities given to members on both sides of the House have improved. I know honourable members will not mind my mentioning that the quarters in Sydney offered to members of the present Opposition were not acceptable when they came into Opposition. We had the quarters when we were in Opposition but they were not good enough for the present Opposition. We recognised that fact. Better premises had to be acquired and they have been acquired for the Leaders of the Opposition. Nevertheless the rental has escalated. If honourable members apply this sort of criteria of having to acquire further premises, which we have had to do because of the expansion of Government functions, and look at the escalation of rent they will see justification for the expenditure. I move:
That the question be now put
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, at question time this morning. Mr Speaker, I thank the House for the courtesy of making it possible for me to make this personal explanation. This morning the Minister for Labor and Immigration misrepresented me on 3 counts. He said that I had earlier said that the $93.44 a week allowance paid to people under the national employment and training scheme was not taxable. The Minister, in his usual modest language, said that the allowances were taxable and that I did not know what I was talking about. Four separate sources from the Department of Labor and Immigration in Victoria have told me that the allowances are not taxable and that instructions have gone to every Commonwealth Employment Service office in Victoria to that effect, that the allowances are not taxable. That is the first point on which the Minister misrepresented me.
He also said that I was talking sheer nonsense and being irresponsible in mentioning $40m as the potential liability of the scheme for the Melbourne area. One office in Melbourne has had about 300 applicants. I am told virtually all of them will be accepted. At $90 per applicant it would cost $27,000 a week for that office. Multiplied by 50 for the number of weeks and by 30 for the number of offices in Melbourne the figure would come to $40m without the fees, travel allowances, book allowances and special allowances. That extrapolation gives a basis for the figure if all Melbourne offices had the same experience as the office of which I have some knowledge.
In addition, the Minister said that those unemployed were given priority. In the office of which I have some knowledge, of the 300 or so who applied only 14 or 15 were on the books of that office as unemployed. The last point which bears on that point, page 8 of the ‘Provisions of NEAT’, which is a departmental document dated 26 August, states that applications for training assistance may be made by any person whether currently employed or not, who considers his current employment unsuitable or who cannot obtain employment which he considers suitable. That is the general criterion under which the scheme is operating on instructions sent out from the Department of Labor and Immigration. I have no wish to refute the false and slightly intemporate comments of the Minister in other areas except to state that the allegations that either I am opposed or my Party is opposed to proper opportunities for women are quite unfounded.
-Order! The Party has nothing to do with the personal explanation.
Department of Northern Development
Proposed expenditure, $2,547,000.
Department of the Northern Territory
Proposed expenditure, $36,2 1 3,000.
-These expenditures, for the greater part, are applied to bring considerable advantage to northern Australia. The purpose of my contribution to this debate is not so much to criticise but to suggest measures that I feel might supplement work that is already under way and certain new initiatives that I feel should be taken in the development of the northern part of Australia, including of course the Northern Territory. I suppose the thing that matters most in northern Australiathis was very much under consideration some years ago when an organisation called the People the North Committee was formed- is that the most important commodity and one that unfortunately until recent years has been in short supply is people. I feel that much of the planning of the north of Australia- not the sort of planning that results from a minerals discovery or that is the natural corollary of the beef cattle industry- should involve a probing into the quality of life which should produce certain action by this Government. But unfortunately we have seen some of the very fundamental processes affecting the daily lives of people put into reverse.
I mention very specifically the removal of the differential subsidy on petroleum. I know that this has been dealt with time and again in this House. It cannot be discussed too often. It has been suggested that by Christmas perhaps we will be paying a dollar a gallon for petrol in our part of the world, the northern frontier of Australia. Not only have we seen the removal of the subsidy on petroleum, we have also seen other concessions removed such as freight subsidies and so on. I shall not repeat all that again. But I am trying to suggest in a very positive sense that one of the matters that I feel the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) and the
Government should examine very closely is the application of differential subsidies- never mind about the wiping out of a differential subsidythere should be such a subsidy introduced for petroleum and other fuels and to such commodities as tyres, cement, building materials and certain basic food commodities, such as flour for instance. This is one of the human contributions that could be made which would very dramatically and completely lift up the quality of life in this part of Australia. For example, air conditioners are not a luxury in any part of northern Australia. In my own small home town of Cloncurry because of a scheme which was introduced there by the local authority just about every place in the town has an air conditioner.
I want to speak briefly on the brigalow schemes, Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Most honourable members who have had any association or any real interest in the development of the cattle producing areas of the Fitzroy River Basin and this area generally- it extends a little beyond that area but it is commonly associated with the Fitzroy Basin- know that this scheme was introduced to open up, mainly for beef production, areas that were considered to be quite useless. These schemes became known as the brigalow schemes. I think of the young ambitious people who drew a block in those places, particularly under the No. 3 scheme, as the last of the land settlers of this nation. If I might just briefly build a word picture, a man draws one of these blocks, gets an advance which he has to supplement with other finance, and then he moves out with his wife and usually three or four children. They have a great galvanised iron shed. The live in one end of it. This is their home, their storage shed, their garage, their implement shed and so on. They really rough it.
The people who take up these blocks are the important people of this nation who contribute to the 77.7 per cent of Australia’s income provided by primary industry. This is the last figure I saw. Maybe the percentage is down or up a little since, I do not know. But these people contribute to one of the most vital industries that produces that sort of income for this nation. They are terribly important, I would impress on members of this Parliament and the Australian people, not only to the industry with which they are associated but also to all aspects of life in our metropolitan areas. Believe you me, if that income were suddenly removed from this nation the whole economy of this great land of Australia would collapse. I think one of the great disservices to this country- perhaps something that will never be forgiven when the position is truly understood- is the way in which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and this Government have deliberately for political gain built up conflict between the people in the cities and the people in the areas covered by the estimates which we are now debating. This applies not only to people in northern Australia and in the Northern Territory but also to those who live beyond the metropolitan areas. There is a tremendous interdependence of people throughout Australia. How can anyone say that people in the city areas should suddenly be divorced from any interest in the whole national scene? How can anyone say that because people live in the country they regard city people as a lot of parasites? They do not. People in the country regard city people as people who are consuming products produced in the country and as the people who are building up the vitality of our industries. There is an interdependence between the two. This is terribly important when we talk about the estimates for the Northern Territory.
I will mention one matter which is of critical importance to anyone living in these areas. May I say that my father went out to the bush in 1904 and we have been there ever since. I have lived my lifetime in these areas and I can speak with some authority on this subject. Matters of vital importance to people in these areas include housing, transport, water and food. Housing is probably the most critical necessity to people who live in these areas. I hopped on a plane in Mount Isa yesterday. It was then about 105 degrees and a very dry heat. It is a very acceptable heat. It is much more comfortable than it is here today, but when you go to bed at night the sheets are just about red hot. There is one thing about which I have always wondered. I ask the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson), who is sitting at the table, to pay close heed to this because I am sure he would be interested.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr MartinaOrder! This is a very serious debate. We are discussing a subject involving millions of dollars.
-I suggest that some of these millions be devoted to probing into the correct type of housing for northern Australia and the Northern Territory. One particular type of house that has not been examined and which has not been exploited is the adobe. There is an expert on this matter at the Queensland University. His works have been recognised. We have conferred and been associated with one another over a long period but unfortunately- he is not going to like this very much- I have forgotten his name for the moment. As I said, his works are recognised. He has made a close study of this question. In Mexico he found that the adobe type of housing was particularly applicable and acceptable in arid zones. The Chairman has just come back from such an area so he would know what I am speaking about. As I said, the type of housing used is very important in these areas.
Let me speak about solar energy. I have had a solar water system for the last 12 to 15 years. I was one of the first to own one in my area. They are expensive to put in but that is the end of the costs. There are no further electricity charges. These systems are most efficient. I venture to say that in the Northern Territory where there are huge areas available, and also in other pans of northern Australia, we could set up solar energy farms. The techniques associated with harnessing solar energy have just about been perfected in southern Arizona by a husband and wife team whose name escapes me. But the fact can be easily unearthed and the techniques could be applied in Australia.
I conclude on this note. In the Northern Territory we now have a new Legislative Assembly. I appeal to you particularly, Mr Minister, to enlighten us on this matter when you make your contribution and close the debate. If you and your Party have been ridgey-dig in the various statements which have been made over the couple of years in which Labor has been in office in regard to realistic and meaningful powers for the new Legislative Assembly for the Northern Territory, I think it is high time that these were revealed. The Territory now has its first fully elected Legislative Assembly. I am sure the people of the Territory want to know and they are fully entitled to know what the authority of the Assembly will be. I do not know whether the Government is withholding its decision until it receives the report from the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory under the chairmanship of the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James) who is now absent from the chamber. I do not know what the reasons are. I do not know whether there is to be any prolonged delay in announcing the powers of the Legislative Assembly, but I am sure that its members are pretty keen to get into action. I ask the Minister for the Northern Territory- perhaps this would be a fitting occasion- at least to give some indication as to whether the Assembly will have meaningful powers and whether it will have an autonomy which will allow it to deal with things which members of that body only fully understand and are able to evaluate.
There are many other matters that I would like to mention, but only 10 minutes is allowed for each speaker in the debate on the estimates. This is quite ridiculous for one who is in my position as shadow minister for the Northern Territory. However, I feel that we will have an opportunity later on to debate this matter further. But in the meantime I mention very briefly that some of the matters I did want to discuss included roads, superphosphate and the secondary or perhaps tertiary treatment of the millions of tons of phosphate rock in the nothern parts of Australia.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin) -
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-In discussing these estimates I note that the estimates for the Northern Territory have risen from $29.9m to $36.2m. I have heard it said in the Territory that there is not a shortage of money for some things. Many Government programs are going ahead as planned. We heard the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) speaking in the House today about great plans for road construction. Let us face it, one of the most important aspects of life in the Territory is surface transport, whether it be by ship, road or rail. Air transport is important also, but that does not come into this debate. I was dismayed when he mentioned large amounts of money being allocated for other States and went on to say that a considerable amount of money was to be set aside for the Northern Territory. I notice under these estimates that expenditure on beef roads this year has dropped from $700,000 to $80,000, which really provides only for the conclusion of the original beef roads scheme linking the Territory with Western Australia from Dingo Gap. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has mentioned that there are going to be very large and expensive road building programs leading out of the Territory. I do not see any mention of those programs in these Estimates. I have noted that in respect of stage 3 of the road from Alice Springs to Erldunda for which money has been appropriated in the past no fresh figures have been announced. I would hope that in regard particularly to the south road from Alice Springs the Minister and his colleagues would get to work on the South Australian Premier to ensure that the construction of it does continue somewhat more quickly than has been the case so far.
We have heard a lot about a railway line but this does not come within this debate. There must be an all weather link between the Northern Territory and the south. People heard the
Prime Minister trumpeting in Colacag Park, Alice Springs, that he was going to have a dual carriageway from Alice Springs to Port Augusta. I do not think that the normal progress of the construction of the road from Alice Springs to Erldunda warrants any grandiose statements. I ask the Minister to use his influence on his colleagues in respect of that matter and also in relation to the introduction of a fuel equalisation scheme. People who live in these far away places, as my colleague the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who is the shadow Minister for northern development and the Northern Territory mentioned, are greatly disadvantaged because goods have to be transported a long way. The cost of every gallon of fuel increases the further one gets from the central point, whether it is Darwin or Adelaide. The tremendous burden placed on people in these outlying regions is therefore increased. I believe that the Minister has failed to convince his colleagues of the need to do something about the problems that face the people of the Northern Territory.
The people of the Northern Territory have not given up hope because the Minister mentioned he is to see cattlemen from the Northern Territory shortly to discuss their problems, and they have got problems, problems which were to a great extrent introduced by this Government. So I hope that when he sees the cattlemen he will get the message that not all farmers are wealthy farmers, as I have mentioned before in this place. In fact, many farmers are fast going broke. They might have beautiful cattle on their properties but the cost of transporting these cattle has increased by 40 per cent or 50 per cent and they cannot receive a satisfactory price when their cattle reach the market. Also, if the cattle are sold for export purposes the farmers have to pay a levy of 1.6c per lb. These are the problems that are worrying us in the Territory.
In an earlier debate I mentioned the Victoria Highway and the Minister took it on himself to make the statement that the comments that I made were irresponsible. So far as I know, although money may have been voted for the repair of the Victoria Highway which runs through Katherine, Willeroo, Timber Creek and Dingo Gap, this road is still in danger of being very severely damaged. Although money may have been made available, perhaps the workmen are not available to carry out the necessary work. Possibly the economic situation is such that people are not being attracted to the Northern Territory. People might consider that there is no real point in going to live in such a far away place as the Northern Territory because costs there are going up.
Shipping on the north coast will virtually be put out of business if, because of an amendment to legislation, small ships have to use Australian Waterside Workers’ Federation labour rather than Transport Workers’ Union labour. If this happens the cost of turning these ships round will virtually put the shipping firms out of business. The Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) accused me of being involved in a conspiracy with one of the biggest shipping firms. That claim is nonsense. This development would have the effect of increasing freight charges and therefore increasing living expenses. I sincerely ask the Minister for Northern Development and the Minister for the Northern Territory to speak to the Minister for Labor and Immigration about this legislation because, if accepted, it will drive shipping off the north coast. As a result the missions and settlements from Darwin as far round as Umbakumba or down the other way towards Port Keats will not be supplied.
The transport situation in the Northern Territory is getting very, very serious. I asked the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) what he could do about acquiring or leasing another ship to come in to the Port of Darwin from the east because we are led to believe that the ‘Darwin Trader’ may make only one more trip before Christmas. I know that Christmas is getting close, but we will be faced with a pretty serious situation if Darwin is to be serviced by one ship making one trip between now and then.
I would like to make a brief comment about the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory. I will not do what the Minister for the Northern Territory did to me on the afternoon of the Joint Sitting of this Parliament when he spent half of his time berating me for something he thought I would say, although he did not know what I would be speaking about anyhow. I will not berate him for what he may or may not do about the new executive power which will be given to the Legislative Assembly. I know that a very serious problem has been imposed on him by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who made an off the top of his head statement that there would be a fully elected Legislative Assembly by the end of this year. I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory and I am not at liberty to discuss the draft of recommendations or what is going on. But I would urge the Minister to move as quickly as possible because as I have mentioned my colleagues want to get on with the job. As I have said, I will not attack the Minister for something he is obviously trying to do. However, I merely point out that I think that the attack made on me by the Minister was somewhat small minded.
It appears that there will be great difficulty in achieving the smooth running of the Legislative Assembly. Despite the fact that my Party holds an absolute majority in the Assembly, I would ask the Minister and his colleagues to realise that consultation and co-operation will be absolutely important in the running of this body. It is imperative that the Minister puts away his party politics and deals with the Northern Territory members.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I do not think it is necessary to go to great pains to defend the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson), who is sitting at the table, because there is nothing to defend him against. Certainly nothing has arisen out of this debate which has amounted to allegations or charges of any substance. Indeed, the work that has been done by the Minister is recognised not only by those people living in the Northern Territory and the northern part of Australia but also it has been well recognised by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), by his ministerial colleagues and by the supporters of the Government who sit on this side of the chamber.
I was rather pleased to hear the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) speak about people in country areas and how they regard city people as consumers. He put forward a point of view that I put as long ago as 1969 when I first came here. On that occasion I said that there was no difference between city and country people. I pointed out that the alleged differences are manufactured for political purposes by those who sit in Opposition and especially those honourable members who at present sit in the north-west corner of this chamber. The honourable member was gracious enough to say that country people look upon city people as consumers. I have always believed that too. But this raises a rather curious contradiction. If country people look upon city people as consumers clearly consumers would need to have the money that is necessary to purchase the produce of the producer. Yet it seems to me that every time there is any suggestion of a wage rise for factory workers living in the cities members of the Australian Country Party in this place- I do not say that this comes from country people but from the Country Party, a political entity- scream that it should not happen. This son of thing has been going on for a long time and I presume it will always go on.
This thinking was introduced again in this place by the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) who seemed to be saying that he wanted the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) to make sure that any ships coming into the Port of Darwin would be unloaded by Transport Workers’ Union labour rather than by Australian Waterside Workers’ Federation labour. It seemed to me that what he was after was cheap labour. Apparently he believes that members of the Transport Workers’ Union will unload ships at a cheaper rate than members of the Waterside Workers’ Federation will. His view of that organisation has been well known and has been expressed over a long period. But I am firmly of the view that the only members of the Waterside Workers’ Federation that he has ever met and spoken to are those working along the banks of the Todd River. This is the sort of thing that one would expect to hear from the honourable member for the Northern Territory. The honourable member has represented his electorate since 1966 and during that time he has continuously pointed out shortcomings. His own Government was in power for 6 years after he came into this place and apparently he did not have anything rectified during that time. I wonder whether the problems are really as serious as he tries to tell us or anybody else.
As Chairman of the Public Works Committee I know that a good deal of money is spent and will be spent in the future by this Government in providing in the Northern Territory services that have been needed there for a long time. One example is a hospital at Tennant Creek. Other proposed works in the Northern Territory will come before the Parliament but it is not judicious to mention them at the moment. They will be to the benefit of the people of Darwin and will provide services that have been needed for a long time. The need did not arise only yesterday. This Government, principally through the actions of the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory has got off its derriere and set about doing the things that need to be done urgently. There is little doubt that it will continue to do so in the future as long as it is in power, which will be for a long time.
There was talk about works not being done in the Northern Territory. It was said that there was a shortage of workmen. I am not sure that that is the case because a lot of the jobs that are done in the Northern Territory are done by private contractors. Private contractors become a law unto themselves. They refuse to go into an area and perform work unless they can get a highly paid contract and there is a lot of work to be done. That is one of the facts of life. To say that there is a shortage of workers or that people will not work or to make some other silly statement is going too far. Is there really a difference between the Northern Territory and the rest of Australia? Certainly the distances between centres of population are greater in the Northern Territory. But do the people not congregate principally in one area in the Northern Territory as they do in other places? I understand that the bulk of the 98,000 people living in the Northern Territory live in and around the city of Darwin. Of course a number live in Alice Springs and other settlements throughout the Territory. But is the situation not exactly the same in the Northern Territory as it is in other States of Australia with the people, for reasons best known to themselves, congregated in the city areas? That brings with it problems.
Anybody who suggests that there are no problems in the Northern Territory or that they have all been overcome is deluding himself and deluding those who are listening to him. Of course there are problems in the area, but the big difference between this Government and previous governments is that this Government recognises that there are problems in the area and it created the Departments of Northern Development and the Northern Territory. That is how concerned the Australian Labor Party is about development in the northern part of our continent. Previously the functions of these Departments were a hotch-potch, all lumped in under the Department of the Interior. The area received no special treatment at all. I believe that the people in the Northern Territory are very fortunate in that they have a department now to look after their needs. In the Minister administering that department they have a man well known in the north of Australia. Might I say that he is not only well known but he is also known well. People in northern Australia have a great affection for him. There is a reason for that and it is completely justified. While he is in charge of that department the northern end of Australia will continue to develop along proper lines because he and his departmental officers will ensure that there is proper investigation of proposals and what is needed to develop that area. There will not be just off the top of the head vote-catching propositions that have been put up in the past. So some of the things that are done may not be done in the area where it is particularly politically popular to do them but they will be done where they are needed, and needed urgently.
I was very interested to hear the honourable member for Kennedy speaking about the development of housing in that area. He mentioned adobe housing. On the face of it, that sounds a good idea and probably is. He did not say what sort of roofing material would be used to cover such houses. It does not matter what the walls are like; if the roofing is not constructed of heat resistant material the building will still get very hot. I am sure this is something that can be overcome and that it is a problem people are looking at. The honourable member for Kennedy mentioned solar heating. This is a matter that was investigated by the Public Works Committee, I think, during the hearing on the Tennant Creek hospital. It is not as good as it sounds. It is possible, and of course it is being used quite a bit; but it is not as good as it sounds. The Public Works Committee was given some very good information by representatives of the Department of Housing and Construction on the use of solar heating.
– How long ago?
-It was only 12 months ago or perhaps more recently. We were given quite a deal of information. We were surprised that in an area where sunshine seems to be in great abundance greater use was not made of solar heat and solar energy. The Department gave some pretty good reasons why solar heating is not always practicable. Perhaps that may only apply to a large building like a hospital, but these officers said it was still necessary to use electricity to heat the water sufficiently. Because of that, it was then found that it was cheaper to put in an electrical unit, taking into account the running costs of the unit rather than simply to rely on solar heating. I repeat that we were speaking about a hospital and not about a private home, where the situation might be different.
It seems that it is very easy to make blithe, bland statements about the Northern Territory, an area that is not particularly well known to a lot of people in Australia. These statements might be acceptable to those who do not know anything about it, but to those who do knowthese are the people who live in the area- they are not always particularly acceptable. They are not alway particularly true, either. I am just wondering whether when these statements are made, they are made to gain political advantage or to do what we are all hoping that we can do, assist the Minister and his Department to improve the lot of people who have elected to live in a rather remote part of Australia. But be that as it may, these improvements are very necessary to the development of Australia. It is incumbent upon all Australians to ensure that funds are spent in that area to make it more habitable in the hope that it will develop more in the future. I commend the Minister on the way that he has done his work, and I am sure will continue to do it in the future.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I think the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) was properly critical of those who sit in the north-west corner of the chamber, because I think he will find that that is where he sits.
– He was being critical of himself.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The Committee will come to order. This is a very serious business. We are discussing hundreds of millions of dollars.
– We are not discussing hundreds of millions of dollars. That is my grouch.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The proposed expenditure before the Committee is at least $38m.
– Once again adequate appropriation for northern development appears to have been disregarded by this Government which purports to be such a champion of development for the north. Last year, if I remember correctly $200,000 was allocated and this was designed to be used for one purpose only- that was the feasibility study of water conservation in the Burdekin Basin. The Department of Northern Development and the Department of the Northern Territory are without doubt the runts in the litter when it comes to allocating finance for development in the northern area. The Government appears to forget that the north contributes more than handsomely to the national economy, and as such should be fostered and treated accordingly. I am informed that there are 104 people working in the Department who are supposedly responsible for the overall development of the north. Under the circumstances and looking at the appropriation for the Department of Northern Development, I think one is entitled to ask what all these people do to assist in development. In fact, when one considers the appropriation amount and this Government’s lack of appreciation of the north, it is difficult to take its northern development policy seriously. When the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) won his seat at a byelection in 1966, the then Labor Opposition pledged the creation of a ministry for northern development, and in fact included that pledge in the platform of the Australian Labor Party a year later. That portion of the platform read:
Labor believes that the development of the whole of the north is both necessary and urgent, therefore the whole attention of a Minister be devoted to it.
I wonder how many times since then the Labor Party has regretted its burst of enthusiasm, for the necessity and urgency of northern development appear to have been forgotten by this Government, especially when one takes into consideration the appropriation figures. If the Government is doing anything at all, it must be doing it in a very quiet way, for we seldom hear or see any evidence of it, except perhaps the recent statement concerning Pilbara, which could develop into something worthwhile if substantial investment is forthcoming. Of course, the old chestnut of the steel mill at Bowen has been dragged from the embers again and tizzied up a little to make it more palatable or believable. I will believe this is a goer when I see construction commencing. There is no doubt that this would be an asset to the north, but too many words have been spoken about it over too many years with no positive action.
The present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) criticised the attitudes of previous governments to northern development. He said:
For Australian governments in the past northern development has always been a somewhat remote and peripheral concern.
Now today, having a look at the Government’s priorities, I say to him that his Government’s attitude to northern development is somewhat less than one of remote and peripheral concern. I do not think the Prime Minister can deny that this Government is southern oriented and that it will not spend money in the north when it can be used to greater political advantage in the south. The only regions to which the Government appears to be paying a little attention are the Burdekin basin, Pilbara in Western Australia, the Bowen basin in Queensland, Mount Isa in Queensland and the Kimberleys in Western Australia, and the attention paid to some of these appears to be becoming a little dulled by this Government’s attitude to foreign investments and to State’s rights. The Ord River project appears to be sick, our beef export industry is in the doldrums and we have lost the British contract for our sugar exports, although this may not be a bad thing for a while, as Britain will now have to buy at the world market price for sugar but only until the European beet sugar production takes over; and then what happens to our British market? The Department should be out drumming up markets for our beef and our sugar and ensuring that our products in the mining industry can be marketed freely and are not hampered by the Government’s narrow policy on mining.
The Government’s idea that we can say to Japan ‘Buy more of our meat or we will not supply you with mineral materials’ is nothing short of resources blackmail which I doubt very much will be acceptable to Japan. Who could blame her in those circumstances if she purchased her mineral requirements elsewhere? We can hardly blame the Department of Northern Development for this, because when one looks at the responsibilities of the various Ministers one finds that the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) has all the say in meat and wool production, the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) has all the say in regard to the mining industry, the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) has all the say in regard to our road system in the north, the Minister for Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) has most of the say in this area, and the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren) no doubt has most of the say in any development projects which may be proposed for the north. Therefore we find our Minister for Northern Development left to concern himself with only the sugar industry, and this of course cannot be his complete concern, because the Queensland State Government has the say as to what happens in that industry.
But no matter who has what say in which area, the Government should be bending over backwards to maintain the north’s contribution to the national economy and should be giving serious thought to further developments in that area to increase the north’s financial output and allowing the Department of Northern Development enough money to spend to do it on a big scale. In 1972-73 export earnings from northern sugar exports were about $250m and the northern beef industry contributed $230m to export earnings. The mining industry has also contributed handsomely. But in recent months we have seen a slump in meat exports. Whether it be the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson), the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) or the Minister for Agriculture I do not care. Somebody should be out there drumming up the business to take up the slack in this great industry and to increase our future beef exports.
We also read that Australia could be in dire straits within 20 or 30 years in regard to an adequate supply of water. This problem could be overcome to a great extent by harnessing the waters of the Burdekin and Herbert River basins, which could possibly supply half of Queensland with water and cheap hydro-electric power. Whether this is the responsibility of the Minister for Environment and Conservation or of the Minister for Northern Development does not really concern me. What does concern me is that somebody should be doing something about it now and finances should be allocated to do it.
There are many ways in which development projects could be established in the north if this Government were really interested, and I mention reafforestation, to name just one. This could be undertaken on a large scale in areas of the north where softwoods mature quickly because of the climate. The establishment of such a project on a large scale, which has been proved feasible and viable, would overcome any paper shortage that we may experience and the paper pulp industry resulting from it would become another great export income earner for the north. It has been asked quite often whether other departments are incapable of liaising on northern projects without a northern development department and whether it is true that other Ministers in various portfolios make the decisions on any matters affecting the north and not the Minister for Northern Development. I do not care. All I am concerned about is, as I say, that the Government is southern oriented politically and it should drop that stance. This Government’s hardhearted attitude towards the north which, as I have said, contributes largely to our economy, is to be condemned and it is high time the Government gave politics away and put its priorities in proper perspective for the benefit of the north and of Australia and allowed sufficient finance for this to be done.
-The first thing I should like to say to the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) when he criticises this Government for its lack on interest in the north is that more money is being spent now in the north by this Government than by the previous government.
– Even so, what is it? Peanuts.
-Well, the honourable member made a statement that this Government has no interest in the north, but there is more money being spent and there are more projects being undertaken. We may talk about beef roads or water conservation or whatever it might be. The fact is that there is more money being spent now on development projects. That does not mean to say that I believe there should not be a lot more money spent. Let it be made very clear that I have said on many occasions that there ought to be a lot more money spent to accord with the proportion of export income earned from the northern areas and in terms of the proportion of national income that comes from the northern areas.
Let me simply say this, when the honourable member questions the role of the 104 people in the Department of Northern Development: They administered last year projects worth $37m; this year the projects are worth $46m. Let us have a look at some of the projects; but before I do that I should like to pay tribute to the officers of the Department of the Northern Territory and the Department of Northern Development. The permanent head of the Department of Northern Development, Mr Livingston, is a recognised authority in international trade, particularly in the sugar trade. The permanent head of the Department of the Northern Territory, Mr O’Brien, is a truly dedicated man as far as the Northern Territory is concerned. They are backed by officers in both departments who are dedicated to their jobs, and I pay tribute to the men and women in those 2 departments.
The Department of Northern Development was eatablished in December 1972 with the advent of the present Government There have been difficulties in staffing which occur in any new department, but the Department has continued a number of important activities initiated by the previous Government- the Brigalow development, the Gladstone power station, the Bundaberg irrigation works, the Ord River project, the Fairbairn dam projects, the beef cattle roads. Since the new Government has come into office it has initiated a number of important new projects which have been greatly appreciated in northern Australia, such as the compensation scheme for bovine tuberculosis reactors and the new beef roads scheme throughout northern Australia- $24m for Queensland and $5m for the Kimberleys. As the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) mentioned, I am not at this stage able to give him the precise figures for the Northern Territory because they do not come under the same legislation, they are incorporated within the general Northern Territory road program. I can assure him that the amount of money being spent at present on roads in the Northern Territory is certainly greater than the amount spent at any other time. I will deal later with the points made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory.
Among the new projects that the present Government has initiated are the Kinchant Dam- this involves a $5m grant- a vital water conservation project in the dry areas of the Pioneer Valley of north Queensland; the Julius Dam, which is of vital importance to Mount Isa; the Dawson River weirs which, of course, are important to Baralaba. In Townsville itself we have the Ross River Dam, stages 1 and 2. A $3m grant was provided in the last Budget for the Clare weir, which is the first stage of the Burdekin River project and which will be common irrespective of whether a dam is built at Urannah or on the upper reaches of the Burdekin River itself. But a start has been made. An amount of $4.4m has been provided for the Bundaberg scheme to keep it going while further analyses are carried out. I have mentioned the Queensland beef roads scheme which will involve an expenditure of $24m. I might say that the new beef roads scheme in Queensland is orientated towards what one might call a crash program for developing the giant brigalow areas of that State, which have tremendous potential in terms of the development of the cattle industry. There have been important contract investigations. It is well recognised that there is a complementarity between the great Bowen basin- one of the largest black coal areas in the world- and the Pilbara region which, of course, has tremendous reserves of natural gas, iron ore, solar salt and other minerals. The complementarity between the 2 regions for steel is obviousiron ore, on the one hand, and coal on the other. All of those matters are being looked at. It is quite clear that the future of the Pilbara will depend upon the stripping of natural gas and the establishment of a petro-chemical refinery works. All of these are new projects which are being looked at in consultation with the Western Australian Government and the Queensland Government.
In the field of agriculture we recognise the problems with respect to the Ord River project. I for one have never lost faith in the Ord River project. I believe that we will solve the problems in the future and, given the tremendous areas of fertile soils in association with the availability of large amounts of water, the area will become a magnificent asset for Australia in future years. There is no need for me to dwell here much on the sugar industry. I find it difficult to understand why the honourable member for Herbert said that we are not out drumming up markets. I spend perhaps more time than I should in trying to get long term agreements for the sugar industry. I think that the Australian Government, in consultation with the Queensland Government, the Sugar Board and the CSR Company, have been highly successful in this field since the breakdown of the International Sugar Agreement. I assure the honourable member that we are losing absolutely no time or effort in getting further markets for our sugar.
It is hoped that early in the New Year there will be discussions with the Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland, which will involve the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and other Ministers, on the development of the Pilbara and the Bowen Basin. All of those things are being undertaken. I mentioned today in a debate on a matter of public importance what I am endeavouring to do for the beef cattle industry in the Northern Territory which is where my jurisdiction lies. I am hopeful that we will have a floor price scheme or a stabilisation scheme to stabilise the industry in the Northern Territory and to provide the liquidity which is badly needed in northern Australia, and most certainly in the Northern Territory, the Kimberleys of Western Australia and the northern parts of Queensland.
– Will you be in on the discussions with the Japanese Prime Minister?
-Yes. Perhaps I should answer a few questions at this stage. The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) raised a point regarding housing. I am not skilled in this field in terms of housing construction, but I will most certainly draw his comments to the attention of the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson). I could not agree more with the remarks of the honourable member for the Northern Territory about the need for an allweather link. The last wet showed quite clearly the vulnerability of northern Australia with respect to the supply of food and material. Without doubt there has to be an all-weather road Unking Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine, the Barkly Tableland area and so forth with southern Australia or with Queensland. We have taken action with respect to the construction of the roads. The honourable member knows full well the agreement reached with respect to the railway line. In the immediate short term I am endeavouring to arrange for a barge- I think the honourable member for the Northern Territory is interested in this matter- to be located if possible at Lake Wood which is reasonably full, and Newcastle Waters. What worries me is that if there is a downpour of rain the Newcastle Waters road will be cut again. That is a very serious matter as regards the supply of distillate and fuel as well as food to Tennant Creek. I am endeavouring to negotiate with the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) the supply of a proper barge at Newcastle Waters to allow for the transportation of essential materials. I have had a look at the possibility of a pipeline being constructed across there for the supply of distillate. It is obvious that Tennant Creek itself is in a vulnerable position in regard to the supply of fuel. I am deeply conscious of all of those things and I am doing my best to try to accelerate work in that field. Shipping is a problem. The taking over by the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd of the ‘Cape York’ has added serious problems and posed serious questions regarding the supply of essential materials to the Northern Territory. That matter is being looked at. The Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) and I are collaborating to ensure that there will be sufficient shipping to supply the needs of Darwin.
I have spoken about the cattle industry in the Northern Territory. I have instructed my Departmentsboth of them- to give top priority to the cattle industry in the north. They are working in very close consultation with Mr Tapp and the Cattlemen’s Association of North Australia. The great problem, as the honourable member for the Northern Territory knows, is that there is a big difference between a stabilisation scheme for a product like beef or meat and one for, say, wool, which one can store relatively easily in comparison with beef or meat. But this matter is being looked at. I am hopeful of being able to put a concrete proposition to the Government soon after the talks which are to be held next month with the Northern Territory cattle industry.
There has been a record allocation to the Northern Territory in the 1974-75 Budget. The total allocation this year is $265m compared with $129m in 1971-72, the last full financial year when the present Opposition was in Government. It cannot be denied that there has been a very large increase in spending in the Northern Territory, and that it is needed. I am not going to say that this is enough. But there has certainly been a great increase in spending. The increased allocation following on the amounts made available in the 1973-74 Budget clearly indicates the priority we accord to the social and economic development of the Northern Territory. The new works program provides for the commencement in 1974-75 of projects to the value of $107m. One of the more significant items is the allocation of $ 12.4m to the field of health. Then there is the provision that has been made for extensions to the Darwin Hospital, a new health clinic, health centres at Ludmilla, Adelaide River and Mataranka, extensions to the Katherine Hospital and a new hospital at Tennant Creek, as well as improved facilities at various Aboriginal settlements. A sum of $ 1.4m has been provided for police services, which includes the new police stations and quarters at Elcho Island and Timber Creek, together with improved facilities at Darwin. In the field of Aboriginal advancement a sum of $ 10.5m has been provided for electricity, water supplies, sewerage services, internal roads, air strips and administrative buildings at various settlements.
Almost $30m has been allocated for education to provide for free schools and primary schools at Tea Tree, Katherine and Wave Hill together with improvements to the Darwin High School, and also schools on settlements and missions, extensions to existing schools and improvements to the Alice Springs School of the Air. Here we have something which is extremely important to the Northern Territory: The Stokes Hill Power Station, stage 6, and the more significant projects in terms of this facility will be commenced on behalf of the Department of the Northern Territory. That work will involve the expenditure of around $13.4m. The sum of $15.7m has been provided for Government housing, and of $9.3m for urban land development in the new suburbs. Development roads throughout the Territory itself have been estimated to cost $ 1.5m. I think honourable members can see that there is activity. I have provided them with the total amounts in terms of financial undertakings to give them some idea of the expenditure on specific projects.
The provision of operating expenses for the Department of the Northern Territory totals $35.6m. Provision is made here for the general welfare services and community activities of $1.5m to provide for the maintenance of State wards and other children, assistance to missions for the care of children, maintenance of mental patients and the care of those people in necessitous circumstances. Also, we have provided support for those activities of a community nature such as contributions to the YWCA, the YMCA and other youth centres in the Northern Territory. Funds have been provided also for the continuing upkeep of the public recreation and other reserves operating under the trustees appointed for this purpose and $1.5m in the form of subsidies for local government authorities established in Darwin and Alice Springs. Further, $lm has been provided to the Northern Territory Reserves Board for the operation and improvement of facilities under its control. The honourable member for the Northern Territory knows that the Government has taken a very sympathetic view with regard to flood relief. What we have been able to do is unique. We certainly have been able to assist a lot of people in all walks of life in the Northern Territory who have suffered hardship as the result of floods. In the course of the last wet season Hercules and other aircraft were brought in to supply food when the roads and other means of communication were cut.
Funds have been allocated for the operation of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. I accept the points made that this will be a very delicate situation in the near future. I have no doubt that honourable members opposite would take some comfort from the results of the Assembly election held on 19 October. Frankly, I would prefer to see a different balance in the Assembly. I do not necessarily mean the balance that I obviously would like to see. I would prefer that there was to be a strong Opposition in the Assembly. The position will not be easy; I recognise that. The Administrator of the Northern Territory has already had talks with Goff Letts who, I understand, will be elected as the leader of the CountryLiberal Party in the Northern Territory. I will be having talks with him as soon as possible, probably next week, depending on whether the Constitutional Convention meets.
– It has been cancelled?
-Yes, I understand it may be. But that will not alter the fact that I will be having talks either in Darwin or in Canberra on this matter. The operations of the Legislative Assembly, the Administrator’s Council and the role of the Administrator will be discussed in the immediate future. I have made it quite clear in this House, in the Northern Territory, and when I was in Opposition that it is my objective to give to the Northern Territory people a greater say in the operations and the affairs of the Northern Territory, particularly in those fields which they are qualified to administer and of course in those fields in which they know best what the people of the Northern Territory want.
– What will they do in the meantime?
-Previously, under the Northern Territory Administration Act, the elected representatives were able to deal with ordinances with powers of assent resting with the Administrator and the Governor-General. This will give them greater power. All of these matters will be looked at. This is the undertaking which I gave to members of the Legislative Council as it then was some months ago: As soon as the new Assembly is elected I will certainly sit down with its members and we will progressively go step by step through the problems which obviously will not be easy in the first few years of government in the Northern Territory.
I will end on that note. I thank all honourable members from both sides of the Committee who have taken part in this debate. It is not a difficult area to administer in terms of administration itself. As I say, I have 2 very good Departments. I am pleased that one is located in the Northern Territory where it ought to be. Its headquarters are there. It is not an easy department to administer when the responsible Minister has to spend so much time in this Parliament or in Cabinet; nevertheless, I am very fortunate in having extremely good senior officers who work in close consultation with the elected body, previously the Legislative Council and now the Legislative Assembly, and the various organisations in the Northern Territory. At the same time in Canberra, I have a very good department in the Department of Northern Development which is deeply conscious of the need to develop the northern parts of Australia.
- Mr Deputy Chairman -
Motion ( by Mr Nicholls) put:
That the question be now put.
– I rise to take a point of order. Did not the Minister for Northern Development and the Minister for the Northern Territory in speaking say that he would not be closing this debate?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr GiIes)-No. That is the business of the Committee on which it will make up its own mind.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Department of Minerals and Energy
Proposed expenditure, $44, 1 8 1 , 000
-The clock on the wall which indicates the amount of time available to honourable members in each debate shows that I have 10 minutes in which to speak. It is pretty futile in that time to try to deal with a subject of this nature and its ramifications and involvements in the way that one would wish to do. The first subject on which I would like to speak, and on which I will try to be a little more constructive than destructive on this occasion, is the importance, as I indicated when earlier I spoke on this subject, of the small miners in the whole of the mining industry. In the presence of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) I point out that no section of the mining industry has shown more durability and tenacity - in the face of continued suppression in recent years and in past years than the junior companies, the small producers, the explorers or, as we know them, ‘juniors’, or individual gougers if honourable members understand that term.
If I can bring a personal element into the debate, I can remember the time when I was a small child in the western country going to various gougers meetings, small mining group meetings and so on. These people were trying to get off the ground, suffering discouragement after discouragement, under all governments. I do not specifically point the finger on this occasion at this Government; however, it has done much to eradicate any hopes that these people might have had for the future. The level of exploration activities remained high during this period. They have continued, but the decline in junior participation has been rapid and continuous. In the stock market boom of the late 1960s, some 20 companies were floated publicly on mineral properties in north-western Queensland alone. Of that number, only 3 companies remain active to any degree at present. This is proving somewhat ironic in the light of the recent very high metal prices and the continuing abundant minerals wealth in north-western Queensland and might well answer the Minister’s claim that considerable help- he mentioned $50m- has been given to these -
– Not ‘has been’- will be.
-I am sorry. I misunderstood the Minister. I think I have asked him for some details in that regard. All will be aware, however, that a chain of suppressive legislative measures has been imposed on the industry in the past couple of years. These are the only logical reasons for the decline of junior activity. Traditionally, juniors have played a major role in fulfilling, first of all the prospector stage. Not only junior groups but individuals have been involved to the promoter stage and the high risk proving stage. It has gone to a pattern. I have lived among these people. I have seen these people trying to get off the ground, to obtain bridging finance or even to obtain access to their properties or mining development areas. It has been an uphill task.
I- would like to give an example of the success that can be achieved. It is the story of what is now known as the town of Gunpowder. The mine which is involved is the important Mammoth mine. It is undoubtedly the outstanding illustration of the importance of the junior industry in recent years and not only in my own area of north-west Queensland. Naturally this sounds parochial but a person knows best what is happening in his own area. It took a highly entrepreneurial junior company to back its judgment and find the high risk finance necessary to enable the development of this important discovery. It was not just one entrepreneur but a group of people who had sufficient faith in this project. This group brought Mammoth into the small big time, if I may use that term. Although it may sound like it, it is not a contradiction of words. If this were the big time I would be talking of Mount Isa Mines Ltd, but Mammoth was a small operation that began to go places. It is interesting to study future development plans for this particular operation. I could mention one or two similar developments- Lady Annie, for instance, but when most people think of that venture they think of phosphate rock. However, the original development at that location was not associated with that particular deposit. So much for the small miners. I would ask the Minister to consider the establishment of a special tribunal which would enable consultation with and access to him and his officers by these smaller miners. I realise it is almost impossible to believe that the Minister would consider this type of proposal, and that is regrettable, but he would get a tremendously enthusiastic response from these small miners if he gave them access to consultation.
I have often been accused of being continually destructive in debates on the mining industry but I should like to set out precisely and quicklyseeing I have only 4 minutes remaining in which to speak- some suggestions based on information I have gleaned not from multi-nationals, as I do not normally come into contact with multinationals, but from rank and file people, particularly those in the younger group. I am sure the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) as one of the younger guard would appreciate this. Young and enthusiastic men seek consultation. They come to my office in groups. We have lunch and a few beers together and talk mining. From these discussions have come some of the following suggestions.
I start first with the subject of environmental policy. If anything bugs a realistic and practical man it is the flights of fancy into which go extremists among environmentalists. How can they be accommodated? The following suggestions for an environmental policy may appeal to them. We should encourage decentralisation of ore treatment to minimise the cost of anti-pollution measures. There should be a system of land use control to avoid conflicts of interest between major processors and local land users, including Aborigines. Conservation and anti-pollution attitudes must be realistic and standards should be based on facts, not emotions or politics. If the Minister were to achieve this last objective he would be immortal. Tax concessions should be provided for anti-pollution expenditures. It should be remembered that I am not talking of the major companies but of all companies most of which these days have Australian investment and some of them only Australian investment. It is regrettable that the Government seems to have the obsession which creates in the public mind the view that we do not have any significant Australian involvement of either finance or knowhow in the mining industry because this is utterly false. I instance the company in my home town of Mount Isa. As is now known, the major investment is in Australian hands and all the knowhow is Australian, not American. However, to continue with some of my suggestions regarding environmental policy. There should be a more realistic system of appeals against councils’ directives written into the Clean Air Act. This is something that really bugs those who are concerned with the practicabilities of this matter.
Air pollution control measures should be flexible, realistic and sensible. The health of the community should at all times be considered and a standard of environment should be maintained. Common sense should be applied. We should promote the exploitation of mineral, pastoral and other resources in northern Australia for the maximum overall and long term benefit of the Australian people. There should be a realisation of the natural wealth which exists in Australia and we should not take for example, one particular project and either support or knock it. This means that there should be regard to how much of this wealth is actually realised. Everyone in the mining industry knows that the question of the cut-off grade is a fundamental issue. I have an interest in a small lease at the moment where some 20 per cent ore has been discovered, but where is the cut-off? The present policy has no cognisance of this point and is a short term policy based on the ignorant concept of an ore body as a finite thing to be milked by way of royalties and so on. It must be exploited to the advantage of the Australian people.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-For those who have not had the opportunity of looking at the estimates for the Department of Minerals and Energy I should like, for the record, to explain that the estimates are divided into S separate headings. Not only are there the administrative costs but also a section about which we hear little, the Division of National Mapping; the Bureau of Mineral Resources, about which we hear more and which does so much valuable work in collecting information on which decisions are made and on which the private industry has so much relied in the past; the Joint Coal Board and the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. I know that the estimates for Appropriation Bill (No. 2) are not before the Committee but we will not have an opportunity to talk about them at great length when they are before the House and in addition to capital works and services under that heading we also have the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority, the Atomic Energy Authority, the Pipeline Authority and, for the first time this year- this is splendid to see- $50m appropriated for the Petroleum and Minerals Authority, the new body set up since the joint sitting of this Parliament. However it is not about any one of those particular headings that I want to talk, it is about 3 items that come under the heading ‘Adminstrative’, namely, the Redcliffs petto-chemical industry, the uranium industry and solar energy. The latter I will discuss if there is time.
Before commenting on these items I pay tribute to the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) who so often is under attack not only from the Opposition but also from people whom I consider to be ignorant of the problems he faces- people in the media and from private industry. One feature of these attacks is that they are destructive and not constructive. I believe that everyone in this country should accept that the Australian Labor Party was 2 years ago and again a few months ago elected to power in Australia on a clear policy of not only developing Australia’s great resources of minerals and energy in a rational way but also to see that those resources were in the hands of Australians and that decisions were not being taken elsewhere in the world as so often they were in the past. A grandfather of mine was a leading mining engineer in this country. He worked with a British company even though he was an Australian. I have spent two very enjoyable and worthwhile years of my life working in the mining industry at Broken Hill. Fortunately in that case, although a lot of the capital has been contributed from outside this country the directors of those mining companies had the foresight to make sure that the management would be in Australian hands, but that has not applied universally. (Quorum formed). I do not know why the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), who aspires to be a front bench member, called for a quorum. It is a very puerile thing to do. I was talking about the degree of Australian participation in the mining industry and the very clear support that the Australian Government has had on 2 occasions from the people of this country to do more about Australian participation. I suppose, because of the success of the Minister for Minerals and Energy, the honourable member for Curtin felt that the time allocated to me to speak on this subjectI was given only 10 minutes in all- was too long.
I should like to talk now about the Redcliffs petro-chemical industry. This is an industry that is vital for South Australia. The products of the Cooper Basin, in addition to the methane which is transported by pipeline to Adelaide and soon to Sydney, are ethane, propane and butane. More and more of these properties of the natural gas from the Cooper Basin will be available as the producer companies, mainly Santos Ltd and Delhi Oil Corporation Ltd, in that area move to what I, as a layman, would call wetter wells. It is essential that we get this industry under way as soon as possible for the future not only of South Australia but also so that the ethane, propane and butane will not be wasted. The South Australian Government has had worthwhile plans for a number of years in this area. They were attacked initially by the Opposition in South Australia but I believe now generally are supported by the Opposition although I notice that there are still some cynics, including Senator Steele Hall, about this particular industry. The whole of the complex required the support of the Minister for Minerals and Energy and I take this opportunity of thanking him for the support that he is now giving to that project. I stress the urgency of it as otherwise energy will be wasted. I also stress the urgency of ensuring that the partiesthe ICI consortium on the one hand, and the producers on the other hand- quickly come to terms on the prices of these products to come from the Cooper Basin natural gas. I repeat that this industry is so vital for South Australia.
There are environmental problems which I believe should have been tackled earlier. This is no criticism of the Australian Government Minister. I do not know where the fault lies but it is disappointing that the environmental inquiry is taking place only now when there has been so much delay already in this industry getting under way, an industry, I repeat, which is vital for my State of South Australia. I hope that even though the site at Redcliffs may not be the ideal site after this inquiry has been carried out, we will make use of the valuable products from that Cooper Basin and ensure that they are not wasted and that we will look for another worthwhile site even if it will not bring about the decentralisation which the Premier of South Australia was seeking and even though we may set up that industry near the petroleum refinery at Port Stanvac at Port Adelaide or in a similar area. I believe that there are also problems quickly to be overcome in regard to the new taxation provision relating to mining companies. The whole of the pricing arrangements between the producer companies and the users of the methane in Adelaide and Sydney have now been thrown into the melting pot by the new mining provisions. I ask the Minister to do all he can to help in that area as well.
Unfortunately we have a very short time in which to speak in the debates on these estimates and I do not want to delve into all of the statements that have been made by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). I will very quickly comment on a couple of remarks that he made. He said that one of” the jobs of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), whom he congratulated, was to see that our mining industry was in the hands of Australians. One of the extraordinary things about the Minister is that he continues to repeat this yet all the actions that he takes have the opposite effect. One has only to look at a very recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to see that during the period since the Minister came into office- he has had some months in control of this industry- there has been an increase in foreign ownership whereas during the latter period of my Party s time in office foreign ownership remained fairly static. As I have said, under the administration of the present Minister foreign ownership has increased.
Another matter I mention very quickly because of my limitation of time is that the honourable member complained that the petrochemical industry at Redcliffs has not been able to get under way. He said that the South Australian Government had worthwhile plans. Here again, of course, it has been the stultifying effect of the Federal Government which has prevented any major mining development in Australia during the period it has been in office. The Redcliffs industry is one example. There is also the Alwest proposal, a major proposal in which a large Australian company- Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd- was to be a shareholder and indeed was to use it as a means of getting into bauxite and alumina mining. But the present Minister, it seems, would rather prevent development than see it proceed.
Let me turn now to what I want to say on the estimates for the Department of Minerals and Energy. I wish to discuss the policies of the present Government, if indeed there are any policies. We all know that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at the invitation of the present Government recently published a review of scientific and technological activities in Australia. This highly reputable body summed up our energy policy in these few words:
At the present time there is no energy policy at the national level.
Of course this rebuke stung the Minister and he issued a special statement in which he referred to the report in his customary language as being trivial and, in fact, of a fallacious nature. Surely the OECD report is true. In the past 3 weeks there has been quite a hooha- I think that is the in expression today- about the so-called policies of the Government. When the Prime Minister at the United Nations said: ‘We in Australia accept our responsibility to reassure countries which depend upon our resources that they shall have steady, secure access to those resources at fair prices’ the Australian people believed that there had been a switch from the so called ‘keep it in the ground’ policy of the Minister for Minerals and Energy. When the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Renouf, gave a special briefing to Press men on the subject this belief was reinforced to such an extent that even mining shares on the stock exchanges reacted strongly. But it soon became apparent that either the Prime Minister had backed down on his proposed confrontation with the Minister or else that there was no change and that the Prime Minister’s words at the United Nations were just platitudes.
Attempts have even been made to justify the present policy of the Government. This year the Minister said: ‘Australia’s mineral exports will set an all time record.’ This statement of course completely ignores the whole argument. If we do have record mineral exports this year it will be for 2 reasons. The first is that major mineral development projects initiated under previous Liberal-Country Party administrations are now coming into full production; and secondly, there has been a considerable escalation of mineral prices overseas caused by a shortage of supply and by inflation. It is extremely doubtful whether any of the major projects initiated in the 1960s would have proceeded in the present climate. Virtually all the encouragements that we gave to companies to assist them to get these projects off the ground have been abolished. In fact, as I said previously, there has not been a new major mineral development since May 1972 when the big coal project known as Saraji was opened up in central Queensland by Utah Developments Australia Pty Ltd. But what we are complaining about is, firstly, that the present climate is such that exploration in the mining and petroleum industries has been discouraged to such an extent that it is dropping alarmingly; and, secondly, that the Government has prevented Australian firms from writing contracts for the sale of uranium overseas despite the fact that we have some hundreds of thousands of tons more than we can possibly use ourselves this century.
I mentioned that at the United Nations the Prime Minister said that Australia is not in the business of resources blackmail, and he went on to reassure countries that they would have steady, secure access to these resources. But where is this steady, secure access to uranium? Not one pound of uranium has been sold overseas by a contract approved by the present Minister. Companies have been told to withdraw tenders for the supply of U308 or else not to bid for sales which could bring into Australia well over $ 1 ,000m. So these sales are going to our overseas competitors while our uranium lies in the ground. We have no shortage of it. Conservative estimates of Australia’s present proved reserves place them at more than 300,000 tons of U308 while our estimated needs to the end of the century are reckoned to be no more than 40,000 tons.
The Minister has tried to explain this policy. He said his policy is to allow the export of enriched uranium only because this will be worth 5 times as much as natural uranium. Even here he is in error as usual, as industry sources claim that the figure is only two and a half times greater for enriched uranium But an enrichment plant, as we know, would cost $2,000m to $3,000m and could’ not possibly operate before the mid 1980s. In the meantime, we are losing sales to Japan, Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi in Italy, Centrales Nucleares S.A. in Spain, the Tennessee Valley Authority, Finland and Belgium, all of whom want to get our uranium. Yet apologists say that the Minister does not have a policy of keeping the minerals in the ground.
All exploration has dropped alarmingly but the area that has given us most cause for worry is oil search. The self-sufficiency which we had built up is rapidly being eroded. In my last year as Minister for National Develpment, 322 holes were drilled in the search for oil and gas. This year the number appears likely to be between 60 and 70. Most oil search companies are now either closing down completely, going into mothballs or going overseas where they can deal with a more responsible government. This situation will certainly get worse before it gets better as drilling depends, as you would know, Mr Deputy Chairman, on seismic work to delineate stuctures worth drilling. This year seismic work in Australia has hit an all time low since 1 963 and is only one-fifth of what it was before the present Government took office.
Of course the Minister is renowned for the inaccuracy of his statistics. This time last year he was saying that Australia had no more than 8 years of known recoverable reserves of crude oil. Last week he claimed that we have IS years. It all depends on which figure he thinks is more useful at the time he produces it. But of course the Minister ought to know that reserves are not some finite amount; they vary depending on the price of the crude, just as the mines’ reserves vary. For example, in Australia today there are at least four and probably double that number of oil fields that are not commercial at today’s price of $2.05 a barrel but which would be commercial at less than what we are paying for oil overseas. Likewise, of course, oil can be made from coal or shale but the capital cost is likely to be prohibitive for some time to come. I finish by saying that it is a pity to see the Minister having such an effect on an industry which has done so much good for Australia.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to support the proposed estimates and I take this opportunity to answer the mob outburst by members of the Australian Country Party during my speech on the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill at the Joint Sitting when I attacked the scandalous sell-out by the Queensland Country Party Government. Then I raised 2 issues. One was the shocking level of the then royalty payments on our minerals in that State and secondly -
– A pre-election speech.
-Well, if you like. Second was the level of overseas ownership in the Queensland mining industries. I claimed at that time that in respect of 2 commodities, coal and bauxite, the production figures showed that they were 88 per cent and 100 per cent respectively overseas owned at that time. It is interesting to note that the statement issued recently by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states:
Queensland was the only State for which both foreign ownership and control exceeded SO per cent, and it was the highest in both categories.
That was in August. In the following month the Queensland Government introduced its Mining Royalties Bill. It has taken that Government 17 years to change the value of its royalties. Effective from 1 August the new broad policy is that minerals royalties will be 10 per cent of the value of the mineral loaded ready for shipment from the fields. We ought to take a look at some cold, hard facts. The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) challenged me to produce some facts. I shall give him some facts and figures. In Queensland last year the value of minerals output increased by 77 per cent over the previous year to a total of $5 15m. Royalty payments to the State ‘s Consolidated Revenue Fund for that year totalled $4m, and because of increased coal production and a substantial increase in the profitability of Mt Isa Mines Ltd the royalty, on the old basis, for 1974-75 was expected to be $9m. However, on the new royalty rates the return in 1974-75 will be $37m, an increase of $33m on the 1973-74 payments and an increase of $28m on what would have been received in 1974-75 at the old rates.
I was chided because I claimed during the Joint Sitting that the people have a right to a reasonable return on exploitation of a national asset. During the debate on the Queensland Mining Royalty Bill last month Sir Gordon Chalk said:
I have said that I make no apology for what the Government is endeavouring to do today. It believes that the people of this State have an entitlement. If the profitability of a company is something like $150m and the State receives only $7m is it not right that we indicate that it is time for a change? Of course, I do not blame the companies. All of them have a responsibility to their shareholders and to their directors. Consequently, we are entitled to argue that as a Government we have the greater responsibility of laying down what we believe we are entitled to. That is exactly what we have done.
Over the years the amounts paid by all mining companies in Queensland by way of royalties has been a national disgrace. For example, in 1971-72 on a total output of coal valued at $107m the mining companies paid royalties amounting to $577,000 which represents a return to the State of .54 per cent. In the following year, 1972-73, on coal valued at $ 160m the companies paid royalties amounting to $852,000, representing a return to the State of only .53 per cent. In the 10 years between 1962 and 1972 production was valued at $727m whereas royalty payments amounted to only $2,875,000. This is a national disgrace.
Let me refer to the big five mining companies in Queensland. Mount Isa Mines Ltd is 49.5 per cent controlled by American Smelting and Refining Co. Comalco Ltd is 45 per cent owned by Conzinc Riotinto Australia Ltd and another 45 per cent is owned by the Kaiser Steel Corporation. Thiess-Peabody-Mitsui is a nice consortium in which Peabody-Coal has a 58 per cent equity and Mitsui a 20 per cent equity. I do not blame Thiess for that. If Australian Industries Development Corporation had been in operation 4 years ago the company would not have had to go overseas to get capital. This is an indictment on the previous Government. These companies had a picnic at the expense of this nation for about 20 years. Not one of these companies has publicised the details of royalties paid to the Queensland Government. However, one can at least estimate them. In 1973 MIM paid about $2m in royalties on a net declared profit of $32m. In 1970 it paid $3.8m in royalties on a net declared profit of $55.5m. Utah announced on 31 October last year production of about 11 million tonnes of export coal. On this basis it would have paid $550,000 in royalties. Utah’s disclosed profit was $37.2m.
– Where did you get these figures?
-You should do a little bit of homework. At least I do. The ThiessPeabodyMitsui consortium has an annual production export of 4 million tonnes, the royalties on which amount to $200,000. This year for the first time in that State’s history 20 million tonnes of coal will be mined in one year.
Let me dig a bit deeper. The annual report of the Queensland Under Secretary for Mines for 1973 is worthy of study. I commend it to the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who is a shadow minister. That report shows that the total value of minerals produced for 1973 was $515m of which MIM accounted for $255m or 49.5 per cent. That company’s aggregate royalty payment for the 16 years to June 1973 was $ 1 5. lm on a net declared profit of $29 lm- 5 per cent. Sales totalled $ 1,545m for the same period. Profits before tax amounted to $477m. The highest royalty payment in a year was in 1970 when the company paid $3. 8m on a net declared profit of $55m. Royalties paid as a proportion of the company’s profit to which they are related averaged 3 per cent a year in the 5-year period to 1973. Comalco paid only 5c a ton on bauxite refined at Gladstone and 10c a ton on bauxite exported. In 1973 its profit was $18m. It is reported to have paid less than $700,000 in royalties. On 3 June 1972 Utah announced new contracts involving $600m to $900m worth of coal from central Queensland mines. As at 31 October last year it had a gross revenue of $133m which is an incrase of $40m on 1972. It recorded a gross profit of $3 7m or an increase of $9m over the previous year. Its minerals sales for the first 6 months of this year exceeded $60m. However, this was before the renegotiation of coal prices last June for which the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) who is sitting at the table, must take credit and for which this company can expect to receive an additional revenue of more than $90m in. this financial year. This company accounts for 60 per cent of Queensland’s coal shipments.
Let me conclude on this point. Two factors were involved in this change of heart by the Queensland Government. The change of heart did not come about of its own volition. Firstly, the State Government needed to shore up a shortfall in its Treasury. Secondly, that Government feared that our Government would impose its mining policies on Queensland. Basically, the one that really mattered was our determination and in particular the determination of the MinisterI commend him for this- to ensure that Queensland would not be permitted to sell out our minerals at rock bottom prices. Australia owes a debt of gratitude to the Minister for Minerals and Energy who succeeded in obtaining increased prices for natural resources exported to Japan. If it had not been for the efforts of the Minister who is constantly criticised by members of the Opposition for having stood up for his country and demanded a fair and just price what would be the position? I commend the Minister for these estimates.
-During the 1 950s and early 1 960s our major mineral exports were silver, lead, zinc, copper and gold, based on European and American markets. In 1960 the total value of Australian exports was $A363m. As the emphasis in exports shifted during the 1960s to iron ore, bauxite- including aluminaand black coal, Australia’s trade with Japan increased. In 1964 Japan accounted for 32 per cent of Australia’s mineral exports. By 1971 this had risen to 55.6 per cent or $Al,287m with iron ore, black coal and bauxite our major exports. Athough Japan’s consumption of Australian minerals has increased drastically, world consumption has risen at a rate of about 4.5 per cent per annum. Japan’s rate of increase has been 2 or 3 times that of other industrial nations and it is now the world ‘s largest importer of iron ore, coking coal, crude oil and lead, zinc and nickel in concentrate form. However, the increasing world demand for minerals cannot be regarded in isolation as creating favourable circumstances for the Australian mining boom of the 1960s. Other contributing technical and economic factors have been: The technical advances in the exploration, production and processing of minerals; improved methods of bulk transport; the longterm purchase contracts which have enabled the establishing and financing of new, large scale mining ventures and the economies of large scale production.
The 1938 ban on the export of iron ore was eased off from 1960 to encourage exploration. Both Australian and overseas corporations showed great interest in developing the Pilbara deposits in Western Australia with a view to supplying the Japanese market. With the complete lifting of the export ban, the Australian Government retained an oversight of export prices as the only purpose of export control. The prices obtained during the 1 960s for the long-term contracts were adequate considering the then existing market forces, for despite this general growth of iron ore production and exports from Australia during the 1960s the market did have its problem periods. In the second half of the decade there was a general downward trend in world prices, brought about by the increase in the number of iron ore suppliers and by a partial slowing down in the growth rate of demand. A general increase in demand on the world market occurred during 1968 and in 1970 prices improved. Some Australian companies were able to benefit from the situation and negotiate new contracts at higher prices. Buoyant conditions remained during 1970-7 1, but owing to the combination of circumstances of a recession in the steel industry in Europe and the United States of America and the enforced cutback of steel production in Japan, demand for new materials declined in 1971. The Japanese demand drifted downwards through 1972 and for the first quarter of 1973 when they imported only 1 1,000 tonnes of iron ore. The drop in demand quickly reversed in the second quarter of 1973 when they imported 95,000 tonnes of ore, being the highest import since the third quarter of 1 970.
After exchange rate adjustments in the United States and the Australian dollar it was announced in May 1973 after negotiations between Australia iron ore exporters and Japanese steel mills that prices for iron ore for delivery to Japan would be increased to compensate for the reduced value of sales contracts because of devaluation of the United States dollar. The Minister for Minerals and Energy, who intervened in the negotiations by using the threat of export controls over mineral contracts, described the rises as very satisfactory from Australia’s viewpoint.
Early in 1974 negotiations for price increases were undertaken between the major Australian iron ore producers and Nippon Steel Corporation, representing the major Japanese steel producers. An offer of a 24 per cent increase in total revenue was made which the Minister rejected. By August 1974 the increase had been renegotiated to a level of 2&Vi per cent bringing the price of Australian iron ore more in line with world prices. The average price increase for Australian ore was U.S.S2.25 per tonne which increases the Australian price to U.S.$ 16.09.
Prior to the 1960s Australia’s coal production was largely geared to domestic needs for iron and steel production, power generation and general industrial use: Exports were of little significance. However, industrial development overseas, especially in Japan, expanded the export market, and on the supply side the development of large scale open cut mining allowed comparatively low production costs per ton. Relatively low cost transport in large tonnage ships also became available. Up until 1973 Japan had been pursuing a determined policy of seeking alternative forms of energy- producing fuels- and was using large quantities of petroleum fuels, with the result that between 1960 and 1969 the percentage of coal used for power generation was reduced from 35 per cent of the total to 2 per cent. It was therefore in the field of coking coal, used in steel production, that Australia had the greatest export potential. Increases in Australian coal production have been principally of coking coal destined for export.
Price rises for our export coal were renegotiated after the Arab members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, known as OPEC, increased the price of oil and cut production. This was at a time when Japan was finding it difficult to maintain her supply for fuel. Price increases ranging from 6 to 16 per cent were obtained. The Minister for Minerals and Energy had been very critical of the existing coal contract prices in his early days in office and the reports of these price rises claim that this criticism aided the negotiations. In June this year the Japanese steel industry renegotiated the price of coking coal from Australia. These negotiations were initially at the request of the Japanese for Queensland coking coal but were extended to all Australian coking coal being exported. The Japanese price increases were effective from 1 April 1 974 whilst the new prices for Europe commenced 1 July 1974.
I turn now to bauxite. Aluminium production has increased tremendously, with Australia changing from a position of being unable to meet domestic requirements to that of being one of the world’s major sources of bauxite and alumina and a net exporter of aluminium. During the 1960s world demand for aluminium products rose sharply and Australia’s rapidly developing resources were able to meet the demand. Exports of bauxite and associated products now contribute about one-sixth of total mineral export earnings. Exports to Japan of the whole range of aluminium materials have been estimated at 30 per cent of total Australian exports of these items.
Australia has been a signatory of the International Bauxite Agreement since September 1974. The objectives of the association are: To promote the orderly and national development of the bauxite industry; to secure for member countries fair and reasonable returns from the exploration, processing and marketing of bauxite and its products for the economic and social development of their peoples, bearing in mind the recognised interest of consumers; generally to safe guard the interests of member countries in relation to the bauxite industry. When the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) circulated the text of the Agreement to members he said:
We want to ensure that our resources command a fair price in world markets.
Official trade statistics for bauxite and associated products are difficult to obtain but it is understood that negotiations on long term export contract price for Australian materials are being carried out with the general aim of aligning our bauxite export prices with prices charged by member countries of the Bauxite Association. I support the Government’s policy on minerals but I am afraid that I am unable to support its policy on oil. I cannot support the removal of the subsidies which were given for oil drilling.
-Firstly I would like to make the point that debate on the estimates now before us is not strictly limited and therefore I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) for the way in which he has administered his Department and the estimates that are before us. The estimates for the Department of Minerals and Energy amount to $44m this year compared to $46m last year. Part of this reduction has been a reduction of $4m in oil search which has been set at $6m. But for the most part allocations made under the Division of National Mapping, the Bureau of Mineral Resources and the Australian Atomic Energy Commission have shown only minor increases. I think that this reflects a fair amount of work on the administration of the Department and for that alone I think the Minister should be congratulated notwithstanding all the other things that he is achieving in his portfolio.
It is symptomatic of the state of debate in this chamber and the community at large that there has been little intelligent analysis of the Fitzgerald report on the contribution of the minerals industry to the welfare of Australians. As honourable members know this report was completed prior to the recent election and the Opposition seemed to think that this was a political document. It took up the report as a political document and did not seem to bother to do any analysis of the figures or facts contained in it. Regrettably some members of the mining industry have used it to impute attitudes to the writer. For example, there were allegations that the companies were being criticised in the report. I think it is a very sad thing that there has been no full scale debate on the Fitzgerald report.
The same lack of analysis has been present in the assertions of the Opposition in various debates on matters of public importance that have taken place in the last few weeks. I think that the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) sank to new lows in making personal attacks on the Minister in which he made some sneering remarks about ‘second rate czars’. I do not know what this contributed to the debate. The Australian Country Party has been particularly overtly political and directly irresponsible on this matter. The Opposition has tried to reflect a consensus view that the Government is doing too much too soon in a few areas. Yet at a time when we have a Minister working quietly in an extremely complex and vital area with a new Department and with key Acts under challenge in the High Court, we have bleats from the Opposition because there is no instant policy.
This is not the only sort of contradiction we are having by way of a debate on minerals and energy in this chamber. Members of the Country
Party have made allegations of improper diplomatic conduct with the re-negotiating of iron ore and coal contracts with the Japanese. There has not been one word of proof- just snide implications. Yet the same Country Party members now call for the Government to screw Prime Minister Tanaka’s arm by threatening to withhold uranium unless beef contracts are granted to us. The honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) tried to do this in respect of wool when he was the Minister for Primary Industry and I think he realised then as he realises now and as this Government also realises, that the Japanese are businessmen and that they respect people who know the facts. They respect business people but they do not respect those who wail. Australia should be more concerned with an overall analysis of the oil crisis- or in popular jargon, with the recycling of petro-dollars. Australia should be more concerned with our relationships with Japan in terms of the economic consequences of the oil crisis than attempting to try some form of blackmail. I was pleased to hear the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) this afternoon describe this move as blackmail. It seems to me to be the old Country Party trick of making moises about wanting reduced rail freights for farmers in the morning and grilling in the afternoon because the railways do not pay their way.
My electorate is a coal mining electorate and I would like to put the record straight on some of the matters that have been raised. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) is reported as saying at a meeting in Melbourne that we should not leave our minerals in the ground. That is, he is trying to say that this is the Government’s total attitude to minerals because we are not breaking our necks to give away uranium, which is our most valuable strategic resourse to any bidder. How stupid can you get! It is true that we have had problems with uranium, but a policy has been formulated. We have had problems with Aboriginal land rights and there are now environmental considerations that have been taken into account over quite a period.
For most of the mining industry the year that has ended has been the most profitable on record. The action of the Minister for Minerals and Energy has resulted in profit per ton doubling for some coal exports from Queensland, probably all of them, and for most iron ore contracts. The outlook has never been brighter in the coal industry. The main problem is getting men to mine, not that we are leaving the coal in the ground. Five new mines will be opened in my electorate in the next 2 years, and the labour requirement will be for over 2,000 people. There are over 300 job vacancies in my electorate at present in the coal mining industry. So much for saying that the Government wants to leave Australia’s minerals in the ground.
I would like briefly to put the record straight on the Fitzgerald report and try to sum it up. First, there was no implicit criticism in the report of companies, and, secondly, there was no implicit criticism of multinationals. It simply stated that business acts within a framework set by the national Government; that business operates to maximise profits within that framework. Minerals are in a special situation inasmuch as in the latter 1960s and 1970s the industry had shown special characteristics relating to the dynamics of growth in Australia. Capital inflow had been massive. Strain had been placed on the economy in terms of diversion of resources. Quite simply, the multinationals were the companies which in that time could amass the funds needed.
With the Government determined to identify national interest in this whole area it was necessary to examine the real contribution to the welfare of Australia- hence the Fitzgerald report. It was not a put up job. The report made a few simple points with great clarity. The figures themselves have not been refuted. A mythology fed by the dynamic developer syndrome emerged and we had a situation in which States were competing to attract industry without scrutiny. This developed to the stage where everyone thought that this industry should not be subject to any attention or scrutiny at all.
What was systematically shown by the Fitzgerald report was, first, that the concessions to enable rapid growth to take place were far greater than could reasonably be expected to be backed by the general taxpayer or could be recommended on a permanent basis to a national Government. The second point that it made was that more than half the minerals industry was and is overseas owned. Therefore half of these tax concessions were being paid to the same companies, and therefore it could be expected that more than half of the profits would go overseas. There is no overt criticism of the multinationals but a simple recitation of the facts. The third point it made was that State governments had been giving rights to vast mineral deposits, some of which had resource lives of up to 150 years, to the same companies for quite minimal royalties. They were virtually gifts to nonnational interests. The fourth point was that three of the main minerals involved, namely iron ore, coal and bauxite, were the most important and dynamic to the industrial world.
This is the sort of picture that the Fitzgerald report brought into the daylight. Quite clearly we were underselling our products. Again I say that the critics have to show that the Australian Government has in any way breached good diplomatic behaviour. We were underselling due to the weakness of our own trading system in Australia that the past Government had allowed ourselves to be placed in, whereby firm fought firm and State fought State. As secretary of the Government Members Resources Committee, I have been heavily lobbied over the last few weeks by members of the uranium industry. I understand their point of view. I understand that a lot more information has to be given to them. I understand also that some of the information they have at present does not allow them to make forward business decisions. But, as I say, until the Minister gets his submission through Cabinet and we have a policy defined in clearer detail it is rather illusory for them to think that the Resources Committee can spell out every detail. What they need to realise overall is that the development of a minerals policy needs national considerations to be paramount. Control or policy over minerals and energy resources is fundamentally a political question, and it always has been. Policy cannot be developed, as proposed by the Opposition, entirely on demands of the firms involved in exploration, leasing and production.
The United States of America has in the past pursued a resources diplomacy which enabled it to gain control of up to 60 per cent of the world’s known resources in some areas. Yet it now tells the member countries of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries that they should act with more regard to the consequences. This is OK, but of course there are two sides to the story as far as the Arab nations are concerned. On the one hand they see from the amount the consuming countries have been levying by way of taxation that there was a great amount of consumer surplus in the deals that the consuming companies were negotiating. On the other hand, any changes would have rather abrupt consequences. I think we would be well advised to look more closely at the world wide ramifications of our policies and take a lot more time in some of the policy areas in which we are engaging because these are the most important decisions that any country in the world can make today. Minerals and energy are politics. They are politics on a far larger scale than is envisaged by the Opposition.
They are politics involving the national interest and not simply those of individual companies.
– I would like to speak for a few moments on the estimates relating to the Department of Minerals and Energy. Some $186m has been provided in the estimates this year for this Department which controls the destiny of a very important segment of the Australian economy. We hear a generalised reference today to the mess the economy is in. I think one of the flow-on effects of not having any policies in relation to minerals and energy is the lack of confidence for investment in this area and the general slow-down in the development that we have been used to in this area which has tended to prop up particularly the industrial sector of the community. Today we live in an appalling situation in which energy is becoming a critical matter. Yet the Government just blunders along without any sound policies on oil exploration, oil and gas development, uranium or coal liquefaction. We hear these things stated. They are just rattled off ad lib but nothing constructive comes forward. There is no overall cohesive planning. While the nation is left in this state of uncertainty, the economy must suffer and so must the job opportunities of people suffer. Our export performance suffers and our balance of payments tends to run downhill.
It is time this Government came to grips with itself and produced a policy that we and the rest of the world can understand. It takes a visit from the Japanese Prime Minister to shake the Government up and to get some sort of cohesive policy on uranium. We still have not heard the policies, but we are waiting for something to come forward in the next couple of days. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international organisation of enormous repute, solidly criticised the Australian Government for its lack of policies in these areas at a time when the world really wanted to know what Australia’s stand was. The Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) will no doubt react by saying: ‘Well, we have a great Pipeline Authority’. This is a grandiose idea. It certainly involves countless millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds, funds that were not really necessary to be spent in this area because private enterprise had already committed itself. But we hear now that the pipeline to be laid by the Pipeline Authority is ultimately to be extended right across to the North West Shelf. In one way this will be a good thing because it seems to be the only possibility for any development of the off-shore natural gas supplies of the North West
Shelf. But can the North West Shelf-Pilbara concept succeed whilst there is written into legislation a provision that gas has to be sold at the one price all over Australia? If that is a fact then there is no chance of development of the North West Shelf-Pilbara complex and the petrochemical, steel and aluminium industries associated with it and all the ideas that have been canvassed many times for this area, because the whole success of that scheme, as the report presented by the Minister for Northern Development and the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) said, was based on getting gas at a concessional price. Of course, the legislation, as it stands today, prevents that.
Oil exploration is in an appalling situation. It is virtually grinding to a halt. The Minister keeps citing the number of feet drilled this year as against last year. The best indicator to measure the rate of growth of oil exploration is the number of miles of seismic surveys carried out. Two years ago a total 83,000 miles of seismic survey was carried out; this year there will be only 17,000 miles. The survey is necessary to determine whether the proper geological formations exist which might contain oil-bearing rock, but if that basic work is not going on there will be no drilling. At the moment there is only one seismic vessel operating off the coast and the maximum it can service is 3 rigs. We have already lost 3 rigs in the last 4 months and we have got only another 3 rigs there. BHP-Esso and WoodsideBurmah on the North- West Shelf cannot even get an extension of their exploration rights. They have not been granted a permit. Why? Because the Minister claims that there is a High Court challenge to the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act. That is no reason for holding up the granting of permits. The very Act makes provision for any change of sovereignty. If there should be a decision in favour of the Commonwealth the Act automatically provides for it.
Of course, the whole matter is being stymied and held up because the Minister ultimately wants to get absolute control over the situation. He does not seem to have any consideration for the future oil supplies of this country which are dwindling today. Australia has already used up 22 per cent of known resources and we have got only enough to continue for about another 8 years. The Minister says 15 years at the present rate of consumption, but anybody who has done the arithmetic knows that we will be only 40 per cent self-sufficient by about 1980 and about 20 per cent self-sufficient by 1985, and the import bill will be going up enormously.
The Petroleum and Minerals Authority is under challenge by the State governments in the High Court of Australia, yet the Minister goes ahead and spends money- he is going to try to spend $50m in the next eight or nine months- investing taxpayers’ money in many areas where its investment is probably not warranted. But if the Government should be overruled, what is going to happen to all the decisions that have been made for government involvement? How is it going to untangle the financial mess there? One of the matters I want to bring up this afternoon in relation to PMA involvement and the fears that people have had about Government intrusion is the Wambo case which has been revealed in the Press in the last few days. I think this is one of the most despicable and disgraceful performances that I have known of a government.
Let us look at the facts. The Australian AngloAmerican company, which has been operating in Australia for a number of years on oil exploration, brought into Australia approximately $20m worth of funds for general mineral exploration. It was invited by an Australian company, Wambo Mining Investment Co., to try to help it develop a new coal deposit. It was not a takeover, it was an invitation for more capital. Anglo-American had negotiations with Wambo in June and July and made a financial arrangement which they then presented to the Governmentto the Department of Minerals and Energy- for approval for foreign investment in this undertaking, for a 49 per cent involvement in this company, but additional capital. They waited to find out whether the Government approved or disapproved, but last week an officer from the Treasury rang up about 5 minutes before question time and was told that they would be informed of the Minister’s decision by way of a Dorothy Dix question in this House. The Minister’s decision was to disallow Australian AngloAmerican from participating in this joint venture and wherever its name was included in the agreement it was crossed out and the PMA was put in its place.
There had been negotiations to get the Australian Industry Development Corporation to come in and to reduce the foreign equity holdings if that was the wish of the Government, but of course AIDC did not even come into it. It was completely overridden; in fact, the companies have been hijacked of all the confidential information relating to their business, relating to the coal deposit. It is nothing more than highway robbery by this Government. Is it any wonder that there is a lack of confidence by private investors, by foreign investors coming in and involving their money in this country when the fear of an authority like the PMA is hanging over thenheads?
The Minister smiles and smirks. I think it is a despicable performance. Confidential information is supposed to be confidential information. Who is going to trust the Government with information about deposits and involvement in enterprises if this is the way the Minister is going to perform. Yes, he smiles. We know -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Again we have heard a whingeing speech from this shamefaced lobbyist who comes in here and just takes a brief from any foreign company that hands it to him. Tonight the Leader of the Country Party stands in the National Parliament of Australia complaining because the Government-owned Petroleum and Minerals Authority has taken up a shareholding in an Australian venture and kept an American company out. He is complaining and the basis of his complaint is a breach of confidentiality. We did not hear him complain about the 78 per cent foreign equity in the North- West Shelf or the 78 per cent foreign equity in the Queensland coal mines. He comes into this Parliament complaining about the charter which was given to the Petroleum and Minerals Authority by a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, and that is precisely what is wrong with minerals and energy policy in Australia. It is not this Government or the Minister but the fact that the Opposition takes a partisan view and sees its role as supporting foreign companies in Australia. A notable personage like Sir Edward Warren, of all people, came out and supported the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) and complimented the Government upon the deal which the PMA had done with the Wambo coal mine, and this is precisely why the PMA was implemented- to stop Australian companies having to invite foreign miners into Australia to supply capital to develop prospects which those Australian companies held.
What the Government is doing is allowing the Australian Petroleum and Minerals Authority to supplement the capital of Australian companies with adequate funds to enable them to pursue their prospects themselves. And so we do not see another Woodside-Burmah. We had the Australian Woodside company, which was given all of the leases on the North- West Shelf which, due to lack of funds, had to invite Burmah Oil of Britain in. Burmah Oil subsequently dominated the whole corporate structure of Woodside. And what have they expended? An amount which could have been raised in the Australian loan markets and could have been funded by any interested Federal Government, instead of those represented by the shamefaced lobbyists opposite. Honourable members opposite ought to be ashamed to call themselves members of the Australian National Parliament with the attitude they have.
The Leader of the Country Party talks about a minerals policy. When the Minister for Minerals and Energy inherited the portfolio there were not even any statistics to work from. The Minister could not even call upon or rely upon adequate statistics on the state of the industry. None were ever kept. The Bureau of Mineral Resources leaked like a sieve back to all of the foreign companies in Australia with which it had had sweetheart dealings over the years when the LiberalCountry Party Government was in office. We had to bring in -
– That is a shameful thing to say.
– It is not a shameful thing to say. It is a fact and you know it, and you are one of the people who try to encourage leaks from that place.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member will address his remarks to the Chair.
– The PMA was implemented in order to have at least an information gathering authority which would be able to regulate properly all exploration and mining in this country, whether in hydro-carbons or minerals on shore. The point of the Authority is to give Australia some real expertise in the areas of exploration and mining which other countries have- an expertise which Italy has with its Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi and which other countries have but which we do not have. We have had an inadequate ministry in the Liberal-Country Party with inadequate instruments in organisations like the Bureau of Mineral Resources, which was not designed to oversee a general exploration and production program in this country but to be only a geological organisation. That is why the Government introduced the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill and that is why this Bill is now starting to have dramatic effects.
The Minister for Minerals and Energy is to be complimented on what he has done since he became Minister. He introduced the Pipeline Authority Bill to set up a national pipeline grid in Australia. The Government has put through the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill, against opposition from the other side of the House, so that the Australian Government does have power over the off-shore of Australia and it is not left to all of these city-State, rotten borough, pocket State governments to make agreements with foreign companies.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with some matters raised by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in his attack on the Minister for Minerals and Energy and the Government for their handling generally of the minerals and energy area. As usual he had nothing good to say. For instance, he did not mention that the present Government is the first Government to pass legislation which will effectively guarantee the sovereignty over the offshore areas of Australia that the Seas and Submerged Lands Act will give to the Australian Parliament if the challenge in the High Court of Australia is rejected as we believe it will be; that the Government introduced the National Pipeline Authority Act, which provides for the setting up of an inter-connected grid to supply all the east coast cities and regional centres of Australia with natural gas from the west of Australia and the north west shelf; that since the Government took office the Minister for Minerals and Energy has improved the price of Australian exports to our major trading partner, Japan; that the Minister for Minerals and Energy secured a 20-odd per cent differential from the major Japanese steel firms when our currency was revalued and that he has since secured by negotiation further price increases in iron ore; that the price of coal to Australian exporters to Japan has increased by 50 per cent in that period; and that the manner in which Australian coal producers were straggling to Japan one after another and being picked off by the Japanese companies and MITT- the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry has ended and that, in short, he has brought rationalisation and common sense to the fastest growing industry in Australia.
It is a compliment to the Minister for Minerals and Energy that he has had so much foresight and that he has been so single minded in his task. The Press has mounted a sustained compaign against him generated I think, in some quarters by the companies which were affected by the decision taken in the national interest. A consistent program has been implemented by the Minister and the Government. The Leader of the Australian Country Party regularly comes into this chamber with a brief which has been handed to him by one of the foreign mining companies. Whatever is at issue that week, one can bet that he will be in here with his song to sing. This afternoon he again referred to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which, in short, is the share-the-energy club. He said that the OECD bagged Australia for not having any energy or minerals policies. In fact, what the Minister told the OECD when it came whinging was that if it did not have enough sense to get in out of the rain it should not come to us complaining.
Now that the former colonial powers which abused their relationships within their colonial empires and obtained cheap fuel and cheap resources, and have squandered them, as the Americans have done on large cars with big V8 engines and with massive uses of power for air conditioning and all sorts of other comforts, they are complaining to the world that they have energy shortages and are expecting everyone to fall over backwards to make sure that they are supplied with their needs at bargain basement prices. That is the job which the OECD has for itself. Quite rightly it was sent packing. I believe that that is completely the right attitude to adopt. If the OECD wants to howl let it howl, but the leader of an Australan political party should not come into this Parliament and pick up the cause of the OECD as well as the causes of other foreign mining companies. What about for once coming in and picking up the cause of an Australian company or an Australian enterprise for a change. Never has that happened in the time I have heard the Leader of the Australian Country Party speak on these questions. He has always spoken in criticism of the Minister and of the Government to help what are ostensibly foreign controlled companies.
We have heard again this afternoon about the Wambo coal mine in New South Wales. The Petroleum and Minerals Authority Act, which was passed at the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, is a piece of legislation designed by the Minister for Minerals and Energy. The instrumentality set up by it bought a piece of this coal mine because the coal mine had to get foreign capital to remain open. The action of this Australian Government instrumentality will allow this mine to stay open and to get enough liquidity to improve its operations without being dominated by foreign ownership, which has been the pattern of things in Australia. The present Government has done all it can to regulate foreign ownership in Australia and to maximise the use and utilisation of our resources. It is high time that the whingers opposite stopped criticising the Government, particularly the Minister, because a first class job is being done in this area.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It must be very heartening for the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) to have an honourable member on his side of the chamber, such as the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), who extols his virtues with such eloquence. Unfortunately I am unable to do that because for some 22 months the mining industry in Australia has been forced to live in an atmosphere of the utmost uncertainty caused by the attitudes of the Minister for Minerals and Energy and, in particular, of his Department. As the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) has already pointed out, the Australian uranium industry has been halted for the last 2 years and no new contracts have been permitted by the Government, despite the fact that between 1975 and 1990 Japan is expected to require 170,000 short tons of uranium oxide. The Minister told this chamber on 1 October that we will sell uranium only to countries which are full accessories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. As Japan has not yet ratified the treaty the Minister should explain quite clearly what are the Government’s intentions. Are we going to sell uranium to Japan? In fact, what is the Government’s uranium policy?
The Minister is proceeding with his dream of establishing a national gas pipeline grid, although he has never advised this chamber or the Australian people of the details of any costbenefit analysis or feasibility studies on projects which will cost the taxpayers at least $ 100m during the next 18 months. He has also stated that gas from the north-west shelf will be sold in Sydney at the same price as in the Pilbara region, but such pricing policies are quite obviously contrary to the Government’s desire to encourage decentralisation of industry throughout the continent. The Minister’s attitude toward petroleum exploration and overseas investment has resulted in only 3 off-shore drilling rigs and 3 on-shore drilling rigs being in operation today. There are 12 others which remain inactive and 10 have been taken overseas. Even if the Government’s policy were to change today it would be years before companies would be interested in or able to return to oil drilling in Australia because of existing overseas demand and a shortage of rigs and expertise.
It is a well known fact that on present prices, by 1980 we will be spending over $2 billion on importing fuel into Australia. Obviously our domestic fuel situation is critical. On the Minister’s own estimate we have only 14 days of fuel in reserve and various public utilities throughout Australia are as low as 5 days. On the Minister’s own estimate, therefore, there is obviously a need today to be encouraging the petroleum industry, but that has certainly not been done. The other problem which the Government has failed to overcome is that it does not have a policy with regard to increasing the refining capacity in Australia. That has become absolutely clear by the answers given by the Department to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Petroleum Industry.
The list of excesses and downright obstruction which the Minister and his Department have inflicted upon the minerals and mining industry in Australia is almost endless. There is the Alwest proposal from which Reynolds Metals has withdrawn because of present Government policies. The lack of a specific pricing policy and a viable Government attitude towards foreign participation have been key factors in delaying the development of the Redcliffs proposal. The Minister’s intrusion into the New South Wales electricity strike last September was a flagrant example of interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign State of this Commonwealth. The future of natural gas exports has been grossly complicated by the Minister’s failure to honour his promise to produce an energy budget which would define the extent of any future natural gas exports. I ask the Minister: Where is his energy budget? Most recent of all we have had the halfbaked proposition to establish a uranium enrichment plant in Australia. It would take approximately 2 years for a satisfactory environmental impact statement to be prepared and at least 8 years to build a plant. Where are the feasibility studies? On past performances we can assume that they do not exist.
The Government’s desire to limit overseas investment in Australia’s refining and metal industries by restricting the import of capital has severely affected Australian companies and has actively discouraged thousands of Australians from investing in the mining industry. The statistics of the Bureau of Statistics show quite clearly that in the last 2 years the percentage of
Australian ownership has in fact fallen even further. Now, faced by the realities of a rapidly drying up capital market, the Government is prepared to send the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) overseas to encourage foreign interests to invest in the Government’s pet projects through the Australian Industry Development Commission and the Petroleum and Minerals Authority. But the uncertainty and the doubt which the Government has done its best to implant in the minds of foreign investors will not be dissipated overnight.
For 2 years the Government has mindlessly pursued policies totally out of context with Australia’s position and development needs and has failed to enunciate a policy to encourage Australian participation. We have been told by the Minister for Minerals and Energy that he has policies and that he is faithfully pursuing the platform of his Party. Despite his hollow words, in October 1973, accompanied by 3 other Ministers including the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and Dr J. F. Cairns, the Minister for Minerals and Energy travelled to Japan for top level ministerial discusions. The party left Australia’s shores without a firm policy and in desperation attempted to prepare one on the aeroplane. The result was confusing, to say the least. The Japanase a disciplined people, found themselves having to interpret no fewer than 3 conflicting sets of opinions expressed by 3 Australian Ministers.
On that occasion, the Government offered the Japanese joint participation in a uranium enrichment plant using their technology and finance. But, faced by such a confusing policy, the Japanese have to date refused the Government’s terms. There are indications that Japan doubts Australia’s long term reliability because the Government has failed to articulate its foreign investment and minerals policies except in the broadest terms. At present, Japan has only 2.9 per cent of the total foreign investment in Australian industry, compared with 36. 1 per cent for Great Britain and 40.4 per cent for the United States of America. Japan obviously wishes to have an equity share, not ownership, in those key industries which it sees as vital to its security and sources of raw materials.
Now, on the eve of the visit of the utmost importance by the Prime Minister of Japan accompanied by top officials from the Gaimusho and a party of some SO journalists, we are the horrified watchers of a Wagnerian tragedy, in which the Government finds itself in a position where it has yet to clarify its policy within the Cabinet and it still developing its position for negotiations. Australia deserves better than that. The people have every right to expect that their Government would have firm guidelines as the basis for negotiating with a nation whose people are past masters at the art of driving a hard bargain. Beneath all the cant and all the hypocrisy emanating from this Government, there are real Australian national interests. They are crying out to be heard.
The Minister for Minerals and Energy should realise that the Prime Minister made it quite clear both in his 1973 Roy Milne lecture and again in his recent speech at the United Nations that he sees the need for Australia to accept international obligations to ensure continued resource stability by guaranteeing sources of raw materials. But, despite these statements, Australia’s relations with Japan have been largely determined by a Minister and a Department who have no right to interfere directly in Australia’s foreign relations and whose actions have tended to dislocate interdepartmental coordination and co-operation which are essential for the effective implementation of such Government policy as exists. Members of this House will be surprised to learn that to this day the Department of Foreign Affairs does not know officially what happened in Tokyo last October because the Department of Minerals and Energy refuses to tell it.
These are the situations which exist. This is the situation that we find in the Public Service today where there is no basic co-ordination of policy between the Executive Departments of State. The establishment of a foreign economic policy committee to help co-ordinate and implement Government trade and resources policies was mooted last year. It was a good proposal, and the Prime Minister supported it. But it foundered on the rocks of inter-ministerial and interdepartmental rivalry, because the Departments of Minerals and Energy and Overseas Trade and their Ministers refused to co-operate. This idiotic behaviour has gone on for too long. It must stop.
It should be clear to all thinking people that no government can function unless its bureaucracy is co-ordinated and has effective guidelines and policies to implement. The interests of Australia are greater than those of any individual and certainly of any department. Yet, the Government and, in particular, the Minister for Minerals and Energy and . his Department, have singularly failed to overcome these major problems. Earlier this year, for example, a ‘hot line’ was connected between the Department of Minerals and Energy and the Department of Foreign Affairs in an attempt to make co-ordination a reality. And, for 3 months, officers of the Department of Minerals and Energy dared not pick up that telephone. No attempt was made to inform the Department of Foreign Affairs on departmental thinking on minerals and energy matters. Is that the sort of administration that the Australian people are being expected to pay $5m for? The behaviour of the Minister is notorious in this field, as is the behaviour of his Department. It is his responsibility to the Australian people to make sure that coordination of policy does become a reality and that personal likes and dislikes take second place to the national interest which, above all, is the responsibility of Ministers of State.
In a few days time we are to receive from Japan the most important delegation in the last few years. The Japanese are coming to learn what the Government’s policy is, to see whether it does have specific guidelines for foreign investment and to decide for itself whether Australia is in the long term a reliable trading partner. It is in Australia’s national interests that we assist the Japanese to maintain a stable economy and a reliable political system. What is to become of the NARA Treaty about which we have heard so much? We have to live with Japan. We have to live in the Pacific region. What is beneficial for Japan is ultimately also beneficial for Australia. But we, as well as the Japanese, have national interests. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that our resources are made available to nations which require them. In return they must ensure that our resources are sold at fair and reasonable world prices.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– When this Government took office, 62 per cent of Australia’s minerals were under overseas ownership and control. There was a state of relative chaos in the coal industry where we had different coal producers more interested in fighting each other and the States of Australia more interested in some foolish parochial rivalries than they were in taking a lesson from the Japanese, which this Government did. I admire the Japanese for thennational sentiment, their ability to organise, their ability to co-ordinate and their ability to act and to think in the national interest. It was no strange thing for a new government- the first truly Australian national Government, the first Government of Australia which controlled an independent nation; a nation sharing a common Queen with a parent country- to act in similar terms. The Japanese are literate. They are numerate.
They are sophisticated. They work together. For the first time we have existing today the situation that I have described.
The outstanding example is the Australian coal industry. I repeat my words of last week: In Australia today we no longer ride on the sheep’s back; we ride on the coal truck. There is the future. For the first time we find that coal is the prime source of export income. It is no coincidence that right through the world today countries are turning back to fossil fuels. When all is said and done, crude oil itself is a fossil fuel; it is of vegetable and animal origin. For the same reason, we have been able for the first time to know the true picture of Australia’s exports, the profits of companies, their methods of operation, and we are able to help. We had no statistics previously. But now we are thoroughly informed by reason of the co-ordination of export contracts of coal and other minerals. As the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) said, on the matter of the Wambo coal mine, it was Sir Edward Warren himself who fully agreed with the actions that we took. The Japanese do not adopt a low posture. They are prepared to stand up. The trouble with Australia for the last 20 years has been that we have been low in posture. We have been afraid to stand up for what is the true national interest. We have had rival deputations going up to Tokyo and being treated with contempt- and deservedly so- because they could not speak, think and act together and, what is more, to do so as Australians.
To continue the story of coal, let me illustrate a standing disgrace. I hold up for the Committee to see a map. The coloured sectors show the coal deposits of the Darling Downs in Queensland. They run northwards from Toowoomba for about 250 miles and a little to the north of Roma. In that area is the best coal with a very high hydrocarbon content available for coal hydrogenation. As a matter of fact, it is of the order of 6.8 per cent. Coal is generally between 3 and 4 per cent and when there is a content of 14 per cent there is fluidisation and a liquid hydrocarbon. In the legend to this map- I invite every member of the Opposition to come to my office to see itthere can be seen a choice collection of the major coal and energy interests of the world in there ready because the cross-over point has practically been reached with the prices that are being asked by the Arabs for crude oil on the export market. There, sir, is the answer. One of the major matters of worldwide interest is coal hydrogenation. Last year Japan spent US$6 billion on imports of crude oil and this year it will spend US$9 billion. Last year Australia spent
US$1 90m and this year it will be of the order of US$740m. We need and they need, and we will be in this together because their need is the same as ours and coal hydrogenation is the order of the day -
- Mr Chairman, could I have a little decorum just for a change?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member will remain silent.
-I have paid Opposition members the courtesy of listening to them in silence and I am at least entitled to the same. I repeat that coal hydrogenation is of the utmost importance. In respect of hydrocarbons generally and in respect of the North- West Shelf the situation is that a responsible Minister of the Crown, Sir Reginald Swartz, wrote to the WoodsideBurmah company and entreated it at least to disclose the reserves of natural gas it had discovered because he was afraid that even the then 15 per cent Australian equity would be further diluted and the investors of Australia would not know the true position. Since the Labor Party took office it has had a fixed policy which it will carry out right to the end. There will be no farmouts of an excessive area- an area that is in fact a principality in size. There will be no farm-outs by one foreign-dominated company to others. If there are to be farm-outs in respect of residual areas they will be done by the Australian national government. The challenge is on, the High Court will hear it and we will win. The challenge is to Australian national sovereignty.
What an absurd state of affairs it is when we are expected to negotiate with other nations in respect of treaties and yet when it comes to the operations of drilling off-shore we are supposed to be subordinate to the States of Australia. The States will get a very fair go and they have been told so. We are certainly not interested in depriving them of royalties; we are not interested in their fisheries rights; we are not interested in the off-shore operations of their civil and criminal codes; but we are very much interested in making sure that, for the first time, there will be really intensive drilling on the North- West Shelf which covers 142,000 square miles and is one of the best and richest resources of natural gas in the world today. We will see that at least 50 per cent of it comes to Australians. By the same tokenthis, of course, is conveniently ignored by the Opposition- the yield of liquids, of condensate and liquid petroleum gas from the natural gas which will come from the North- West Shelf will, after proper treatment in a major petro-chemical plant, provide at least half of Australia’s motor spirit and other petroleum derivative requirements.
There is a lot of talk about a pipe dream- the construction of a trans-continental pipeline system. We are following precisely the same pattern as Australian Gas Light Co. drew up and it was not the first in the field. We had conceived precisely the same idea in 1967 and we are going right through with it. It will cost less to complete that pipeline from the Cooper Basin to Dampier than it will to pay for one year’s imports of crude oil into Australia at present prices. Once we do that, for the first time we will have access to Australia’s true energy wealth. We naturally will have obligations to ensure that in Western Australia there is a pipeline from Dampier to Perth and to the industrial complex at Pinjarra. A feasibility study has been undertaken for that purpose. Having done that, for the first time there will be available the extra supplies of heat and energy which will enable us to cut down heavily- by at least $500m- the amount that we would be spending in imports of crude oil. That is the true equation and let no one in this chamber forget it. We are proud of what we are doing. It is a national concept and is beyond the capacity, intelligence and, I fear, the integrity of the Opposition. 1 turn now to uranium and, here again, we were faced with some last minute what one might call death bed repentance contracts- contracts rushed into at miserable prices. But having in mind commercial integrity and our obligations to Japan, we have said we are prepared to honour them and we have the capacity to do so. We have in reserve 2,250 tons of uranium oxide, which is more than sufficient to meet the delivery dates under those contracts up to the year 1 980. Long before that we will be producing uranium oxide from our own milling plant. There has been a lot of criticism or attempted criticism of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority entering into an arrangement whereby it will assist in the re-opening of Mary Kathleen. There are very valid reasons for doing this and it was done on the advice of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Mary Kathleen is not merely a uranium mine. There are other adequate resources there and it will turn out to be an extremely sound proposition. By the same token, there is about $1.5 billion worth of coal at Wambo known to be recoverable and, for an outlay of between $4m and $5m, we will obtain a 49 per cent interestnot a bad deal. But of course this is contrary to all the principles of the Opposition. Our concept of public enterprise is this: We will go into open partnership, open co-operation, with private enterprise when necessary and we will do it in a proper way. We will have our directors on their boards and we will accept the decisions that will be made. When one has the wealth of Australia with one, one has some weight and some prestige and is able to do things and do them in the national interest.
I do not want to unduly delay the Committee. I deal in conclusion with the Fitzgerald report. Having seen to it that, for the first time, Australian minerals were being sold at proper prices and that proper adjustments were made in respect of currency variations, I decided to see how much was really getting through to Consolidated Revenue. What did we find?
– You did not get a proper answer.
– We got the answer. No one on the Opposition side of the House has been prepared to come out and pull it to pieces because no one can. There was stunned silence in the recent election campaign. No one in the Opposition was prepared to come out -
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Chairman. During the election campaign I sent a telegram to the Minister-
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins) - That is not a point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.
– I challenged him to debate the matter in Perth.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member will resume his seat or I will name him. Let me make it quite clear to members of the Committee that I will not entertain frivolous points of order. I ask members if they raise a point of order to state their point of order and not to make a speech.
– A very fair example of what I have been saying would be the Hamersley group which had accumulated assets of $750m and paid only $750,000 in company tax. Let us take the position in respect of the alumina refinery at Gladstone. Need I go any further? The refinery pays company tax later and at a depreciated rate and after due fiddle has been done. For the first time there is a government in office which is competent, which understands what to do, which will act in terms of commercial integrity and which has the respect and the co-operation of our Japanese trading partner.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, I wish to make a personal explanation.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-I do. The Minister said that no member of the Opposition was prepared to challenge the Minister on the Fitzgerald report. During the campaign preceding the 18 May election I sent a telegram to the Minister challenging him to debate the Fitzgerald report in Perth because of the importance of it to the mining industries in Western Australia. The Minister declined to meet the challenge. Now he has repeated the statement twice in this House and I am glad of the opportunity now to refute it
Mr KATTER (Kennedy)-I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Deputy Chairman.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. I claim to have been misrepresented under the same circumstances. I wrote a 32-page report called ‘The Connor Game’ most of which countered the Fitzgerald report. As for the Minister’s saying that I do not matter, let him tell the people of Kennedy that. I know what they will do. The will run him out so fast. Let him go to Mt Isa and tell that to the people there. Let him go to Blackwater and say it there.
– I rise to speak in the Committee debate-
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Department of Overseas Trade
Proposed expenditure, $27,205,000.
Department of Manufacturing Industry
Proposed expenditure, $ 162,293,000.
– I speak to the estimates for the Department of Manufacturing Industry which is concerned with the problems and the interests of a sector of the economy which provides directly upwards of one-quarter of employment in the Australian economy, a higher proportion of the gross national product, and indirectly much more of the employment in this economy. It is in some trouble. The Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby) has recently spoken about a fear of shadows. His colleague the Treasurer (Mr Crean) has argued that the problems of the Australian economy are largely psychological, but, this is arrant nonsence. Are the unemployment figures getting up to the order of 500 to 1 , 000 a day being laid off a shadow? A shadow of fear across the nation, yes, but a real hard figure. Is the consumer price index showing a rise of 5 per cent plus for the September quarter a shadow? Is the rise in average earnings at an annual rate in excess of 20 per cent, as revealed by the June quarter figure, imaginary- with all that that implies in this context of manufacturing industry for the competitive position of Australian manufactures vis-a-vis imports and in export markets, and for the sheer difficulty of financing an operation in the continuing circumstances of tight liquidity? Inflation, on the one hand, and the accelerating onset of virtual recession on the other are things that are real, not shadows. It is only realistic, not scaremongering, to recognise it.
The manufacturing sector and not it alone has been hit pretty hard by a succession of policy blows administered by this Government. I recite the main ones without elaboration. First, the excessive and unduly prolonged revaluation of the Australian dollar, partially restored by the devaluation of September last; second, the arbitrary, not to say reckless, and inapposite 25 per cent across the board tariff cut of July 1973; third, the policy of industrial restructuring, so called, and the associated tariff policy creating a climate of tariff uncertainty seriously inhibiting business expansion; fourth, the ‘halving’, as a rough description, of the export incentive scheme as from 1 July last; fifth, the anti-big firm delimiting of the research and development grants scheme; sixth, the credit squeeze of unparallelled severity directed against the private sector generally, and seventh, the rampant inflation itself with, as I have said, all that that implies for industries seeking to export and to compete with imports. Of these if the revaluation recently partially restored, the tariff cuts and the sheer severity of the squeeze in finance, have been the most directly damaging, for the future taking a long view it is the uncertainty and confusion arising from the policy of so-called restructuring industry and its associated tariff policy which is now of perhaps dominant concern.
I refer to tariff policy particularly. In a question to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam) one day last week, I referred to tariff changes in the present style of the Industries Assistance Commission. He took me to task as one who in this Parliament had supported the establishment of the Industries Assistance Commission. I take this opportunity to state categorically that what the Liberal Party supported and still supports is the main thrust of the Industries Assistance Commission legislation, that is, to extend the principle of public inquiry, investigation and report in matters relating to the granting of protection and assistance etc., which has long applied under the Tariff Board mainly to secondary industry, to rural industry, mining and indeed tertiary industry as well. I say the Liberal Party supported that and still supports that. Further, it has no cavil with and no wish to cast aspersions on the integrity and objectivity and responsible approach of the Industries Assistance Commission as an institution headed by the redoubtable Mr Alf Rattigan. But the policy- I repeat ‘the policy’- being put into effect by the Industries Assistance Commission in its recommendations to the Government, and the policy of the Government in that by and large it has accepted and acted on the advice of the Commission although perhaps it will not do so in relation to the car industry, is something different.
For my part the Whitlam-IAC policy, as one might call it, is a matter of increasing concern. That policy has all the appearance of being associated with the so-called points of reference proposed by the then Tariff Board and the evident intent of the Board and now its successor, the Industries Assistance Commission, to propose one rate as the going rate for as many industries as possible- that rate to be the low point of the points of reference I have just referred to, namely, 25 per cent or thereabouts. This movement towards a uniform tariff rate would promote an optimum allocation of resources, so this line of thinking goes, and greater efficiency in the use of resources.
For my own part I would argue that that is not a valid nor, in practice, a feasible basis for policy. The best that can be said for that as a ‘policy’ is that it takes up the vacuum created by the Government’s lack of a national industrial policy. The Government does not have such a policy- but it urgently needs one as its feverish manoeuvring in relation to the motor car industry amply indicates. Belatedly recognising this the Government has set up the Jackson committee. What a responsibility that body now assumes. It will have to be some steed, if I may compare it to the horse, designed to salvage the position arising from the Government’s cart before the horse restructuring policy and all its consequences for unemployment.
The Jackson committee is to be the answer to every criticism. The Minister for Manufacturing Industry constantly refers to it. The Prime Minister in answering a question from me last week threw the full onus on to the Jackson committee to reconcile the conflict between himself as a ‘Rattigan man’- his words, not mine- committed to tariff change in the present Industries Assistance Commission style, and the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) who seeks different, more appropriate criteria and a delay in the implementation of the Industries Assistance Commission review program. I say this to the Minister All power to the committee, but if, as I understand it, the deadline for its report is June 1975 and the report then has to be processed by Government and changes to procedure implemented, perhaps including any statutory change that it may be necessary, can we expect a positive industry policy this side of 1976? In the meantime large sections of Australian manufacturing industry are put in jeopardy.
So I say to the Minister that it is increasingly urgent that the Government formulate with some precision its view of the future development of industry in this country, which means so much to Australia as we have known it and as Australians have chosen, for non-economic as much as economic reasons, over the years. We have preferred that to an Australia perhaps with a higher income per head, but less industrialised, more reliant on its mineral and rural exports, and on imports for its manufactures. That would be one view, but the Australia we have chosen over the years has been one with a vigorous and flourishing manufacturing industry.
-I do not intend to pursue the rehash of a second reading speech made by the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) and his rather cursory remarks about the Jackson committee. I think he will acknowledge if he considers it, even though he was not in the chamber at the time, that at least the establishment of the Jackson committee displays a much more comprehensive approach to working out a rational program of manufacturing in Australia than the rather ad hoc, once a year consultation with industry that used to take place before Budget time in the time of our predecessors. Governments all around the world are endeavouring to make the productive processes more efficient and more rationalised. This can involve structual changes in manpower and industry policies. Many countries are carrying out programs for structural change in their industries. This involves rationalisation, to which I have just referred. It involves relocation of industries in certain circumstances, retraining and research. This is not something that is going on only in Australia in the present economic climate; it has been going on in all advanced Western countries for quite some time.
In the very few minutes I have available to me I want to pay my respects and offer my congratulations to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby) and to his immediate predecessor, the present Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns), for the announcement last night of a very important new initiative by this Government, namely, the Inventors’ Assistance Scheme. This scheme will provide $228,000 in 1974-75 for the benefit of individual inventors in Australia. Most advanced countries of the world for years have been operating such a scheme but we have been rather laggard about it. Even up to last year we made $10,000 available for individual inventors. We recognise that in war time and in peace time alike there is a considerable amount of creative talent and inventiveness in Australia which, as in other countries, has not been made use of as much as it could have been. These individual inventors, many of them ordinary employees in factories, do not get the opportunity of exploiting their inventiveness, and so they need help. Quite often it seems that industries would much rather borrow their ideas from overseas. Australia pays out millions of dollars each year in royalties and licensing and other fees to borrow the ideas from people overseas rather than giving assistance to those who could create them in Australia.
We have had our notable but all too few inventions in Australia and they have been very useful and have been sold on overseas markets. This new program offers to an inventor who satifies the advisory panel up to $10,000 in order to help develop his invention to the stage where he may receive a patent for it. Of the total of $228,000, $150,000 will go to private inventors. This money will not be handed out to just anybody. A wildcat scheme will not attract this money. The proposal will have to go through the sieve of a body of people in each State making recommendations to a central advisory committee. The inventor may receive up to $10,000. Therefore, the scheme will be of very considerable help to inventors. An amount of $50,000 will be provided for the evaluation of inventions to see whether they are worthwhile and have prospects of advancing our manufacturing techniques or of creating new products or new parts of products in our Australian economy.
I note with gratitude that $20,000 is to be given to the Inventors’ Association of Australia, an organisation with which I have had association through all the years of its existence. It is a very modest body which started in 1958 and has now developed into a national body. It has had to carry on with very little assistance except that given gratuitously by individuals, not Governmentpatent attorneys and such people, people in private enterprise and companies like John Lysaght (Australia) Ltd, which have given incentive and encouragement to these organisations. Another $8,000 is to be provided for administration costs related to the inventors advisory panels. This is a real initiative. I know from first-hand contact this afternoon with the National Secretary of the Inventors’ Association of Australia that the Association is most grateful for this contribution by the Government.
Many people who are familiar with the Australian Broadcasting Commission program ‘The Inventors’, one of the most popular programs televised, have recognised the worth of inventions and have often wondered why they have not received much more support from Government. Here is a start. The provision of $228,000 will not make a tremendous difference but it will give encouragement and a real start and real support to inventors. As I said, there will be advisory panels to guide the Minister in recommending which inventions are worth while supporting. The assistance will carry inventors up to the point where they will be able to get their patent rights in certain circumstances. That will not be the end of the story. One of the things these inventors will be looking for is the protection of their patent once they have achieved it. People who are in this game tell me that one of the greatest difficulties they have, even after they have achieved the patent, is protecting their patent from infringement by some big enterprise, whether it be in this country or overseas. They have not the financial resources to defend themselves in the courts. So I hope there will be a further advance on what the Minister for Manufacturing industry has already done- a very creditable performance- by way of legal protection for these people who have brought forward these inventions.
The main aim of the whole scheme is to assist private inventors. These are the individual inventors as distinct from those working in programs within the Australian Industrial Research and Development scheme which provides assistance to companies in certain circumstances. Under this scheme assistance is given to individual inventors, whether they be people with means or people who have just an idea and who need some help in cultivating it. Inventions judged to be worth while will be assisted by the Government in this way. I hope that on these panels will be representatives of the Inventors Association of Australia. It has been in existence since 1958.
It has something like 16 years of hard experience. I know that the Minister has been very good to this Association in consulting with it. I hope it will find a place on these advisory panels to be used in selecting worthwhile inventions, or potential inventions, that ought to be rewarded with Government assistance.
The honourable member for Berowra referred to another initiative by this Government, namely, the setting up of the first ever Green Paper Committee to carry out a comprehensive investigation of manufacturing in Australia. It is called the Jackson Committee and it is chaired by the General Manager and Director of Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd, one of the biggest private companies in this country, working along with very highly placed persons in Government, academics and representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. These people have all got together- from Government, private enterprise, employee organisations and academics. They are very significant people. They have been given terms of reference which will guide them in producing for the first time a comprehensive program of manufacturing activity in this country. There has not previously been anything like that. As I said at the outset, we have in the past gone on in this ad hoc way of once a year, half a day, a day or a day and a half in consultation with industry, employee organisations and others. This new move will have a long term as well as a comparatively short term objective of producing, as I said, a more effective, a more efficient, a more comprehensive and a more rational program of manufacturing activity for Australia, having regard not only to the domestic situation but also our international trading concerns as well.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins) -Order! the honourable member’s time has expired.
-The Government might have a committee comprising members of the Government, academics and trade union officials, but all I can say is that it has not done very well up to date. In discussing these estimates for the Department of Overseas Trade and the Department of Manufacturing Industry it must be said first that the actions and policies of the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) have a most important bearing on manufacturing industries, both large and small, in Australia. The Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby) also bears a heavy responsibility for the development, prosperity and growth of this section of industry in Australia. The 2 Ministers concerned have pursued policies which to date have resulted in our manufacturing industries being in a chaotic state. The Ministers have been assisted by senior colleagues such as the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam) the Treasurer (Mr Crean), the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) in creating a serious situation.
People outside the Parliament such as the President of the Australian Labor Party and those in the communist organised unions and their fellow travellers, have also played a significant part in damaging private industry and the general economic and manufacturing scene. All the people I have just mentioned have by various decisions and actions hit the foundation of Australia’s economy and history- the private enterprise sector. They have failed completely to realise that the private business sector, particularly the manufacturing group, involves the people who produce the goods, the wealth, the employment and the revenue which pays for the non-productive spheres of our society such as education, health, social welfare, industrial amenities and funds for Government housing programs. All these Ministers, ALP officials and communist union leaders working in close cooperation have hit industry hard by their inflationary actions.
The major inflationary actions they have initiated include reckless spending by the Federal Government itself, unrealistic increases in wages and conditions for many public sectors of the community, weakness towards irresponsible and political strikes, erratic Government economic policies and lack of support for the Arbitration Commission. The record inflation we have experienced has in turn caused a dramatic increase in interest rates, a crippling increase in imports and a rocketing rate of unemployment. The Government and its few remaining supporters are trying to fool the Australian people by saying that unemployment and inflation are world wide problems, particularly in the Western world.
– Of course they are.
– I will admit that they are problems. But what they do not say is that unemployment and inflation have for the last 10 years been a serious problem in other countries but not in Australia. They quote the United Kingdom and the United States of America unemployment figures. Those countries have had high unemployment rates for years. The communist countries have had their problems too. Not much is said about the riots and deaths that occurred in some communist countries over rising prices and inflation. Australia for many reasons had been able to contain its inflation and unemployment within reasonable limits until the Labor Government’s socialist policies and programs were introduced and took effect. The Australian manufacturing industry and its personnel are beginning to realise that the long term objective of the Labor Party is control of every industry and every person in Australia. They are beginning to realise that every Labor man has pledged himself to Government control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
The Minister for Overseas Trade- the de facto Prime Minister of Australia- the President of the ALP and their fellow travellers have now started the propaganda line of blaming ‘the system’. The system they refer to is the private enterprise system which encourages people to work and to use their money and initiatives as investments in the progress of their nation- Australia. This system, which certainly needs updating and modifying from time to time, has served this country and its people well over a long period of time. The attack on private enterprise from a number of directions is all part of the socialist and communist plan to discredit the system. They want the people to lose confidence in the private enterprise system and thereby to have to turn to the Government. Manufacturing industry produces basic wealth and basic employment, which in turn create other jobs.
Decentralised industry is a major part of the manufacturing scene and has been particularly savagely hit by the policies of the Labor Government. These decentralised secondary industries, which are of great significance as far as the Country Party is concerned, have not only been hit by the Government’s blundering and ill judged tariff, import and currency decisions but also by many other programs. So serious has been the effect on manufacturing industries, both in the city and in the non-metropolitan areas, that in Victoria alone in the last 12 months 87 industries have retrenched staff and an additional 40 industries have closed down completely. Of the total of nearly 130 industries affected about 70 industries are in nonmetropolitan areas. I have tables supplied by the honourable Murray Byrne, the Victorian Minister for State Development and Decentralisation, to substantiate these figures. Unfortunately I do not have time to read them to honourable members. Many of the firms listed in this document are textile, clothing and footwear companies. In most cases they are the backbone of country towns. It is a disgrace that this Government can let this situation eventuate.
The Government has adopted a policy of paying people not to work. This is part of its plan to get people used to depending on the socialist system. Vague statements have been made by various Ministers about import quotas, retraining, alternative industries and employment but we have not seen any results yet. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said the other day that companies would be given grants to provide viable alternative employment and production and that the scheme would be administered by the Minister for Manufacturing Industry. I asked the Minister for Manufacturing Industry in the House last week to detail more specifically employment and production opportunities to which the Prime Minister was referring in his statement and what the capital grants would be used for. The Minister, who is at the table at the moment, completely failed to answer the question. He could not give one single alternative. Neither has the Minister for Labor and Immigration been able to supply this information in reply to the many questions, letters and telegrams I have addressed to him asking for specific details.
Industries and local government bodies are entitled to know what alternatives the Government thinks there are. Will the Minister for Overseas Trade and the Minister for Manufacturing Industry tell the House and these people whether they have sold out the textile, clothing and footwear industries to their communist friends in China and other places? If they have not, will they spell out in clear and unequivocal terms what their objectives are for these and other Australian manufacturing industries? All we have had up to date has been a lot of words and no practical results. Manufacturing industry in Australia has a small domestic market. The industry admits that it is not perfect, but by golly it is trying hard. I ask the Government to give it a fair go. Is the Government not able to do this because of its socialist pledge to its socialist system which has been such an outstanding failure around the world?
-Every time an Opposition member gets up to speak we hear the same old record. The only difference is that we hear a different voice from a different electorate. But we are hearing the same sort of speeches being made day after day. These speeches are being repeated in the media day after day. Commentators and writers in the newspapers love the sheer exaggeration that is uttered in this place. It is incredible that members of the Opposition can keep on repeating the type of tripe that I heard tonight from the honourable member for
Indi (Mr Holten) who has just spoken in this debate.
– What was the exaggeration?
– The honourable member talked as if the Government wanted to take over every private industry in this country. What a lot of rot this is. This is the type of fear campaign that is being generated by the Opposition. If members of the Opposition had spoken during the war in the way they have spoken in this place in the last few months they would have been up for sedition. They would have been charged with trying to damage the status of the country and the attitude of the people to their country. But, of course, in peace time they can say the most outrageous things in order to get publicity. As I have said, the Opposition keeps telling us, like a record being repeated over and over again, of its philosophy of doom and of the destruction that is upon us. But have a talk to the retailers about what will happen at Christmas and they will tell you that they will have record sales. A total of 10 colour television sets were purchased for cash in one shop in Launceston a fortnight ago. But according to the Opposition the country is going to the dogs. I ask honourable members opposite to get down and find just how much truth is in their predictions.
Of course there are areas of great concern but why should members of the Opposition make criticisms across the board when they are really talking about some individual downturn in unemployment. This is the attitude that I condemn. The Opposition has every right to condemn us where condemnation is warranted but it does not have the right to extend this criticism across the entire Australian economy where large areas are still going well. And the retailers will tell us, if they are telling the truth, that this is so.
We are discussing the estimates for the Department of Overseas Trade and the Department of Manufacturing Industry. Every time members of the Opposition talk about manufacturing industries they say, of course, that the country is closing up or that we are in the middle of another depression or another recession. As I said, if some honourable members talked this way in war time they would be put behind bars. A depression is not on the way. The downturn in the textile industry which has been hit the hardest has now been held. I admit that the 25 per cent across the board tariff reductions finally bored into the textile industry, and perhaps the footwear industry, harder and deeper than any other industry. It was sometime before we were able to learn the true position in which the textile industry was placed. Once the true position did surface the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) and the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby) to their credit set to work to stop the rot They held conferences with representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian textile industries.
The first moves in this direction were taken way back at the end of July. They resulted from figures which showed that imports of basic textiles had increased from $347m in 1972-73 to $579m in 1973-74. This represented an increase of 67 per cent. The figures showed that the value of clothing and accessories imported into Australia increased from $63m in 1972-73 to $122m in 1973-74. This was an increase of 94 per cent. Some people were able to make a bonanza when the tariffs were lowered. They were able to buy cheap clothing from, for example, India. They could buy a shirt for $2.50 and sell it at an 800 per cent profit These are the people who ought to be put on the rack. These are the people who viciously and villianously exploited the cheap imports that came into this country under the lowered tariff boom.
When this situation finally emerged and was correlated and assessed the Ministers concerned immediately set to work to try to rectify it. Then, for the first time an Australian Government sought restraint in regard to international trade in textiles under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. These negotiations were conducted by a top level team from this country. As a result the Textiles Authority, which was set up within the Industries Assistance Commission, recommended restraints to take effect from 1 July on the following products: Items of knitwearmen’s and boys’ shirts; coats, cardigans, jumpers, sweaters, women’s blouses, shirts and the like; dresses; tracksuits, playsuits, rompersuits in respect of imports from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China; women’s and girls’ dresses, blouses and shirts of woven fabric in respect of imports from India and Hong Kong; and women’s, girls and infants’ coats of woven fabric in respect of imports from Hong Kong. How many newspapers printed this in full? Cut-backs are being extended constantly. I feel that the textile industry as a whole will soon start to feel the effects of various items being brought into the country under an import quota system.
In Launceston there are four or five big textile mills. Last week, when the Minister announced restructuring assistance, the people in Launceston spat in his face. I am absolutely ashamed of the leaders of the textile industry in Launceston. After the Minister announced last week that the Government would help they issued Press statements downgrading the Government, criticising the Government and in effect throwing the assistance out of the window. This is the way the Government is being treated all around the country. If it tries to help any section of industry where does it get? It does not get any thanks. It gets kicked to death for trying to help people. When the Government tries to assist industries which have been screaming for months and months a thousand people in Launceston have been put out of work.
Coming back to the quota, I feel that the downturn has been arrested even in Launceston, but the textile industry has to get back to a healthier economic state. It may never fully regain its previous status because of the various changes that it has had to make. I feel that the import quota system should be examined further in respect of the items affecting the industries in Tasmania and in Victoria where the situation at Wangaratta is of concern to the honourable member for Indi. I believe that the 2 Ministers concerned have started to stop the rot. They have started to stop the downturn becoming disastrous, and now it is up to the textile industry, if it is dinkum, to co-operate to the best of its ability to re-employ some of the men it has put out of work. One of its excuses for not doing so is that the retrenched employees will not come back because they are now getting paid in unemployment benefits what they were earning in the industry at the time when they left.
– They get it for only 6 months.
– Yes, but this is not the law of the Medes and Persians. Surely the situation can be altered if we are prepared to assist financially to the extent of millions of dollars to enable the industry to get its men back into employment. I think it is a pretty poor excuse that the industry puts up.
Finally on the overseas trade issue I congratulate the Minister for Overseas Trade and the Government for increasing our overseas trade in all fields and extending it into all corners of the earth. One of the finest records of this Government so far, for which it does not get any credit, is the way it has extended markets for our rural products, particularly in China and other parts of the world.
– You do not even wear wool.
– I have got woollen socks on. The 2 Ministers to whom I have referred tonight deserve congratulations for the way they have dealt with their difficult portfolios at a difficult dme in history. I particularly congratulate the Minister for Manufacturing Industry. Inflation affects all countries.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury)-
Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) concluded his speech by praising the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) for his tremendous efforts in China. It was reported in the Press only a few days ago that one of the Minister’s latest initiatives was his offering of the Leyland Motor Corporation of Australia to the Chinese for $20m. A report stated that the Minister made the offer to high Chinese officials while he was in Peking to open the recent trade exhibition. If ever there were anything that underlined the fact that this nation is on the skids, it is that report.
– What rubbish.
-The honourable member for Wilmot says: ‘What rubbish’. In the last few days I have received letters from 3 companies in my electorate which have gone to the wall. One of them is a textile company and the other 2 are manufacturing companies. As much as I agree with the contention that if you talk recession and depression, you breed recession and depression, there is no running away from realities. Half the problem confronting this country today is that the present Labor Government has adopted the attitude that everything is all right. It has failed to recognise that so many people in this country are in trouble and it is because of this mistaken belief that everything is all right that we have all gone deeper and deeper into difficulties.
It is all very well for people in Canberra, the isolated city, to suggest policies to Ministers and to devise policies for suggestion to Cabinet, but the people in this city have not felt the full effect of the devastation that has taken place in the last 18 months. People are losing their jobs at the rate of approximately 1,000 a day. I would like to tell the honourable member for Wilmot about the situation in my electorate, because he virtually says that it is not true that people are in trouble. There is a large textile firm in my electorate which wrote to all its clients on 2 1 October telling them of its inability to supply certain products in the future because it simply could not compete. I will not name the company but it is in its tenth year of operation. During its operation it has had quite some impact on the Queensland trade in school knitwear and, to a lesser extent, in knitted sportswear for men and boys. The firm concluded its letter by saying that at the end of December it will cease operation.
Recently my friend the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and I had an opportunity to interview various people from the Ipswich area of Queensland. The textile company in which they were employed, like other firms throughout Australia, was closing down like the lights going off at Luna Park at 1 a.m. What a proud record this Government has! What a 2-year period of great achievement! Yet the honourable member for Wilmot has the cheek to come into the chamber and tell us that we are scaremongers. I would agree with him that it is totally unnecessary for people to spit in the face of the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby).
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I suggest the honourable member address his remarks to the Chair.
– I will. I was just trying to teach the honourable member for Wilmot. I agree with him that it is terrible for people to spit in the face of the Minister, but what the Labor Government does not realise is that today people are so incensed at the destruction which has taken place within our economy that they are using virtually every method to express their indignation. Furthermore, the Thomas Dixon shoe manufacturing company which is based in my electorate is also in dire trouble. A couple of its ex-employees came to see me earlier this week for assistance to try to get the payments which have been promised by the Government to those people who have been retrenched as a result of industries being forced to close down because they cannot compete.
I refer again to what the Government has done to the Australian shipbuilding industry. In the last 15 or 16 months the Adelaide Shipping Construction company has been forced to close; Walkers Ltd in Maryborough has been forced to close, and Evans Deakin Industries Ltd in my electorate in Brisbane has called an end to its conventional ship building activities. The trouble with the present Labor Government is that it expects Australian industry to compete against people who eat a handful of rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is high time that this Ministry, if it expects Australian workers to compete on these grounds, started setting an example by Ministers eating a handful of rice each meal. We in Australia have a high standard of living and a high wage structure. It is absolutely impossible for Australian industry to compete against some of the industries based in the cheap labour countries. I do not prescribe systems which promote inefficiency. There has to be a balance. There has to be a recognition by the trade union movement and by every worker in Australia that if his particular industry is going to receive some form of protection which will increase the unit price of the article or the goods, then in return he has got to give something back, and that something is an honest day’s work; and furthermore, that the industrial strife which has plagued this nation, particularly during the term of the present Government, has to come to an end. The tragedy is that during the first year of the Australian Labor Party Government the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) adopted an encouraging stance. It was more or less an invitation to every trade union to get into the box, to ‘get in for what you can, the Government won’t take any action against you and now is the time to go’. When you start a flood tide often it is not easy to stop it.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said the other day that he thought it was about time profit-bashing stopped. The Labor Government has indulged in profit-bashing to a stage where it has just about beaten the feathers out of every pillow in the nation. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) made a statement in Townsville about 5 weeks ago that the load to defeat inflation would be put upon the shoulders of those best able to carry it. We have fast reached the stage where Australia is running out of people able to carry any more of the load, and the load is now falling right across everybody’s shoulders, whether they be big men or small men. That is the proud record of this present Government, yet the prevous speaker stood in his place and assured us that the Government was doing all right, that there was nothing to fear except fear itself.
I have no vested interest whatsoever in being a scare monger or a fear monger. The only vested interest I have is in a viable, vibrant and happy Australia, and with half a lifetime ahead of me I am disgusted at the manner in which the present Government has run this country for the past 22 months, because honourable members opposite are not only destroying my opportunity for the future but they are destroying the opportunity for their own children, who will be handed an Australia which is but a shadow of the Australia of yesteryear.
-One does not have to be a scaremonger to deplore the ease with which the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) takes the situation in his own State of Tasmania. In addition to the industries in Tasmania which have been mentioned in this debate I can assure the honourable member for Wilmot that one major company, a subsidiary of Repco, will this week be obliged because of the economic downturn to put off from 12 to 20 percent of its employees in Launceston, and this is a serious situation in Australia. In the 10 minutes available to me I wish to raise 3 matters in a spirit of constructive criticism and I ask the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr Enderby) to provide the House with the opportunity to debate these matters before the House rises for the Christmas recess.
First let me say how much I applaud the creation of a separate Department of Manufacturing Industry. This is something which was long overdue in Australia. I only wish that the productive sector which it represents were respected by the Government’s economic planners for those planners- or non-planners- seem to see Australian manufacturing industry as something which they can go on milking indefinitely to fund endless public spending programs. I am one who has expressed himself in favour of many of the Government’s social reforms, but I make the general observation that the Government cannot go on funding them all and funding them at once when it has economic circumstances and economic policies which are crippling manufacturing industries. This is not the Budget debate strictly, so I shall not pursue that line of criticism.
When many Government members and some of their more vocal supporters talk of manufacturing they are preoccupied with multi-nationals and large Australian companies. They overlook the fact that 93 per cent of Australian manufacturing companies employ fewer than 100 people; hardly big business. In fact, nearly 90 per cent employ fewer than 50 persons and, on the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns), factories employing 100 persons or less account for 47 per cent of all employment in manufacturing, 40 per cent of the total value of output, 96.5 per cent of all factories and a very large percentage of Australian ownership in manufacturing. This is most important for the well being of our economy. It is the small business, therefore, with which I wish to concern myself, in the few minutes allotted to me.
There are 3 matters to which I wish to direct the attention of the Minister. The first matter is the industry panels. When the industry panels were first created there were many persons in industry who were highly sceptical of them.
There were many who doubted that they would amount to anything more than a whitewashing of Government policy. It is important that industry panels exist as a forum, but I believe that the Minister owes honourable members an account of how they have been functioning, of the procedures they adopt, of the papers presented, of the calibre of persons on the panels and how they operate. Will the Minister make a statement to the House to allow us to review the operation of the panels, not for destructive purposes, not for party political purposes but because we realise that secondary industry in Australia is now entering into a serious economic problem. The most important thing is that secondary industry, through small business, employs 28 per cent of our work force and contributes one-third of our gross domestic product. This is the very gross domestic product which we are spending on social and other public spending programs. It is the very money we are giving by way of foreign aid.
Secondly, there is the question of the Department itself and the organisational chart. In the Senate the Department has been complimented for its management and I think that the Department should be complimented in that it has not made the mistake of the Department of Urban and Regional Development and other departments in taking on massive numbers of people to be relatively unproductive. But being an infant department it has had staffing problems, and one matter which I believe the Minister should comment upon is the fact that, as I understand it, our newly established office of the Australian Development Assistance Agency has a ratio of 3 to 1 at the Assistant Secretary level when compared with the Department of Manufacturing Industry. This is hardly the fault of the Minister but I do believe he should give the Committee an indication of when this serious staffing problem will be rectified when our agency for giving away foreign aid- 0.8 per cent of our gross domestic product- can in fact be so well treated when compared with the Department representing the sector of industry which produces so much of what enables us to give foreign aid. Will the Minister inform the Committee whether he will allow debate on his proposals for overcoming the problems which confront his infant Department? I think it is very important that he do this.
I will conclude my remarks on this sector by referring to the National Small Business Bureau. It is most important that we look at the Bureau, which was designed to try to advise small business and to try to utilise the talents of persons who have been displaced from middle management positions. The Department itself might well supplement its staff by reference to persons who, with the downturn in the economy, are now on the market and because of their age are not regarded as employable. Again, I believe that the Minister should tell us what talks he has had with the Public Service Board about supplementing his staff by reference to persons who are experienced in industry, persons who do not take an academic approach to manufacturing but who speak from experience. There should be a flow to the Department of persons who are skilled in industry, to help the Department improve its strength and its quality and help provide policy guidelines for small industry.
This is all the more important in relation to the Small Business Bureau. In this chamber today the Minister for Manufacturing Industry, in answering a question asked of him by one of his Party members, spoke about the role of the Bureau in terms very similar to those which the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) used 18 months ago when he held the portfolio, and in terms very similar to those which the Minister for Manufacturing Industry himself used when he took up his position a year ago. There was a much publicised seminar 12 months ago, but little progress seems to have been made in the past 12 months. It is important to recognise that in the past 12 months industry has been hit harder than at any time since World War II. I commend most strongly the idea of having a National Small Business Bureau, but I think that the Minister should provide an opportunity for this chamber to debate all aspects of it by tabling a statement of progress and its aims and objects, the funding, the provision of expertise and the general operating of this National Bureau. In Britain and elsewhere there exist small industry councils and national bureaux of this type providing service on technical assistance, trade instruction, subcontract liaison, assistance for craftsmen, business management advice, market and promotional advice, credit facilities and aid for tourism. They provide a variety of loans of a capital equipment nature, working loans, assistance to employees and to staffing arrangements. A wide variety of schemes is operating overseas. There are plenty of examples for our industry bureau to follow. I believe that the Minister has a duty in the present serious economic situation to explain to this chamber, to industry, to the community and to the employees of industry what progress has been made and why the progress has been so obviously slow. When one thinks that the trade unions which support the Government are always calling for support of the small man one may well ask: What are we doing about the small man? What are we doing about the small businessman?
– It is always a pleasure to listen to the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) because although he speaks from the opposite side of the chamber he makes good sense and it is always a pleasure for someone in Government to hear serious constructive criticism and not- I hesitate to use extravangant language- the silly type of criticism that one heard earlier in the debate from 2 spokesmen for the Opposition, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) and the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten). That is not helpful. The honourable member for Balaclava singled out 3 matters in relation to which he, in part, applauded the Government’s initiatives and I thank him for that. One was the industry panels. We are quite proud of them. I take his point that in the beginning it was thought by some people that they might be a gimmick or something of that sort. They were never intended to be such. They were intended to be a serious effort to build a bridge of communication between the Government and industry- a bridge which never existed previously- and they have been very successful. Nine panels have been created to date and more are on the way.
The honourable member for Balaclava also mentioned the staffing problems of the Department of Manufacturing Industry. I thank him for the plug because there are staffing problems in the Department. The honourable member will forgive me if I say that they stem in part from the very low priority given to manufacturing industry or secondary industry, as it was called by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. It was then little more than an office in the former Department of Trade and Industry and had little more than 100 people attached to it. It is from that small seed that we have commenced to build. We have made great progress. The present Department of Manufacturing Industry is still not much bigger than it was then in terms of overall numbers, although it has had people from the Department of Supply added to it. It, of course, operates government factories and things like that. Here we come to a problem that is the subject of controversy. As honourable members know, the Government has imposed a limit of one per cent on the growth rate of the Australian Public Service. That has been done for very good reasons. One is usually applauded when one thinks of trying to avoid unnecessary expense, but one also has to pay a price for it when one tries to build up an instrument of policy, namely, the Department of Manufacturing Industry, because one catches it in that way.
The honourable member for Balaclava also mentioned the National Small Business Bureau which we have created out of the recognition which it seems he shares with us that the problems faced by small businessmen in Australia are unique, peculiar to themselves and very important. The Small Business Bureau is little more than a beginning. As I said this morning, we hope to build it into a structure which will have agencies in the various State capitals. My recollection is that at the moment it has received approval from the Public Service Board to fill only 20 positions, which is just a shell really. It is also caught up in the one per cent growth rate limit, which makes things difficult. But we have great hopes for it. We hope that it will grow into something even more useful than it is at the moment. The other matter on which I wish to reply to the comments of the honourable member for Balaclava is in relation to his mention of the desirability of a debate on the Small Business Bureau. I share that desire with him. If time permits such a debate to be held before the break for Christmas we will certainly try to bring it about.
So many things have been said in this debate by honourable members that if one were to try to single out the serious points one would not have time to deal with all of them. The first Opposition speaker in the debate was the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards), who -
– Who gave a very good address.
– It was an interesting speech. It was an exercise in politics from a man who has not had much experience in politics. I recall that it was his Party- the Liberal Party of Australiawhich supported the Government’s proposals to create the Industries Assistance Commission, and I well recall being in this chamber when the honourable member for Berowra, drawing on his academic expertise in that much maligned area of academia- supported what the Government was trying to do when he supported the proposition for increased rationality in Australian industry policies. I remind him that if one goes back to 1973 and examines the comments made by publicists and by people from his own exprofession one will find that generally it was invariably said during 1973 of the Government’s economic measures that they were spot-on. It was invariably said in general terms. There were differences of opinion and differences of emphasis, but how often did I hear it said, and I am sure the honourable member for Berowra heard it said, that whether one agreed with the Labor Party, whether in government or not, one could not fault the Australian Labor Party’s economics. That was said all throughout 1973.
– Can we quote you?
-Yes, you can. I repeat that it was said that our economics could not be faulted. The interesting thing is what happened a year later- this shows the frailty of human naturewhen industry is suffering certain difficulties. One could call it a business downturn, as the honourable member for Balaclava called it. That is exactly what it is. It is a business cycle downturn. He at least was frank and honest. The people who applauded the economic measures in 1973 are now trying to find something wrong with them. I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the chamber because we have to move on to the estimates for the Department of Education, but I venture this suggestion: If this Government lasts for 10 or 20 years -
– Oh, come on.
– It may well do so. If this Government lasts for 10 or 20 years people will look back on it and say that one of its greatest memorials, one of the great monuments it left behind of its time in office, is the system of rationalising Australian industry, of structural change, of introducing reason and not the pork barrel into the conduct of Australia’s industry. It was the pork barrel that operated when the present Opposition was in office. We have sought by the Industries Assistance Commission to collect the experts whose judgment the Opposition generally applauds. At the moment an exercise is going on which every industrialist and every trade unionist in the nation applauds, that is, the inquiry through the Australian Labor Party’s parliamentary committee on economics into the motor car industry. There, in a public and reasoned way -
– Textbook academic socialists.
-Let us just test that comment. We have had praise coming from the General Manager of the Ford Corporation, Mr Inglis. Praise came from the general manager of General Motors (Holden’s) Pty Ltd and also from Mr Perkins of the Chrysler organisation. (Opposition supporters interjecting) -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury)Order! Interjections will cease or I will take action.
– A rational decision making process was introduced into this country for the first time, something unheard of in the day of the former Government.
– The discussions last Friday -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member for Berowra will cease interjecting.
-One looks back to the policy of tariff reform, which is continuing. One looks back also to the revaluations that took place during 1973. Those revaluations occurred for a particularly relevant reason. The Government which had been in office for so long, and which was supported by honourable members now sitting opposite, had left the Australian dollar so undervalued that the Australian money supply became completely out of hand in 1972-73 and let loose a flood of inflation which hit us. Now, when we start to soak it up a little bit as we did in 1973, honourable members opposite call our action a credit squeeze and abuse us.
I could go on. Let us look at the industries that are involved in this situation. I have mentioned the motor vehicle industry. I turn to the textile industry which has been adversely affected because of situations that existed in 1973. But think of the rational way that we have gone about attending to this problem. Think of the reference to the Textiles Authority. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) in Launceston the other day talked about the need for the creation of a textiles authority. He was forgetting, or did not know, or did not care or was indifferent to what the truth was, that a Textiles Authority at the request of the industry had been created in the Industries Assistance Commission as long ago as November or December of 1973 and was engaged on its second reference.
-That is not so.
– Read the Hansard report of what the Leader of the Opposition said in a personal explanation today.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! I have already issued a warning. Interjections are to cease.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Chairman, but it is rather amusing to see them with their difficulties. The Textiles Authority is now engaged on its second reference. All the reports that have come from the Authority have been acted upon promptly by the Government through a system of voluntary restraints. I have heard it said- I do not know whether it is correctthat even the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Edwards) in Tasmania the other day was saying that what was needed was a system of voluntary restraints. I do not know whether he said that. But he sits opposite; if he did, he would know or he should know that this is exactly what we have negotiated in the terms of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade with India, China and Korea- no, not with Korea because it would not be in it and we had to take action unilaterally at our own end pursuant to our international agreements under the GATT arrangements.
Let me go further. The position is the same with respect to footwear. Various instrumentalities have been created by this Government. There is the Structural Adjustment Board and the national employment retraining scheme. Additional assistance has been provided for inventors. The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) was good enough to compliment us on that action. Substantially increased funds have been provided for research and development. Wherever one turns one will see innovations and initiatives together with mechanical devices brought into being by this Government in the short period that it has been in office. These actions should have been taken in this country 20 years ago. We embarked upon a course that Canada, for example, with great prosperity and result to it did IS years ago. In 1973-74, our country is now taking this action for the first time. The parties supported by honourable members opposite should have done this 20 years ago, but it never occurred to them. They believe in the pork barrel principle; doing things for their mates. We have put our actions in the framework of a proper system based upon competition and reason.
I will not take up much more time in my speech. Let me finish on one point.
– Tell us about Evans Deakin.
-I will finish on one point.
– Tell us about the ship building at Evans Deakins and what has happened -
– I will mention one point about ship building. The honourable member for Griffith mentioned Walkers Ltd. Walkers was sick and tired of being flooded out. As the honourable member would know it was flooded out 4 times in 18 months. The honourable member comes along and utters the nonsense we heard from him a little while ago.
The final point that I wish to make is this: Not long ago the Government appointed a Committee to prepare a Green Paper on manufacturing industry in Australia. The Chairman is Mr Jack of the CSR company. Included on that Committee are Mr Carnegie of the Conzinc Rio Tinto company, Professor Wheelwright, Mr Bob Hawke of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Secretary of my Department and the Chairman of the Industries Assistance Commission, Mr Rattigan. The membership represents a complete cross-section of Australian interests. That Committee is working now. In the long run the products of that Committee’s work will have an enormous significance for Australia. If we are to continue to build a rationally, properly allocated industrial basis for Australia, taking advantage of international trade and being able to sell to people in order to buy from them, so we can take advantage of the things that they do well and they take advantage of the things that we do well, Australian industry will have to be based on a rational, sound set up and must not remain in the way it was left by honourable members opposite when we took office.
-Mr Deputy Chairman -
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Proposed expenditures agreed to.
Department of Education
Proposed expenditure, $275,522,000.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, your mention of the sum of money involved in these estimates immediately calls for a gasp- not necessarily of admiration but merely for the fact that the Committee is dealing with the consideration of an enormous sum of money in the curious fashion that is. I want to press upon you, Mr Drury, as one who has spent almost a quarter of a century in this Parliament, that there is something thoroughly indecent about the way the House of Representatives conducts its estimate debates. We are dealing with an enormous sum of money. I would like to ask the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) a great variety of questions, and so would my colleagues. The Minister is away. I speak in no sense of criticism about that fact. I speak of the Minister as a person whom I have known for a very considerable period with affection and admiration. The one blemish that I have been able to find in the Minister for Education is the curious political association he has formed. But beyond that, I have nothing further. Now my friend, the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), comes in to answer as the acting Minister for Education. I do not seek to embarrass my honourable friend, but I remind him of the fact he is at the moment answering for 3 armed Services and the Department of Defence -
– You could not answer for one.
– I did it, and I did it impeccably. I did it, if I may remind the honourable gentleman with his -
– You are leaving yourself open.
-Oh! I did it with his ringing terms of approval behind me.
– Why did you get the sack?
– I cannot account for an aberration of politics on my side, no more than I can account for the Vesuviuses on the Government’s side. I come back to my point: How can we possibly expect an acting Minister for Education to be able to give an intelligible account of the expenditure of this enormous sum of money. One has only to state the proposition to see the ugly absurdity of it. I say to my honourable friend from Bass, the Minister for Defence- I am not seeking to reflect on him in some bitter partisan fashion; I am talking about the facts of life- that no Minister unless he has dealt with a department in a very intimate fashion can possibly hope to understand what is going on. Here it is; the Labor Government sends in to account for this sum a man who does not even know what is going on in one of the departments that he is presently administering, and we are expected to take with equanimity the fact that he proposes to answer for this expenditure in what I would describe as an obscene form of time.
– Get on to education.
-I respond to the beckonings of the honourable gentleman, not necessarily to his comfort. I will come to education. The first grievous exercise by the present Government- to call it a government is to indulge in an extreme form of words- was to cut the taxation deduction for education expenses from $400 to $150 a year. The fact of life is that we have in the Government benches a gathering of people desperately out of touch with what is going on in this countrypeople who take the view that to send a child to a State high school and to spend $160 is a violent exercise in extravagance. Beyond that, the way in which this matter was conducted- this chamber had an opportunity of considering it a few weeks ago-revealed the rather curious structure of the Australian Labor Party Government. The Caucus is an extra-parliamentary body which can have an effect upon it, but those of us sitting in this Parliament in a corporate state can have no effect at all and the Senate can have no effect at all. I mention that not merely to rub in the salt, because we will have ample opportunity before the measure is through to consider with a greater measure of particularity those who are affected. I merely want to state with the utmost clarity on behalf of the Opposition parties that when we are in government the very least we will do will be to restore the $400 allowance for taxation purposes.
We will look with a sense of purpose at the effects that the indiscretion and irresponsibility of those who now sit in government have had upon the Australian dollar. It is to no avail any of us turning a blind eye to the fact that the Australian Labor Party, either through inaction or simple inattention, has embarked upon a policy which in ultimate terms is destined to wreck the economy of this nation. When the Prime Minister at the last election in May of this year said no alterations would be made to taxation in this country a lot of people believed him. I ask the Acting Minister for Education (Mr Barnard): What does this monstrous arrangement amount to? It amounts to a clear repudiation In one single stroke the Government has raised the taxation level of scores of thousands of people throughout the country. Not even the inventive mind of the honourable gentleman, stirred on by the prospect that his head is among those which could be rolled, is going to rescue the Prime Minister from that.
The last thing I want to refer to before I sit down is that the Schools Commission has sent out to the 2,000-odd non-government schools throughout Australia a questionnaire. I would have expected that the Schools Commission would have indicated why it indulged in such an elaborate questionnaire. Either the first initiatives taken by the Schools Commission were inadequately taken or there is no need for the present questionnaire. I invite my honourable friends from both sides of the chamber to look at the questionnaire. It consists of 41 pages with an accompanying memorandum of some 1 1 pages explaining what is required. This calls for some answer from the Minister. I hope that he will resort to his typical characteristic courtesy and will seek to explain to the Committee why at this stage the Schools Commission has sent out this elaborate 41 -page questionnaire. Is this information really needed or is it that the information originally asked for was inadequately sought?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I welcome the opportunity to participate in this Estimates debate on education. I do not want to waste too much time referring to the previous speaker, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), or in rebutting his arguments because, for the life of me, I could not find any arguments to rebut. He spent 5 minutes before he got around to education. He then discussed the $400 tax deductibility and then, for the last little bit, he made mention of the Schools Commission. I submit that in 22 months this Government has transformed the role played by the Australian Parliament in the field of education at all levels. This is reflected in the growing area of spending. In 1971-72, the last full year of the Liberal-Country Party Government, $346m was spent on education. Last year this Government spent $860m on education and the estimate for 1974-75 is for $ 1,535m, which is an increase of almost 500 per cent over the Liberal-Country Party Government’s spending in 1971-72. In 197 1-72. the Liberal-Country Party Government spent a total of $1 12m on schools. The estimated expenditure this year on schools under the Karmel program is $780m and this year, 1974-75, is the first financial year which will show the full impact of the Government’s major initiatives in relation to schools, tertiary education, universities and colleges of advanced education. In addition, of course, we are moving into new initiatives in the area of technical and further education and are providing additional expenditure for student assistance. I believe that it is important that we do not place too much emphasis on looking at this in money terms- this is only one aspect of the whole story. What is more important is where that money is being spent -
– Hear, hear.
– I am pleased to hear that the Opposition is interested in where the money is being spent and I hope members opposite will listen carefully. We have consistently worked to a needs concept; that is that there must be the greatest amount of money spent where the need is greatest or where the education disadvantage is greatest. Linked to this needs concept we have seen our task as one to transform the quality of education and to make it accessible to all students We have dismissed the Opposition’s view of excellence through elitism. We set ourselves a much more formidable task of excellence through equality of opportunity.
If we look carefully at the estimates we will note that we can select a number of items which are clearly aimed at improving the quality of education. Let me take just 3 examples. One in the area of schools is the innovations program. The amount allocated, $6m, is not large in terms of the total education budget. The funds for innovative projects at school level are decided on the initiative of the teachers or the community and, at the system level, on the initiative of the school authorities or even at the national level. What has this innovations program achieved? I submit that it has given a new spirit of enthusiasm to teachers in schools. This is reflected in the number of applications that have come forward to the Schools Commission. The Schools Commission has been virtually inundated with applications for assistance. One can only be led to the conclusion that this must, in the long run, mean better education and more effective teaching.
A second example of ways in which the quality of education is being improved is the $ 10.3m being set aside for teacher development. I am one who subscribes to the view that the quality of teaching is of the utmost importance. The $ 10.3m is to be used to expand in-service training. I know the need for this from my personal experience. I know that one can teach in government shcools for 20 years or more and never have the opportunity for in-service training. With this money in-service training can be organised jointly by government and nongovernment school authorities. Of course out of that $ 10.3m, money is set aside for the creation of new education centres and to expand facilities already available. Many of these education centres were set up in the first place through the initiatives of teachers, both in government and non-government schools who gathered together to organise these centres in an attempt to do a better job for the children who were around them.
One could go on and talk of the curriculum development centre and the important part that will be played there. The other point I made was the further conscious objective of this Government to make education accessible to all children, wherever they live, whatever the socioeconomic condition of their parents. To achieve this objective we have provided increased assistance for the child whose family lives in an isolated area far removed from normal school facilities. In this year’s estimates I am pleased to note that the qualifying income of the family has been lifted quite considerably, as has been the special supplementary allowance. The accessibility of education, particularly at the more senior level is, I think, a significant encouragement to students to stay on at school, particularly those students whose parents are in difficult economic circumstances.
The Government has increased quite considerably the amount of the secondary allowance. It has been increased to some $450 this coming year. This will assist greatly. I would be somewhat critical of the Government in this regard because I believe still that the means test is far too restrictive in the way it operates. I am pleased to note that we are going to review totally the tertiary allowance scheme to iron out a lot of the anomalies. I believe the same thing needs to be done in relation to the secondary allowance scheme as well.
I am delighted to note that the Government has accepted the concept of recurrent education. This concept is one of that moves beyond the view that education should be divided rigidly into primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. I have always believed that education is a life long process. I believe that there should be sufficient flexibility within the formal system of education so that people are able to move in and out comparatively easily.
I am delighted that at a number of secondary schools at present it is much easier now for adults to go back to school and to sit alongside people who could well be their children. I am equally delighted to see that we are moving into the field of technical and further education and that in the next 2 years we will be making available $ 100m which will assist the objective of allowing people the opportunity to plug into education at whatever level they might find themselves. For too long technical colleges have been the cinderellas of education and we must see that this continues no longer . I believe the $100m is the first step in that direction. I congratulate the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), who is not here at the moment, for the outstanding job that he has done in this field.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I was interested in the remarks of the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) because he started out, as all Government supporters do when talking about education these days, stressing the amount that is being spent on education. Of course what he does not say is that to a very large extent this is just a book entry fiddle. When I say that I do not want to detract from the many good things that have been done by the Government, but I believe if we are to talk about the increased spending we ought to do it in a way in which people can understand what has really happened. If we were honest about what the Government has done in regard to spending in education we would find in fact that it has reduced the States general purpose grants by the equivalent amount of spending that it has incurred by taking over tertiary education costs. As I have said a great deal of the increased expenditure about which the Government boasts so readily is simply a book entry fiddle.
I agree with the honourable member for Holt that the means test on the secondary allowance scheme is far too restrictive particularly in these days of very high inflation rates. Of course this can be sheeted home to the present Government. I am quite sure that the honourable member, in his moments outside this chamber when talking quietly, would agree with me that the inflation rate has resulted in the means test which is now being applied being far too restrictive. In fact the honourable member mentioned that in his speech tonight. The other thing that worries me about this emphasis on spending is that too little emphasis is placed on the results of education and the quality of education. I was pleased that the honourable member for Holt spoke a little about the quality of education. He mentioned that $6m was to be spent on research in some aspects of the quality of education. Six million dollars is to be spent out of a total of $ 1,500m- not a great emphasis but nevertheless something to be encouraged. One of the real aspects of the Opposition’s education policy is that we will encourage educational research to a much greater degree than has been the case in the past.
Let us look at the subject of inflation. Whilst we can talk about this great amount, in truth the amount does not mean as much as we would like to believe it does, simply because the real value of the money being spent is greatly reduced. This can be sheeted home without any shadow of doubt to the economic policies being pursued by the present Government. We can prove this very easily. The cost of building and equipping a school library now is almost double what it was three or four years ago. I believe that the figures point to the fact that we should not get too enthusiastic about the absolute amount of money being spent. We should be looking at what we are getting for the money being spent. If this Government allows the rate of inflation to skyrocket in the way it has done, and in fact encourages the rate of inflation to skyrocket in the way it has- we all know the Government has a vested interest in keeping the rate of inflation high because it collects more taxes- the amount of real spending on education is vastly lessened.
Let us have a look at the policies of the Government on education. We had the strong people of the Caucus saying that the decision of the Cabinet to reduce the amount of taxation deduction for education from $400 to $150 per child was wrong. We had some people from the Caucus coming out, mostly anonymously I must admit, and saying: ‘We are going to fix this. We are going to roll the Cabinet. This is wrong. It should not have been allowed. It should not be done. People should be allowed to have the $400 tax deduction.’ What did we find when the crunch came? They all went to water. This strong Caucus that we hear so much about, the 97-man Cabinet, went to water. Who will suffer for it? Not the rich people. The sock the rich, doctrinaire approach of this socialist Government is the reasoning behind the reduction of the deductions for education. The Government wants to sock the rich, to stop rich people sending their children to independent schools. Who will suffer? It is not the rich people; it is the people who send their children to State schools.
I do not know how many honourable members in this chamber have children at school, but try to send your child to a state school and keep the expense down to $150 a year and see how you get on. It is the state school students’ parents who will suffer- the lower income and middle income people- from this iniquitous decision of the Government. I think we should keep this very much in mind when Government supporters talk about how they defend the rights of the lower income and middle income groups. It is absolute nonsense. Of course many people who choose to send their children to independent schools will suffer very greatly. Again, it is not the rich people who will suffer. They can afford the expenditure. The people who will suffer are those who make sacrifices to send their children to these schools, who do without a great number of things so that they can send their children to independent schools- not all of them sectarian schools. Government supporters might have a bias against sectarian schools. That is up to them. But not all independent schools are sectarian. The Government will wreck the independent school system, not only the sectarian schools but also those independent schools which put forward proposals for experimental schools. I think we should all encourage experimental schools. There are numbers of schools in Sydney and right throughout Australia where parents, not on sectarian basis, have spent a great deal of time and effort establishing experimental courses, looking at different ways of education for their children. These are the people who will be grossly disadvantaged by the Government’s decision. Let us have no misunderstanding about this.
Another group which will be grossly disadvantaged by the Government’s decision to reduce the taxation deduction are the migrants. One could not say that the migrants are amongst the higher income bracket in the community. A tremendous number of migrants have a wish and a very strong compulsion to send thier children to particular sectarian schools. Not only are these people affected by the economic policies of the present Government because they are usually the ones who get sacked first- if one looks at the unemployment figures one will find that migrants are the hardest hit of any section of the community by the present unemployment wave- but also they will be doubly hit because their taxation deductions for education of their children attending independent schools that they previously claimed will now be taken away from them. So do not let this Government say that it is the defender of the rights of the migrants any more, because in fact it is working against the migrants.
I want it to be very clearly understood that not only is the right of choice being denied to these people, but also a great deal of very worthwhile experimentation in the independent school sector is being grossly damaged, and this has caused a great degree of disquiet. There is a very real chance that a great number of exciting initiatives will be rendered useless by the decisions of this Government. Let us have no more talk by Government supporters of how they are great supporters of educational innovations and experimentation because it is in fact simply not true because -
– Oh, rubbish.
– The honourable gentleman says: ‘Oh, rubbish.’ He should talk to the people promoting the independent experimental schools and see how they will get on under the policies of the present Government. He talks about rubbish. He should talk to those people about the problem. Honourable members opposite come here and live in the rarified atmosphere of Canberra. They do not know what is going on around Australia with people making sacrifices trying to send their children to these schools. Obviously this is an area which engenders some emotion in the chamber, but I should like people to understand that this Government that holds itself out as the supporter of those people at the lower end of the economic spectrum and seeks to denigrate those people who wish to have some choice about the place of education of their children in fact is denying parents this choice. It is making it virtually impossible for parents on the lower economic scale and the middle income groups to send their children to the school of their choice. I think it should be clearly understood by those people who previously have supported this Government that in fact the policies that the Goverment is pursuing both in the economic field and with these taxation deductions for education, will mean that these parents will not have the choice that they previously had in relation to their children’s education.
-Any pretence on the part of the honourable members opposite that they have a serious interest in education would have been totally destroyed by the first 2 contributions from that side to this debate. The Opposition spokesman on education, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen), and the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) devoted themselves exclusively to the question of taxation policy, to the utter neglect of all the real issues of education in Australia. Listening to the honourable member for Moreton or the honourable member for Warringah one would not have supposed that there are many thousands of children in Government and parish schools in Australia who have been unable to receive an adequate education because nobody bothered to teach them the language in which education is given in this country. While the honourable member for Warringah was weeping his crocodile tears for the migrant population of Australia, did he for one minute think back on the 23 years during which honourable members opposite were responsible for the scandal of migrant education in Australia, for the lost educational opportunities of the children who were brought to this country from countries where languages other than English are spoken, and who never took up seriously the business of raising a corps of teachers qualified to meet the educational needs of these unfortunate children who year in, year out, had to sit in bafflement and frustration while instruction went on in their classrooms in a language that they did not understand? This is a tragic individual loss to the children concerned and a tragic loss of human resources to this country as a whole.
Listening to the honourable member for Moreton and the honourable member for Warringah one would not have supposed that some very formidable statistics on the incidence of illiteracy and near-illiteracy in schools have been forthcoming in the last few months. One would not have supposed that it has been established by investigations carried out by the psychology and guidance officers of education departments that in forms 1 and 2 of the secondary system the incidence of children being unable to read, even at a grade 4 level, is 45 per cent and that the incidence of children who for all practical purposes are illiterate is of the order of 25 per cent. The figures I quote are not drawn from the truly deprived areas of the inner and western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney but from the fortunate eastern suburbs of those cities where, one would presume, the quality of education inside the schools and the stimulus given to students in their own homes would be much greater.
But the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) were more concerned about taxation policies than the practical nuts and bolts problems of how the children in our schools are to get the sort of instruction that they need. By definition the honourable member for Moreton and the honourable member for Warringah restrict their concerns to a little more than 20 per cent of the school population. It is typical of the debates that we have heard in this place throughout the last 2 years that members of the Parties opposite are always concerned to plead for privilege and never concerned to plead for those whose deprivation has been so amply documented in recent years. The honourable member for Moreton, by the light weight quality of his concern for the great issue with which he has been entrusted, demeans the concern of the national Parliament for the educational systems of this country.
It would not have been thought from what the honourable member for Moreton and the honourable member for Warringah had to say on this subject tonight that upwards of 20 per cent of the children in our school systems are still being educated in schools which were constructed before the end of the last century, in schools which have been grossly outstripped by the development of educational thinking and which are no longer in any way adequate for the tasks with which they are entrusted. I wonder whether the honourable member for Moreton has taken the trouble to visit any of the inner suburban and western suburban government or parish schools of Sydney or Melbourne. I wonder whether, when he addresses himself to this taxation question which is so close to his heart, he reflects on the fact that in a situation of scarce resources, in a situation in which he and his colleagues regularly urge the Government to reduce Government spending, every $1 devoted to a school which is already superbly housed, staffed and equipped, every $1 devoted to taxation relief for a family which, as I have seen from a survey conducted recently by the Independent Schools Association in Victoria -
– What sort of a school did you go to?
-A school with an income of $14,400 each year. Every $1 siphoned off in this manner from the real needs of education is $ 1 less for one of the deprived schools of this country. It is $ 1 less for making available the remedial teaching services that the children having difficulty with the basic subjects need so desperately. It is $ 1 less for making available the specialist language teaching resources that migrant children need in this country. It would not be thought, listening to the honourable member for Warringah and the honourable member for Moreton in this debate, that there was any sense of priority whatsoever on the part of honourable members opposite because what can we think of honourable members who devote their time in an Estimates debate exclusively to a matter not coming formally within the competence of the Australian Department of Education at all but arising from reports prepared by a task force of the Treasury to the exclusion of the countless real and pressing problems of education. Honourable members opposite will be taken seriously in their concern for education when they begin to talk about education.
-The approach of the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) amazes me. His singular effort in this debate was to make an unjustified attack on the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) and the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar). Long after the speech of the honourable member for Casey in this place is forgotten, those of us who were privileged to hear those 2 speakers from this side of the chamber will forever remember their sincere and humane approach. Never before in this place have I heard speeches from people so concerned about something which diminishes the educational prospects of so many of our Australian people. Their impassioned concern for these people will be remembered long after the shallow display of flimsy arrogance and the pedantic ravings of the demagogue from
Casey have been forgotten. I say to the honourable member for Moreton and the honourable member for Warringah that we shall never forget their sincere and dedicated approach to this problem.
The proposed estimates of $ 1,535m for the Department of Education have been increased by about 78 per cent on the appropriation figures in the 1973-74 Budget. But as previous speakers on this side of the chamber have brought to the notice of the Australian people, this is merely a manipulation of figures. It distorts the picture and creates the impression that all is well. This is not so. We can be excused for the environment that is created when we hear comments such as those which have been uttered by speakers opposite and inspired by a prejudiced outlook and a lopsided argument. There are many areas of neglect in the Australian educational scene. I do not want to canvass the wider issues in this debate. Those issues were most excellently acknowledged and eminently argued by my colleague the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 23 August 1973 and it would be superfluous to endorse his arguments. But we want to bring to the notice of all people the fact that the Government is not spending this increased amount on education. Rather there has been an off-setting reduction in State financial assistance grants to match the cost savings to the States in regard to education. I want to draw the attention of all honourable members to the situation as it applies in my own home State of Queensland where from the State Government resources this year the sum -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage)Order! It being half-past ten o’clock p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 1 1 July I shall report progress.
-The question is:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I require the question to be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– I was about to say before the debate was interrupted that in Queensland this year approximately $2 14m will be allocated from State resources and only $16,500,000 will be allocated by Schools Commission money. This is indicative of the fact that the Queensland State Government continues to accept from its own resources the major share of financial responsibility for the provision of educational services in that State. In 1974-75 93 per cent of the estimated expenditure will be financed from State Government resources and the balance of 7 per cent will be funded by the Australian Schools Commission. The Queensland figures are enlightening because 100,000 children are receiving secondary education, 217,000 are receiving primary education and 4,190 are receiving special education. Try as I might I cannot but come to the conclusion that there is a deliberate attempt in the Government’s educational spending to do away with the dual system of education. I can reinforce my remarks by detailing the fact that in my own electorate 2 independent schools are either closing or eliminating the final 2 years of education. This did not happen under the previous Government.
I want to touch on a few areas of educational difficulties, particularly the areas of kindergarten and pre-school education in the remote areas of Australia. I know that the people who sit opposite are not too much concerned about this because in the final analysis their thinking comes down to numbers. But we are concerned that all children in Australia should have access to preschool education. I want to advance the point of view that people with a community spirit in the isolated areas of Australia who get together and run kindergartens for one or two days a week are entitled to a pro-rata distribution of money from the various governments for the tremendous contribution that they are making in this sphere. We, of course, also support the extension of adult education. For once I agree with the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) and I applaud his remarks in this regard. I hope in the years to come that greater emphasis will be placed by all governments in this very essential field so that people who were denied secondary and tertiary education earlier in life will be able to obtain higher academic qualifications on a lifetime basis.
Apprenticeship training is of particular interest to us. We submit that more help must be given to employers. Despite the fact that the cost of training is increasing it is absolutely essential that employers be encouraged to take on more apprenticeships, and this can be done by giving them a greater allowance. I was disturbed by recent announcements by the Minister that the apprenticeship allowance in metropolitan areas would be increased to the level of the allowance prevailing in rural areas and that no differential whatsoever would be allowed for people undertaking apprenticeships in rural areas.
– None at all.
– As the honourable member for Hume has said, no increase was given to the apprenticeship allowance in rural areas. I compliment the honourable member for Hume for his concern in this vital area and I agree that apprentices should be allowed to undertake theneducation in areas where they can enjoy the benefits of living at home. I applaud the honourable member for his noble outlook of trying to keep the family together. I think it is absolutely essential that we adopt the program that has been adopted by the Canadian Government where that Government gives a 25 per cent to 50 per cent subsidy to employers for the wages of apprentices for part of the apprenticehip period. We are concerned at the wastage of apprentices. The number of indentures that have been cancelled has risen from 3,258 in 1963-64 to an estimated 5,677 in 1972-73.
Another area to which I want to refer briefly is an area made up of 2 fields of activity which may seem poles apart but which are in fact interrelated. I refer to the areas of gifted children and handicapped children. No encouragement, no recognition and no direction is being given at present to the education of gifted children. The nation in a final analysis is the instrument that will suffer if the Government policy in this field is to continue. No encouragement is given to children who undergo training in early life in music, drama or the arts. No help is given to parents, be they rich or poor, to allow their children to reach a standard which will permit them to gain entry to tertiary education institutions. I submit that children who have special gifts and who are interested in the arts also are entitled to be given encouragement to pursue worthwhile careers in that sphere.
Handicapped children in rural areas face very special difficulties. I know that my friend the honourable member for Holt will support me and recognise this. In many cases parents often transport their children over 100 miles in round trips twice a week to allow them to participate in remedial teaching. These parents receive no help with their transport costs. I think that this is an eminently suitable field in which initiatives could be taken. My final comment is to make a special appeal for funds for schools in rural areas.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– I listened with interest to the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh). Really, if he is sincere in his attitude to the speeches of the honourable members for Moreton (Mr Killen) and Warringah (Mr MacKellar) I think he will shortly receive an invitation to contribute to that well known adolescent magazine ‘Mad’ as a zany humorist because that is what he is. His arguments and complaints were largely concerned with his own State administration. When he talked about the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) he was talking about the State administration in New South Wales. I am sorry, but like the honourable member for Moreton -
– Our concern does not stop at government boundaries.
– Listen little boy; just be quiet. You have a lot to learn. I conclude that the honourable member must have been found in a hollow tree, hatched and brought here as one of the well known pieces of bird life. Really, he has to learn that there are several levels of government that have different responsibilities. One of these days he will and he may, if he survives the next election, be able to make a useful contribution.
– When can I expect the second lesson?
-If the honourable member likes to sit and listen a bit he will learn many useful lessons. The honourable members for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) and Casey (Mr Mathews) spoke very well on matters relating to the expenditure on and quality of education. I think honourable members opposite ought to take a look at the reasons why the overwhelming number of people involved in education supported the Australian Labor Party in the 1972 and 1974 elections and continue to support it. They support the Labor Party because after 23 years of Liberal rule the Labor Party said that there are problems in education proper for an Australian Government to investigate. When the Labor Party came to power in 1972 it set about identifying those problems and has carried on from there. May I remind honourable members of what was done by Professor Karmel and the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission and what is being done now by the Schools Commission with Dr McKinnon as chairman. May I remind honourable members of the identification of problems in the technical field by the Kangan Committee on Technical and Further Education. May I remind honourable members of the identification of problems that exist in the pre-school and child care sphere. May I remind honourable members of the identification of problems in migrant education.
Let me say to the members of the Opposition that they failed to attract attention in education because they failed to admit that there were problems. They failed to identify those problems. Now they criticise the action being taken to solve those problems. The identification of the problems has given indications for measuring need, on which we base our educational program. It has also given possible solutions. It has not only operated in the normal educational stream but has also gone into the field of special defects and special abilities such as the honourable member for Darling Downs talked about. The possibilities exist for these matters to be dealt with. The commissions provide on-going examination in these fields. This examination involves many people in these problems. The State governments are involved. Representatives of schools other than government schools are involved in this problem-solving process. We have a new look at the control of local schools because the very involvement of these groups I have mentioned has brought State governments to realise that there should be continued community involvement. I would like to give much more time to that aspect. It involves not only expenditure, and not only quality, it involves identification of what was needed after so many years and the action that has been taken in such a short period of time.
The innovation program allows experimentation. Two grants have been made to schools in my electorate. One was made to a technical school in an area of some social deprivation. The grant has been given for the teaching of social biology. I think that ‘adolescent psychology’ might have been a better term for it. The interaction of that community and the satisfying of the need for the students to understand their development and their relationships to one another will be a worthwhile achievement. St Gabriel’s School, one of the local parish schools in my electorate, also received a grant. Almost 50 per cent of the students at the school are migrants, mostly of Italian origin. A project is to be undertaken to teach the children not only in English but in their native language to try to integrate the ethnic groups by involving not only the students but also the parents. These are the sorts of innovations that will be of real value to education in the future. These are the sorts of things that the present Minister for Education and the Government have encouraged. I would like to comment also on the Minister’s wide interest in education. He made recent public statements on his concern about the education of Aboriginal children in the Kimberleys.
– Which Minister?
– I am referring to the Minister for Education. He pointed out that studies had shown that there were problems with Aboriginal children at school because of possible irreparable brain damage before birth and that it was useless confining the action on this problem just to education authorities. He said that one had to go far beyond that and that in the Kimberleys there was a tremendous lack of information. This prevented the establishment of a proper policy for the whole region. He pointed out that this occurred in other areas as well. I think he has been wise in identifying this problem. I think he has already given a lead that this is not a matter for the futility of State-Federal recriminations or putting the blame on anyone else but that there is a responsibility to look at these preceding conditions.
I mention the question of malnutrition and disease affecting the brain capacity of the child before birth because malnutrition does not occur only in areas such as the Kimberleys. The abandoning of the free milk scheme did not affect a large number of school children nutritionally, but there were areas where to many children the free milk provided their breakfast for the day and where their educational performance was affected by the abandonment of the scheme. It is not just an educational matter; it is a health matter. At the Preston North East State School in my electorate a large number of the children come from socio-economically depressed families. I think that in our education programs we will have to look at some schemes that will not only identify schools as deprived schools that need educational facilities, but will also identify them as deprived schools that need help in other ways. Just last week a report from the Preston North East State School stated that of the 900 children in the school 400 suffered from head lice. I think this indicates a problem that is more than an educational problem. It is a problem which with our present mechanism we ought to be able to identify, and, with a happy marriage of the educational field and the health field, solve.
– I rise to speak on the estimates for the Department of Education because of the deep concern which I and many of my constituents feel at the policies being adopted towards Australia’s independent school system. I wish to deal with 2 specific aspects of Government policy. The first is the reduction of the tax deduction for education ex:penses incurred by parents from $400 to $150. The second is the reduction since this Government took office of per capita grants, which adversely affects parents who send their children to a school other than a government school.
I have been deluged by protests from parents in my electorate about the Government’s policies towards non-government schools. Deakin is not an electorate where the wealthy reside. The people of Deakin are average, hard-working Australians who aim to own their own homes and who aim to improve their standard of living and that of their families. A large number of parents in my electorate send their children to independent schools and it is on their behalf that I speak today. It is an electorate in which the Australian Labor Party came within 720 votes of winning representation in 1972 but in which it was soundly thrashed in 1974 because of its subsequent actions.
I would like to read a few excerpts from a letter sent to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) and the Treasurer (Mr Crean) by one of my constituents. I have his permission to quote his words. His children attend Camberwell Grammer School, classed by this Government as an A class or wealthy school. He points out that he comes from a working class family, is not wealthy and that an independent school education for his children is resulting in considerable sacrifices for his family in other areas. He states that he voted for the Labor Party in 1972 and that his background is such that his support has always been with the Labor Party. He says- and I quote his words:
The Labor Party seems hellbent on destroying the independent school system for reasons that are founded on the assumption that all parents who send their children to independent schools are wealthy. This assumption is so far from the truth that it is ridiculous. The savage and discriminatory measures the Government is taking against parents of children attending independent schools is going to mean that many parents, including myself, will be placed in such a financial position that they will have no choice but to withdraw their children from independent schools and try to get them accepted at a Government school. Such action is founded on the misguided assumptions and personal vendettas being made by some within the Labor Party towards these schools.
He concludes: 1 can assure you I am close enough to the grass roots of public feeling prevailing at present to suggest that these policies towards independent schools will be damaging, and coupled with other economic decisions, perhaps fatal for the Labor Government.
These are the words of a former Labor voter in my electorate. They are ominous words and typical of many I receive from constituents.
– What was his name?
– I can give the honourable member his name. He would have no objection to it and I can give it to the honourable member later or I can put it in Hansard. Many parents in my electorate feel the same way. I have a letter here from the President of the Parents and Friends Association of St Leo’s Christian Brothers College in Box Hill in my electorate. He writes:
Dear Mr Jarman
The Committee of the Parents’ and Friends’ Association of St. Leo’s College, Box Hill, wishes to register a strong protest on behalf of parents, at the decision announced in the recent Federal Budget, to reduce allowable taxation deductions for education expenses from $400 to $ 1 SO per child.
He goes on:
There are approximately 500 boys attending St. Leo’s College. It is estimated that the decision represents an average cost of $80-$ 100 per pupil or a total cost of $40,O00-$50,000 to the parents of boys at St. Leo’s. The school is not wealthy, the parents are average, not high, income earners, and the decision, therefore, imposes a severe financial burden on people who are already, in many cases, finding it difficult to finance their children ‘s education.
The letter continues:
As the result of the taxation allowance being reduced, it is inevitable that some parents will withdraw their children from Independent schools, and certainly there will be some effect on Catholic schools. It is hard to avoid the impression that this is a step towards the elimination of the Independent school system and particularly the Catholic school system.
We are writing this letter because, unlike the Trade Unions, we have no other means, between elections, of making our views known to the Government. We appeal to you to seek urgent reconsideration of this decision.
Again an ominous warning to this Government. Many parents in my electorate send their children to such schools as Wesley, where fees have risen for the third term this year to $5 10 per term for forms III to VI. This amounts to $1,530 per annum in fees alone for one child. Add to this uniforms, equipment, books, fares and all the other extras and it is costing parents well over $2,000 per annum to send one child to such a school. Parents have already been warned that projected steep salary rises for teachers in the new year estimated at between 20 and 30 per cent will mean further substantial fee rises- and Wesley is a non-profit making church school.
According to a recent survey the gross average family income of parents with children attending independent schools is between $10,000 and $12,000 per annum. If they have 2 children attending such an independent school somewhere around 40 per cent of the net family income would be spent on the education of the 2 children. How many ordinary average families can continue paying this son of cost for long? Obviously they will have no choice but to withdraw their children and place them in government schools, thus overcrowding, downgrading and increasing the costs to taxpayers of running government schools. The more children are withdrawn the more the fees of non-government schools will rise until only the children of the really wealthy can afford to attend these schools. They will become what some people in the Labor Party would like to see, purely elitist schools attended by only the children of the wealthy, easily isolated, with the vast mass of children attending government-run schools. Nationalisation of education will have been achieved.
According to recent Victorian Government Budget papers, the total taxpayer support for every child attending a government school is approximately $1,230 per annum. Every parent who is forced by the policies of this Government to withdraw a child from a non-government school and send him or her to a government school is going to cost the taxpayer an extra $1,230 per annum. This is a high price for the taxpayers to pay for the socialist policies of this Government. These policies reduce the standards and increase the costs of the government school system. How much cheaper and more logical to subsidise the fees parents pay at nongovernment schools, to help to keep these fees down to a reasonable sum, thus enabling the average family to send its children to one of these schools should it so choose.
It is only 2 months or so since the Budget, yet already non-government schools are finding children being withdrawn or enrolments being deferred or cancelled. One Catholic school in my electorate, classified category H, faces a deficit of $33,000 this year. One of the leading girls’ schools in Melbourne, a church school classified category C, will also face a substantial loss this year. What alternative have these schools but to increase their fees? The more the fees are increased the more the transfers to the government system snowball. If we could wipe the slate clean and start again, if we could look at our education system without emotion or without class hatred, what would be the best system? I believe it would be one which would retain the right of the children to be educated at the school of thenchoice and at the same time would treat all children equally. To my way of thinking, the answer would be a type of voucher system similar to the one used in some areas in the United States. It would enable our dual system of education to continue to function; under the system each child would be treated equally by the Government. If it cost the taxpayers $1,230 to educate a child at a government school then the government would simply issue a voucher to this value for every child. This might then be used for his education at the school of his choice, provided of course that that school came up to government standards. All taxpaying parents would thus receive the same contribution towards their children’s education. If by the mother working, or by other sacrifices, parents preferred to spend more on their children’s education than the Government voucher allowed, then it would be their prerogative to do so and naturally they would have to meet the added costs. So much emotion and hatred has been built up in Australia in the past over aid to non-government schools that this type of system would not be readily achieved, but it is an ideal towards which we should strive.
-In entering this debate on education I do so as a person who has seen the inside of the State education system in Victoria and who has still got close contacts with that system. On Sunday I went to a speech day and the opening of an assembly hall at one of the independent schools in my electorate. I looked around the school at the facilities there and I could well understand why parents who have no choice but to send their children to government schools are concerned about the amount of money this Government is giving to independent schools, because the facilities at this particular school were far in advance of anything we can find at government schools in a similar area. Yet this school was a category G school, which means that whereas when the Labor Party came into office it was receiving $104 per child from the per capita grants this year it will be receiving from the Government $ 141 per child and next year can expect to receive $230 per child in per capita grants. On these figures, I do not see how such schools can claim that the Labor Government is trying to run them down and put them out of business.
Let us look at the figures which have been produced by the Government on expenditure on non government schools in the States. In 1 97 1 -72 under a Liberal-Country Party Government just over $36m was expended. The expenditure in 1972-73 was $47.7m and in 1973-74, under the first full year of a Labor Government, the expenditure was $70m. The estimates for 1974-75 provide for an expenditure of $ 120.8m. There have been large increases in the funds available to non government schools yet people have been crying out that the Government is trying to starve the non government schools. People are complaining that they are getting less money. The honourable member for Deakin (Mr Jarman) mentioned places such as Wesley College. I am surprised that he did not also bring in places such as Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar. Such schools are certainly getting less from us than they did from the previous Liberal-Country Party Government, but the reason for this is fairly straightforward. By any criterion which looks at incomes across the board in our community, the parents who send their children to these schools are wealthy. An average salary of $10,000 to $12,000 a year is received by parents who send their children to independent schools while two-thirds of the population is getting an average salary of less than $7,000; yet the honourable member claims that the parents of those children are not wealthy. Come on, now.
Let us really consider the true situation and just what sort of people can afford to send their children to independent schools. We hear very glib talk about freedom of choice. How many families with an income of $4,000, $5,000 or even $6,000 a year can afford the freedom of choice to send their children to independent schools which have school fees of $300, $400 or $500 a year?
– How many want to ?
-How many want to, the honourable member asks. Indeed, how many ever get round to thinking that they have any real choice. Many of them would not want to. They have not thought about it because they realise that it is not a viable alternative for them.
Another point I would like to mention in this debate is the situation within the State system in Victoria. We have had several examples recently of Liberal politicians in the State of Victoria saying: ‘Yes, we know that the system is in a bad way’. I can cite an example in my electorate of a State high school whose only library facilities are a few shelves in an ordinary classroom. Children just cannot use that library while a class is in that room, which is most of the time because the school is short of facilities for ordinary teaching purposes anyway and has to send children home in the middle of the afternoon. I know of another State primary school which has such poor drainage faculties that in wet weather, particularly during winter, children often have to be sent home because the toilets have been closed as the septic tanks have overflowed. I refer to the Aspendale state school. The previous school I mentioned was the Mordialloc-Chelsea High
School. In respect to another school in my electoratethe Mordialloc primary school- Roy Ward, a member of the Upper House in the State Parliament has said: ‘Yes, plans have been approved for new toilets for this school but we cannot do anything about it until we get more money from that miserly socialist government in Canberra’. What utter rot.
The appropriation in the last financial year- 1 973-74- for government schools in Victoria was $28.95m and the expenditure was $22. 8m, an underspending of some $6. 15m by the State Government. The money was available from the Australian Government but the State Government in Victoria did not take advantage of the money that was available. It did not spend the money. Why did it not spend the money? That is a question which we should be asking the State Government. The money is there if the States choose to use it and more money will be available this year. The State of Victoria will have $75.5m available for government schools. I will be very interested to see how the State Government in Victoria spends that money and how much of that money is left at the end of the year. It is high time people realised the true situation and why the money which we are making available for government schools is not getting through. Interesting comparisons can be made with the non government schools, which are spending practically all of their appropriations. For example, the Australian Government set aside $24.8m for Victoria in the last financial year and the non government schools spent $23.4m of it. Practically all of the money made available to the non government schools was spent. How is it that the non government schools can spend the money and the State Government, while crying poor mouth and saying that it needs more money, does not spend the money available to it?
– It was perhaps inevitable that much of the discussion in tonight’s debate would centre on the decision of the Government to reduce the taxation deduction for education expenses from $400 to $150. 1 canvassed this aspect in a discussion on a matter of public importance some 2 weeks ago and have stated to this chamber my own very strong objection to the Government’s action. My sole purpose in referring to it in my remarks tonight is to put the matter back into perspective because I think that the remarks made by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Clayton), in particular, have distorted the perspective that we would wish to give to this dispute. What I object to above all about the reduction from $400 to $ 1 50 is the extent to which it has robbed the parents of children from access to a diverse system of education.
If the Committee will forgive me for being a little parochial for just a moment, I would like to refer to the situation in my own electorate of Bennelong which is serviced by a large number of extremely good state schools. I do not for a moment pretend that all of their needs are being satisfied. I suppose that in no electorate, whether it is from one end of the scale of alleged social privilege or the other end of the scale of alleged social privilege, could it be said that all of the needs are being attended to. We have some extremely good state schools. We have two of the quite well known independent schools in Sydney. I refer to St Ignatius College (Riverview) and St Josephs College at Hunter’s Hill. We have a number of what are certainly systemic Catholic parochial schools and we also have a progressive school by the name of Currumbeena. I use that example because it does illustrate the diversity of education systems available in the community. I would like to see this diversity increasingly developed.
I believe not only in a dual system of education. In saying that I pay tribute to the many hundreds of thousands of parents who over decades have sacrified a great deal to maintain a dual system of education. It was only in 1 963, a mere 11 years ago, that for the first time a government gave direct financial assistance to independent schools in this country. I believe not only in a dual system of education but also in a plural system of education. We do not want to get the idea that the only option available is state schools or the existing independent schools. I think that there ought to be a plurality of choice.
The best way in which parents can be given a plurality of choice is to provide them with a means of exercising that choice. It is all very well to answer that suggestion by saying: ‘We have given extra money to the schools’. What the Government does when it gives extra money to the schools is in effect to perpetuate the status quo. The opportunity for the development of new schools run on new lines with new concepts is not allowed to develop. That is why I, for my part, would like to see a greater emphasis on a plural system of education. It is the policy of my Party and I know that to some extent it is the policy of the Government to give assistance direct to the parents.
It is in the perspective of providing a plural system of education that I object most strongly to the reduction of the taxation allowance for education expenses from $400 to $150. Before leaving that matter, I refer particularly to the very serious effect that this has had on the parents of children with specific learning difficulties or the parents of children who are mildly handicapped as well as parents of children who must travel very long distances. I know that the Government has provided in the Budget- I congratulate it for this action- a subsidy of $10 a week to parents with handicapped children. But I do not think that in any way cancels out the real financial loss that the parents of these children have suffered.
In the few minutes that remain, I would like to refer to two or three other matters. I wish to support very strongly the concept of community involvement in schools. In this regard I pay tribute to the New South Wales Minister for Education, the honourable Eric Willis, who last year launched for public discussion a position paper on possible forms of community involvement in schools. This is an extremely welcome trend. A greater degree of local participation in school affairs can only lead to a greater community awareness of the heeds of education and a greater sense of satisfaction and vocation amongst the teachers in our community. This also can more effectively integrate the activities of schools into, the communities in which they are located. This concept is to be commended. I hope that in its policies the Federal Government will do all that it can to encourage an extension of this concept.
I also compliment the Government on the additional support it has given to colleges of advanced education. I have had the opportunity recently of visiting two of the best examples that I think one could find in Australia of colleges of advanced education. I refer to the Ku-ring-gai College of Advanced Education at Lindfield, New South Wales, and the College of Advanced Education at Hobart in Tasmania. Both of these are very good examples of such colleges. This area had been neglected. The support that has been given not only by the previous Government but also by this Government is most welcome. I believe that in tertiary institutions there is a real opportunity to experiment with techniques. Some of the experimentation, some of the new approaches to teaching and to the development of disciplines that I saw in those 2 colleges of advanced education were extremely interesting. They are developments which ought to be commended.
In conclusion, I pay a brief tribute to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley). In the very short time that I have been a member of this Parliament, I have had confirmed to me the impression that I gained before I was elected a member: That is, he is a person who brings a very considerable capacity and dedication to his job. Whilst quite obviously I take strong issue with him on certain philosophical approaches which he must necessarily apply to the administration of his portfolio, he is a man who, I believe, is very dedicated to his job.
– I shall not detain the Committee for any great length of time but there are one or two comments that I should make. I begin by saying that probably the most thoughtful and constructive speech that came from the Opposition was made by the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard). Although I did not agree with everything that he had to say in relation to the matter before the Committee, he at least did make a contribution which was constructive in one or two ways. I congratulate him for it. This is the way in which the debate on the estimates of the Department of Education should have been conducted in this Parliament.
What I rise to do at this stage is not only to answer one or two of the criticisms that may have come from the Opposition. I dismiss the speech of the shadow Minister for Education, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen). I thought it was an extraordinarily poor performance from one who had been appointed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) to speak on education in this Parliament. There was no contribution in any way at all. I think that even those of his own Party who support him on the Opposition side must have been disappointed with his contribution. There was only one speech from the Opposition side that I ought to commend and that, as I said, came from the honourable member for Bennelong.
I rise merely to express the regret that I feel, and which I am sure all honourable members on this side of the Committee feel, that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is not here tonight to be able to reply to the debate. This Parliament has never had a Minister for Education who has been so dedicated and who has been able to achieve so much in so short a time as has Mr Kim Beazley. No one is more dedicated. Those of us who sit on this side of the Committee know this.
I could not help but pick up the remark of the honourable member for Moreton earlier tonight when he said: ‘I have been in this Parliament for nearly a quarter of a century’. His claim was 5 years in excess of the period he has been here. He has not been here for 20 years. I have been here for 20 years and I was elected before the honourable member for Moreton. Those of us who were here in those days will remember that the then Prime Minister of Australia, now Sir Robert Menzies, said often when we who were then on the Opposition side of the Parliament established for the first time an education committee- we did so because we were not satisfied with what was being done for education in this country- that education constitutionally was a State responsibility which would not be intruded upon by the Commonwealth. How often were we told that by members who now sit on the Opposition side of the Committee? They were members of the Party which was then in Government.
That committee, which was led and given a great deal of direction in education by the present Minister for Education, through his initiative and enterprise, was able eventually to force acceptance of the principle that education was no longer the responsibility of the States and that not only should the Commonwealth accept the responsibility for tertiary education in this country but also should it accept responsibility for primary, secondary and technical education. Who was the architect of this program on behalf of the Labor Government? It was the Minister for Education, the honourble member for Fremantle. No one has achieved more in this field. Is it any wonder that tonight in this chamber no Opposition member could criticise the Government’s education policy or what has been achieved by it in terms of education.
If I have any sympathy for members opposite it is because of the difficult job they had. No government has achieved more than this Government has achieved since 1972 in the field of education. One should quote the records because not one Opposition member has mentioned figures. One cannot blame them because even before 1972 they were not thinking about education. During the election campaign of 1972 they opposed our education program. But what has the Labor Government done? In 1973-74, the first financial year for which this Government accepted responsibility, educational expenditure doubled. In 1974-75, the financial year with which we are now dealing in these Estimates, $l,535m will be spent on education. For the first time in Australia’s history we are now spending more on education than on defence and, as Minister for Defence, I must acknowledge that the priority is right. Let any Opposition member stand and suggest that we should not spend what we are now spending on education. Let him say that we have no right to intrude into State education and that we should not give a better deal to primary, secondary and technical education students in Australia.
I have been a member of the Australian Parliament for a long time. There are some of us, including myself and the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds), who remember the Education Committee that was set up by the Labor Party and how we fought to bring about a better deal for education in Australia. I suggest to honourable members who have spoken in this debate tonight that they study the Hansard record. It contains pages of reports from and speeches by Opposition members, when government members, opposing our policy for a better deal for education. It is no wonder that the honourable member for Moreton, the Opposition’s shadow Minister for Education, is no longer in the chamber. His speech was empty of value although full of platitudes and possibly humourous to Opposition members. He knew now difficult it would be for him to criticise the policies of the Government or of the Minister for Education. He referred to the questionnaire sent out by the Schools Commission to nongovernment schools. It was, of course, sent out with the complete co-operation of the non-government schools. The Schools Commission should have the fullest possible information that it can obtain in relation to independent schools. Representatives of the independent schools agreed to the questionnaire. We should have the fullest possible information on non-government schools just as we should have such information in respect to government schools. It is not beyond the capacity of the independent schools to answer the questionnaire. If they want to participate, as I believe they do, in an equitable distribution of funds available for education they will agree that there is a responsibility to co-operate with the Australian Government.
Not one argument was raised by Opposition members which could offset the Government’s record in the field of education. I remember, as I am sure the honourable member for Barton who has served with me on the Labor Party’s Education Committee for many years will recall, that when we suggested that tertiary education should be free in Australia- that tertiary fees should be abolished- Sir Robert Menzies could not accept this as a responsibility of any Australian government although I give him full credit for setting up the Murray Committee of inquiry many years ago. That responsibility has now been accepted and I do not believe that any Australian government- this Government or a has not been here for 20 years. I have been here for 20 years and I was elected before the honourable member for Moreton. Those of us who were here in those days will remember that the then Prime Minister of Australia, now Sir Robert Menzies, said often when we who were then on the Opposition side of the Parliament established for the first time an education committee- we did so because we were not satisfied with what was being done for education in this country- that education constitutionally was a State responsibility which would not be intruded upon by the Commonwealth. How often were we told that by members who now sit on the Opposition side of the Committee? They were members of the Party which was then in Government.
That committee, which was led and given a great deal of direction in education by the present Minister for Education, through his initiative and enterprise, was able eventually to force acceptance of the principle that education was no longer the responsibility of the States and that not only should the Commonwealth accept the responsibility for tertiary education in this country but also should it accept responsibility for primary, secondary and technical education. Who was the architect of this program on behalf of the Labor Government? It was the Minister for Education, the honourble member for Fremantle. No one has achieved more in this field. Is it any wonder that tonight in this chamber no Opposition member could criticise the Government’s education policy or what has been achieved by it in terms of education.
If I have any sympathy for members opposite it is because of the difficult job they had. No government has achieved more than this Government has achieved since 1972 in the field of education. One should quote the records because not one Opposition member has mentioned figures. One cannot blame them because even before 1972 they were not thinking about education. During the election campaign of 1972 they opposed our education program. But what has the Labor Government done? In 1973-74, the first financial year for which this Government accepted responsibility, educational expenditure doubled. In 1974-75, the financial year with which we are now dealing in these Estimates, $ 1,535m will be spent on education. For the first time in Australia’s history we are now spending more on education than on defence and, as Minister for Defence, I must acknowledge that the priority is right. Let any Opposition member stand and suggest that we should not spend what we are now spending on education. Let him say that we have no right to intrude into State education and that we should not give a better deal to primary, secondary and technical education students in Australia.
I have been a member of the Australian Parliament for a long time. There are some of us, including myself and the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds), who remember the Education Committee that was set up by the Labor Party and how we fought to bring about a better deal for education in Australia. I suggest to honourable members who have spoken in this debate tonight that they study the Hansard record. It contains pages of reports from and speeches by Opposition members, when government members, opposing our policy for a better deal for education. It is no wonder that the honourable member for Moreton, the Opposition’s shadow Minister for Education, is no longer in the chamber. His speech was empty of value although full of platitudes and possibly humourous to Opposition members. He knew now difficult it would be for him to criticise the policies of the Government or of the Minister for Education. He referred to the questionnaire sent out by the Schools Commission to nongovernment schools. It was, of course, sent out with the complete co-operation of the non-government schools. The Schools Commission should have the fullest possible information that it can obtain in relation to independent schools. Representatives of the independent schools agreed to the questionnaire. We should have the fullest possible information on non-government schools just as we should have such information in respect to government schools. It is not beyond the capacity of the independent schools to answer the questionnaire. If they want to participate, as I believe they do, in an equitable distribution of funds available for education they will agree that there is a responsibility to co-operate with the Australian Government.
Not one argument was raised by Opposition members which could offset the Government’s record in the field of education. I remember, as I am sure the honourable member for Barton who has served with me on the Labor Party’s Education Committee for many years will recall, that when we suggested that tertiary education should be free in Australia- that tertiary fees should be abolished- Sir Robert Menzies could not accept this as a responsibility of any Australian government although I give him full credit for setting up the Murray Committee of inquiry many years ago. That responsibility has now been accepted and I do not believe that any Australian government- this Government or a
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 October 1974, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1974/19741029_reps_29_hor91/>.