29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. G. G. D. Scholes) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– I call on petitions. (The Clerk proceeding to read petitions) -
– Order! I asked honourable members last week to listen to petitions. They are the access of the public of Australia to this Parliament. I would ask honourable members to reduce the level of conversation so that the petitions can be heard.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Minister:
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-
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meterology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Adermann, Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Donald Cameron, Mr Coates, Mr Kelly, Mr Mathews, Mr Nicholls, Mr Oldmeadow, Mr Eric Robinson, Mr Staley, Mr Thorburn and Mr Wallis.
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 marriage is an exclusive lifelong partnership between one woman and one man, which should not be dissolved at the will of one party after 12 months notice nor without a reasonable attempt at reconciliation and
That a husband should normally be responsible for maintaining his wife and children within marriage.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Family Law Bill 1 974 be amended
To specify three objective tests for irretrievable breakdown, namely
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Gun, Mr Kelly, Mr Lusher, Mr Thorburn and Mr Wallis.
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 shows that marriage is an exclusive life-long partnership between one man and one woman, which should not be dissolved at the will of one party after twelve month’s notice, nor without a reasonable attempt at reconciliation and that a husband should normally be responsible for maintaining his wife and children within marriage.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Family Law Bill 1974 be amended:
To specify three objective tests for irretrievable breakdown, namely:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Keogh.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned Citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble Petition respectfully showeth:
Clause 54 (2 ) of the Family Law Bill 1 974 No. 2, should be tried and we humbly pray Members of the House will restore this concept fully by deleting Clause 75 (n) from the new Bill “as read a third time”.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Staley and Mr Thorburn.
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 increased price of the Hansard subscription will place it beyond the financial reach of most people;
That it is basic in a Parliamentary democracy that electors have easy access to records of the debates in their Parliament;
That making Hansard available only to an elite who can afford it is at odds with the concept of open government.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will reduce the cost of the Hansard subscription so that it is still available at a moderate price to any interested citizen.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Drury.
To the honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in the Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Family Law Bill 1974 would be an unjust law if passed since the innocent party could be divorced against his or her will after a year’s separation.
That the Bill does not only facilitate divorces but changes the nature of marriage and the husband-wife relationship. Legislation ought to reflect public opinion, not attempt to condition it. Gallup polls indicate 75 per cent of Australians are opposed to the concepts of the Family Law Bill. Therefore Parliament has no mandate from the people to ask such a far-reaching change in the nature of our society.
That children need a stable emotional and psychological environment in which to grow up. This stability is upset by divorce. A high proportion of criminals come from broken homes. Consequently any law which makes divorce easier is harmful to society.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Parliament so vote as to defeat the Family Law Bill.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Mathews.
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 Australian Government will immediately cease the mining and exporting of Uranium until perfectly safe disposal methods for the radioactive wastes have been guaranteed; will greatly increase expenditure on research into safe clean and inexhaustible sources of energy; and will aid underdeveloped countries in their plea for a fair share of the world ‘s energy resources, while at the same time honouring its obligations to the future of humanity.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Ruddock.
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:
Child Endowment received by families has declined relative to average earnings so that today it is about 20 per cent of its value in 1949.
The Interim Report of the Australian Government’s Commission Into Poverty recommended a substantial increase in Child Endowment as a way of alleviating poverty.
This report pointed out that increased Child Endowment deserved priority and would be advantageous to the community in the long run.
It specifically recommended increasing child endowment: from 50 cents to $ 1 . 50 for the first child; from $ 1.00 to $2.00 for the second child; from $2.00 to $4.00 for the third child; from $2.25 to $7.00 for the fourth child; and to $8.00 for subsequent children.
Your petitioners humbly request that the Government increase Child Endowment in the next Budget.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Snedden.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of Australia in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Family Law Bill be debated and passed as soon as possible.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Snedden.
– Will the Prime Minister confirm that he personally is the main architect of the Inter-State Commission Bill? Does he concur with the view that it is the most historic and far-reaching legislation designed to affect the Australian Constitution introduced into the House of Representatives in 40 years? Does he agree that the Inter-State Commission will oversee the Securities and Corporations Commission as well as action taken under the Trade Practices Act and many other Commonwealth Government functions?
-The honourable gentleman refers to the Inter-State Commission in such glowing terms that I can hardly resist his invitation to claim the authorship of it. But of course it was not my idea; it was the idea of the founding fathers. It is an idea which Australians devised in the 1 890s on a precedent which the United States of America created in the 1880s and which the United States has found very beneficial through all the succeeding decades under all succeeding administrations. I believe the Inter-State Commission would not have any authority to override any of the activities of the Securities and Corporations Commission. It has, as the Bill itself makes plain, certain prevailing responsibilities as regards the Trade Practices Tribunal and the Prices Justification Tribunal. The Constitution says: ‘There shall be an Inter-State Commission . . . ‘. There can be very little doubt that Australia would have been better administered if the Commission had not been allowed to expire in 1920. It is one of the 4 basic instruments ordained by the Constitution. We should always have had it. We certainly should have it now.
I give one instance which honourable gentlemen might remember from some years ago. Early in 1972 Sir Henry Bland made a report to the Victorian Government concerning the disadvantages that accrued to Victoria through the rail freights charged into and out of the Riverina on a very great number of products- primary products and products required to produce primary products. If there had been an Inter-State Commission in existence at that time, very clearly the disadvantage imposed on Victoria and on the Riverina could have been examined and could have been removed. I am certain that other instances would occur very readily to honourable gentlemen.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. He will be aware that many members of this Parliament, including himself, have had financial agreements or contracts with the Commonwealth- contracts which could be claimed to be in technical breach of the Constitution. Is he prepared to give the House a list of the names of members of Parliament, their partnerships or their firms, who have had any financial transactions in agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth?
– Any such information could be given only in answer to a question upon notice. I know of no such list having been compiled. I have heard suggestions from time to time that those members- I have been among themwho have occupied government flats in Canberra might be disqualified under the Constitution from holding their seats or being elected. I take it that the right honourable gentleman is referring to a matter concerning one of his colleagues in the Senate. Evidence about this situation was given before one of the parliamentary committees, the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament.
All I would like to say on this subject is that, the evidence having been given to a parliamentary committee and there having been a prominent article by the witness in one of Australia’s most respected newspapers- it may err from time to time; nevertheless it errs fewer times than do most of our metropolitan dailies- it would seem reasonable to have the High Court of Australia exercise the authority which the Parliament long since gave it to determine the qualifications of members. I do not think it is very seemly or effective for members of either House to determine whether they have broken the law, whether they have transgressed the Constitution. Parliament has made provision for such matters to be determined by the High Court. It would seem to be a seemly way to have the High Court determine it. If we find that many of us have transgressed the Constitution and have placed our seats in jeopardy, then the cure is not to ignore the Constitution but to ask the people to amend the Constitution.
If the case I mentioned, that of renting a government property in Canberra while we are engaged on our parliamentary duties, puts us in breach of the Constitution that would seem to be an instance in which we ought to ask the people to correct a farcical situation. There are a very great number of parliaments in the world where specific provision is made for the accommodation of members when they are about their parliamentary duties in the capital. That seems to be a perfectly reasonable provision to make. If the Constitution precludes it, then the Constitution ought to be amended. Nevertheless, nobody hitherto I believe has cavilled at the provision of the Constitution which makes a member incapable of being chosen or of sitting if he has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than 25 persons. I would have thought that most of us would have thought that was an eminently reasonable, just and prudent provision to have in our Constitution.
– I am referring to 44 (v).
-Yes, so was 1. 1 just read it.
-Order! I suggest that it may be in the best interests of this House if we do not go into a situation where we are debating a specific case which will come before the Senate today. The question did not elicit that type of information. I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to debate this matter.
– I have nothing further to add, Mr Speaker.
– I ask the Minister for Minerals and Energy: When will tenders be called for the supply of pipes for the natural gas spur line to Wagga? What size is this pipeline to be? Will it be.completed at the same time as the main line from Gidgealpa to Sydney? Can the Minister assure me that the cost per therm for natural gas will be no more at Wagga than at Sydney?
– To reassure the honourable member I would say that he need have no qualms as to receiving natural gas in the fair city of Wagga. The main matter that has concerned me has been the rather whimsical behaviour of my State counterparts in New South Wales and Victoria. Some months ago I approached my Victorian counterpart and suggested to him that in the national interest it might be appropriate if we were to consider a real interconnection of the proposed national natural gas grid, and for that purpose that we might construct a 20-inch line from Young down through Wagga and Albury to Melbourne. I got, frankly, quite a cool reception. A few weeks later it was announced, for reasons best known to the gentleman concerned, that the Victorian pipeline, which was to be of the order of ten or twelve inches in diameter, would be extended across the border to Albury, thereby pre-empting what would have been a legitimate market for the supply of gas within this State.
Consequently, the best I can give to the honourable member is a pipeline with a diameter of six and five-eighth inches. I have received criticism from some of the honourable member’s colleagues in regard to the cost of natural gas. The requirement that natural gas shall be sold at a uniform price throughout Australia has been in the legislation since it passed through both Houses of this Parliament.
– I ask the Attorney-General a question. Is he aware of any developments which might stand in the way of the proper development of the Australian Legal Aid Offices? Can he say which sections of our community would be disadvantaged by any such developments?
-The honourable member is probably referring to newspaper reports about the decision by the Law Institute of Victoria, announced I think this morning, to mount a challenge in the High Court to the Australian Legal Aid Office scheme to provide legal aid. That is the only one that I am aware of in concrete form. It has to be said, not by way of any comment on the legal issues involved but on the attitudes to be found, unfortunately in some members of the legal profession, that there is opposition to the Australian Legal Aid Office.
During the recent 4-week recess of the Parliament I had occasion to go down to Victoria seven or eight times, I think, to speak to solicitors principally, and also to barristers, about the functions of the Australian Legal Aid Office and how it poses no threat to them and was designed to provide legal facilities for people who never went near a private solicitor for very good reasons, often the fear of incurring expense and often because of the mystique that unfortunately too often surrounds the profession. I refer to the poor, the inarticulate and the uneducated in our community- the people who, amongst others, this Labor Government proudly claims to speak for and for whom it works. It is those people who increasingly in recent years have been identified as members of the community who, although desperately in need of legal services, are denied legal services.
Studies have revealed this unfortunate fact in Australian life, the most recent, I suppose, being that conducted by Professor Sackville on law and poverty in Australia. As honourable members would know, he made a strong, scathing comment on the existing legal aid systems and said that they were seriously lacking, seriously deficient, in many of the services they were able to offer. It is the intent of the Australian Legal Aid Office to fill that gap, and it has been remarkably successful. Today some 2 1 Australian Legal Aid Offices operate successfully around Australia providing a service that was never provided before. Unfortunately, some members of the legal profession- I emphasise the word ‘some’usually those who have never conducted a free case in their lives and who have done very well out of the law, object to the office’s activities. It seems that that influence has prevailed in Victoria, and it is to be regretted. The vote on the matter was surprisingly close- something like 1 03 1 to 899. I am told that when one sees that against the overall total it means that about 30 per cent of solicitors in Victoria voted in favour of mounting the challenge. The Government stands committed to the Australian Legal Aid Office. The discussions will continue with members of the legal profession around Australia.
It is a pity that the legal profession seems prepared to allow some of its spokesmen to take it along the same road that the doctors took their profession. We now see that course coming to an end with the successfull acceptance by the Australian people of the Medibank scheme. The main contributing factor there was public opinion. Public opinion taught the doctors that they had to accommodate themselves to what Australian’s wanted in medical care. There is no doubt in my mind that public opinion, sometimes cold but sometimes very effective, will produce the same change of mind in those members of the legal profession who object to the ALAO.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Defence. Is it correct that an instruction has been issued to the 3 services that expenditure on travel incurred, for example, by way of postings from one command to another, attendance at training schools and the like is to be reduced to an absolute minimum in the remainder of the financial year? Is the reason given for that instruction that there is a shortage of money?
– A decision has been made to reduce expenditure for travel facilities- not for postings- to a minimum. The reason for this is that there has been an over-expenditure. The appropriation for travel by Army was determined for the financial year 1974-75. Army had reached that appropriation. Therefore I issued instructions that travel for the remainder of this financial year should be restricted to the essential movement of Army personnel. In relation to finance, which arises from the question, I point out that as far as the vote for defence purposes is concerned, in the last financial year of the previous Liberal-Country Party Government- that is 1971-72-the expenditure was $1,2 17m. This year the defence vote will reach $ 1 ,800m.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Services and Property. Under the Electoral Act is it permissible for political parties to arrange pacts or deals concerning who shall or who shall not contest certain elections? Is it also permissible for deals of this kind to place in jeopardy the seat of a sitting member?
– As far as I am aware there is nothing in the Electoral Act to prevent the activity of deals in regard to who shall or who shall not contest seats, except that of course coercion cannot be used. It is true that deals in being arranged can place in jeopardy the seats of honourable members concerned. I am reminded of an article which appeared in the Melbourne ‘Sun’ of 16 April. Evidently it arises out of a deal. It states:
Lib-CP votes deal ‘a sham’ -McMillan MP
A Country Party MP said yesterday a Victorian Liberal-CP deal threatened his seat.
MR HEWSON said he was bitterly disappointed at the deal.
The CP Leader, Mr Anthony, and the Liberal Leader, Mr Fraser, agreed on Tuesday that the two parties would not contest seats against each other where the sitting member was a shadow cabinet member.
The Parties would be allowed to stand candidates against each other in all other seats.
Mr Hewson said the agreement between the two parties was a sham. “I am bitterly disappointed that the Liberal Party intends to contest McMillan against me- a sitting anti-labor member,” he said. ‘The Liberals say the CP can contest Bendigo and, thereTore, the Liberals can contest McMillan. ‘The reality of the situation is that Bendigo is a non-event for the CP, so it ‘s a pretty poor trade-off. ‘ ‘If it’s good enough for the Liberals to contest McMillan, then it should be good enough for the CP to contest Wannon
Good idea- or Corangamite, or any other Victoria Liberal seat for that matter.’ ‘The decision, virtually hands McMillan to Labor on a platter, if there is a major election-time electoral ‘Mishap’which can easily happen.
The CP leader, Mr Anthony, refused to comment on Mr Hewson’s statement.
But CP officials said Mr Anthony was embarrassed by the outburst.
I say to the honourable member for McMillan that he must have been very unlucky not to have got amongst the 31 shadow ministers, but let me remind him that there is still hope because the shadow ministry is growing every day. Might I also extend to him my sympathy because of his imminent defeat, no doubt, because at the last election he was elected with 26 per cent of the primary vote.
-I ask a question of the Attorney-General. Bearing in mind the obligations of section 45 (iii) of the Constitution, when does he expect to be able to provide to my colleague in the other place- who has 3 times requested the information from him- the details of those members of the legal profession who either personally or through their partnership have received fees paid by the Australian Legal Aid Offices?
– I do not know of any lawyer members of the Parliament who have had fees paid to them by the Australian Legal Aid Office. I do not say that there are not any; I just do not know of any. I had discussions with the senator in question. He called on me last night and I spoke with him again on the telephone this morning.
– What about the telegram last week?
– I have had very friendly discussions with the senator. One can sympathise with him because of the situation in which he finds himself. My reaction to his request is that it seems to ask a lot of the Attorney-General to go on a witch hunt against all sorts of other members of this Parliament, looking for something the senator can use to dob in other members, he having been dobbed in by someone. I do not see that as being my function at all. However, as I told him on the telephone this morning, his letter is being treated as a formal request and is under consideration at this moment.
-Can the Minister for Labor and Immigration give the House an up to date figure on those people now being employed under the Regional Employment Development scheme? Has the National Employment and Training scheme been successful in assisting people who are socially and economically disadvantaged in the community?
-I wish the honourable gentleman had given me notice of this question.
– You are embarrassing him, Clyde.
– It would take more than me or more than the honourable gentleman to embarrass the honourable member for Port Adelaide, as the honourable gentleman will find to his sorrow later on. I cannot give the precise figures off the top of my head, but I can give the figures in thousands. There are 14,000 people or thereabout employed under the Regional Employment Development scheme, and the number is growing rapidly every week. There are 9,000 people employed under the National Employment and Training scheme, and that number is growing rapidly week by week. Those schemes have reduced unemployment quite considerably. Not only have they reduced unemployment by thousands a week; they also have reduced the number of people on unemployment benefits by many thousands- indeed, from 184,000 to 152,000- in the space of less than 3 months. As a consequence of the employment that is now available under the NEAT scheme and particularly under the RED scheme, we are in a position to apply a very strict work test to people who will not accept NEAT training which is suitable for them. A strict work test applies against those people who will not accept work under the RED scheme. That has had the effect of reducing not only the number of genuinely unemployed people but also the number of people who previously were not prepared to work.
The RED scheme has provided employment, as I said, directly for 14,000 people, but indirectly it has provided ancillary employment for probably at least that number again. The same can be said of the NEAT scheme. Both schemes are working very well. They have exceeded even my most optimistic expectations. They continue to be, I think, schemes which have the full support of both sides of the Parliament. I have never known any scheme of this character which has had such unanimous support from both sides of the Parliament as these 2 schemes have. I say again what I have said on previous occasions, and that is that I thank the members of the Parliament from all parties for their cooperation, for the way in which they have supported the RED scheme and the NEAT scheme and for the way in which neither side has attempted to make party political capital out of these 2 worthwhile proposals.
– I ask the Prime Minister: When and if unemployment is reduced to reasonable levels, will the Government then reduce the Government deficit, increase taxes or cut back on its programs?
-Yes; no; no.
-Can the Minister for Defence tell me the amount of surplus funds in the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund? If so, what does the Government intend to do with the surplus?
– The honourable member would know that an investigation is now under way to ascertain the amount of surplus that will be available from the defence force retirement benefits scheme. The Government will make a decision about the distribution of that amount when the actuarial calculation has been made.
– Is the Minister for Social Security aware of the many anxious inquiries being received by honourable members from constituents regarding their position under the hospital provisions of Medibank as from 1 July? These inquiries arise particularly in the nonparticipating States controlled by Liberal and Australian Country Party governments. Can the Minister give any further information at this stage as to the likelihood of any or all of those States deciding to co-operate? What would be the earliest date at which such State participation could become effective?
-The States which have yet to make some substantial movement towards agreement are New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. The Queensland Treasurer has made it fairly clear that he believes that his State Government will be in a position to conclude agreements early enough to allow that State to participate in the Medibank hospital plan from 1 July. In relation to those other 3 States, the earliest date by which they can enter the Medibank hospital plan will be governed very largely by the determination with which they approach the negotiations which are necessary to conclude such agreements. I met the Health Ministers of those 3 States and also of Queensland, together with officials of their respective departments, in Sydney last Friday. It was agreed that there would be further discussions between the officials of the respective departments commencing this week. It was also agreed that the discussions would proceed on a bilateral basis as it would be quite impracticable, because of the differences in the hospital systems in each of those States, to develop some collective system of negotiation. For instance, the rather complex negotiations which will be involved in arranging additional public ward beds in Victoria will be different in nature from the similar sons of negotiations which will be necessary for Western Australia.
This week, unfortunately, I was advised that the Ministers of those 3 States expect these discussions now to proceed on a multi-lateral basis. This is just not practicable. It is completely unreasonable, and unless the States are prepared to proceed on some sort of responsible basis so that discussions can get under way, I am afraid that progress will be bogged down. There is no reason that the States cannot meet collectively themselves to decide what son of common views they want to put forward and to review from time to time the progress of negotiations, nor is there any reason that there should not from time to time be collective meetings of the respective Ministers, including myself. But it is completely unreasonable to suggest that the complex negotiations which are necessary- in relation to Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland they have already taken several months before a stage of near conclusion could be reached and in each case they have involved completely different concepts- should proceed on a multi-lateral basis. That is just not practicable.
– I direct my question to the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister. Have only sketchy reports been made of the Minister’s recent visit to Arab countries? Was he successful in obtaining firm orders for Australian beef, wheat and other commodities? Was he able to attract petro dollars for investment in Australia to help develop our resources? Can the Minister give definite and specific details to this House and to the people of Australia of any success achieved?
-I expect next week to be able to make a statement to the House about the visit made by myself and the Minister for Agriculture to the Middle East. That will depend on time and circumstances, but I hope to be able to make that statement. First, it is true that, in the absence of that statement, if one has to rely on the media what could be called only sketchy reports have been made. I issued lengthy Press releases which are available for the Press and for members if they should want to see a more adequate statement. Secondly, it is not the business of a Minister in this Parliament to undertake firm orders for beef or anything else. That is a matter for the Australian Meat Board and for private companies. Similarly, it is not my business to obtain petro dollars. The job of a Minister in this respect is to create the overall conditions that are necessary for those who are responsible for those matters to have the greatest possible success.
What I was able to discover was that in this part of the world Australia is held in very high esteem, for both our foreign affairs policies and our economic policies. I was able to discover that there are very extensive opportunities for increased exports from Australia to all the countries in the Persian or Arabian Gulf area. This is especially so with respect to meat. But, unfortunately, the Australian meat trade has not responded with the kind of meat that is most popular in those areas. The meat that we export is too old and too fat. Unless we can have enough initiative and enterprise to produce the right kind of meat, we will not be able to take the very rapidly expanding opportunities for trade in that part of the world which are available. What I have said applies also to all the other proteins. It applies to proteins from grain. It applies to the milk products. There are very extensive markets available there.
Similarly, great interest exists in each of the countries that I visited in investing what the honourable member chooses to describe as petro dollars. The attitudes of the countries differ. In Kuwait, this is essentially a commercial enterprise in which that country is seeking out the best possible returns on a long term basis. Some other countries are interested in what they regard as joint projects. They know that in Australia we are concerned to retain control by Australians, private and public, of our resources. This is a policy that they thoroughly understand. It is one that they apply in their countries and it is one with which they are prepared to co-operate. There are great opportunities for constructive cooperation between the countries in that part of the world and Australia for the mutual benefit of both. I think that the visit that we were able to make has contributed something to improving that situation.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Social Security been drawn to an increasing gap between approved nursing home charges in Western Australia and the total of pension and nursing home subsidy? Can the Minister say whether any relief of this position is being considered? If so, when can some decision on the matter be anticipated.
-The Government in the last Budget took a most valuable initiative which became effective from 1 January this year. The initiative took the form of a proposal to deficit finance the non-commercial private nursing homes, that is, nursing homes which are not profit motivated, which are conducted by voluntary organisations. Briefly, that means that any nursing home which incurs a deficit because its operating costs exceed its income has that deficit met by the Australian Government. The formula has been drawn together in such a way that patients should be left, by and large, with about $4 a week for personal expenditure. This means that there should be no financial problems for patients in non-commercial, that is non-profit making, private nursing homes. I have also indicated in this House on other occasions that the Government cannot keep pouring money out endlessly to subsidise nursing homes in the Australian community.
I have pointed out that it has never been an undertaking of any government regardless of political colour that it would guarantee all of the income necessary for all of the nursing homes in Australia. I should point that this Government in the last Budget allocated over $ 1 47m for nursing home subsidies. I would suggest that some restraint ought to be exercised by the representatives of some of the people working in nursing homes in the demands which are made to provide increased remuneration, that is, if those nursing homes are to continue in operation. It is not the responsibility of the Government to meet every increase in cost of all of the nursing homes in Australia. Certainly I will review the matter, but I would not hold out any great encouragement to the honourable member or to the community that the Australian Government can continue extending itself in this field where it has proven beyond any doubt that it has been extremely generous indeed.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister and is supplementary to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition concerning the Government’s intentions when and if unemployment is reduced to reasonable levels. If the Government does not intend to increase taxes and does not intend to cut back on its spending programs, how in fact does it intend to reduce the deficit?
– I cannot presume, of course, at question time to enlighten the honourable member. He had an opportunity yesterday to put all his views. I am not going to dignify them by further discussion.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Recreation and Tourism. Is he aware that last Saturday one of Australia’s most outstanding footballers, Neil Sasche, was involved in a football mishap which may leave him paralysed for the rest of his life? Will the Government consider assisting his family, who I understand have to travel from Adelaide to see him in hospital?
– I am aware of the accident that happened to the football player in Victoria last weekend. I regret the incident very much. My Department is looking at the matter at the moment to see whether there is any possible way of assisting Mr Sasche and his family.
-As the Prime Minister is aware, section 45 (iii) of the Constitution states that anybody who directly or indirectly takes or agrees to take any fee or honorarium for services rendered to the Commonwealth is in breach of the Constitution. I ask the Prime Minister: Does he agree that if charges are made against any member of Parliament who receives remuneration for pensioner medical services, repatriation services or pharmaceutical services, these people should have their cases tested before the High Court?
-This is precisely the point that I was making in reply to the right honourable gentleman’s earlier question. I do not want to take it upon myself to express a view as to the rights or liabilities of members of Parliament or candidates for Parliament who happen to be barristers, solicitors, chemists or doctors, all of whom in one way or another can receive payments for professional services to various federal agencies. Nor do I believe that parliamentarians collectively in either House should presume to express a view on this matter. I could not agree more with the right honourable member. This is a matter which should be tested in the High Court.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Housing and Construction, relates to the defence service homes insurance scheme. I draw the Minister’s attention to the damage which was incurred in Brisbane in February 1974 and in New South Wales in May 1974. Can the Minister inform the House of the range of cover provided for policy holders under the defence service homes insurance scheme? Were all claims fully covered? During those periods, did the Minister receive applications and inquiries from members of the public wishing to insure under an arrangement similar to the defence service homes insurance scheme?
-At the time of the Brisbane floods, a very considerable number of people were covered by the defence service homes insurance scheme. I think honourable gentlemen may recall the fact that policy claims were met with the utmost expedition. That incident exposed to a great number of people the virtue of the defence service homes insurance scheme. As a result, there was an inundation of inquiries from people who were responding to a suggestion that the defence service homes insurance scheme should be expanded to accommodate the needs of people other than exservicemen. The premium rates are very advantageous and compare favourably with those of private insurance companies. I think the rate represents about one-eighth of premium rates charged by private insurance companies. Of course the defence service homes insurance scheme has stood on its own; it has been selfsustaining. Even the cost of administration has been attributed to the scheme.
Having said all that, I must acknowledge that the defence service homes insurance scheme is no longer under my administration. It has been transferred to the administration of the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. I suppose that everyone will be very excited at the announcement which he has made to the effect that the Government intends establishing an Australian Government insurance office. After some time has elapsed, it will incorporate a wide range of insurance. I have no doubt that even though the defence service homes insurance scheme will stand independently, it will act virtually as an agent for the Australian Government insurance office, that it will continue to run efficiently and effectively, and that its principles will be conferred upon a very large number of potential beneficiaries.
– I wish to inform the House that the Leader of the Opposition has nominated Mr Killen to be a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in place of Dr Forbes; nominated Mr Hyde to be a member of the Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties in place of Mr Wilson; and nominated Mr Hodges and Mr Jarman to be members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation in place of Mr Bourchier and Mr Wilson.
Bill presented by Dr J. F. Cairns, and read a first time.
(10.50)- I move:
This Bill seeks the approval of Parliament to borrowings by Australia not exceeding the equivalent of US$68m or $A50m to assist the Australian Shipping Commission- the Australian National Line- in financing the purchase of 2 bulk ore carriers from the Gotaverken Shipyards in Sweden at an estimated cost of approximately 286 million Swedish kroners or $A54m. The vessels are due for delivery in July 1 976 and May 1977.
This is the first occasion on which Parliament has been asked to approve borrowings on behalf of the ANL. However, Parliament has on a number of previous occasions approved borrowings for the other Government owned transport authorities, Qantas Airways Ltd and TransAustralia Airlines. Legislation for the last series of such borrowings was passed by Parliament in the Budget sittings of last year. The borrowing arrangements for the purchase of these ships have not been finalised at this stage and the Government will proceed only if funds are available on reasonable terms and conditions. It is expected that the loans will have a maturity of between 7 and 10 years. Offers will be sought for these funds from overseas sources with established connections with the Australian Government.
Other arrangements for the loans will be similar to those approved by Parliament for previous loans for Qantas and TAA in recent years. In particular, the Australian Government will be the borrower in the first place, and the proceeds will be made available to the ANL on terms and conditions to be determined pursuant to clause 7 of the Bill. These terms and conditions will be identical with those under which Australia itself borrows the money. The ANL will be required to meet all charges under the loan agreements. Consequently, the Australian Government will, as usual, assume the function of an intermediary in these arrangements.
The detailed terms and conditions of each of the loans to be arranged will be subject to approval by the Australian Loan Council. The amount to be borrowed is included in the Australian Government’s loan program for 1974-75 approved by the Loan Council. Should any borrowings under this legislation not be finalised until 1975-76, the amount of these borrowings will be included in the Government’s loan program for that year. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr MacKellar) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Connor, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949-1973 provides for a Commissioner and 2 Associate Commissioners and that these be fulltime officers appointed for 7 years. The Act also provides that an Acting Commissioner may not continue in office for more than 12 months. These provisions relating to the top management structure of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority were enacted in 1949 when there was a vast construction task to be put in hand and carried to a successful conclusion. Construction of the Snowy scheme is now virtually completed.
Under the direction of the Snowy Mountains Council, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority will be left with functions of a residual kind, such as manning the scheme- other than the manning of generating stations, which is the responsibility of the State electricity commissionsand financial administration. The top management structure that was appropriate for the construction phase of the scheme is thus not required in present circumstances. Accordingly, this Bill will amend the principal Act to provide flexibility in the top management structure of the Authority consistent with its changing role.
The Bill provides that the Commissioner and Associate Commissioners may in future be appointed on a part-time basis and that appointments may be for period of less than 7 years.
The appointment of 2 Associate Commissioners will no longer be obligatory. The Bill also provided that an Acting Commissioner will not be limited to a tenure of office of 12 months. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr MacKellar) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 10 April on motion by Mr Whitlam:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Mr Speaker, I anticipated that the Opposition would respond in this debate. Apparently it is not. I shall do that instead. In speaking to the Tasman Bridge Restoration Bill 1975 I congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for his sense of urgency and his response to my personal invitation to visit Hobart for discussions with all of the authorities involved, particularly members of the State Government and the Clarence Council, which represents the area which has been most affected by the disaster. This visit enabled the Prime Minister, and indeed the entire Cabinet, to appreciate the wide range of problems, both physical and personal, that has arisen as a result of this bridge collapse. As the Prime Minister has pointed out quite rightly, it has imposed many hardships on the people of Hobart. Almost a complete dislocation of communication between the eastern and western shores of the Derwent has resulted and this, quite naturally, is of great concern to me as the area affected forms a very great percentage of my own electorate of Franklin.
This Bill seeks the approval of this House to get on with the job of salvage and restoration with a maximum of energy, a minimum of delay and, I would hope, an absence of specious, empty and destructive political criticism. It is a matter of great regret that this disaster- I will make no premature comment on the reason for it- has again been seized upon by the State Liberal Opposition in Tasmania as a means of extracting the maximum political advantage in the most extraordinarily callous and cynical fashion. Again, I am distressed to observe that the Liberal Party has been aided and abetted by a prejudiced and biased media. There has been ill informed comment. In particular I refer to some of the so-called experts on certain radio programs in Hobart who indulge in idle and what I call ill informed prattle. Let me recapitulate very briefly and see what positive action has been taken. As all honourable members will know, the collapse occurred on Sunday, 5 January, just a little more than 12 weeks ago. Since that time this Government has responded with a sense of urgency and great responsibility. It undertook to meet the full expenditure incurred by the Tasmanian Government and all its associated authorities. Honourable members will be aware that the Treasurer (Dr J. F. Cairns) responded with alacrity to trie situation by providing $6m this financial year in the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1974-75 which was discussed and passed in this House a week or so ago.
The Australian Government is meeting the full cost of all ancillary services; that is, it is providing the cost of ferry terminals and the upgrading of the Old Beach Road. I commend the State Public Works Department for its magnificent effort on the reconstruction of this road. As a result of this disaster it will be a first class road. Work on it is weeks ahead of schedule due to the magnificent physical performance and the overall guidance of the activities of the State Public Works Department. It is my wish that people in certain areas of the State would realise what is being done and praise instead of engaging in empty and unproductive criticism. I repeat that the effort of the Public Works Department in the building of this road in particular has been quite outstanding.
The Postmaster-General’s Department in Hobart responded to my personal representation and in a matter of days had dozens of new telephone booths erected on all the ferry terminals and at key points. The new terminal at Kangaroo Bay has been substantially completed. Parking areas have been provided and traffic lights installed. All of this has been done in a matter of 12 weeks. Is this an example of laxity? Is this an example of lack of Government initiative? I personally have established an electoral office in the area isolated by the collapse of the bridge. The Department of Labor and Immigration has opened an office in the same area, as has the Department of Social Security. All the officials of these departments are working with a great sense of dedication and purpose. This is an example of positive Government action.
The appointment of Sir Roland Wilson as personal representative of the Prime Minister in matters concerning the collapse of the bridge was a move in the right direction. I am glad that my colleague, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Coates), and I were able to persuade the Prime Minister to make this appointment. This was done without delay. The appointment of the Joint Tasman Bridge Restoration Commission to superintend and direct the combined salvage and rebuilding operations is a very clear demonstration of the Government’s concern for the people not only of my electorate but also of the electorate of Denison. I believe that both the Australian and the Tasmanian governments have responded with a sense of urgency and responsibility. It makes me ashamed that the State Liberal Opposition can contribute nothing more than destructive, carping criticism.
Let me return briefly to the Commission and its personnel as announced by the Prime Minister. The Commission will have as its Chief Executive Officer the Tasmanian Director of Public Works, and the Commission will be able to borrow or recruit appropriate skilled staff as required. Sir Allan Knight, C.M.G., the Chairman of the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission, has accepted an invitation to act as the Chief Commissioner. As all Tasmanian and indeed all Australians will know, Sir Allan Knight is one of this country’s most distinguished and respected engineers, and we are fortunate that he accepted the invitation to act as the chairman of this Commission.
It is not my intention to indulge in a long speech on this matter. I think I have put the case clearly and simply. What we need at this moment is action and not words. Let us pass this measure. Let us get on with the job. It has been quite clearly demonstrated in just 12 weeks what can be achieved, and if there is more to be achieved it can be done if the Australian and State governments co-operate and work together sensibly and intelligently. I believe that this has been done. As the Prime Minister quite rightly pointed out in his second reading speech, the arrangements for the restoration of the Tasman Bridge are an excellent example of close and fruitful co-operation between the Australian Government and one of the States. I commend this Bill. I hope that the House will not delay its passage unduly.
Debate (on motion by Mr Ellicott) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Les Johnson, and read a first time.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Government’s decision to terminate the home savings grant scheme after introduction of the scheme for tax deductibility of mortgage interest on housing loans. As announced by the then Treasurer in his Budget Speech on 21 August 1973, home savings grants will continue to be paid to young people who had commenced to save in the acceptable forms on or before that date and who contract to buy or build, or commence construction of, their homes on or before 31 December 1976. The Bill provides for this and other consequential amendments necessary to terminate the scheme.
The Principal Act at present provides that an application should be lodged within 12 months after a person’s prescribed date, that is, the date he contracts to buy or build his home or com.mences its construction, but the period for lodgment may be extended, in special circumstances, for a further period. To avoid prolonged administration of the scheme through the receipt of applications for an indefinite period of time after 3 1 December 1976, the Bill provides for an absolute final date-31 December 1977- for the lodgment of applications, that is, a period of twelve months after the latest possible prescribed date. Applications for home savings grants will not be accepted after that date.
Several requirements in the Act may be met after a person’s prescribed date and, indeed, after an application has been lodged. For example, a person need not be married at the date he contracts to buy or build bis home but, to qualify for a grant, he must marry within 12 months after that date or within such further period as may be allowed in special circumstances. Similarly, before a grant may be paid, an applicant must produce evidence that acceptable savings have been held over the required period, that the land on which the house is built will be owned by him, that he has adequate finance to complete the purchase or construction of the house and, in the case of an owner builder, that he has made substantial building progress on the home. It is usually expected that these requirements will be fulfilled within 12 months after the person’s prescribed date but the principal Act has permitted extension of this period in special circumstances. The Bill provides that the final date for meeting any outstanding requirements may not be extended beyond 30 June1978, that is, a period of 18 months after the latest possible prescribed date.
I take this opportunity to explain to the House that persons who meet the eligibility tests for tax deductibility of mortgage interest and home savings grants may receive both benefits. The Government has conducted an extensive campaign through the media to inform eligible persons who are repaying housing loans of their right to claim deductions under the pay as you earn system in respect of mortgage interests.
The Bill proposes other amendments to the principal Act, the most important of which concern the acceptability of savings held in Papua New Guinea. The Act at present permits savings held with branches of Australian banks in an external Territory of Australia to be treated as acceptable savings for purposes of the home savings grant scheme. Unless appropriate amendments are made, changes to the banking system in Papua New Guinea associated with the granting of self-government may prejudice the possible eligibility of some Australians temporarily working and saving in Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, under the terms of the present Act savings held with any bank in Papua New Guinea would cease to be acceptable for purposes of the home savings grant scheme on and after the date of independence. To overcome these problems, the Bill proposes amendments that will ensure that savings held with any bank in Papua New Guinea in forms similar to those acceptable in the case of banks in Australia will continue to be acceptable until 31 December 1976, that is, until the last day on which savings held in Australia will be acceptable.
Consequent upon the amalgamation of the former Departments of Housing and of Works as the Department of Housing and Construction on 30 November 1973, the Bill proposes appropriate drafting amendments to up-date references to the former Department of Housing. The Bill also makes provision to enable the detailed administration of the home savings grant scheme to be transferred if desired from the Department to the Australian Housing Corporation. It is intended that the Secretary to the Department will continue to be responsible, subject to any directions of the Minister, for the general administration of the scheme, but that the Secretary should have authority to delegate the necessary power to conduct the day to day operations of the scheme to the Corporation.
I have arranged for the distribution to honourable members of notes explaining the purpose of each clause and sub-clause of the amending Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Ellicott) adjourned.
-The Opposition, of course, does not oppose this Bill but that does not indicate that we are content with the attitude and the conduct of the Government since the Tasman Bridge disaster on 5 January. In taking this attitude the Opposition believes that it reflects the views of the people of Hobart. There is increasing dissatisfaction in that city with the action of the State Labor Government and the Federal Government as to what is to be done in relation to this bridge. It is sad that the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry), who spoke earlier on this Bill, did not express the views of the people of Hobart which are quite clear and have been clearly stated through the press, and I am sure on the ferry trips across the Derwent River. I would suggest that the apologia that he indulged in during the debate today for the State Labor Government and the Federal Government does him little credit and will do him little good in his electorate.
The people of Hobart want something to be done about the Tasman Bridge. Day after day in recent weeks they have been asking for something to be done. There was, of course, as is always the case with a great tragedy, an initial burst of activity. On 5 January the S.S. ‘Lake Illawarra’ of the Australian National Line collided with the piers of he Tasman Bridge causing 3 concrete spans to collapse into the Derwent and the unfortunate death of 12 people. On 8 January the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) announced a full marine court of inquiry after a special preliminary report from the special investigator, Captain Allan Pearson. The inquiry could apportion blame and fault for any’failure to act rightly or wrongly’ and to assess all factors contributing to the accident. That inquiry has since taken place. The Government took very quick action on 8 January to set up yet another commission of inquiry. I am not suggesting that this action should not have been taken. Of course it should have been taken. But it was easy for the Government to take this step in its initial burst of activity.
The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) during his visit to Europe was quick to say on 6 January:
I expect there will be an inquiry into how such a ludicrous happening took place. It is beyond my imagination how any competent person could steer a ship into the pylons of a bridge. But I have to restrain myself, because I would expect the person responsible for such an act would find himself before a criminal jury.
On 8 January the Prime Minister was forced to apologise. Apart from the inquiry that has been conducted and the initial bursts of activity it has been almost impossible to get a definite statement about what the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments are going to do or when something will happen. It is very easy to make plans. It is another thing to do something about those plans.
I acknowledge, of course, quite freely that an interim commission has been established. We do have this legislation which is now before us. But the people of Hobart, particularly those who live on the eastern shore, want to know desperately when something urgent is to be done. When are they to see the plan to rebuild the existing Tasman Bridge? When are they to see a plan to construct a temporary or permanent second crossing that has been in the offing for several years? When is there to be a plan to salvage the ‘Lake Illawarra’? Sir John Williams, the former Chairman of the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission, is reported in the Melbourne ‘Age’ of 8 January as having said that any plan to salvage the ‘Lake Illawarra’ would be ‘a very doubtful .. . and expensive operation’.
The Prime Minister in his second reading speech has indicated that the Australian Government has undertaken to meet the costs of the Tasmanian Government of the full amount of expenditure incurred by it and its authorities as a result of the disaster. One might ask how far those words go. What sort of compensation and what sort of damage do they cover? Later in my speech I hope to indicate to honourable members the extent of the suffering and damage that have been incurred by the people of Hobart. It is a great pity that the Prime Minister, despite his general statements, did not take the opportunity to affirm a government commitment clearly in this House to build a second bridge. Statements have been made but why did he not say something in a firm and committed way in his second reading speech in this House?
There are a number of points to be taken into account in regard to this legislation. Firstly, the ‘Lake Illawarra’ was an Australian National
Line vessel and the Commonwealth naturally has an indirect, or indeed a very direct, responsibility for the accident through that body. There is no question of there not being Commonwealth responsibility through that body. The Tasmanian Government, of course, shares a good deal of the blame because of the unsuitable design of the Tasman Bridge in the first place.
– What rubbish!
– The honourable member says: ‘What rubbish’. He knows quite well that in 1958 Mr P. Jone, a Tasmanian Hydro-electric Commission engineer, indicated the clear possibility of there being an accident leading to the bridge falling in the way it did, an accident which could have been overcome by the construction of a suspension bridge which perhaps would not have cost greatly more than the amount that was expended on the existing bridge.
Recently an ex-Premier of Tasmania said that the Tasmanian Government was virtually bankrupt and that the Federal Government would have to pay most of the cost of the emergency transportation services, rebuilding the bridge and implementing road construction programs and ferry services. No clear statement is available about who will maintain and finance the ancillary services necessitated by the division of Hobart isolating over 40 000 residents on the eastern shore. These are residents whom the honourable member for Franklin has been elected to represent in this House. For instance, who is to maintain and pay for the emergency health services? All one finds on the eastern shore at the moment is virtually first aid posts. Who will pay for the child care facilities? Who will pay for the additional education facilities? What is now urgently required is a plan of action embracing all the communication links between the eastern and western shores of Hobart .
Even though the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Tasmanian Premier announced an agreement to set up a joint commission, the Joint Tasman Bridge Restoration Commission, to superintend and direct the salvage and rebuilding operations, there is little evidence of subsequent action. All this has occurred despite the uncoordinated involvement of numerous Federal Ministers. Senator Wheeldon is looking after compensation. The Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) announced the marine inquiry. The Treasurer (Dr J. F. Cairns), in addition to other pledges, committed the Government to the financing of a second Hobart bridge. He said on 24 January 1975:
There are no barriers as far as finance is concerned.
The Attorney-General, then Senator Murphy, was asked to arrange legal aid for the families of crewmen on 9 January 1975. The Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) was appointed the coordinator of Federal assistance to Tasmania. Mr Speaker, the question I ask is: When is something going to happen? As in the case of most great tragedies, there was tremendous immediate concern. But the aftermath is delay and seeming indifference. We have seen this before. It looks as though it will happen again. This is what the people of Hobart generally are feeling at the moment.
It is difficult to imagine the effect that this tragedy has had in economic and social ways and on the individual lives of the people of Hobart, particularly those who live on the eastern shore, although as a survey will indicate it is certainly not confined to those people on the eastern shore. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole pattern of life has changed, and changed dramatically. The cost in economic and human terms is tremendous. For instance, it has been estimated by the Tasman Bridge Compensation Committee that there will be an economic loss of $26m a year. There will be an increase in travelling costs. The extra ferry fares paid by the people on the eastern shore and others will amount to $1,260,000 per annum. As a result of the accident, people who travel by motor car between the eastern shore and the western shore now have to travel 50 miles. The additional cost in this respect is estimated at $4,250,000 per annum. The time loss incurred by people because of the disaster is estimated at 4 500 000 man-hours per annum and the total cost of time lost is estimated at $ 1 7,392,000
Of course, there are other costs. They include additional service costs, increased capital purchases and the loss of property values on the eastern shore. The annual cost to 39 eastern shore companies is estimated to be $586,000 per annum. There are the costs which are incurred in regard to social activities. Obviously, people who want to go to social engagements on either the eastern shore or the western shore suffer inconvenience or have the problem of not being able to attend those engagements because it takes some 2 hours to travel to them. And what of the non-economic cost- those things which can never be measured but which people suffer in terms of inconvenience? This is a matter of urgency. It is a matter about which the governments which have the responsibility ought to be doing something. The room occupancy rate of hotels on the eastern shore has fallen by 70 per cent and their loss on accommodation is $5,000 a week. The airlines estimate that their combined loss is $250,000 per annum. The bus fare from the airport has increased from 80c to $1.50. Twenty extra staff have had to be employed. Previously, the airline buses travelled 1200 miles a week; now they travel 5500 miles a week. Indeed, I am told that some people even drive to Launceston to catch an aeroplane rather than go to the Hobart Airport. Cargo losses incurred by Ansett Airlines of Australia are estimated at $1,000 a week and the total loss to that airline in cargo and in relation to other business as at 5 April 1975 was approximately $70,000. The oil industry in Hobart estimates its loss at approximately $600,000 per annum.
I mention these figures not in an endeavour to make people feel sorry for large companies but because these costs inevitably find their way into the economic system and the people who will pay will be the consumers. Ultimately in terms of economic loss there is a tremendous effect of this somewhat simple accident. It will affect in a dramatic way the whole lifestyle of the people of Hobart. That is not the end of the matter. It is not just the effect of the accident on people’s lives. Looking ahead and also looking at what has already happened, one finds great signs of bureaucratic stagnation coming forth. On 8 April Commissioner Knight of the Joint Tasman Bridge Restoration Commission said:
I can give no indication when decisions will be made but we are working on it.
I do not intend that to be a criticism of the Commissioner, but that is what he said. A ferry being brought from Sydney to be added to those already in service in Hobart is now in trouble at Wollongong.
Where is the Bailey bridge that was supposed to supply a temporary service across the Derwent River? Let me concede that the approaches for that temporary bridge are under construction and that work has been going ahead. But let me ask the question: Where is the Bailey bridge? Let me ask it of the Minister for Defence who is at the table. Have we no Bailey bridges in our defence force? What has happened to the Bailey bridges? Why is there not one in Hobart already? If there is not one there, when will it appear? The suggestion was that we would have it by the middle of April. As I understand the position, it is not there now.
– You have not been down that way.
-I have been there quite recently- recently enough to know whether the
Bailey bridge is there. The Minister will be able to tell us -
– How recently were you down there?
-I was there a month ago, but I have facts and know circumstances which indicate quite clearly what the Government has been up to and its inactivity. If the Minister thinks that by asking that question he can avoid his responsibility as co-ordinator of Federal assistance, he has another think coming. The Minister for Defence, who has control over these Bailey bridges and our up to date defence force, should have sent the Bailey bridge down there before the middle of April to lessen the inconvenience that the people of Hobart are suffering. We know that the Bailey bridge will not reduce the inconvenience greatly, but at least it will be of some assistance to these people.
It is said that there are 15 government committees already involved in this matter. I am referring now to the bureaucratic stagnation that we seem to be facing. There was at first indecision as to whether private enterprise would be used on the bridge. Apparently the Tasmanian Government thought that it could undertake the task. Subsequently it decided that it ought to approach a firm such as John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd. Tenders for the salvage operation closed on 7 March 1975. Yet to date no announcement has been made of an acceptance of a tender. The Government Engineer has said that it could take 4(A years to repair the bridge. At least the Opposition in the Tasmanian Parliament has been active in trying to find a constructive way in which to deal with this problem, despite the attack which the honourable member for Franklin made on that State Opposition. It has suggested that it would be possible, at a cost of $lm, to put an aluminium span across this bridge and in the process for a temporary period overcome the problem with 3 lanes of traffic. Then, the job of repairing the bridge could be proceeded with at a later stage. These are just signs of things that are happening. Proposals are being ignored. There are increasing signs of bureaucratic stagnation appearing. Apparently there cannot be a decision whether to salvage first or to repair later. It seems that there cannot even be a decision whether to get the pollution out of the river and then to salvage later. All these questions are left undecided. Until they are decided there can be no action. Almost 4 months have passed yet no decision has been made.
– What is the honourable member’s answer?
-I have just made a suggestion, which the Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania made, about building an aluminium bridge. That sounds as if it might be a feeble structure but at least the suggestion has the support of considerable engineering expertise and it is something that ought to be considered. That is a constructive suggestion. Another suggestion I have already made is that the Government might get a Bailey bridge there as soon as it can, and also get on with the job of deciding where the second bridge will go. Apparently the Federal Government is interested in a second bridge. For 2 years there have been engineering surveys, but still people cannot determine where the second bridge will go. Now the Government has brought out another expert from the United States. The Government in this Parliament is renowned for bringing experts from the United States. It seems to want to attack the United States in other respects but when the time comes to get some expertise it is very quick to look to the United States. In relation to the Corporations and Securities Industry Bill the Government had to bring across an expert as it did in relation to the Trade Practices Bill.
Apparently the Tasmanian Government has caught the same disease becuase it has brought out from the United States a Mr Voorhees to advise where the second bridge should go. Does the Government mean to say that this country does not have sufficient expertise to determine where the second bridge across the Derwent River should go, and cannot do it within 2 years? This is the sort of thing we are criticising. This is the sort of bureaucratic stagnation that is appearing. When will this be decided? When will this be done?
– One would think the honourable member was building a doll’s house down there instead of another bridge.
-We are not building a doll’s house. We are building another bridge. If the Government had built the first bridge properly this probably would not have happened. If the Government had taken notice of engineering advice which it did not do, this would not have happened. I also want to know: Where is the Government’s commitment to the second bridge? Strangely enough, it was the Prime Minister who came into this House and delivered the second reading speech. Why was it not the Minister for Transport? I suppose it is because this Bill relates to an agreement with the Premier of
Tasmania. But I pass that by. Where was the commitment in the second reading speech to a second bridge? Is this Government committed to it? If so, why does it not say so in this House where it is important that such commitments be made?
The question which is being asked in Hobart is this: When will the second bridge be built? When will something happen? When will the inconvenience suffered by the people of Hobart be allayed? When will this endless journey of 50 miles a day cease? It is all right for honourable members on the Government side, some of whom do not live near Hobart, to criticise. But no doubt they have been on the ferry as I have. I know what it means to queue up just as they do but I do not know what it means to do that every day of the week. I do not know what it means to sit there in the cold. I do not know what it means to sit on ferries which some people allege are unsafe. I do not know that but some honourable members opposite do but they will not come into this House and stand up for the people they represent. I say to them: Do not berate me because I come from another place to do it. I tell them that I will speak until they stand up in this place and support the people they represent. I say to honourable members opposite: ‘Do not talk to me about the Government of Tasmania’. Why is it that we find in this Bill another bureaucratic piece of stagnation? Why does not this Government say to the Government of Tasmania: ‘Look, you go ahead and repair the bridge. We do not want to be nosey Parkers in this matter’. Why does not the Government say that? The fact is that here we have another piece of bureaucratic stagnation. Paragraph 5 of the Schedule to the Bill states:
The Commission shall be empowered to exercise and may perform all or any of the functions of superintending, coordinating, directing, managing and executing the planning and performance of any work associated with-
the removal or disposition of the hull . . .
satisfying or complying with any requirements of the Australian Minister for Transport, the Australian Department of Transport or the Hobart Marine Board regarding removal and disposition of the wreckage, remnants and debris.
What sort of power or function is that to give to a commission which the Government wants to do a job quickly and efficiently? First of all, it has to go to the Australian Minister for Transport and then go to the Australian Department of Transport. One can understand it going to the Hobart Marine Board, but why does not this Government entrust the work to the Government of Tasmania? Has it no faith in the Government of Tasmania? Why does it not say: ‘We will provide the funds to you if you satisfy us that this is reasonable expenditure within the terms of reference which we agree upon with you’. Why does the commission continually have to come back to the Australian Minister for Transport and to the Australian Department? We are facing another bureaucratic jungle. Quite frankly, the people of Hobart will not be served by this agreement. However, as I said in the beginning we do not oppose it. Naturally, we do not oppose it because it is the Government’s option. It is for the Government to get on with this job. If it chooses to do it in a clumsy way by trying to harness another government to its minute decisions and criteria, that is the Government’s business. But as the Government does this we will criticise it in this place. We will stand up for the people of Hobart. We will see that they are represented in this place. We will see that the Labor Government in Tasmania, if it lasts much longer, meets its responsibilities through this agreement to the people of Tasmania.
– I shall try to control myself in responding to the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott). He made a number of rather empty points. I shall make several overall points. First of all, the Tasman Bridge Restoration Bill which we are debating is a Bill to ratify the agreement between the Australian and Tasmanian governments about the restoration of the Tasman Bridge. It is quite specific. The comments which the honourable member for Wentworth made should have been made at the rime of the debate on the Appropriation Bill which specifically provided money as a result of the collapse of the Tasman Bridge and the effects which arose from it. That is when those remarks should have been made but the honourable member did not speak in that debate.
-I do not know why he did not speak.
– He is the Opposition representative.
-He was at the time.
– He is a shadow Minister representing the shadow Minister in another place.
-Recently for a short period he was not the shadow spokesman for Tasmania but he has been brought back. I realise that the Opposition sees its function as having to criticise and oppose but the emptiness of the criticism is rather appalling. The honourable member says as, naturally, do many people particularly in Hobart: ‘We wish something would be done soon’. I agree that is what is said. But if engineers need this time to plan- planning must be done despite what the honourable member said- I cannot see how an Opposition Liberal Party barrister can suggest that the bridge can be built in 5 minutes. If he thinks that he can do it I suggest that he put in a tender.
I think the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) covered most of the points that are related to this Bill. His electorate is affected more than is mine, although of course the people of Denison are definitely affected as well. The whole of Hobart is affected by the loss of the bridge. In reflecting the views of the people, it is very easy for the Opposition simply to repeat the words: ‘We wish that something would be done’. But the honourable member for Wentworth made no constructive suggestion, except for his suggestion about putting up some aluminium structure across the gap in the bridge. If that suggestion were feasible I am sure that it would have been examined.
The main point is that the planning has to be done. The first thing that has to be done is to determine the situation at the bottom of the river. The House knows- the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said this- that that cannot be done by the divers because of the tens of feet of mud covering the ship. The location of the ship and its relationship to the pylons has to be determined. The barge carrying the necessary equipment to explore the bottom of the river has now arrived in Hobart, and there are various options open, depending on what that exploration determines, as to how the bridge can be rebuilt. I have criticisms of some of the problems, particularly some of the minor niggling problems, that have occurred. Certainly some things could have been done more quickly. But we are talking about the reconstruction of the bridge.
If the honourable member for Wentworth had been in Hobart he would have known that people were saying, particularly in the weeks immediately after the bridge collapsed, that even when the bridge is restored they will not travel across it because they will not be game to do so. That was quite a general comment. Other people have said that once it is restored and it has stayed up after a few big trucks have gone across it they will travel across it but that they will turn around and go back again if they see a ship approaching. These fears are very reasonable, but surely the way in which to overcome such fears is to ensure that proper planning is done by expert engineers and not by lawyers.
One of the major points that must be made in this debate- I think this shows up the hypocrisy of - the Opposition- is that had this bridge collapsed in the time of a Liberal government absolutely nothing would have been done by Canberra. A Liberal Federal government would have said: ‘This is a State matter; it has nothing to do with the Commonwealth; it has nothing to do with us; nothing shall be done’. No Appropriation Bill, such as the one we had last month, would have been introduced to provide funds. There would not be this agreement between the 2 governments to ensure that all the expertise in Australia can be co-ordinated properly. A Liberal government would have said: ‘It has nothing to do with us’. We would not have even talked about it in this place. But because this Government is interested in helping people in all areas it is ensuring that expertise is made available, and that finance is made available from the area of government which has the financial flexibility to pick up such large sums. I think it is quite hypocritical for the Opposition to carp about delays in action because if the Opposition had been on this side of the House there would not have been even any talk about the problem, let alone any action.
The honourable member for Wentworth referred to the Bailey bridging. Most of the Bailey bridging has arrived in Hobart. There was no point in its being taken there earlier, before the approaches between the land and the water were ready. It is quite a ridiculous point for the honourable member to make that the Bailey bridging should have been taken down to Hobart a month ago so that it could have just floated in the middle of the river without anybody being able to drive across it. The honourable member admitted that he does not know much about Tasmania. I think he has been down there once since the bridge collapsed. He did not make any statements about the -
– You are quite wrong.
– If he has been down more than once, I am sorry that I did not notice it.
– I do not always tell you.
-No, but if the honourable member had talked about something worth reporting I am sure that the ‘Mercury’ would have published it in contrast to its attitude occasionally to some things we say.
– He has got something to say.
– He was not repotted, so obviously he did not have something to say. The honourable member for Wentworth said that it is very easy to make plans and another thing to do something about them. That, of course, is true as far as it goes, but is he suggesting that the experts will not make proper plans? If more could be done it would be done because the Australian Government has said that any reasonable cost associated with the collapse of the bridge will be covered by Australian Government funds. The reconstruction of the bridge is a big and difficult task, and the honourable member for Wentworth does not do this Parliament or the feelings of the people of Hobart any good by his carping criticism. I think he would improve the situation much more if he were to give calm support to what the Government is doing but which a government of his political colour would not have done and if he were to help the people to come to terms with the unfortunate but necessary situation which confronts them at the moment. I travel across the river on the ferries quite frequently. I join the ferry queues and so on.
– That is big of you.
-I am not boasting about it or anything like that. Ferry travel is the most convenient way of getting across the river. I know the feelings of the people of Hobart. Certainly there are some people who get their letters published in the newspaper and who ring up the open line radio programs and harp in the same sort of way in which the honourable member for Wentworth did. But most of the people have a reasonable level of tolerance of the situation. They want the planning for the reconstruction of the bridge to be done properly so that once it is rebuilt they will be able to drive across it with confidence and in safety. That is the key point.
I could answer many more of the other things said by the honourable member for Wentworth but they are really not applicable to this Bill, which is the Tasman Bridge Restoration Bill. I wish that the honourable member had spoken in the debate on the Appropriation Bill which provided the sum of $6m to the Tasmanian Government. If he had I could have taken the opportunity then to reply to him. I know that other honourable members want to speak in this debate and that the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) is intending to speak also. I shall conclude my remarks there so that the Bill can have a speedy passage.
– I support the Tasman Bridge Restoration Bill for 2 reasons. I support it, firstly, because it is a Bill which seeks to meet a disaster, and it is the proper function, I think, of the Commonwealth Government when a sudden disaster occurs to use the resources of Australia to help the victims of that disaster, whether it be in Hobart, in Darwin or anywhere else. Because this Bill relates to a disaster it is proper that the Commonwealth should be involved. I support the Bill, secondly, because, although I think that the Federal Government is bungling and bureaucratic and that this is not the best way in which to meet the situation, it should in an emergency such as this be given the power to do what it as the government thinks fit to meet that emergency. It should not be given an alibi so that it can try to blame other people for the failure of its plans and the failure of its administration. That is very evident here.
Remarks were made earlier about the unfortunate design of the bridge. Of course, it is easy to be wise after the event, although in this case some people who were wise before it knew that the bridge had been built wrongly, as the event has proved. The things that were feared have come to pass. A mistake was made in the design and the bridge was built for elegance rather than for utility. It may be, as the honourable member for Denison (Mr Coates) was saying a few moments ago, that people will be frightened to cross even the repaired bridge. I am afraid that the repaired bridge will not be much safer than its predecessor because it is the whole design which is amenable to this fault, this possibility of disaster. One hopes that it will never recur. To give a guarantee that it will never recur with this design of bridge may be asking too much.
I say very clearly that the criticisms in regard to the Federal Government’s revealed incompetence in this matter have been too lenient. I am glad to see the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) sitting at the table because he is the man who bears the burden of the guilt. It is his guilt. I want to distinguish between the emergency operations which needed to be undertaken and the permanent repair of the bridge because there is a distinction to be made. This disaster occurred on 5 January. If we had had a competent Army an emergency crossing would have been open within a few weeks. The fact that it was not open within a few weeks measures the incompetence of the Minister and is a good reason why he should be called upon to resign. The Army is here for the defence of Australia.
– Rommel would have got over there.
-Rommel would have got over. Any army which in its own territory cannot erect an emergency bridge in a matter of weeks is an incompetent army. Let us realise what this means in respect of” the defence of Australia.
– I take a point of order. The Bill that we are discussing at the moment is the Tasman Bridge Restoration Bill 1 975. 1 fail to see the relevance to that Bill of the whole defence forces of Australia.
-I agree that the honourable member is tending to drift away from the Bill.
– I will keep my remarks within the ambit of the Bill. It was necessary that a temporary crossing be provided quickly. It has not been provided quickly. An army which can defend Australia and which can deal with possible enemy action against bridges- an efficient army- would have been able to get an emergency crossing going within weeks. The Minister at the table is the Minister responsible for the Army. He should have the resources at his commandafter all, he has to envisage possible enemy action- on a comparatively small matter like this to get an emergency bridge going without delay. He has not done so. I ask him: Was this just because of his bureaucratic bungling? Was it that he did not give the Army or his engineers a free go? Was it that his engineers did not have the resources? Either way he is guilty. If he did not give an open go to his engineers to get an emergency bridge going he stands convicted before the people of Hobart, because any efficient army would have been able to do this in a matter of a few weeks.
Did he give them those instructions? Were they entangled in a mass of bureaucratic red tape? Let rum answer. If he did give them the instructions and they had an open go and still did not provide the emergency crossing- one thing that is absolutely certain is that a temporary bridge is not there- if they could not provide ithe is guilty not just before the people of Hobart but before the people of Australia. If that is the kind of Army we have, if that is the kind of defence that is available to us in the event of enemy action against a bridge, the sooner the Minister and this Government are removed from office the better it will be for the security of Australia. The Minister may have it whichever way he likes. Is he guilty just before the people of Hobart in that he did not give the armed forces proper instructions to devote their resources to providing an emergency crossing quickly, or is he guilty before the people of Australia because of the way in which he has let the armed forces sink, because they are so inefficient that they could not do it even though they received their instructions?
– What have they done in Darwin? You ought to be ashamed of yourself for talking about the Army in that way.
– It is very good to see some of the Tasmanian backwoodsmen in here for a change. They are very seldom in this Parliament. They are the notorious non-attenders in this Parliament. It is very good seeing them here trying to defend their Government and the Tas.maian Labor Government against the obvious incompetence in not having provided a temporary crossing. I have tried to distinguish between the 2 cases of an emergency temporary crossing and the permanent repair of the inadequately and unsatisfactorily designed bridge. I shall continue that distinction. A temporary bridge should have been erected within weeks. The fact that it was not erected there within weeks is an indictment of the Minister, who professes to be a Tasmanian, who has command of the defence forces and who holds himself out as some kind of coordinator of this operation. The Federal Government should be ashamed of itself. The people of Hobart were entitled to have a temporary emergency crossing built within weeks of this disaster. The Army could not do that. If that is the position, such an army is incapable of defending Australia against even the most rudimentary enemy action. What about other temporary crossings? We have heard about ferry hardships. Ferries are not so bad. Much of my electorate uses ferries as a normal, permanent means of transport.
– They are very pleasant, too.
-They are very pleasant, yes, and if they had been properly provided- this could have been done within weeks also; it was the province of the Tasmanian Government and they were available if they had been properly mobilised- the citizens of Hobart could have had the ferry crossing which many of my electors for so long have found so convenient and, as the honourable member said, pleasant. If the ferry trip is a purgatory this is only another illustration of the inefficiency of the administering authorities; in this case, I take it, the Labor Government in Tasmania.
There was a chance of providing a reasonable ferry service, and it should have been running well before now. Do not tell me that travelling on a reasonable ferry service is necessarily a terrible hardship. As I said, many people in my electorate have accepted, use and prefer a ferry service as their permanent means of transport to the city. What rot! If the ferry service is uncomfortable or if it is inadequate, that is the fault -
– The ferries are from Sydney.
-They are the ferries which were said, by the honourable member for Franklin a few moments ago, to be so pleasant.
– No, I did not.
-The honourable member cannot have it both ways. This has been a monstrous bureaucratic muddle for which the citizens of Hobart are paying. But they are not the only people who are paying. The inefficiencies of the Tasmanian Labor Government are being paid for by the people of Australia. They have been paid for by the Australian people for many years. The people of other parts of Australia are getting a bit sick of featherbedding the inefficiencies of the socialist Government in Tasmania. In Sydney we have a bridge, but we have a toll on that bridge and we have had that toll for many years. That toll has provided money which has paid off that bridge and has contributed $25m for the construction of expressway extensions. I do not say that a toll should be imposed on the use of the Tasman Bridge. I would like to see the toll taken off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But why should Sydney people be paying a toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the taxpayers of Australia be providing a bridge without toll for Hobart? This is a question which, I think, the House might consider.
The reason, frankly, is that for many years, with one small interregnum, Tasmania has been drowned in a morass of socialist inefficiencies with the result that, in order to maintain the standards of Tasmanian people, the rest of the people of Australia have had to contribute through taxation. The people in my electorate, the people in the rest of New South Wales and the people in Victoria are getting a bit sick of paying for the inefficiencies of the socialist Government in Tasmania. I look at the Treasurer’s return on payments to and for the States. The last available figures are in the return for 1973-74. New South Wales received $288 a head. Tasmania received about twice as much- $565 a head. This is the position because, in order to maintain standards in Tasmania against the inefficiencies of the socialist Government, this kind of extra payment has to be made. This practice has been going on for many yearsfor many decades- and the people of New South
Wales are getting a bit sick of paying for the inefficiencies of the Tasmanian Government.
Because this is a disaster, the Commonwealth Government, rightly, is picking up the tab. That is fair enough. But to pick up the tab year after year and to contribute immense sums to pay for the inefficiencies of the Tasmanian Government is getting a bit hot. New South Wales is becoming a bit tired of it. We do not see why we should have to pay these immense preferential revenues to Tasmania which apparently cannot look after itself. This, I am sure, is not the fault of the Tasmanian people. I know that the Tasmanian people -
– They elected the Government.
-That perhaps is their fault. I am reminded by the honourable member for Wilmot that the Tasmanian people elected the Tasmanian Government. I think that is their fault. I do not see why the people of New South Wales and of other States, particularly Victoria, should continue to pay these extra moneys to Tasmania on a permanent basis. But that is not the question that is before us now. We are considering a disaster. I do support the principle of the people of Australia paying any State- it does not matter whether Darwin, Hobart or any other city is involved- to enable it to make good the effects of a disaster.
I come back to the main point that I was making. That main point is that if the Commonwealth Government had at its command resources which would enable it to defend Australia against even the most rudimentary enemy attack it would have at its command forces which would have enabled it within a matter of weeks to provide a temporary crossing of the Derwent River. It did not do so. That is the fact which stands. I ask the Minister for Defence whether the failure to do what should have been within the capacity of any army looking forward to the possibility of enemy action- to make the resources of the whole of Australia available for this one place- occurred because the Minister tied the Army up in red tape- I believe that is possible- or because the Minister has allowed the Army to deteriorate to the point where it did not have the resources- that also is possible. I would like the Minister to tell me why a temporary crossing was not available to the people of Hobart, who wanted it within the space of a few weeks after this disaster occurred. I ask the Minister to let me know the answer. Is he guilty just before the people of Hobart oris he guilty before all the people of Australia?
– I wish to add but a few words to this debate. I commend to the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard), who is at the table, the questions that have just been asked of him by my colleague, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). It would seem to me that the dimension of this problem is much as my colleague has stated, that is, that it is a bureaucratic bungle and that any capital city of Australia should reasonably be able to receive such assistance as would put it back into normal operation as expeditiously as possible. That this has not happened is, I believe, a condemnation of this Government and of the Labor Government of the State of Tasmania. I do not wish to canvass again, however, the circumstances of the provision of a temporary bridge.
I commence my remarks by explaining once again in this House that no State is dependent upon an efficient transport communication system to a greater degree than Tasmania is. Within the city the Tasman Bridge represents the key to that transport system. In its communications with the rest of Australia and the world it is the sea lanes which are so vital and which, again, have been prejudiced by bureaucratic bungling in the manner in which they have been administered or not administered. I am concerned that both in the administration of transport in the city of Hobart and in the maintenance of those sea lanes to the continental part of Australia so little seems to have been done over the last 2 years. It is important that the people in Tasmania realise the extent to which services have deteriorated and are deteriorating.
The Bill now before the House significantly is designed to replace, not just a temporary communications system. It is designed to provide for the long term restoration of the Tasman Bridge, and the time factor involved seems to be somewhere between 5 and 7 years, on present expectations. It is absolutely impossible, in the competitive environment in which we live, for a city with the character of Hobart to operate efficiently unless a reasonable communications system is maintained, and I am concerned that in the operation of the city of Hobart there should be both the maximum possible expedition in the permanent replacement of the bridge and, in the short term, that there should be a temporary expedient available. I commend to the Minister both the remarks made by the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) and his suggestions about the engineering practicality of an aluminium structure. Certainly I would commend the early introduction of a Bailey bridge structure and the necessity for the Army to advance that as soon as possible.
I wish to raise 2 other matters that are relevant to the situation. The first matter relates to the detail. In clause 9 of the agreement that is attached to the Bill before the House there is a suggestion that the Commission shall report to the Prime Minister and to the Premier at not less than quarterly intervals on its proceedings and operations. It is my view that, given the bureaucratic bungling which has been so apparent in the past administration of this restoration, it is imperative that this Parliament, and might I suggest the Tasmanian Parliament equally, should receive reports on the progress of restoration and the problems that the Commissioners are facing. For that reason I should like the Minister to agree to the inclusion in the Bill itself of a requirement that there be regular reporting back to this Parliament on the progress of the Commission’s activities. It would seem to me that the matter is too important to the people of Tasmania and to the .people of Australia to be let go on the basis of a quarterly report to the Prime Minister and to the Premier. Indeed, we have seen so little from this so-called open Government in its reporting back of proceedings that are known to the Ministry but which are denied to the Parliament, that I believe the only way in which the interests of the Parliament and of the people of Australia and of Tasmania in particular can be protected is by the inclusion of such a provision. I suggest that there should be a regular reporting back to the Parliament if we are to be able to keep some track of what is happening in the long term restoration of the bridge.
The second matter that I want to refer to, because I think it is necessary that it be stated in this debate, is that this particular disaster, as all honourable members will recall, was one of two of an extraordinary nature that occurred during the most recent overseas visit of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). It is said that he suffered from jet lag during the course of his sojourn abroad and every Australian, quite rightly, was horrified at the extent to which the Prime Minister saw this abuse of taxpayers funds as an opportunity for him to enjoy the exploration of the ruins of the ancient world instead of spending more time trying to reconstruct the ruins at home and giving care to his daily responsibilities. I believe that the blast he delivered in The Hague on 6 January stands in permanent condemnation of the Prime Minister, both in the degree to which he was prepared to comment irrationally on matters that had been cabled in only brief form to him, and also in the degree to which he quite obviously felt that it was regrettable that domestic responsibilities might recall him from overseas.
As to the first point, I think it is important that the Prime Minister and any other Minister or responsible person in this country should refrain from the sort of comment that the Prime Minister made at the time of a disaster when all the facts are not known to him. But beyond that, for a lawyer to make a comment which quite obviously could prejudice the circumstances of the subsequent marine inquiry is totally unforgivable, and I draw the attention of the House to some remarks that have been made already by counsel appearing before the inquiry. I refer honourable members to an article in the ‘Sun-Pictorial’ of 2 1 March 1975. The article stated, it is true, that the remarks made by Mr Whitlam had been withdrawn, but the circumstances of their being made at all, it was suggested, might well prejudice the attitude of the court towards the proceedings then before it. It was said that the remarks were withdrawn not from any sense of remorse but out of a threat of industrial action by the Merchant Service Guild. That did not and could not remedy the situation. It was said that the Prime Minister’s remarks, all the more disturbing because they had come from a member of Her Majesty’s counsel, had hung heavily on these proceedings.
I do not think that this debate should pass without a reconsideration of the nature of those remarks by the Prime Minister and the extent to which perhaps they have prejudiced the outcome of that inquiry. Be that as it may- that is a matter for the court to decide- it is important that we as parliamentarians should register our concern that the man who, for the time being, is Prime Minister should make such irrational comments on matters of such grave domestic concern, and the more so that he should make those remarks while absent from Australia and at a time when he was not prepared to return to Australia either to spend adequate time surveying the consequences of cyclone Tracy in Darwin or even to view the consequences of the Tasman Bridge disaster. I believe that the Government has much to answer for. Of course the Opposition supports this legislation, but we are concerned that in a State such as Tasmania, where transport is so important, in a city such as Hobart where the bridge is such a vital link, at this stage no satisfactory alternative access has been made available. I should also commend to the Government that it get on its way to establish some plans for the construction of a second bridge. It is not satisfactory merely to replace the one bridge. In the circumstances of the disruption that has occurred, I think that at least there should be positive plans for the construction of a second bridge so that the people of Hobart can be assured of a reasonable internal transport system, even if they might have to wait for a change of government which will provide them with satisfactory access to the rest of Australia and, indeed, to the rest of the world.
– Three Opposition members have spoken in this debate. I think that possibly the Deputy Leader of the Country Party (Mr Sinclair) endeavoured to be constructive in at least one or two matters that he raised. The honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) the shadow minister who represents the Shadow Minister for Tasmania, so-called, in another place knows nothing about Tasmania. In fact he represents an electorate that has no affiliation with Tasmania in any way at all. I believe that he has made two visits, possibly three, to Tasmania. Nothing constructive came out of his speech, yet we are dealing with a Bill that provides for the reconstruction of the Tasman Bridge. I listened to him with a great deal of interest, but he had nothing constructive to offer. The Opposition had the responsibility of the Government of this country for 23 years. There was no suggestion during the period of office of that Government that it would assist in Tasmania in any way at all. Certainly there was no suggestion that it would provide financial assistance for a second bridge across the Derwent. These decisions have now been made by this Government, and the honourable member for Wentworth knows very well that the Australian Government took a deliberate decision to provide a second bridge across the Derwent. It is largely a matter for the Tasmanian Government and the people of Tasmania to determine where that bridge should be constructed and how it should be constructed. That matter is now being undertaken. So it is the responsibility of the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian people, and the Australian Government has promised to provide financial assistance.
I come back to the Bill itself. It is remarkable that those honourable members on the Opposition side who spoke before me in this debate, rarely touched on the Bill. As usual, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) displayed a remarkable aptitude for talking about some other subject rather than the Bill before the House.
Tasmania has suffered 2 disasters in recent years. The first one was the bushfires of 1 967. 1 mention the bushfires of February 1967 because one could well make a comparison if there were to be criticism of the action of the Australian Government in relation to the Tasman Bridge disaster. Honourable members from Tasmania will recall what happened in February 1967. It was a very great disaster. I think it took the Tasmanian Government about 3 weeks before it was able to get any financial assistance in detail from the then Australian Government, that is, those who now sit in opposition. I think at one stage that the then Australian Government sent the then Minister for Air to Tasmania to consult the Tasmanian Premier at that time. But if one compares the action of the Government of that day with the action of the Australian Government with regard to the second tragedy- the Tasman Bridge disaster- then it could be seen that we acted promptly.
Let me spell out in detail what happened on that occasion. I was appointed by the then Acting Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns), to liaise with the State Government of Tasmania and with the Premier of Tasmania to ensure that there would be financial assistance to that Government to provide whatever facilities were required at the time and for the reconstruction of the bridge itself. Within a few hours I had arrived in Hobart and within 2Vi hours, I and the Premier of Tasmania had reached an agreement on the provision of a sum of money of up to $ 13m to help the Tasmanian Government in its reconstruction of the bridge and to meet other requirements at the time. Within a matter of 2Vi hours a decision had been made. I think the honourable member for Wentworth might look at the records and study his own Party’s attitude in relation to the bushfires of 1967 and see how long it took his Government to act, and how long it took Tasmanian members in this Parliament to be able to pressurise the then Government into taking some action in relation to that tragedy. But of course the honourable member for Wentworth knows as much about that incident as he knows about Tasmania generally. He is the shadow minister representing the shadow minister for Tasmania in another place. It would have been appreciated by honourable members on this side of the House if there had been some constructive suggestion from the honourable member for Wentworth, but he offered no constructive suggestions and I think that he completely ignored the Bill.
I have spoken about the prompt action of the Australian Government and of the decision which was made within 2 ‘A hours to provide financial assistance. As a result of the decision which was taken so soon after the disaster, it was then determined that the first payment for this purpose would be authorised, as the honourable member for Denison (Mr Coates) pointed out only a short time ago, in the Appropriation Bill which was introduced in this House only recently. It allocated a sum of $6m for this purpose. Of course the honourable member for Wentworth who is the Opposition spokesman on these matters did not participate in that debate. Probably he did not catch up with it. But $6m has already been provided.
Some criticism has been made of my own actions in relation to the defence forces and the part they played in the disaster. I think I ought to put on record exactly what occurred at that time. In addition to reaching an agreement with the Tasmanian Premier, as I have already indicated to the House, to provide an amount of up to $13m to assist in the reconstruction that was required for the bridge and for other purposes, I also provided immediately assistance which the Premier felt was necessary from the defence services. Let me place on record what we did.
The Navy provided a work boat and personnel to assist civil authorities in ferrying search parties to and from the scene and in recovery work. It provided a clearance diving team consisting of 3 officers and 1 1 sailors for search, recovery and inspection duties from 6 to 17 January. I repeat, from 6 to 17 January. Honourable members will recall that the disaster occurred on 5 January. These people were on the scene on 6 January- the day after the disaster occurred. There was a provision for the Royal Australian Navy HS748 aircraft to transport the diving team from Sydney to Hobart on 6 January 1975. That is, the Navy diving team was there the next day, only a few hours after the disaster occurred. The Navy provided escorts and fresh provisions to Army LCM8s being sent to Hobart for ambulance work. Those escorts and provisions left the day after the disaster.
Now I come to the Army’s contribution: Two landing craft medium LCM8s were despatched to Hobart and have operated since 16 January 1975. They acted as ferries for emergency transport for vehicles across the river and they are still there. Indeed, as I put it to the Premier of Tasmania, if additional assistance had been required in this way, it would have been made available immediately.
I come to the next point- the question of the Bailey bridge. This matter was raised by both the honourable member for Wentworth and the honourable member for Mackellar. I think they both ought to be brought up to date on this question. One of the matters which I discussed with the Tasmanian Premier at the first meeting, that is the meeting which we had on 6 January when we agreed on certain facilities and financial assistance being made available, was the possibility of providing an emergency crossing for the Derwent River. This was a matter which largely had to be determined by the Tasmanian Government. I immediately promised whatever assistance could be given from the defence forces.
As a result of the decision of the Tasmanian Government, I offered 3020 feet of Bailey equipment to bridge the Derwent River between Dowsing Point and Courtoys Point. The bridge, on the decision of the Tasmanian Government, was to be erected by the Public Works Department of Tasmania. The request which I received as the Minister for Defence and also because of my other responsibility of liaising with the Tasmanian Premier, was to provide the Bailey bridging by 14 April- that is, that portion of the Bailey bridge which was required by the Public Works Department of Tasmania at that time. The amount of Bailey equipment which was required by the Public Works Department of Tasmania was delivered to the site on 1 4 April.
That is the date on which it was requested by the Tasmanian Government. The Public Works Department, as I have indicated, is to erect the bridge. We have provided, as I have also indicated, 3020 feet of Bailey bridging. As the Public Works Department requires the bridging it will be made available to it on the site. I sent Army engineers to Hobart to look at the proposed site, that is the alternative site, for the provision of emergency bridging and the Army engineers made certain recommendations. So in every respect we have met the request of the Tasmanian Government in relation to the provision of emergency bridging. I repeat for the benefit of the honourable member for Wentworth that the date on which it was asked for was 14 April. The portion of the bridging that was required by the Public Works Department was supplied on that date. We are completely up to date with the program. As further Bailey bridging is required it will be made available.
I want to emphasise that the decision to erect an emergency bridge was one for the Tasmanian Government. It indicated that it would prefer the Public Works Department to erect a bridge and I concurred with it. It is the Tasmanian Government’s decision. I made Army engineers available to inspect the site and to work with the Public Works Department to ensure that it had available to it all the assistance that it asked for. As far as I am aware the approaches to the emergency bridge site are now being constructed, as the honourable member for Denison pointed out. The Public Works Department will proceed with the construction of the emergency bridge when the work required to be done at the site has been completed. So everything that has been asked for by the Tasmanian Government has been met.
The Department of Air also provided some assistance. An Iroquois helicopter provided support for the Tasmanian health services from 7 January to 22 January. That is, 2 days after the disaster occurred a helicopter was available and it operated until 22 January. At that time it was not considered necessary for it to remain in service any longer. During that period a total of 29.9 hours was flown, including 2.7 hours at night, and 40 medical patients and 135 passengers were uplifted. Therefore it can be seen that the 3 Services participated and did so at very short notice. I think that the assistance they provided was appreciated not only by the Tasmanian Government but also by the people of Tasmania who, in a sense, the honourable member for Wentworth has denigrated. I think that the whole purpose of his speech was to denigrate the people of Tasmania and he did that because of what he thinks was a wrong choice by the State Government. He mentioned that, as did the honourable member for Mackellar.
Perhaps I ought to remind the honourable member for Wentworth that there was a change of government in Tasmania in 1 969. A Party of the same political colour as himself was in power for 2 1/2 years before being turned out of office, and quite properly so, by the people of Tasmania. Although it was in office for only half of the normal 5-year term it was in office for long enough for the people of Tasmania. I think that the honourable member for Wentworth would do well if he were to do some homework and bring himself up to date by looking at the record of the last Liberal Government in Tasmania. If he were to do so he would not advocate the removal of the Labor Government that has ruled for so long in Tasmania’s history. The comments of the honourable member for Wentworth are a fair indication of how much he, as the representative in this chamber of the so-called shadow Minister for Tasmania, knows about the State of Tasmania
Let me return to the Bill itself. Agreement was reached immediately on the detailed arrangements. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) agreed to provide up to $ 13m- and more if required. The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear at the time that the Australian Government would accept responsibility for restoring the bridge to the condition in which it was before the disaster occurred. That is a firm commitment of the Australian Government. But it was not only the bridge that was affected; the people also were affected. I acknowledge that the honourable member for Wentworth did deal with some aspects of the position of people in the Hobart area who may have been affected one way or another. It will take time to restore this bridge. Everybody concedes that. In the meantime there is a responsibility upon the Australian Government and the Tasmanian Government to do whatever they can to alleviate any of the problems that have arisen as a result of the disaster. I believe that that has been done and that it has been done very well indeed.
Let me point out to the House that having made the initial decisions which were, as I have already pointed out, made quite promptly- in a matter of a few hours- the Prime Minister himself went to Tasmania for discussions with the Premier of Tasmania and to look at the damage to the bridge. As a result of those discussions he appointed a very distinguished Australian and, a very distinguished former public servant, Sir Roland Wilson, to advise him on what policies the Australian Government should adopt for the future. I hope that the honourable member for Wentworth is not going to be critical about the Prime Minister’s choice in this respect. It was a very good one. It was acknowledged by the Premier of Tasmania and the people of Australia and I am sure that it will be acknowledged by the Australian Parliament as a whole. Sir Roland Wilson acted very promptly indeed. He made recommendations to the Government in a very short space of time. His recommendations are now given effect in 2 Bills. One already has been passed, that is, an Appropriation Bill. The second is this Bill, which is a Bill for an Act relating to an agreement between Australia and Tasmania relating to the restoration of the Tasman Bridge on the Derwent River in Hobart. So it can be seen that prompt action has been taken by the Australian Government.
- (Mr Keith Johnson)- Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 4- by leave- taken together.
– I wish to draw attention to what the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) said about reports by the Tasman Bridge Restoration Commission back to the Commonwealth and State Parliaments. One way of dealing with that, of course, would be to make an amendment to the Bill. On the other hand the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) may be prepared to indicate that he will take up this matter with the Tasmanian Government through the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) with a view to asking the Commission either by -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)-I interrupt the honourable member to ask whether he is talking about clause 4 or clause 5 of the Bill?
-I am dealing with clause 4 of the Bill, Mr Deputy Chairman, which relates to the approval of the agreement. What the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party had to say, of course, related to paragraph 9 of the agreement, which provides that the Commission shall report at not less than quarterly intervals. The suggestion he made, and I naturally agree with him, was that he felt it was significant that there ought to be a report to this Parliament and, no doubt, to the Tasmanian Parliament on an annual basis on what the Commission has done. That is a very reasonable suggestion. We are not necessarily suggesting that perhaps the agreement ought to be amended. This is something that ought to be able to be facilitated between the 2 Governments. Perhaps the Minister may be prepared to indicate that he would be able to achieve that result without any amendment being put forward either here or in the other place.
– I certainly do not disagree with the point that has been made by the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott). Since the Australian Government will be involved to the extent that it will be, both financially and in other ways, of course the Australian Parliament, and the people of Australia for that matter, are entitled to know what progress is being made. However, I envisage that as a result of this agreement other legislation will be introduced and naturally the legislation that comes into this Parliament will come as a result of the recommendations of the Commission headed by Sir Allan Knight. That is the purpose of setting up the Commission. I do not envisage a situation where it would be necessary or vital for that Commission to report to this Parliament every 3 months. Naturally, it would be expected to report to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and to the Tasmanian Premier, but I do not think that those matters would concern the Parliament at this time.
As I have already pointed out, I would expect that as a result of those considerations, discussion and decision that are made by the Commission, further legislation would come before this Parliament. In that case, the honourable member for Wentworth, together with all other honourable members, would have the opportunity to debate that legislation. Nevertheless, I take his point that the Parliament is entitled to be kept fully informed. I think this will be done and I will certainly draw this matter to the attention of the Prime Minister.
Clauses agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Bill (on motion by Mr Barnard)- by leaveread a third time.
Debate resumed from 19 February on motion by Dr J. F. Cairns:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This piece of legislation is perennial in this House for it comes to supplement the allocation of moneys for the operation of war service land settlement. The Opposition, currently concerned as it is with the state of the rural industries, is most concerned that there seems to have been so little consideration given to the problems of those who are the beneficiaries of these moneys, both in this legislation and in the second reading speech of the Treasurer (Dr J. F. Cairns). The speech, of course, is one which says very little for it takes a little over two paragraphs to express the monetary aspects. Yet soldier settlers around Australia probably have been more affected than any other group of people as a result of the very significant deterioration in returns to the beef industry, the wool industry, the fat lamb industry and many other of the smaller industries. Tragically, the Bill does not get to the root of the problem to which the Government itself, when in opposition, frequently referred.
As Minister for Primary Industry, I instituted an inquiry at a departmental level into all of the terms and conditions of the operation of war service land settlement. Obviously, a difference exists between principal States and others. But in other States, that is in those States where the funds provided for war service land settlement were provided by the Commonwealth Government rather than the State governments, the position was such that during the time of the rural depression of the early 1970s there seemed to me to be no group more adversely affected than soldier settlers. I am very disappointed that in this, as in every other area of its operation, the Government seems to be totally unaware of the crisis that faces many farmers. If that were not bad enough, soldier settlers are probably the epitome of those who we, on this side of the House- and before the election many honourable members who are now in Government- asserted were the lifeblood of the rural sector for they are family farmers. If there is one consequence of the application of rural policy by this Government which has affected a group more than any other it is that the complete failure of the rural policies of this Government has made it almost impossible for the family farmer to survive. If it has made it impossible for the normal family farmer, how much worse it is for soldier settlers for they are constricted in ways that do not pertain to the rest of the community.
Even in the provisions of rural reconstruction the average family farmer is able to resort, in extremis, to rural reconstruction boards and to receive assistance for farm build-up. That assistance is not available for the soldier settler. It was towards the correction of these disabilities and at the same time as the introduction of rural reconstruction that we sought to ensure that there should be no continued prejudice against soldier settlers. I would like to know where is that report from the Department of Agriculture, as it is known today. Has the Minister continued in his inquiries? Has the report been completed at the officer level? If it has been completed and it has gone to the Minister, is it to be made available to the Parliament, what does it recommend and is the Government going to do something about it? If the report does not cover adequately the whole of the exigencies that face the soldier settlers I would submit it is about time the Government did something about it. If a departmental inquiry is inadequate, it is about time the Government constituted an inquiry on a broader base.
I do believe that in both mendicant and principal States the continued position of soldier settlers in Australia is a complete condemnation of those who would sit in government. I am concerned that there are many who, regrettably, have not been able to earn even sufficient from their properties to keep themselves in full time employment. There are many who found it necessary to take part time employment and supplement their earnings in that way. I see it as most regrettable that in this very brief second reading speech and in a Bill which allocates $4m but no more, no reference has been made to what is an acute problem of the maintenance of the viable operations of the many soldier settlers throughout Australia. I do not want to develop the thesis here, but I have elsewhere, that there is a problem, as many in this House well know, which emanates from the degree to which closer settlement schemes generally generated an inability for those who hold those blocks to operate profitably. The failures were understandable. They came from the genuinely felt social pressures in the post war years, both post World War I and World War II, as a result of which many returned servicemen and others were given opportunities to set themselves up on rural properties.
I heartily endorse all the social precepts but I believe that in 1975 we need to recognise the consequences of the closer settlement schemes that were structured to meet conditions totally unrelated to the marketing circumstances of today. A problem exists because, unfortunately, many of the soldier settlement blocks are in areas where there is either an inadequate opportunity to diversify in production or a fundamental problem that relates to the maintenance of a viable operation in the particular industry for which those blocks were designated. I am concerned that in the allocation of this $4m, $2m of which is to go to South Australia, $ 1.2m to Western Australia and $800,000 to Tasmania, all the circumstances of those men who are affected under soldier settlement schemes are being bypassed completely.
I find it interesting that the only member of the Labor Government who is in the House at the moment is the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart), who is at the table. He is not the Minister responsible for this Bill. He is representing the Minister for Agriculture in this chamber and as such is sitting in the chamber during the debate. This soldier settlement assistance proposal should concern, for example those Tasmanian members who have just been complimenting the Government on the magnanimity of its efforts in the restoration of the Tasman Bridge; yet none of them is in the chamber. One would have thought that it might even concern some of the honourable members from the States of South Australia and Western Australia which are also to benefit. The absence of
Government supporters from the chamber demonstrates that this Government has no concern whatsoever for the plight of the family farmer, particularly the soldier settler who in the past has been assisted to establish himself on a block of land and who now fails not only because of market exigencies but significantly because of the degree to which, through changes in assistance schemes and tax concessions, the family farmer no longer is regarded as being a worthwhile unit of production in the Australian scene according to the laws of Whitlam. This is something that the soldier settlers and the rural community constantly need to have put before them: The complete failure of this Government to concern itself with the maintenance of a viable operation by the people whom supposedly it represents.
There are many economic problems that affect war service farmers. They are problems that are significantly the result of market variability and seasonal change- good seasons and bad seasons. These 2 factors are continuing elements in the lot of the rural community. The element that is different is that this Government has aggravated the circumstances of the family farmer to the point where costs have completely outstripped the prospect of reasonable economic return, and for many the future is extraordinarily bleak. Therefore I consider it totally inadequate that the Government should introduce a Bill providing $4m and think that that is all it needs to worry about in relation to soldier settlers. Far from it. There is a continuing need to provide finance for the operations of the war service land settlement scheme. The Opposition does not deny that, and for that reason supports the Bill. But we regard the Bill as totally inadequate. We believe that there are many areas where the Government should provide further assistance to soldier settlers, but more specifically we think that the whole of the continuing function and operation of soldier settler schemes around Australia should be reviewed. We think that the report from the departmental inquiry which should now be in the hands of the Minister for Agriculture should be tabled and debated in this place. If there is not an adequate report, then a further report should now be commissioned to ensure that we know something of what is happening in soldier settlement schemes, to ensure that soldier settlers are not unduly prejudiced and to ensure that those who served their nation so bravely are not now to be denied the chance to survive the exigencies of an adverse rural climate which is largely a product of the Government’s misdemeanours.
– I congratulate the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) on the remarks which he made. They were very valid and worth being remembered by all members of this House. Because it is appropriate in this context, I initially point out that I have just had a look at a speech I made on this subject in 1968. 1 note that in that speech I complained bitterly that there had been a 2 per cent increase in primary industry costs over the 10-year period immediately prior to 1968. I notice that I complained bitterly that there had been a 3 per cent increase in costs over the 5 years before 1968. I notice that I complained even more bitterly that there had been an even higher increase in costs over the last two to three years of that 10-year term. We were complaining then that a cost-price squeeze was affecting all war service land settlers. We were complaining bitterly that the increase in the cost of inputs was making it extraordinarily difficult for smaller soldier settler farms to persist. I relate those comments to the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party.
It is now a matter of nobody knows what. Inflation is running at the rate of 16 per cent, with the likelihood of its being over 20 per cent within the next 12 months. How soldier farmers are meant to persist in these circumstances I do not know. Recently I had discussions with officers concerned with the rural reconstruction side of the Lands Department in South Australia. Every bit of budgeting they do in terms of rural reconstruction is thwarted because it is out of date as soon as they produce figures on which to base a case for rural reconstruction. I am reminded, because I am fairly heated at this stage, that not long ago the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party introduced a Bill to retain superphosphate subsidies. What happened? The Government voted against making any move to continue superphosphate subsidies until such time as the Industries Assistance Commission could have a rational look at what help was needed in this area. I just point out again that honourable members on the Government side representing rural areas, including honourable members from Tasmania, all voted against that private member’s Bill. I think that people on the land need to be reminded of the lack of sympathy that is shown in this place by the Government in relation to small farmers in general.
The debate on this legislation this year is rather airy-fairy compared with the debates in previous years. I say that because there are many question marks in relation to where this Government thinks it is going next. Nobody knows. In my own area of Loxton, which is mentioned specifically in the areas for which funds are being made available to South Australia, the Industries Assistance Commission recently took evidence on rural reconstruction. Nobody in the war service land settlement area of Loxton, Loveday and elsewhere knows precisely what will happen. They all turned up at the Commission’s hearing and put their views. They all pointed out that a whole series of taxation measures relating to the wine and brandy industry is threatening their livelihood. They all gave views on the size that should apply to farms in the area. Frankly, at this stage they cannot see that the present Government in 2 1/2 years of operation has done one thing to help them.
In order to show that I am not being completely biased in making these remarks, let us look at some things with which I was personally involved under another government prior to December 1972. 1 refer to the fact that we were able to get acceptance of the scheme for favourable rates of interest on loans for drainage. Let us bear in mind that valuations of war service land settlement blocks in many cases- I think in most cases- are based on the land being fully and effectively drained. Nevertheless, we were able to clarify the position in areas such as Loxton. We were able to do this for the growers who were putting forward schemes at the time. At a meeting between the current Leader of the Australian Country Party, if my memory serves me rightly, when he was Minister for Primary Industry, and the relevant State Minister- they are pretty hard to box together, both being busy men- we were able to bring in budgetary control for certain settlers who needed it in areas where they were in grave difficulties. In the Loxton area today 16 settlers continue under budgetary controltwo of them at their own request. On another occasion we were able to get special loan provisions through to cope with salinity in the water in the area. At that time overhead sprinkler systems were burning foliage due to the high degree of salinity. We made that breakthrough at that time, and loans at cheap rates of interest were made to the settlers to update their irrigation systems and install under-tree sprinkler irrigation instead of overhead sprinklers. We had partial success on appeals against valuations. All these things occurred in the late 1 960s.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was discussing some of the ramifications of the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill which deals with the provision of funds for borrowing purposes to the 3 States of South
Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The House will remember that the other 3 States, for want of a better phrase, went solo on the scheme .immediately after World War II. The 3 agent States that I have mentioned have a conglomerate arrangement with the Federal Government. The purpose of the legislation, therefore, is confined purely to the provision of loan funds for war service land settlement settlers from World War II in the States that I mentioned. The loans are to provide working capital, stock, replacement plant and equipment as part of the normal operation of soldier settlement blocks. In addition, a small amount is made available for drainage works for soldier settlers in the Loxton area of my electorate in South Australia.
It would be wrong if the House were to run away with the idea that this is an annual or biannual funding to the 3 States I mentioned made at the taxpayers expense. Second reading speeches made in regard to this type of legislation have never specifically stated that this was the case and this has been the situation in my time in the House. The point should be made that the repayment of capital and interest from these loan funds is made, as I understand it, into Consolidated Revenue. That is why it looks to honourable members now and again that direct grants are being made. But second reading speeches never seem to make plain the fact that this money is repaid.
I had dealt very briefly with some of the breakthroughs that had been made from, say, the mid-1960s onwards prior to 1972 by one or two of us on the then Government side to try to ease the problem of growers in the 3 smaller States. I listed a whole series of breakthroughs that personally I look back on with a deal of pride. I am now in Opposition and I can make suggestions. What the soldier settlers want is to feel that the present Government takes more interest in the problems that evolve, problems which are still very real.
At least once, and possibly more than once, the Labor Party when in Opposition put forward an amendment to legislation during the annual or biannual debate on this matter. I will not debate this point at length because I gather my friend the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) will take it up later. The amendment to which I have referred stated:
That the House is of the opinion that a select committee of the House should be appointed to inquire into all aspects of war service land settlement in Australia in order to formulate guidelines for any future land settlement scheme.
Leaving aside the question whether future land settlement schemes are desirable- certainly one would hope that the reason for the scheme we are now discussing has disappeared- the point is that the Opposition at the time, now the Government, proceeded to peddle the amendment which I have just read to the House. Many of us on this side of the House wait anxiously, as do members of our electorates, to see what the Government now intends to do in this regard. The Government has had at least 3Vi years but as far as I can see it has displayed no great interest. My electors in war service settlement areas primarily based on horticulture who are having to put up with the cost price squeeze can see no interest by the Government.
I have mentioned that in a speech in 1968 I made on behalf of soldier settlers I complained bitterly at the cost price squeeze they were enduring. I pointed to the horror with which they had viewed cost increases of 2 per cent in the 10-year period prior to that. I pointed to the horror with which they had viewed cost increases of 3 per cent over the 5-year period immediately prior to that, and the cost increases over the 3 years immediately prior to that period which bordered on 4’A per cent. How much greater is the problem that they have to endure now? These people- we should bear in mind that we try to help with specific treatment because they did fight for their country over a long period during the Second World War- are experiencing cost increases in excess of 20 per cent on most inputs such as superphosphate, spray materials and trellising wire and so on. The end price of many of the productive items they grow, items such as citrus for the New Zealand and Hong Kong markets, apples for the United Kingdom and grapes for the wine industry with an export ingredient, is dictated by the markets of the world. They have to accept the situation which is causing them grave discomfort at present, a situation in which the prices for commodities on export are not moving as high as are input prices and costs. I do not know how they will be able to exist.
The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party pointed in his speech to the total rural problem in relation to this. I will not go that far. I will concentrate on war service land settlement farmers because they are people who have not, as a rule, inherited properties. They are people who have not got even medium sized blocks. They are people who are on small areas of land. They are small farmers whose problems deserve some rethinking.
We have heard discussion from the Government ranks on the Green Paper on Agriculture. However, we have seen no action on that Paper.
We have heard blythe words in answer to questions, but we have seen no statement on how the Government intends to deal with the cost price squeeze that is affecting these small blockers. I mentioned a little while ago the fact that many war service settlers are harnessed to a high ingredient of citrus production. Last year we saw the pitiful spectacle, if that is the right phrase, of our traditional No. 1 export market to New Zealand falling by the board because of a combination of circumstances, many of which involved the trade union movement in New Zealand, both wharf and maritime. Further, we saw a situation in which the export of the seasonal crop of navel oranges to New Zealand was thwarted by our own unions. This was to be a trial shipment. The shipment of the whole annual crop depended on the success of this trial but that success was not forthcoming.
I became so frustrated in relation to this matter that I finally wrote to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I must say first that I believe that the Deputy Prime Minister (Dr J. F. Cairns) did what he could. I certainly gave him the full file on the subject. Also, the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones), as far as I know, did what he could. Last week I received a reply from the Prime Minister of New Zealand. He has been extremely helpful in relation to this traditional shipment of navel oranges, much of which comes from my electorate. At this early stage it looks as though the shipping problem will be solved. No doubt this will be due to the stirring that has gone on in high places in New Zealand. I am most grateful and I express my thanks to the Prime Minister of New Zealand for the consideration that he showed to me. Frankly, this situation should not have to apply. The honourable member for Angas, as a mere back bencher of relative unimportance in this Parliament, should not have to write to the Prime Minister of another country. I always thought that this was what Ministers were for, and that they had a better connection and a better capacity for interplay and discussion on industry problems. Frankly, to my regret, I cannot say that this was so in this instance.
Those are 2 matters that affect a great number of the 260 blockers in the Loxton area of my electorate. The Opposition would never dream of opposing this Bill; in fact, we support it.
Before I sit down let me briefly run through one or two other matters that I think the Government should interest itself in. If the Minister does not visit the area, at least he should correspond with some of the organisations in these war service land settlement areas. There is still a big problem surrounding the revaluation of properties. I will leave my comments on that matter there. There is still a need for financial adjustment to be made to some grower’s debts. The statistics in regard to this can come through the statistics gained from growers under budgetary control whom I mentioned prior to the suspension of the sitting. There is still the problem that I imagine the Industries Assistance Commission has looked at and will eventually report on, that is, the size of these small blocks which are mainly of a horticultural base.
I will conclude my remarks by saying this: No matter what rural reconstruction is achieved in the future by the Industries Assistance Commission or by mechanisms such as the tree pull schemes and other concoctions, I hope that the Government remembers that it is very beneficial to the war service land settlement growers that they should be retained in the same category financially and in terms of their current contracts. If the Minister for Tourism and Recreation, who is at the table, intends to reply later I would like to have his assurance that war service land settlement schemes, after any reconstruction that may occur, would still provide the same facilities for loan funds and would still attract the same care from governments that they enjoy at the present time. I think that anything less than this would be a small measure of gratitude to extend to settlers working under the scheme. I think that honourable members on this side of the House at any rate would express their gratitude in concrete forms by supporting the sorts of propositions I have put forward.
– I commend the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles ) for his contribution in the debate on the Loan (War Service Land Settlement) Bill today. I am sure that honourable members on this side of the House appreciate the contribution that he has made to debates on similar Bills over a number of years. I feel quite sure that had more time been allotted to him today he would have made more suggestions as to where we are going in relation to this measure. No doubt, it could be said that this is somewhat minor legislation. Nevertheless, it is very important to the 3 States concerned, namely, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. More particularly, it is important to the soldier settlers in those States. The Bill seeks to make available from the Commonwealth an amount of up to $4m. On a State basis, the money is to be divided as follows: $2m for South Australia, $1.2m for Western Australia and $800,000 for Tasmania. The purpose of the loan is to provide funds for short terms to settlers for working capital, stock and replacement plant and equipment and the normal running operational expenses for these various properties.
This Bill is virtually the same as that which was introduced in 1972 by the previous Government. So there is no suggestion that the Opposition will not oppose it. Indeed all Opposition members welcome it. The interesting point about the legislation that I can see is the changed philosophy of the Government in relation to it. As the honourable member for Angas pointed out, when the previous legislation was introduced the then shadow Minister for Agriculture, or the shadow Minister for Primary Industry as the portfolio was then known, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), moved an amendment. I think that it is well for us to note the words of this amendment. He said:
I now move the following amendment, which is in the same terms as the one I moved last year:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: ‘ whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill, the House is of opinion that a Select Committee of the House should be appointed to inquire into all aspects of war service land settlement in Australia in order to formulate guidelines for any future land settlement scheme with particular reference to the level of rentals demanded from settlers, the method of valuations and the option of purchase price of properties. ‘
– Would you read that again?
– If the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) cannot understand what I am talking about, it would be of little use my handing him a copy of the amendment. It sounds as though he could not read it anyway.
I ask what has happened to the thinking of the present Government in relation to the appointment of a select committee. Why did it not proceed with that proposal? If honourable members study the history of such legislation they will find that the moving of that amendment was no accident. Dr Patterson, the then spokesman on primary industry matters for the then Opposition, mentioned that this was the second occasion upon which such an amendment had been moved. However, I want to refer to a follow-up speech by the honourable member for Bass, Mr Barnard. He commenced his remarks by saying:
For the third consecutive year the Opposition has moved a motion calling for a Select Committee -
It is rather a strange set of circumstances that members, when in Opposition, should oppose certain legislation but when in government they run away from what they originally virtually said they would do. I ask: Why has the Government changed its views on this? Why will it not tell us?
What do we find when we look at the list of speakers in this debate this afternoon? We find that there are 3 speakers from the Opposition but no speakers from the Government side. We do not hear answers to the questions that we ask. I am not sure whether the Minister for Tourism and Recreation, who sits at the table at the present time, is in a position to answer all the questions that have been put to him. I very much doubt it. However, I do not want to take anything away from him and I hope that he will be able to answer some of these questions. If he does not know the answers at this stage I suggest that he should make some inquiries before the debate on this Bill is completed.
It must also be remembered when noting the comments of Dr Patterson on that earlier occasion that he used the words ‘whilst not opposing the provisions of the Bill’. If honourable members refer to pages 1604 and 1605 of the Hansard record dated 19 September 1972 they will find that the then Opposition opposed the motion that the Bill be read a third time. I wonder why. No explanation is given. This is one of the challenges I offer to the Minister at the table. Why did the then Opposition oppose it? This is something that becomes very confusing to people who are very interested in this type of legislation. I refer to the war service settlers as a whole. Of course, it is very obvious why money is needed under this Bill. I am somewhat surprised to see that the Government has confined the amount sought to the same amount, namely, $4m, that was provided in the previous legislation. It is true that in actual fact the previous legislation covered the period from September 1972 until today. I wonder how long the $4m we are considering today will last? Will it last for another 3 years or will it run out even before the end of this year? One never knows.
Again I say it is pretty obvious that the sympathy of Government supporters on this account is certainly not with the soldier settler. Perhaps the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) who is at the table will be able to indicate how long the Government forecasts this $4m will last? Today settlers, depending on the type of industry they are in, to say the least are having a very rough time. The bulk of these people are associated with basic primary industries. The honourable member for Angas referred to those who depend on the fruit industry but the bulk of them depend on such industries as dairying, wool, wheat and meat. It is natural that the return from some of these industries- I refer mainly to wheat and, to a lesser degree, dairying -are reasonable. But the important point to remember is that those who are in receipt of incomes from other industries have far from reasonable returns. The deductions which have to be taken from their returns are caused by this Government’s decisions, thereby increasing their costs, and at the end of the financial year there is very little, if any, profit left. These are the reasons why we on this side of the House are somewhat concerned with this Bill. It is not new that members on this side of the House should differ from honourable members on the Government side. We only have to pick up this morning’s newspaper to see an article contributed by Mr R. N. Bonnett, the Liberal Party member for Herbert. He is not speaking about this Bill but about a somewhat similar situation. The article is headed:
No Aid for the Anzacs.
This is a clear indication that while the Government can find plenty of money for other things, when it comes to a soldier settler or even an old Anzac no money is available. As I said a minute ago this is one reason why we on this side of the House are very perturbed about the matter. We have no intention whatsoever of opposing the Bill but it does not answer the real problems as far as the industries and their low returns are concerned. I recall that some time ago the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) indicated in this place that the Government was only too willing to assist those industries which were in need. The honourable member for Angas referred just briefly- I know he did not have time to go into any detail- to the superphosphate bounty. I cannot think of any other commodity through which soldier settlers could be helped more. The Government should have renewed or even increased the original superphosphate bounty. If it is not prepared to do that, obviously it is not prepared to help this group of people at all. The honourable member for Angas referred to the fact that when the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) moved for the introduction of a private member’s Bill asking for an extension of the superphosphate bounty not one honourable member on the Government side supported that legislation.
– Of course it is shameful. Then we think of the crocodile tears shed in this place by the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie). From time to time he referred to the fact that he would put forward propositions and submissions to assist primary industries. He said that there would be some sort of limited assistance as far as the superphosphate subsidy is concerned. What has happened to it?
– Where was he when the vote was taken?
– I do not know where he was when the vote was taken. I did not have an opportunity to look at the result of the division but I noticed that no one crossed the floor, so he either absented himself or voted against it. My thinking is that he voted against it. Therefore, as I said, he must have shed crocodile tears when he talked about giving assistance to these people. The Government is quite happy to throw the onus back to an inquiry into this commodity, namely, the Industries Assistance Commission. This is only putting off the evil day in the hope that when the inquiry comes down with its findings the users of superphosphate will have forgotten all about it. They certainly will not have forgotten. Let us look at the cost of superphosphate not only to soldier settlers but also to all primary producers throughout Australia. At the end of the previous Government’s regime it was being sold in the vicinity of $ 14 to $ 1 5 a tonne.
– It is around about $53 today.
– Today, as my colleague from Hume says, it is about $53. That will give honourable members an indication of how the present regime has been able to affect primary producers. There are plenty of do-gooders on the Government side. I recall that before the last election the then honourable member for Riverina- we all know what happened to himmade great claims that if the Labor Party were returned to office the primary producers and soldier settlers would have available in the vicinity of $500m at 3 per cent interest. What are they paying today? This is an interesting point. Some people are privileged to be able to get money at low rates of interest. Other are not so privileged. Then, of course, there are those who are most unfortunate because they are not recognised by this Government as people who need assistance. There are many cases where individuals pay up to 13 per cent for money from stock firms so that they can carry on.
As I said at the outset the Opposition has no intention of opposing this Bill but there are some questions to which we would like answers. It is pretty obvious that we are not going to get them. However, I plead with the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) and the Minister for Tourism and Recreation who are at the table to accede to the request of the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), the honourable member for Angas and myself to answer some of the queries which we have put forward because it is not only we who want to know these answers but also the settlers outside. They depend very much on these answers.
-I want to take a ‘few minutes to register my agreement with the remarks made by the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) and the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) about the war service land settlement scheme. I register too my surprise at the difference between the attitude of the Australian Labor Party to the soldier settlement scheme when in Government as compared with its attitude when in Opposition. As a member whose electorate covers most of the soldier settlement schemes in South Australia I had a good deal of sympathy and support for the attempts which the Labor Party made when in Opposition to have a select committee set up. In those years when the then Opposition moved a motion for the appointment of a select committee, despite the fact that in many cases it was more than 20 years after the scheme was introduced, as has been indicated by speakers in this debate considerable question marks and difficulties surrounded aspects of the scheme in some parts of Australia and some individuals who had property under the scheme. But Government members having shown that particular sympathy when in Opposition, when they came into Government do not even bother to speak in this debate, as my colleagues have said, let alone initiate in Government the action that they proposed in Opposition.
I would like to place it on record that I have made numerous representations to the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt), as he is now called, about a particular group of disadvantaged settlers in my electorate. I refer to those on Kangaroo Island. I have got absolutely nowhere with the Minister. Despite these numerous representations, I have run up against a brick wall. The Minister has just parried every suggestion made by the settlers and by me to alleviate their difficulties. He has refused to visit Kangaroo Island. He has never accepted my offer to wait on him and to put the case for these settlers to him personally rather than to render it to him in writing. Again it shows an enormous contrast with the attitude that the Labor Party expressed when in Opposition. It can be contrasted with one of the last acts of the honourable member for New England before the coalition Government went out of office. At my request he visited Kangaroo Island to discuss with the settlers there their problems and to introduce initial and concrete proposals to alleviate their difficulties. He admitted publicly to them and to this House that what he had done was only a start. But it was something and it was carried into force. As I said, all of my attempts to persuade the present Minister to continue with the course which the honourable member for New England had proposed following have run up against a brick wall.
I promised to take only 5 minutes in this debate, but I felt that I must register on behalf of my soldier settler constituents the disappointment I feel at the lack of progress in relation to this matter. I would like to take another minute to make one other point to the House. Since they have been on their properties the soldier settlers on Kangaroo Island- this applies to other settlers in my electorate and other settlers throughout Australia- have been able to lead a reasonable life. They have had their ups and downs, as has everybody in the farming community. But if one looks at their indebtedness and their accounts situation- this is particularly so of many of the settlers on Kangaroo Island- one sees behind the facade. Most of them are now in their early 60s or even older- an age at which most people think about retiring. After 25 to 30 years of backbreaking work, many of them are in debt to the tune of $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 or even more. They have properties which are completely incapable of supporting anybody but themselves. They have no chance whatsoever of doing what most farmers expect to be able to do; that is, to improve their properties or to accumulate to such an extent that they can assist their sons on to the land. The end result for many of these farmers after 25 to 30 years of being in this scheme will be that they will walk off their properties when they are no longer physically capable of continuing any longer, with absolutely nothing and go on to the pension.
– With less than they started off with.
-Probably with less than they started off with, as the honourable member for Wimmera says. It shows that there is a defect in the scheme, and it is something which should be taken into account. We have asked the Government to set up an inquiry, to look into the problem or to take remedial measures. The scheme should not produce that sort of result. It indicates some basic weakness or defect. When we were in Government we chose, in conjunction with the agent States, the properties that would be used in the scheme. Even though that is so, it does not make any difference to the situation, which our Government did from time to time move to alleviate. But, when we have a situation in which people will have to walk off their properties with nothing after 30 years of back-breaking work, there is something wrong and something needs to be done. I support the legislation.
– It is incredible that one should hear honourable members opposite criticising the land settlement scheme when they were in Government for 23 years. Both the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) and I, together with other Labor members, over the years were members of deputations to Ministers of previous governments seeking the alleviation of some of the problems of the soldier settlers. For honourable members opposite to stand up now as though they have the answer to everything, as they are doing in respect of all legislation, is a good illustration of sheer humbug.
– It is nothing of the sort.
– The honourable member for Angas is one of the genuine members in this House. He is interested in soldier settlement and he is very deeply concerned with the problem. The honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) has soldier settlers in his electorate also. But for honourable members opposite to try to blame this Government, which has been in office for only 2 years, for what has happened to soldier settlers over 20-odd years is just unfair, unreasonable and completely wrong. We realise that many of the problems of soldier settlers stem from the fact that their properties are too small for them to make a proper living. The properties on King Island are an illustration of that. Flinders Island, which is in the electorate of the honourable member for Bass (Mr Barnard), also to some extent falls into that category. The honourable member for Braddon, whose electorate takes in King Island, has worked tirelessly over many years and has led powerful deputations to Canberra to try to help the soldier settlers. Some of the mistakes were made in the early days of the scheme, and unfortunately those mistakes have been allowed to continue on down through the years. The problems got so big that no one in the previous Government was game to have a go at changing some of the conditions which have applied to the scheme since its early days.
– I have instanced 5 ways in which we would effect change.
– In which you would effect change?
-That is right.
– Yet the honourable member for Barker is saying that they are still walking off their farms.
– That was when we were in Government.
– Yes, of course they were walking off their farms when honourable members opposite were in Government. That is what I said. Hundreds of farmers walked off their farms during that period, in spite of the marvellous schemes that the honourable member puts up today. Why did not the honourable member convince his Party when it was in Government that his suggestions had some viability? That is the point. While I am on my feet 1 want to answer the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) who attacked me this afternoon in my absence. I would like him to say to me personally outside the House what he said a while ago. I want to correct what he said on the matter of the superphosphate subsidy, for instance. I have been fighting for a superphosphate subsidy for ten or eleven months.
– Why did you vote against it?
– I did not vote against anything concerned with providing a superphosphate bounty. The scheme which I have proposed is now before the Industries Assistance Commission for consideration. I have suggested that we incorporate the New Zealand concept, which operated from June 1973 to July 1974 and which provides for the subsidy to be paid up to a certain tonnage. Their subsidy was paid for 30 tons. This scheme has been discussed by the Government’s rural committee and accepted by it. The matter has been taken to the Industries Assistance Commission.
– If your Government had not taken it off there would not be any need for you to do that now.
– I know. I was against the subsidy being taken off. I said so openly in the Press and at meetings. I have been criticised by certain people here because I said so.
– You made our -
– You had better get on your right side.
-Order! The honourable member for Wilmot will address the chair.
– Well, put him over on his right side of the House.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member address the Chair and that other honourable members do not interject.
-I will not continue until the honourable member for Hume goes to his right side of the House.
-Order! The honourable member for Wilmot will continue. The honourable member for Hume may sit anywhere he likes as long as he remains silent.
– That is good. This scheme has a lot to commend it. The reason the Government discontinued the superphosphate bounty, as I understand it, was that too much assistance was being given to men who did not need it. The scheme that I have suggested will mean that the farmer will receive a subsidy up to 30 tons of superphosphate- up to $12 was suggested. That would cover all the small and middle farmers in Australia. The big farmers would receive subsidies for only 30 tons. But even this scheme would cost $50m. The Industries Assistance Commission is still accepting recommendations from individuals. It will hold meetings in each State to hear submissions on the superphosphate problem. It must bring down an interim report by July. That is why the Commission is receiving evidence from people all over the country at the present time. I believe that the suggestion I have put to the IAC, through the Government’s committees, is reasonable. It would overcome the criticism that the big graziers were receiving most of the subsidy. It is a compromise scheme. I believe that the farmers must receive some form of assistance with superphosphate because the price has now risen to $60 or $70 a ton. That rise was not contemplated when the Government discontinued the subsidy 18 months ago, and that is why we must review it again in a sensible fashion.
– You have done nothing about it since.
– That is a lot of rot. I have done more about it than you have. All you have done is sit over there and criticise the Government.
-Order! The honourable member for Wimmera has spoken in the debate and he will not continue to speak.
– He is misleading the House.
-Order! The honourable member will remain silent.
– He is misleading the House.
– I warn the honourable member for Wimmera.
-Order! Before the debate continues any further I suggest to the honourable member for Wilmot that he might discuss the Bill.
– Finally I would say to the honourable member for Wimmera that he has done more talking than action. At least honourable members on this side are trying to correct the situation in the proper way. Have you put up a case yet to the IAC?
– The point is, we got it in the first place.
– No, you have done nothing of the sort. Therefore the best thing for you to do is to keep quiet.
-Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Daly) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Motion (by Mr Stewart)- by leaveproposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-Without wishing to bring any new material into the debate, let me say that it is apparent that the Minister has not chosen to -
Motion ( by Mr Daly) agreed to:
That the question be now put
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Consideration of Senate’s amendments.
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
After clause 20, insert the following new Part:
“PART IV-RESTORATION OF OATH OR AFFIRMATION OF ALLEGIANCE
“21. Section 34 of the Principal Act is amended-
by inserting after the words ‘appointment to’ the words ‘ , or to remain in, ‘;
by omitting from paragraph (b) the word ‘and’ (second occurring);
by inserting after paragraph (c) the following paragraph:- ‘(d) he has made and subscribed, as prescribed, an oath or affirmation in accordance with Schedule 4.*.
by adding at the end thereof the following subsection: ‘ (2 ) Nothing in this Section shall affect the right to remain in the public service of any person appointed prior to the 19th day of December 1973.’. “22. Section 50 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section (5b) the following sub-section:- ‘(5c) Every member of a Promotions Appeal Committee shall before proceeding to perform the duties or exercise the powers of a member of a Promotions Appeal Committee take an oath or make an affirmation in the form of Schedule 6.’. “23. Section 55 of the Principal Act is amended-
by inserting after paragraph (1) (f) the following paragraph:- ‘(g) having made or subscribed an oath or affirmation in the form of Schedule 4, does or says anything in violation of that oath or affirmation; or ‘; and
by inserting after sub-section (6) the following subsection: ‘(7) Every member of an Appeal Board shall, before proceeding to perform the duties or exercise the powers of a member of an Appeal Board, take an oath or make an affirmation in the form of Schedule 5.’. “24. Section 82 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after sub-section ( 8 ) the following sub-sections: - ‘(9) A person shall not be engaged for employment in a temporary capacity under this Act unless he makes and subscribes an oath or affirmation in the form of Schedule 4. ‘(9a) Where it is proposed to engage for employment under this section a person who is not a British subject, or a person who is a British subject but is also a national of another country, the Minister may, after a report from the Board and if it appears to him that the employment of that person would not be prejudicial to the national security, the preservation of official secrecy or any other interest of the Commonwealth, determine that the last preceding subsection is not to apply in relation to the engagement of that person. ‘( 10) A person who is employed in a temporary capacity at the date of the commencement of this sub-section, or who is transferred to such employment by virtue of any provision of this Act, shall not be continued in that employment unless, when required by the Board so to do, he makes and subscribes an oath or affirmation in the form of Schedule 4.’. “25. For the purposes of section 34 of the Principal Act a person appointed to the Service between the nineteenth day of December 1973 and the date when this Act comes into operation shall forthwith after this Act comes into operation make and subscribe as prescribed an oath or affirmation in accordance with the Fourth Schedule to this Act. “26. For the purpose of section 82 (9) of the Principal Act a person engaged for employment in a temporary capacity between the nineteenth day of December 1973 and the date upon which this Act comes into operation shall forthwith when required by the Board so to do make and subscribe an oath or affirmation in the form of Schedule 4. “.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 2-
In Schedule 1, at end of proposed Schedule 3, add the following new Schedules:
’ “SCHEDULE 4
I, … do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Queen of Australia her heirs and successors according to law and that I will loyally as in duty bound uphold the Constitution and the laws of Australia.
I, . . . do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Queen of Australia her heirs and successors according 10 law and that I will loyally as in duty bound uphold the Constitution and laws of Australia.
’ “SCHEDULE 5
I, … do swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen as a member of the Appeal Board constituted under the Public Service Act 1 922- 1 9 , for the purpose of the appeal made by (here insert name of appellant) (or in the case of the Chairman or elected representative of the Division to which the appellant belongs as a member of any Appeal Board constituted under the Public Service Act 1922-19 , of which I may be a member) and that I will perform the duties and exercise the powers imposed or conferred upon me as such member without fear or favour affection or ill-will.
I, … do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen as a member of the Appeal Board constituted under the Public Service Act 1922-19 , for the purpose of the appeal made by (here insert name of appellant) (or in the case of the Chairman or elected representative of the Division to which the appellant belongs as a member of any Appeal Board constituted under the Public Service Act 1922-19 , of which I may be a member) and that I will perform the duties and exercise the powers imposed or conferred upon me as such member without fear or favour affection or ill-will.
’ “SCHEDULE 6
I, … do swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen as a member of a Promotions Appeal Committee constituted under the Public Service Act 1922-19 , and that I will perform the duties and exercise the powers imposed or conferred upon me as such member without fear or favour affection or ill-will.
I, . . . do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady the Queen as a member of a Promotions Appeal Committee constituted under the Public Service Act 1922-19 , and that I will perform the duties and exercise the powers imposed or conferred upon me as such member without fear or favour affection or ill-will.”.’.
– I move:
These amendments have been debated in this chamber twice previously and have been rejected twice. In a nutshell, they propose that there be a compulsory form of oath or affirmation of allegiance. That would require people in the Public Service to say that they will swear allegiance and will be bound to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Australia. It would require people sitting on boards of appeal to say that they will carry out their duties without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
The real issue in the case is that the Bill contains a number of other important matters not related to this matter of procedure. Because of the continual delay a great deal of difficulty is being experienced in sections of the Public Service. What the Government is saying is that there is no need for this type of amendment. This has been said before. Already under the Public Service Act there are a number of legal sanctions. They provide for disciplinary offences, provide for criminal offences and they provide for dismissal. The Crimes Act itself also provides sanctions for disclosure of information. Officers are duty bound to carry out their duties in a competent and loyal fashion. Also, there is no similar provision applying to the State Public Services or to the British Civil Service. Further, it creates the problem that, where dual nationality is involved, some nationals would run the risk of losing their other nationality. For all those reasons, which have been explained before, the Government is not prepared to accept the amendments.
-As the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) has said, the Bill and the amendments before us refer, firstly, to the provisions relating to oaths and affirmations. The other aspects of the Bill have already been agreed to. The Bill was introduced originally into the Senate; it came to this chamber, it went back to the Senate and it is now back here. The dispute which exists concerns clauses relating to the requirement for public servants to take an oath or make an affirmation of allegiance. These provisions were originally contained in the Public Service Act and were removed in 1973. The Liberal-Country Party Opposition has made several attempts to have those provisions reinserted. The Opposition strongly believes that they should be there, for reasons which have been recounted in many debates in the past. A stalemate has been reached in the sense that the Senate has again put these amendments to us and the Government has indicated that it will not accept them. The Minister said so a moment ago, and in a previous speech he said: ‘I reiterate the Government’s opposition to any change’.
So the Liberal and Country Parties, realising the need to have the other provisions passed, have decided not to press the amendments further. The Opposition believes that it has done its best to amend the Act and that the matter, while important, is not crucial to Australia. The Opposition has attempted several times to have the provisions requiring public servants to take an oath or make an affirmation reinserted. As the amendments will not be passed by the Housethe Government has indicated it will not pass them- this will have the effect of reinstating the original provisions. The Opposition has decided that, as the Government will not agree to the amendments, the Opposition will not delay further the proposed legislation by adhering to its firm point of view. Therefore, the Opposition will not vote for the amendments again. At the same time, however, the Opposition makes clear its policy to the Public Service and to the Australian people- that on return to government we will have the oath and affirmation clauses reinserted in the Public Service Act. Those public servants employed since 1973 who have not already sworn an oath or made an affirmation will be required to do so.
Finally, the Minister mentioned a moment ago the need for speed, as referred to in the earlier speech in which it was requested that the Bill be passed by the Parliament without delay. I simply place on record these facts: We were available on 5 March; it was the Government which decided that Parliament should go into recess for a month. We are now in the second week of this sitting. If the legislation was so urgent, it could have been dealt with earlier.
Amendments disagreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) agreed to:
That Mr Daly, Mrs Child and the mover be appointed a committee to draw up reasons for the House of Representatives disagreement to the amendments of the Senate.
-On behalf of the Committee appointed to draw up reasons for the House disagreeing with the amendments of the Senate, I bring up such reasons. They are, as I indicated earlier:
Because’ such provisions have no practical significance as promises in oaths and affirmations of allegiance do not increase the legal obligations owed by any Australian citizen. Further, in certain circumstances, the changes proposed could have adverse effects.
– I compliment the committee on the speed with which it prepared that report and put it to the House.
Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) agreed to:
That the Committee’s reasons be adopted.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Debate resumed from 27 February on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Australian Bureau of Statistics Bill 1975 is a significant one for Australia. All honourable members will appreciate the importance of having information available to the nation. It is in effect a very substantial national resource. Honourable members will recall the background for this Bill. In December 1973, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) set up a committee to look at the integration of data systems. So much of our information was spread among many departments of the Government, and the Prime Minister in setting up the Committee saw the desirability, as all honourable members do I believe, of having some integration of systems. That Committee under the chairmanship of Professor Crisp reported in April 1 974.
In his second reading speech, the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) referred to the position prior to and after the Second World War. He said:
Prior to the war, statistical activity was directed towards the provision of basic statistics such as population, births and deaths, employment, manufacturing and agricultural production, oversea trade, and so on.
After the war, the emphasis turned to the provision of a wider range of more frequent and up to date economic statistics and indicators such as retail sales, capital expenditure, oversea investment, building statistics, monthly production, balance of payments, considerable development in national accounts, labour force and unemployment, and many others.
No one will quarrel with that statement of fact.
The Crisp Committee recognised the deficiencies that had been created. That Committee discussed the major criticisms which it saw as a lack of co-ordination, inadequate consultation between dependent data systems, lack of compatibility between classifications and definitions, and so on. In summing up, the Crisp Committee had this to say:
Present deficiencies in official data systems and statistical arrangements detract from the capacity of governments to pursue co-ordinated approaches in related areas of policy, reduce the community’s scope for scrutinising these policies and for using official statistics with confidence in its own decision making. The deficiencies add to the public and private cost of maintaining official statistical services.
Again, I do not think any honourable member will disagree with the Committee’s summation. So this Bill comes before the House following that report.
I refer again to the second reading speech by the Special Minister of State. He refers to the Bill as being introduced: . . . in order to increase their effectiveness and relevance for modern conditions -
He was referring to a number of fundamental changes in the organisation of our statistical services: . . . and to strengthen further the guarantees of objectivity and impartiality of the Statistician.
There is no need for me to argue the virtues of statistical information in providing a generally informed society; in providing a firm base for decision making in government, business and the rest of the community; in providing a basis for the development of programs and a means of measuring their progress over time.
The Opposition is concerned that this Bill has been drawn up with a degree of haste. We are not convinced that its framework is sufficient for the requirements of today’s Australia. We are very concerned that the matters of privacy have not been spelt out in this Bill. I have been informed by the Minister that there will be a further, larger Bill on this matter to come before the Parliament in the not too distant future. But we are concerned that, at this stage, there is no relevant clause in the Bill concerned with the maintenance of privacy.
We are concerned also as we believe that the role of the Parliament is not fully secured, that vastly new initiatives will be taken in the gathering of information which will have an enormous effect on the Australian society, and we believe that Parliament ought to be kept informed as a decision is taken and told of activities related to it. Equally, we are concerned about the role of the States. The States, as the Minister will well know, have had a major role in the compilation of information through many decades. We are most concerned to spell out that the States, through the Deputy Statistician, will have a continuing and important role.
As honourable members will be aware, this Bill sets up a statutory authority. Whilst we have some reservations about the number of statutory authorities that are being set up by the present Government, this authority will give a degree of objectivity and impartiality. Of course, it is tremendously important that the authority has that impartiality because it does not want to be too available to the whims or interests of any particular government. The Opposition is equally aware that there are substantial numbers of employees within the Bureau, and for that reason as well there could be merit in streamlining administration if it were given the independence and autonomy that go with a statutory authority. Equally, the Opposition accepts that the Statistician, with his tremendous responsibilities and rights, takes on a statutory position. The Bill spells out his tenure of office, with which we agree. It also provides that he will have roughly the same set of responsibilities and rights within Australia as the Commissioner of Taxation has.
The functions of the Bureau were set out by the Special Minister of State in his second reading speech, when he stated that the Australian Bureau of Statistics would be a statutory body with the functions of a central statistical authority. He went on:
In addition to existing functions relating to the collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination of statistics, this section provides also for the co-ordination of the statistical activities of other official bodies in the interests of avoiding duplication, attaining compatibility in statistical activities, achieving economies through the use of all available sources of data, achieving adherence to common standards in statistical work, providing statistical assistance and providing liaison with other countries and international organisations on statistical matters.
Again, one could not quarrel with the words that have been used, but the Opposition would like to see the framework of this new body more defined. We accept that it is desirable to avoid duplication, that it could well be that there is a substantial degree of duplication amongst all the departments involved today in keeping records, but because of the lack of detail in this Bill the Opposition is not convinced that that problem necessarily will be overcome. The Liberal and Country Parties regard the knowledge of resources as a matter of supreme importance to the country; they would like to see the Bill go further. What is needed is a national information policy, and this Bill falls somewhat short of giving proper implementation to a national information policy. It falls short in not spelling out the administrative details that we would regard as helpful. It is not good enough to know only what your resources are, what the wealth of the nation is. How they are to be deployed and how they are to be used is also important. I want to emphasise particularly the importance of having a real measure of co-operation between the Government, research institutions and private industry. Unless we have that real spirit of co-operation we will not achieve the ultimate aim that is proposed in this measure. Not only does the Opposition want to see a proper administrative structure set up; it is also important for the Government to grasp that this is a job it has to do in association with research industries and with the whole breadth and depth of private industry generally.
The Minister referred in his second reading speech to co-operation with other countries, and of course it is absolutely essential, when we bear in mind the development within Australia and the need for continuing development, to have technology and assistance available from overseas so that we can improve our own skills and productivity. I suggest to the Minister, since apparently this comes under his particular responsibility, that this co-operation should be seen in relationship with the Advisory Council through the Department of Science, of which his colleague the Minister for Science (Mr Morrison), has just given the Parliament notice. There is a relationship, both internally and externally, with science and technology.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the Opposition’s main concerns is the question of privacy. The history of the Census and Statistics Act 1905-1973 goes back to the very early days of Federation, and the Opposition is aware that there are provisions in that Act relating to privacy, fidelity and secrecy. Of course, the Census and Statistics Act will continue in force until a further Bill is introduced into the Parliament at some future date. But because of the proliferation of programs that is to occur, we are unhappy about the present provisions and we want to look and will look very closely at the provisions for privacy when that new Bill is introduced. In this regard, I want to quote from pages 43 and 44 of the report of Professor Crisp’s committee where the committee refers to concern about secrecy. The report states:
The approach to secrecy suggested . . . would enable maximum use to be made of data consistent with preserving the essential confidentiality of information collected from individual persons or businesses. If adopted, it would substantially remove one of the principal and most commonly expressed objections to using centralised datasystems which was voiced in submissions to the Committee by departments and authorities …
Further on in the report the Crisp committee states:
In a system of computerised data-bases, inbuilt technical facilities such as access-codes, security-locks and the like, should be developed to safeguard secrecy of information about individuals in terms of the legislation and guarantee the integrity of the data against systems-malfunction. Beyond this, however, the . . . organisation should be subjected to further rules and should follow procedures which the Committee believes are essential to the public acceptance of data-bases.
That is what the Opposition is concerned about, and I am sure that subsequent speakers in the debate will stress the very real concern of the Opposition about this matter of privacy, bearing in mind the rights of the individual when looking at some of the suggested programs in almost all aspects of life that are recommended in the Crisp report.
The Bill also sets up an Advisory Council to assist the Minister and the statutory authority, and again I want to refer to the Crisp report in regard to membership of this Advisory Council. Here again the Opposition has some concern, and I indicate to the Minister that an amendment will be moved to this Bill to give voice to the Opposition ‘s concern. The Advisory Council is to meet at least once a year and its purpose is to give the Minister advice as to what sort of programs the authority should be engaged in. Of course, it is only advice. In the end, the decision on what should occur will rest with the Government. As the Professor points out, the Committee believes that the membership of the Advisory Council should consist of an independent Chairman, the Statistician, 2 members of the Statisticians Conference- the body of all the Deputy Statisticians in Australia- a member appointed from within local government, 3 members from industry, commerce and finance, 3 members from employee unions, associations or councils, a member from a primary producing section of society, a member appointed from organised consumer interests, a member appointed from non-official social welfare organisations, somebody with statistical knowledge from within civil liberties organisations, somebody with a capacity for research in economic and social sciences, and another member with knowledge in research on communications, sciences and technologies. Again, this seems to us to be very desirable and the Minister has indicated to me that this would be the sort of advice that he would follow. But we will move an amendment in the Committee stage because it is not specific enough to ensure that the States are represented by at least two of the Deputy Australian Statisticians. I hope that since it is the Government’s intention to do this, it will accept the amendment.
Finally, I wish to refer to the report to Parliament. We are concerned that the Parliament ought to be advised of what decisions are taken as to what programs are likely to be entered into so that Parliament can voice its opinions on the decisions taken by both the Statistician and the Advisory Council. Again, to demonstrate our concern, I shall be moving an amendment in the Committee stage which will require those people or bodies to advise the Parliament as to what decisions have been reached so that we can have an informed view upon them.
We believe that the Bill falls short of what the nation requires in regard to a national information policy. We believe that it does make some progress. There is obviously a need, if we are to have a developing and strong Australia, to have as much information as possible available to the Government and to industry generally. This Bill no doubt is moving in the right direction despite some of the reservations I have about it. Maybe if we had had more advice and information, we would not have had the wrong economic judgments and the wrong economic decisions made by the present Government which we have seen made over the past 2 years. I am not certain whether that really would be the case. Maybe the same bad decisions would have been made even though the Government could have had more advice available to it. But at least that might have avoided some of the massive errors of judgment and would have assisted in keeping inflation down to a somewhat lower level than it is at now, and certainly would have kept the unemployment figures down to somewhat less than the unacceptable figures which they are now.
We have 2 amendments which will be moved later. We accept the main thrust of the Bill but we would have been much happier, and we believe a much more valuable debate would have occurred, had we had one larger Bill which contained more information and included provisions with regard to privacy. We are informed that that information will be made available. I hope the Minister might be prepared to indicate to the House to day when he intends to bring that Bill forward and that we will have an opportunity to debate it because, not only is it a matter of importance to the Government and to industry but, indeed, to the Australian nation and to all Australians.
– I should like to make a few points on the Australian Bureau of Statistics Bill. The first one relates to the remarks of the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) who has just resumed his seat. He talked about this Bill ‘falling short’, to use his expression. If ever there were a case of the pot calling the kettle black, that is such a case. The fact is that this Bill is long overdue and it should not wait any longer. It sets up a framework on which further clothes will be put later when, as the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) said in his second reading speech, the existing Acts which govern the collection of statistics will be reviewed and brought up to date. The existing Acts are the Census and Statistics Act 1905-1973 which was amended in 1973, and the Statistics (Arrangements with States) Act 1956-1958. To hear the honourable member for McPherson, one would have thought that he had not read that part of the Minister’s second speech. It is clearly stated in that second reading speech that the purpose of the legislation is to bring those 2 Acts up to date by relating them to this Bill. A third Bill will be introduced into this Parliament shortly to amalgamate all the relevant legislation. I should like to suggest one or two good reasons why it should not be done now.
The first is that advertisements have been placed far and wide both within this country and outside it, for an outstanding man to be appointed as the Australian Statistician- a position set up by this Act which, I repeat, is a framework Act. Mr O’Neill, the present Statistician, is due to retire shortly. I think it would be wrong to introduce a further Bill, bringing up to date the collection of statistics, without the opinions of such a person who may come from abroad. Another reason for delaying the legislation is that the people who will be appointed to the advisory body which will be created under this framework Bill, will have had a wide range of experience in our community and will have had additional experience in the field of statistics. They too will be able to give their advice in regard to the matter of putting the clothes on the framework which is being set up in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Bill.
I repeat that there are 3 purposes of this Bill and that it is the framework which is being set up. The first of course is the setting up of the separate statutory corporation. If that were all that this Bill did, it would be a tremendous step forward because to date, as far as I as an outside observer can see, there has been great frustration on the part of the Statistician inasmuch as he has had to make decisions on his own and has then had to persuade the Treasury to put those decisions forward to the highest level of decision making in the Cabinet. To have a separate statutory corporation will increase the effectiveness and the relevance of statistics taking in this country. It will also strengthen further the guarantees of objectivity and impartiality of the Statistician. More than anything else, having a separate statutory corporation should mean a coordination of the collection of statistics throughout the Government area and particularly the Australian Government area. I hope it will also lead to further co-ordination with the statistics taking of the State Governments as well. I am referring to the fact that there is too great a lack of coordination at the moment, for instance, in the taking of statistics relating to unemployment, between the Department of Labor and Immigration and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The second purpose of the Bill is to give added status to the Statistician. I have mentioned in passing already his access to the senior Minister resulting from the setting up a separate statutory corporation. He could not have the status which is required, with direct contact with a senior Minister, without the setting up of the statutory corporation. The third purpose of this Bill is to set up the Advisory Council. I should like to say at this point how much I hope that the personnel of that Council will be chosen very carefully because the success of that advisory body will very much depend upon the calibre of the persons who are appointed to it. I repeat what I said earlier: Their advice will be extremely important, I hope, when it comes to drawing up the further Bill on this subject which puts the clothes on the framework. It is very easy for Opposition members to achieve some cheap votes by talking about privacy, or the lack of it, when statistics are being collected.
– Hear, hear!
-No one is attempting to obtain the cheap votes more than is the honourable member for Griffith, who said by way of interjection ‘Hear, hear’. The point is that it is extremely important to have good statistics available in this country. One has only to work on some of the committees involved in the economics area, such as the Joint Committee on Prices, to recognise how unclothed we in this country are when it comes to decision making, because of the lack of statistics. One of the first jobs given to the Joint Committee on Prices was to examine the effect that the revaluation of our currency had, or should have had, on the prices of imported goods. The Committee found that this had to be done commodity by commodity because no statistics concerning imports were being collected.
One has only to look also at the compilation of the consumer price index to recognise that there are a number of deficiencies in that compilation due to the fact that insufficient resources have been made available to what is now the Australian Bureau of Statistics to enable it to do what is an essential job when it comes to providing the decision makers with the necessary information on which they can base their decisions. Of course, we must have an awareness of the necessity for checks and balances and make sure that there are plenty of safeguards for those from whom the statistics are being, collected. Of course, it is very often an infringement upon their privacy and upon their time to have to fill out the necessary forms. Still, it is necessary in many cases to collect that information.
I believe that many of the problems could be overcome by informing the public of the reasons why the information is being collected and by changing the personnel from whom the information is being collected. I found in my work as a chartered accountant before becoming a member of this chamber that in many cases very few people in our community were being asked for much information. If the number of people from whom that information was being sought was increased, if the spread was wider, the burden on those individual citizens would not be so great. I suggest that by setting up the Bureau as a separate statutory corporation and by having an advisory body such as will be set up by this Bill we are setting out on the proper course to make sure not only that the correct statistics are collected so that the Government and the private sector are given the necessary information on which to base their decisions but also that, through this body and through the Advisory Council, there will be plenty of people with a wide range of interests watching the interests of the citizens from whom the information is being collected.
I was interested to note yesterday an article about the balance of payments situation in the United States of America and how the reserves were running down. It reminded me that Jim Callaghan, who is now the Foreign Secretary in the United Kingdom but who was, at the time of making the remark that I am about to quote, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that country, had, when asked why the United Kingdom reserves had dwindled over the years, replied: ‘Because we had no statistics to tell us it was happening’. There’ were insufficient statistics about the United Kingdom’s balance of payments situation for very many years. I cannot claim that that has been a problem in this country. We have known something about our balance of payments situation. But there are many other areas in the field of economics in which the statistics available in this country are insufficient.
I would like to pay a tribute to Professor Crisp and his Committee- the Committee on the Integration of Data Systems- whose recommendations have, to such a great extent, formed the basis of this Bill. Indeed, I think that there are only 2 areas in which the Government has not accepted the advice of Professor Crisp’s Committee. One was the suggestion by the Committee that the information available to the Commissioner of Taxation be made available on the same terms to the Australian Statistician. I am glad, frankly, that that recommendation was not accepted because, as somebody who has worked in that field, I know how important it is to the citizens of this country to know that the information they are giving to the Commissioner of Taxation is completely confidential to the Commissioner.
The other recommendation which I think was made by Professor Crisp- I am not certain about this- and which has not been accepted is that the Bureau should work through the Treasurer. The Bureau is to work through the Special Minister of State. I am glad also that the Government has made that decision because, as I have indicated earlier, it is extremely important to have coordination of the statistics being collected in very many government departments- not only the statistics being collected for the Treasury- and, by having a Minister such as the Special Minister of State through whom the Australian Statistician will report, in my view we can get that necessary co-ordination so much better than if it were done through the Treasury.
In concluding I would like merely to draw attention to the results of a symposium on statistics held in Canberra as long ago as July 1973 when 2 statisticians- a Mrs Spencer and a Mr Kerr- listed 5 sins of the statistician. I wish to list the 5 sins, to which I hope the new Australian Statistician, with his new statutory corporation, and the Advisory Council will apply their minds. The first one is the sin of repetition. I am sure that all members of this House have had experience of filling out medical benefits application forms. In the case of the voluntary society to which I will belong until the happy event of Medibank ‘s birth on 1 July, I have found that every time I make an application for a benefit I have to fill out not only my own date of birth but also the date of birth of every one of my dependants who is involved in that form. Why on earth does that have to be done every time? That is just one example of the sort of unnecessary repetition that can take place in statistics taking, unless there are watchdogsperhaps all of us in this Parliament ought to be such watchdogs- drawing attention to this repetition. When one fills out forms relating to births one has to give give exactly the same information as one gives to other government departments when one is applying for the maternity allowance or child endowment. There is no reason why, with a little organisation, one form could not be the basis of all such applications. So let us get rid of the repetition.
Then there is the sin of irrelevancy. I am sure that what I have already referred to concerning the stating of the date of birth on medical benefit application forms also would come under the heading of irrelevancy. How many times are we obliged, when filling out forms, to state our birthplace? What on earth is the use of knowing somebody’s birthplace? I cannot think of what use it is, unless it is for identification purposes, but there are many ways of establishing a person ‘s identity other than by the person stating his or her birthplace. It has just become the conventional wisdom of those who ask us to fill out these forms to ask us not only our place of birth but also our nationality, age, marital status, race and religion. I am sure that some of those details are required, but I would venture to bet that on most occasions not all of them are required; yet on almost all occasions we are asked for them.
Then there are those questions that are completely unanswerable, such as: In what year was your house built? Perhaps it was built over a period of 2 years. Another question that comes to my mind is: What was the last occupation of the father of the deceased? On a few occasions I have had to answer that question for people when the deceased was 90 years of age when he died, so it can be imagined how out of date the information about the occupation of his father was.
I refer also to the bad design of forms. Forms still exist which require the Christian names of people in this country who are Hindus, Moslems or Jews. Nothing but bad design has led to that. Another of the sins pointed out at the symposium was how often information is sought which is of no use whatsoever. I referred to this matter earlier. I am sure honourable members will recall that the Electoral Office asks the occupation of the elector. I have often wondered why this is needed. In fact, one fills out one’s occupation when one first goes on the electoral roll. Nowadays, for many thousands of people that would be ‘student’, if one remains in this country and his name is not taken off the roll, I do not think he provides the Electoral Office with information about his changed occupation. So we will find more and more people appearing on the electoral roll as students because that was their occupation at the time the original application was made. I hope the Bureau of Statistics will -devote its attention to some of these subjects which came out of the symposium nearly 2 years ago.
In closing, I wish to congratulate the Government on bringing this Bill to the Parliament. I hope that it will not be delayed by the usual hangups of the Opposition relating to Statesrightism. I believe an amendment along those lines is to be moved. The Parliament has already been informed that statisticians from the States will be appointed to the Advisory Council. It is in the interests of all honourable members and those we represent that there should be as much co-ordination as possible in statistics taking, not only between Australian Government departments, but also between the Australian Government and the State governments. This is a fine Bill which sets up the framework. I believe that after a reasonable space of time a further Bill will be introduced which will put the clothes on this framework. We look forward to that legislation.
-I hope that in what I say I shall be numbered among the friends of statisticians because perhaps I, of all the people in this House, am the greatest user of statistics. I think I was responsible, when I was a member of the Library Committee, for setting up the library statistical service which was the nucleus of the library research service. Although I am going to say some things which may be a little critical, I hope my remarks will be taken in the context that I rate myself, and I hope I will be rated, among the friends of statisticians. One sees this Bill as a Bill to extend the range of statistics. I think that one of the things that needs to be done, which apparently is not yet envisaged, is to make statistics more relevant and less historical.
At the present moment, because statistics are published in a complete form, very often they are not published until it is too late and they are no longer relevant. This has been particularly so in regard to financial statistics. With both the past Government and the present Government, one of the great troubles about financial policy has been that the Treasury has tended to act on statistics which are months old instead of statistics which were current and, by reason of that, has mistimed. I speak of the past Government as well as the present Government, although the sins of past governments were very small in comparison with the sins of the present Government in this regard. There has been a tendency to mistime economic initiatives so that the waves of unemployment, for example, became greater than was contemplated, or indeed greater than was necessary in order to cut back an inflationary situation.
This kind of thing is inherent in the present form of statistics and it can be cured very easily by the use of appropriate sampling devices and the use of appropriate indicators. Let me cite an example from current times. The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Les Johnson) has made an immense mess of his portfolio because he has relied on past building approvals. He has quoted them in this House. However, all that he had to do- it is a very simple thing- was to make inquiries as to the number of bricks leaving the brickyards of Australia each week. This figure could easily be found out, and it would give him an immediate clue as to variations in building activity. If he had only had the elementary common sense to do this we would not have had the immense mess and the unemployment in the building industry that we have today. He has worked on historical statistics rather than on current statistics.
I would urge that in any reorganisation of the Bureau we look for sampling and current statistics rather than historical statistics, and also that we look for a special study of indicators which would show the amount of activity from day to day. I mention another kind of indicator that is available to us. If one looks at the number of vehicles crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and paying the toll each day, one knows a great deal about the retail activity of the city. If the figures of the day to day variations, over a period are taken out- they are available- and are compared with the figures for a similar period in previous years, there is an up-to-date indication of what is happening instead of having to rely upon history.
Having said that, let me say that I am not altogether happy about the immense increase in the activities of the Bureau because I believe that some of them are unnecessary, otiose and perhaps even harmful. I suppose that in a way every public service has its Parkinson and Parkinson’s law operates in the Commonwealth as well as in the United Kingdom. It operates in every department of every government. Perhaps a socialist Government as Australia has now is more amenable to the operation of Parkinson’s law than are other governments. I think that is so. Parkinson’s law, of course, is that work expands in proportion to the resources available to perform it. I think this is to some extent illustrated by what happens in the Bureau of Statistics. It is said- it has been said in this debate; it is a general feeling outside the House, I have heard it spoken of by statisticians who are naturally in favour of their own profession and by other people who sometimes should know betterthat the compilation and publication of all information is good.
I would like to emphasise a sense of proportion in this matter. The compilation of some kinds of information and the publication of some kinds of information is good, but this cannot be applied unreservedly. Not all information should be compiled and not all compiled information should be made public. It is true that the Statistician acts under some code of privacy, and I know that the officers of the Statistician are very careful to preserve the features of that code. However, that is not quite the kind of thing that I have in mind as will, I hope, become apparent from my later remarks.
There are 2 troubles about the infinite collection of information. The first is the invasion of privacy. This is quite a considerable thing. People have a very natural and proper reluctance to the public exhibition of their private affairs. This was bad enough in the past, but the possibilities of abuse have now multiplied enormously with the advent of the computer. The computer is mechanical big brother. The computer makes it possible for an ill intentioned person to retrieve private information and to abuse privacy. I am afraid that whatever precautions may be taken in the Bureau of Statistics as to the kind of information that is to be fed into the computerand I am familiar with the precautions that are taken as to the kind of information that is fed into the computer- there still remains the possibility of abuse. I would say that with a socialist government like the present Government in office there is a probability of abuse, because there is no doubt whatsoever as to the way in which the Government’s fingers itch to get on to the private life of every Australian citizen. So this question of privacy is one thing that has to be kept in mind when one considers the infinite expansion of statistics.
There is an even more important question, although it is not such an obvious one, and that is the extent to which the publication of statistics may lead to a feed-back effect and actually aggravate any economic ills. This is an effect which I think is one of the main dangers inherent in our present economic structure. The publication of information that shares are going to go up or shares are going to come down or that interest rates are going to rise or money is going to be tight or loose aggravates the process which it describes. This feed-back effect is one of the major factors which make difficult the economic control of our present civilisation. It is because of this feed-back effect that many of our ills of unemployment and inflation occur. Nothing adds to inflation more than talking about it and predicting it, because if you predict inflation then your dreams or your nightmares tend to come true. The self-fulfilling prophecy is the bugbear of our economic order, and therefore the feedback effect of the inordinate collection of statistics is one of the great things that we have to avoid.
I know the House will forgive me if I mention some scriptural warrant for what I am saying. I think everybody in the House will be familiar with the 24th chapter of the Second Book of Samuel, which records how David conducted a census and incurred Divine displeasure for having done so. I will not quote at length but I quote this passage:
And David ‘s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done:
The vengeance that fell on him and on the people is set out in that chapter. It used to be quoted in the British Parliament as the apotheosis of biblical obscurantism. In point of fact the Bible in this matter, as in so many other matters, contains a fundamental truth. The feed-back effect- the self-consciousness which is the terrible solvent of society- is something which we are warned against. If we look around us we can see the necessity for such a warning. When we look at inflation, at the tides of hot money and at the way in which the gallup poll will affect the result of an election, the publication of collected information, even when the information is true and correct, tends to affect the process which it describes.
– Which way?
– It could affect it either way, but it tends always to exaggerate the effect of a movement which is described. I say to the House that it is naive to say that the collection and publication of every kind of statistic are desirable. From the economic and social points of view many of them are positively harmful. Unfortunately this is an economic truth which has to be considered and put in due proportion. I am not trying to say that we should collect no statistics. I am saying that we should be selective in the statistics that we collect and in the statistics that we publish.
Having said that, let me turn to the proposed census which is going to be conducted, I think, in June 1976. Statutory rule No. 28 was tabled in the House, I think, on 4 March last. We should have a careful look at the questions which are going to be asked in this census. They are to some extent an invasion of privacy. We are going to be asked for new information. Everybody has to say whether his dwelling is part of a nonresidential building. He has to state the source of his mortgages and the monthly repayments he makes. He has to nil this information in on the census forms. Other information required is the source of the water supply, the place of residence one year ago in addition to the place of residence 5 years ago, whether the person has been away on a holiday for one week or more in the last year, the languages he uses, the range of his weekly or annual income, the effect of any physical handicap, the age at which he left school, the means by which his child is regularly minded during the day, whether he is a member of any retirement or benefits scheme or the recipient of any social welfare benefits, whether he is covered by a life insurance policy, whether he is licensed to drive a motor vehicle or motor cycle, and the method of travel to work. These are new questions. Some of them, particularly those relating to income and mortgages are ones which people will not want to answer.
Let me remind the House that however careful the Bureau of Statistics is, it will be employing tens of thousands of temporary collectors on census day. These collectors will mainly come from the neighbourhood in which they live, as is natural, and they will see the forms. You cannot tell me that among these tens of thousands of collectors there will not be some who will be looking at the forms and saying: ‘Oh, look at Mr Smith’s income. I thought he was making $7,000 a year, and he is making $10,000 a year, the dirty dog. What is Mrs Smith doing? I did not know that they had a mortgage on their house. They always said it was free of mortgage. I find now that they have a mortgage and the repayments are $78 a month’. The answers to all these questions will be available to the tens of thousands of temporary employees who will be collecting and seeing the forms of their neighbours. I think that this is utterly wrong and that the census should not be like that at all. I believe that many Australians would resent having their privacy thus interfered with and their affairs made public. Unfortunately their affairs will be made public to the eyes of some of their neighbours. There is still time to do something about this matter. I believe that we have until 20 May to disallow these regulations in the House. I hope that the House will have the good sense to examine them in some detail between now and 20 May, and decide whether some of these questions might well be omitted from the census form.
I come back to where I started. I hope I will be recognised as a friend of proper statistics as I am that. I am a user of statistics to a very great degree. I have done a great deal, I hope, to make statistics available in a better form to members of this House. But there is a difference between use and abuse. I think that there is some latitude for abuse in the proposals which are contained in Statutory Rules No. 28 at present on the table of the House and capable of being disallowed until 20 May next. I hope that the House takes a very careful and considered look at this and does what it should to preserve the privacy of individual Australians.
-This debate is remarkable for the fact that members of the Opposition seem intent on discussing what is not in the Bill rather than what is in it even though they have been assured by the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) in his second reading speech that there will be a Bill produced in the near future which will cover these aspects of privacy which so concern them in the debate today. It is a pleasure for me to rise to support this Bill because it aims to improve statistical services. As one who for 13 years before coming to this House was concerned with statistics in my day to day employment I am a believer in having a wealth of good statistics.
The Government also, of course, is anxious to get substantial improvement in statistics to enable it to operate more effectively in an increasingly dynamic world. At first glance the Bill may not appear to make very substantial changes. In fact it does provide a framework in which substantial improvements can be brought about, but that may not be obvious at first glance and perhaps that is why the Opposition wants continually to talk about things which are not in the Bill.
At the moment the situation is that we have a Census and Statistics Act which established a Commonwealth Statistician but does not provide a title for his unit, even though his staff is bigger than those of two-thirds of all the Australian Government departments. Until recently the Commonwealth Statistician’s unit was known as the Bureau of Census and Statistics. It took its name presumably from the Census and Statistics Act and it operated as a section of the Treasury. It has recently been renamed by the Government as the Bureau of Statistics so it has lost the census title. I do not think this was removed because of any feeling by the Government that it may incur divine displeasure by leaving it there. Of course, the unit has been shifted from the Treasury to the Department of the Special Minister of State.
The Bill involves a number of factors. The first is the formal change in the name of the Statistician from Commonwealth Statistician to Australian Statistician and the formal naming of the Bureau as the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Secondly, it sets out the function of the Bureau and the rights and obligations of the Statistician. Thirdly, it establishes the Bureau as a statutory body with the functions of a central statistical authority. Fourthly, it establishes an Australian
Statistical Advisory Council. Fifthly, it details the functions of that Council and the terms and conditions on which its members take office. Finally it provides that the Statistician and the Advisory Council shall report to the Parliament annually.
The Bill stems from the recommendations made by the Committee on Integration of Data Systems, now known as the Crisp Committee. The Committee reported to the Government last year. It was established by the Government in December 1 973. The reason for its establishment was that the Government was concerned about the adequacy of the data base for its program of economic and structural change. The Government believed that current statistical information was inadequate for a government in this volatile world and particularly for a government endeavouring to radically reform the economic and social structure of the country. It therefore established the Committee to recommend means of improving a statistical information base.
The members of the Committee, apart from Professor Crisp, were Dr Brogan, who is adviser to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), Mr Brown, who is the representative of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, Mr Jolly from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Professor Wallace, who is Professor of Information Science at Monash University. The Committee consulted all Australian Government departments and all State governments except Queensland. I have not been able to ascertain why it did not consult Queensland but I suspect that the reluctance for consultation was on the part of the State of Queensland rather than on the part of the Committee. Perhaps the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) can tell us something about that. The Committee also had discussions with various other government agencies, firms and individuals. The Committee eventually made a series of wide ranging recommendations of which twenty-two require amendments to the existing Census and Statistics Act. The matters which are contained in this Bill incorporate some of those recommendations but there is still a large number which are not incorporated in this Bill and, as the Minister has said, these will come later on.
I commend the Government for its initiative in establishing this committee of inquiry. I think that this step bears out the relevance of having such committees of inquiry established. The Opposition from time to time enjoys knocking the Government for establishing various royal commissions and committees of inquiry and talks about the waste of manpower involved. But in fact bodies such as this provide the Government with a sensible and well informed base on which to bring down appropriate legislation. This committee of inquiry is a very good example of the importance of having such committees.
The Committee gave detailed reasons in its report as to why the various matters contained in this legislation should be introduced. Firstly, the change in the name of the Bureau and the Statistician is a fairly minor matter. The Committee simply said, in the case of the Bureau, that this recommendation would formalise the change that already had in fact occurred in regard to changing the word ‘Commonwealth’ to ‘Australian ‘ which is purely Government policy at the moment. Therefore it recommended that this change should be adopted. It also recommended that the word ‘Census’ should be dropped from the title of the Bureau. This is a logical step given that there are many ways in which a bureau of statistics could go about obtaining its data and census is only one of these methods. Therefore there is no particular reason why one of those methods should be reflected in the title.
Secondly, the recommendation in regard to the establishment of the Bureau as a separate statutory body with a role as the central statistical authority for the Australian Government was probably the major recommendation of the Committee and it stemmed from its analysis of the present shortcomings and inadequacies of our statistical services. It found that the major deficiencies resulted from separate departmental collections which have developed independently of the Bureau and independently of each other. We have different government departments pursuing the same kind of information but gathering it quite independently of each other. An instance given of this was that several departments and agencies collect data about the performance of individual industries or groups of industries but that this data is difficult to compare because it is collected in different ways, using different definitions and classifications. These separate collections are wasteful and quite inefficient. They cause annoyance and increased costs to firms which may be asked to supply the same data to various departments but perhaps in different forms. Of course, apart from being annoying, this is very costly.
The Committee on the Integration of Data Systems found that these separate and often incompatible departmental systems have developed because there is no statutory authority with power to co-ordinate the statistical efforts of individual departments and no central authority to advise or decide upon the allocation of priorities among urgent and competing needs. Thus, it recommended strongly that an Australian Bureau of Statistics be established as a centralised statistical authority with power to set standards for governmental statistical systems and to coordinate the data collection activities of other departments or authorities. Of course, this legislation implements that recommendation by establishing the Bureau of Statistics as a statutory authority with a central co-ordinating role. It is worthy of note that most other advanced countries have a centralised statistical authority. About the only exceptions that one can find to this amongst the advanced economies in the Western world are the United States of America and Great Britain. However, the British are moving towards a more centralised system and are doing so for exactly the same reasons as this legislation is being brought before the House today.
In regard to the establishment of an Australian Statistical Advisory Council, the Committee considered that such a body was necessary to provide effective machinery outside the Bureau for determining priorities. It recommended that a body, mainly comprising representatives of important users of official statistics, should be established to advise the Government on its statistical priorities. This is an important task, given the pressures on the Bureau from various sources to produce an ever-increasing range and depth of statistics. It is physically impossible for the Bureau to do all that is requested of it. Therefore, priorities have to be determined by some authority. If the Bureau itself were to determine them, that might be quite unfair to the users of statistics. It is better that there be some kind of overseeing body which can represent the views of the various users of statistics and advise the Government about the appropriate priorities.
It is also interesting to note that the establishment of a Council such as this in fact was approved in principle by previous Australian Cabinets. In 1970 and 1972 a Liberal-Country Party Cabinet approved the establishment of such a Council, but did not act on the matter. This Government has decided to establish such a Council. The Committee also recommended the establishment of a Statutory Committee on Statistical Co-ordination. As I understand it, this would be an IDC- an interdepartmental committeeto determine priorities in the short run. The idea of the Australian Statistical Advisory Council was that it would determine long term priorities. But it was thought that, if for some reason priorities had to be determined in a hurry because of an emergency, a change of government policy requiring new information or a change in the priorities for the collection of existing information, there should be some body which could offer advice in the short run in an emergency. So the Committee suggested the establishment of a Statutory Committee on Statistical Co-ordination. I would be interested if the Special Minister of State could inform us in his reply whether the Government has established such a Committee or intends to do so.
There has been a big improvement in the gathering of statistics in recent years. As one who has been interested in a wide range of economic statistics, let me say that it has been a pleasure to note the adoption of a wide-ranging seasonal adjustment process in a whole range of economic statistics, the greater use of producing economic series in constant prices and latterly the adoption for the first time of a household expenditure survey. It was a glaring gap in our statistical repertoire that we did not have a household expenditure survey, although most other advanced countries had been conducting them for many years. Without such an expenditure survey it is difficult to determine all sorts of matters. In particular, it is difficult to work out how people change their expenditure given a change in the size of families or an increase in income. It is obviously important for a government which is concerned about poverty to have some idea of the way in which expenditure changes with increased income for a given family size. A survey such as this is a source of enormous information for a Government. It is really a condemnation of the previous Government that it never at any stage gave the Bureau the resources to enable it to conduct a household expenditure survey. Such a survey is under way now.
However, there is still room for much better statistics. We hope that this Bill will help the collection of statistics to improve greatly. One area in which it is obvious that there is a substantial need for increased statistics is the consumer price index. This index is quite fundamental to the economic policy of the Government. This is true of any government and it is something in which we are all very interested. Yet, compared with the information collected in other countries, the information that we collect about increases in consumer prices is perhaps lacking in a number of respects. Most other countries in the Western world produce a monthly consumer price index. The Bureau recently has been able to expand its activities so that it can give us monthly movements in food prices, but we still have the consumer price index produced on only a quarterly basis. Also, it relates only to the 6 State capital cities plus Canberra, although the weighted figure is for only the capital cities of the 6 States. No figure is collected for movements in consumer price indexes in various large provincial cities. If we are really to find out how prices are moving across the nation as a whole we should be looking at more than just the 6 State capital cities. Obviously, this is something which will need rectification in the future if we are to have a more perfect idea of the rate of inflation in this country. It is also a fact that we change the base of the index only every 4 or 5 years; that is, we look at the re-weighting of the basket only every 4 or 5 years. Other countries do it as often as every year. Just in this one area of the consumer price index a whole range of improvements can be made.
Therefore, it is important that the Government not only establishes a Bureau which is a central statistical authority and which can co-ordinate proper statistics but also that the Government gives it the manpower and money with which it can pursue the other improvements which are worthwhile and needed if the Government is to be able to operate as efficiently as possible and to determine its economic policies in the light of the best available knowledge. Therefore, I commend this Bill to the House as one which will bring about substantial improvements in our statistics. I suggest that members of the Opposition would be better employed in worrying about other aspects of the matter which are not included in this Bill, when the second Bill which has been mentioned comes before the Parliament later this year.
-The Australian Bureau of Statistics Bill which the House is considering at the moment is, to use the Minister’s words, a Bill which will ‘ bring about a number of fundamental changes in the organisation of our statistical services’. For that reason I think it is a Bill that deserves some serious debate. This Bill seeks to establish the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a statutory body to fulfil the functions of a central statistical authority. It seeks to establish a statutory position of Australian Statistician and also to establish an Australian Statistical Advisory Council as a statutory body. The Government is seeking to make these radical changes in the structure of the statistical service as we have known it in this country to date.
To me the Bill is another in a long series of Government Bills designed to remove from the Parliament and from the Government the responsibility that should rightly be with the Parliament and the Government to oversight things that are of importance to individuals who live in this country. It is a Bill which seeks to vest in a statutory body responsibility which, in my view, rightly belongs with the Parliament.
– Is the honourable member opposing the Bill?
-No, I am not opposing the Bill. I am pointing out what I believe to be the correct and philosophical position which the Government should be supporting. The rights of individuals in this country, a democracy, are important. Any statistical collection will be an invasion of the privacy of those individuals. I am one who believes that an amount of statistics must be collected in this country because that will enable governments and other interested parties to be aware of the position in different areas of the economy and of the life of Australia. There is no doubt at all that statistics are necessary. But a line has to be drawn- I think it is an important line- between statistics which are necessary and statistics which are being collected for the sake of collection. The Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) in his second reading speech stated:
It has to be recognised that the demand for statistics and statistical services is insatiable and that only the most important requirements can be serviced.
I think that the Minister in making that statement was referring us to a fact of which we should all be aware. There will always be demands by Government, by individual groups, by organisations for information which, in one view, should be available and which, in another view, to ask for it would be an invasion of personal rights. This is the principle which should be at the centre of any discussion on this Australian Bureau of Statistics Bill. I accept the assurance of the Special Minister of State that a Bill relating to privacy in the matter of statistics collection will come before this House. But I have some concern about this because although I believe the Minister to be honourable, if there should be a change in the ministry we could be in a position in which that legislation might not come before Parliament and we could be left with this legislation with no follow-up such as we have been promised. That is an important aspect of this legislation. I would far rather have had the Government wait until it was in a position to bring the privacy legislation into this House and then have discussed both Bills at the same time. The Australian Country Party has a strong view about the collection of statistics in the agricultural community and in the different industries that make up that community.
– As it has in all matters.
-As it has in all matters. I thank the honourable member for Riverina for drawing my attention to that important fact. The problems which arise in rural industries are significant. The Taxation Office requires its statistics as at 30 June but the Bureau of Statistics requires its figures to be provided as at 3 1 March. That imposes a burden upon the primary producers of this country which I believe is not fairly placed upon them. There are great numbers of people who can ill afford this. They have to employ accountants to take out returns and figures to meet the Statistician’s requests. In many cases the cost of this is a little difficult to bear. It also involves the mustering of stock which has to be put through yards in order to assess what the numbers might be as at 3 1 March, and an assessment has to be made of the births and deaths which have taken place since the last statistical count was made. These are factors which are artificial and which interfere with the normal management of rural properties. I believe this is a burden which is unfairly placed upon that sector of the Australian community. I can understand that the Statistician has a mass of statistical information flowing in following 30 June each year and that he seeks to spread his work load throughout the year, but I think that if this collection of information had to be set at a different time then perhaps the more appropriate time might have been 31 December. The arbitrary choice of the end of March for providing primary industry statistics proves to be a significant burden on the industries concerned.
This Bill is divided into 5 sections. The first section deals basically with the definitional and other functional matters. The second section provides for the establishment of a statutory position of Australian Statistician and for the establishment of the Australian Bureau of Statistics as a statutory body with the functions of a central statistical authority. The point that needs to be made in respect of this is that Parliament is losing control over an important area of the Australian life style. There can be no doubt that in matters of this nature the Parliament should be responsible for and should be able to debate the matter. The Government itself should take responsibility for any odium which attaches to information it requests. If the Government is not prepared to accept that odium then it must face the people at election time and be judged on this along with the other issues of the day. It is a retrograde step in terms of the democratic development of this nation to pass off this responsibility to a statutory body which moves out of the scope of parliamentary debate. The statutory body will provide the
Minister with another way of passing off responsibility. Today many honourable members are expressing concern at the replies they get from Ministers in so many areas. Ministers have said: ‘I have referred the matter you have raised with me to the statutory commission, to the statutory corporation or to the chairman of something or other. He has undertaken to look at it and report to me. I shall inform you of his reply’. To my way of thinking and to the way of thinking of a lot of honourable members in this chamber, that is not a satisfactory position. The Minister and therefore the Government is being absolved of the responsibility of making decisions and of facing up to the results which those decisions must inevitably bring.
The third part of the Bill relates to the establishment, functions and composition of the proposed Australian Statistics Advisory Council. This to me is another clouding of the issues. Rather than the Minister laying down what should be looked at and what statistics should be collected, he is passing to another body the function of determining what should and what should not be included in statistical collection programs. I think the comments I made in relation to the second part of the Bill apply here also. We are getting a movement away from the Parliament into advisory councils and statutory bodies of the responsibility which rightly belongs in this place. The Minister in any of these situations is in a position where it is very difficult not to accept the advice which is given by these statutory bodies, advisory councils and bodies of this nature. If a Minister chooses not to accept the advice, then the question arises why there is the necessity to have an advisory council at all. Again this relates to the important point that the Parliament must be supreme in these matters and that these things should be debated.
The fourth part of the Bill provides for annual reports to the Parliament by the Statistician and by the Council. This is commendable but it goes only part of the way because rarely are honourable members in this place given an opportunity to debate these reports. They are tabled and they seem to go into oblivion in the stacks of paper which surround the conduct of the chamber and adequate debate never ensues on reports from councils and statutory bodies. It is an effective way of canning the whole responsibility and moving it out of the area of the Parliament. One of the amendments which the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) will move at the Committee stage reads:
After clause 6, insert the following new clause: ‘6a. Each new proposal for the collection and compilation by the Bureau of Statistics and related information shall be laid before each House of the Parliament before its implementation.’
Although I am unhappy about many aspects of this Bill, that amendment which will be moved by the honourable member for McPherson goes a long way towards bringing back to the Parliament the responsibility that should properly lie in this place. It brings back to the Parliament the responsibility for imposing new demands on people for the provision of information which is required by government and by the Australian community.
I said earlier- I want to make it perfectly clear- that I am not opposed to the collection of statistics. What I am saying is that a line has to be drawn between how much statistical information is needed and how much is asked for, that that matter should be the responsibility of the Minister and the Government, and that what that level of information should be should be debated in this Parliament. It is not good enough, in my view, that we should be able to pass off the whole question to a statutory body and to an advisory council which will be able to make recommendations of which this Parliament may not be aware, and it is not good enough that statistical information can be sought in such different ways that costs and burdens can be imposed on sections of the community which do not rightly belong there. I think that we ought to take those things into account, and I think that the principal amendment which will be moved by the honourable member for McPherson is one which should be supported by the Government. I believe it is one which will allow for adequate debate. I believe that the responsibility for those policies which the Government seeks to place on the Australian public should lie with the Government and the Parliament, and I believe that the Government should see that that responsibility does stay in this place.
– I want to quote some extracts from the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen). He used such words and phrases as this: … a growing need for special purpose economic and social surveys.
Further on in his speech he used the words: . . . social surveys for a wide variety of purposes. . .
Further on again he said:
Economic statistics and indicators will continue to be of basic importance but social and manpower statistics and data for urban and regional planning must continue to develop.
On and on he went. Then he said:
It is further desirable that the Statistician be relieved of the necessity to determine priorities for the multitude of statistical demands being made upon the Bureau.
Further on he said: . . . there are many other needs yet to be satisfied.
Another phrase he used was this: . . . demand for statistics and statistical services . . .
Yet on the first page of his second reading speech he said:
There is no need for me to argue the virtues . . .
As far as I am concerned, this country is being bogged down by people who have little more to do than sit in Canberra dreaming up the type of survey that should be done on the following day of the week. I am unlike many of my colleagues who have stood up in this place and said that they are not opposed to the Statistician. I would hope that he regards me as his No. 1 enemy. I have been consistent in my condemnation and my criticism of the manner in which the Australian Bureau of Statistics has expanded in the past.
During the Prime Ministership of my dear friends, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) and the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), I was critical of the Bureau. Let no man cast a stone and say that I am being critical simply because the Labor Party is in power. I am not motivated by politics in this; I am motivated by a deep belief in the right of the individual to retain and maintain a semblance of privacy which I do not believe he is now allowed in this country. The individual’s privacy is being eroded further and further. The Special Minister of State, who sits at the table like a deaf mute, would not have introduced this Bill at this time if he was prepared to consider these things. He would have been better to have decided to assure us with more than just promises that he would bring in the concept which he outlined in his second reading speech.
When I look at the explanatory statement in relation to the regulations under the Census and Statistics Act, Statutory Rules 1970 No. 28, and when I see the manner in which the 1976 census is going to be broadened, it is easy for me to believe that the Government is leaving Snoopy for dead. It has become a big, fat, nosey parker which must stick its nose into every corner of the individual’s private life. As my friend, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) pointed out, in the future people are going to be asked what languages they use. How that is going to save the economy I do not know, but the Government might feel that that has something to do with it. People will be asked the range of their weekly or annual income, the age at which they left school, and the social welfare benefits received. I know that there are certain things outlined there which were included in previous censuses, but the scope of the next census is being enlarged.
As an example of how these things are enlarged, I refer to the household expenditure survey which was recently conducted. I believe that the results of the survey will not be available for some months yet. It is so thick it looks like a guide to Disneyworld in Florida. When this survey was conducted people were not told that it was not compulsory to participate. When I started to draw attention to the questions being asked I was shunned off and told that people do not have to participate in it. The truth is that the people conducting the survey were dishonest in their approach in that they did not say to people: ‘You do not have to do this survey but I would like your co-operation’. If that had been the case I would not have bucked, but they did not say that.
The lame duck excuse presented was that if people are told that it is not compulsory to participate they will not want to do so. I would not blame them, particularly when the survey included such questions as this on instalment credit:
Are (any of) you currently making regular payments for anything?
That is for the questioner-
Such as car, TV, refrigerator, furniture, encyclopaedia, travel or building extensions.
The crunch comes on the next page where one finds question 75. The interviewer asks:
I would now like to ask you about each of these arrangements -
They say it so sweetly; they are trained as though they were greyhounds at the racetrack, and the moment the gate rises away they go-
What is the name of the lender to which your payments are made?
The questionnaire even makes provision for it being a family loan. Why should any citizen in this country have to name to some agent of a government a member of his family who is lending him money? I believe that the Government has gone far enough in its prying into the privacy of the individuals of this country. You wonder why I am a little agitated as I present this speech.
One thing that I am proud of- I know that you are a Liberal too, Mr Deputy Speaker- is that all
Liberal Party and Country Party members who have spoken on this side of the House have been of one accord in their recognition of the fact that the privacy of the people of this nation must be taken into account in the future. Perhaps it is because we now have a socialist government in power and socialists will stop at nothing. Socialists believe that the private life of every individual should be known to government so that it can put the information together and work towards a more acceptable way of life for all people. I reject that concept completely. I do not reject the need for governments to obtain some information in order to plan for the future but I would like to know what good reason there is for requesting John Citizen to provide information about which member of his family lent him money.
I remember when the last census was held. I would not say that the census collectors were a motley mob because a lot of them live in my electorate, but they were people simply plucked out of our society who applied for a job. I do not think that they are really screened. They are given a stack of forms and out they go to bang on people’s doors to SOliCit information. I went, accidentally, to the home of one census collector a few short years ago and I was alarmed to see the stack of forms on the floor in the family living room.
– What was her name?
-The honourable member should have asked the census collectors that question because they had all the other information. The privacy of the people supplying the information was not being respected as it should have been. There was another case in my electorate when one of my constituents was singled out for one of those surveys in which the questioner returns three or four times. He went to school with the woman who was the interviewer. I know that the Special Minister of State will say that the interviewers are sworn to secrecy, but why should that person have to divulge all the private details of his life and of the lives of members of his family just to satisfy a government requirement? If a person does not supply the information required by some of the surveys he could well be subjected to a prison sentence or a heavy fine.
If the Government intends to make laws requiring people to give other people a lot of private information, surely in return the Government should establish something more than an ad hoc collection service made up of odds and sods. I will bet that the Minister for Labor and
Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron), under his Regional Employment Development scheme, gives people work as census collectors. Some of the nation’s greatest hobos and no-hopers could be out now beating on doors throughout Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide collecting information. I do not accept that the system is much better than that. Furthermore, the Department of the Special Minister of State is making unreasonable demands upon the people for information. I am known in the State of Queensland as one who does not readily cooperate with every request of the Statistician. Farmers have written to me saying: ‘Mr Cameron, I have been asked to supply information, and the information is of such a nature that I will require the services of an accountant to put it together. ‘
– Let us see the letter.
-My friend, the honourable member for Port Adelaide says: ‘Show me the letter’. I can assure him that these letters have appeared in the Brisbane ‘Courier Mail’, so he should not for a moment doubt the claims I am making here today. Let him ask the Queensland Statistician. He will verify what I have said. The facts are that, in the depressed economic situation under which we exist now that Labor has come to power, farmers have had to sack many of their staff and farm hands and have had to work on the farms themselves. They come in weary at night and are expected by the Government to sit down and spend hours filling forms so that somebody back in the deep south can spend his day feeding information into a computer to satisfy the whim possibly of a smalltime clerk who thought that that would be a good idea.
– I thought it was the deep north.
– In the north we talk about Canberra as the deep south. One cannot blame the people in Canberra for everything because they are directed by the Government which is presently in power. This afternoon we are discussing the extent of the Department’s intrusions into liberty. I am almost fearful that the Australian Bureau of Statistics will become a statutory body and that this Parliament will have absolutely no control over it. The amendment moved by the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson), who is the Opposition’s spokesman on these matters, is a most sensible amendment in that it will bring back to this Parliament certain controls. I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Department is growing larger every week and more and more people are being employed by it. In his second reading speech the Minister said:
The Bureau of Statistics has grown to become one of the larger bodies in the Australian Public Service.
If this is the trend, government intrusion into the lives of individuals will expand. The assurances that collectors have tight lips and that the information will never be divulged do not satisfy me. A line must be clearly drawn to define what information collected by a government is legitimate and what is not.
We do not have to turn back too far in history to recall the times when people had numbers on their arms. If we continue to sit idly by we will build a society in which people may not have visible numbers tattooed on their bodies but by pressing one or two buttons on a computer information will be spilled out that will completely pinpoint an individual. I believe strongly in the right of the citizenry of this country to retain its private information. I cannot accept what previous governments have done in collecting information and certainly I can only reject the expansion of that collection which the present Government has in mind. I conclude with the thought that if the Special Minister of State intends to introduce a supplementary Bill in the near future, he should listen to what I am about to say. If the Minister intends to introduce a supplementary Bill I hope that he will do it in the very near future. I hope that he will take note of the comments made by honourable members on this side of the House because I believe that they echo the views of the vast majority of Australians.
– I do not wish to detain the House for very long, but this is a most important Bill. Some honourable members have said that we have been talking about provisions that are hot in the Bill and that, therefore, what we have been saying is irrelevant. Sometimes the most relevant provisions in relation to a Bill are those that are not in it. Quite frankly, the question of privacy in Australia today is an extremely significant one. It is extremely significant in the area of government in the Commonwealth. Day by day in this Parliament the bureaucratic process is being expanded. More public servants are being appointed. More powers are being given to members of the Public Service to investigate, to make inquiries and to report. More powers are being given to commissions day by day, week by week and month by month.
When we look at one particular measure, it may not seem much. But what does one find if one goes back over the statutes of the past 2 years? The Labor Government prides itself on the fact that the statutes for 1973 and 1974 are the largest in size for many years, perhaps since 1967 at least. Although the Labor Government prides itself in that respect, the fact is that it has added to the statutes tremendous areas of investigation and decision making. The bureaucracy in this country is growing. Unless we in our own way in this Parliament start to think very seriously about the effect that this is having on the daily lives of Australians, we are adding problem after problem for the man in the street.
One of the areas in which one notices this problem is the area of information statistics. Obviously, no reasonable person would rise to attack the provisions of this Bill insofar as they seek to provide for an efficient means of obtaining statistics. I do not believe that anybody has done that today. The need for statistics is obvious. The need apparently for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to have some statistics appeared in August or September of last year. We do not want him any longer to have any excuse for not having statistics about the economy. So, it is good for the Government to have proper statistics. The problem is the intrusion into the lives of the ordinary people. The question of privacy has been before this Government for more than 2 years. It has been investigated by this Government over that period. Although the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) says- of course I would readily accept his assurance- that a Bill is about to come forward on this matter, we have not yet seen it and we do not know how long it will be before it does appear. We do not know whether it will be presented in a few weeks time or a few months time. But the time has come for Australian citizens to be protected.
In a very short way, I wish to illustrate this point. The Special Minister of State, who is at the table, may have had some interest in this matter, although perhaps only indirectly, as I think he ceased to be Postmaster-General in May of last year. In December 1974 there was a telephone usage survey. It was conducted on behalf of the Australian Post Office by the University of New South Wales. Survey forms were issued to some people in my electorate. I readily concede that it was done by a sub-contractor to the Government. I also concede that those who received the survey forms were not forced to answer the questions. It was a telephone usage survey- let me stress that- and the questions start with a great degree of relevance. For instance, the question is asked:
If you consider that the service is NOT most efficient, would you please describe the problems you have encountered with the telephone service?
The questions continue:
Which of these 2 statements is CLOSER to how YOU feel?
I make a telephone call whenever I feel the need . . OR . . .
Except for dire emergencies a telephone call after 9 pm is an intrusion.
As the questions continue they become less relevant. For instance:
Generally speaking, I find that when it comes to WRITING a BUSINESS letter I . . .
Put it off as long as possible
Delay longer than I would if telephoning about my business
Don’t hesitate at all.
Those questions are all relevant, perhaps marginally relevant, to a search for statistics in relation to telephone usage.
Then we come to this statement:
The following are some questions which will help us classify our answers more meaningfully. Please circle a ‘Yes’ or No’ figure to ALL questions. If you are not definitely sure, record your answer for how you mostly feel.
Let me illustrate the sorts of questions that follow. Really- I believe that the Minister at the table will agree with me- they are extraordinary. Here are some examples:
Do you like to mix socially with people?
Do you find it difficult to ‘let your hair down’ even at a lively party?
Well, I do! The questions continue:
Would you rate yourself as a lively personality?
If we wanted to inflate further the ego of the Prime Minister we could ask him those questions and get him to answer ‘Yes’. Here is another one for the Prime Minister:
Do you ‘ fly off the handle ‘ when you are angry?
Here is another question:
Do you appear calm when people around you are excited?
That is appropriate to the Minister at the table. These further questions are asked:
Do you conceal your disappointments?
Do you conceal your failures?’ might be more appropriate to the Government-
Are you calm in an emergency?
Do you sometimes have frequent ups and downs in mood, either with or without apparent cause?
Are you frequently ‘lost in thought’ even when supposed to be taking part in a conversation?
One does not need to say much more in order to indicate the danger, the stupidity and the intrusion into privacy of a questionnaire such as that.
Honourable members opposite wonder why we take the point and why we are so concerned about the question of privacy. That such questions should be asked is laughable. But those questions are being asked and, quite frankly, they are being paid for by this Government. That is a very serious matter. I turn to the next question, which is:
Which of these activities do you FREQUENTLY OR SOMETIMES enjoy? (Please circle ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for ALL activities)
Let me list a few:
That last is a good one for the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly)-
And so on through a long list of activities. What have they to do with telephone usage? The survey ends with this question:
Roughly how many hours would you spend on the telephone, here at home, in an average week?
It goes on to ask:
How many of these hours would be spent talking to anyone concerning any of the clubs or organisations you belong to?
Those examples are enough, so far as I am concerned, to make the point I wish to make; that is, that the question of privacy has 2 aspects. The first aspect is that when we obtain information from the public it should be retained in a confidential state. The confidential information of people should not be disclosed. I do not apprehend that I have any difficulty with the acceptance of that proposition by the Minister at the table.
The other aspect tends to be much more significant these days because I think we understand the need to retain confidence in relation to information and I do not think government tends to transgress, although with the volume of questions the likehood will be greater. That other aspect is the question-asking aspect of privacy, the intrusion into people’s lives- not only the inconvenience of answering questions but the degree to which a person is questioned about private matters in terms of his own private life. I would suggest that if this Bill relating to privacy is on the table of the Parliamentary Counsel, the Attorney-General (Mr Enderby), who is in the chamber at the moment, should immediately take an interest in it and bring it before this
House as soon as he can. This is an urgent question and it ought to be before the Parliament, we ought to be debating it and we ought to deal with it as soon as possible.
– in reply- I thank all honourable members who have participated in the debate, not the least being the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Ellicott) who made the very appropriate remark that privacy is a very important factor. Of course, this Bill does not alter the provisions in the existing Act relating to privacy. There is no amendment to the sections in that Act relating to privacy. The point that everybody has made is that the type of question asked of employees perhaps could be offensive. We could debate that matter ad nauseum. People have all sorts of attitudes, and some of them have been expressed here today. For example, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) went to great lengths to say that he objected to these matters, and particularly to what is known as the household expenditure survey. He has come into the chamber to hear me. I am not making criticisms of him, but he said himself that that survey was initiated by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. I am not raising politics in this matter, but it was that Government’s survey that this Government was carrying out. That indicates the problem that exists in this field. It should not be thought that there is some political attitude involved when the Statistician wants to find out information, for what are deemed to be very good and valid reasons, and asks these questions. The honourable member for Griffith made a point to which I am advised the Statistician’s officers objected. It was made pretty clear at the time of the survey that people need not answer the questions. Answers were not compulsory. We could argue that point ad nauseum too, but it was made clear at the time of the survey and the Statistician’s officers are adamant that that was their attitude.
– They are lying.
-Well, they are lying to you. The other point I want to make is that a number of new questions are being asked and again it was said: Should they be asked? Honourable members would know that this Parliament, as a democratic institution, has powers of inquisition, and in that respect the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances has asked the Bureau to appear before it to explain the reasons for the questions that are being asked. One could not get any more democratic process or anything fairer than that. The Bureau is going to talk to the Committee and explain why it wants information on tourism. It has already done a sample survey and there has been a very reasonable acceptance by the people who have been interviewed. In relation to handicapped persons, there was a readiness by people who were interviewed to identify themselves as being handicapped. There are a large number of people in this country who are handicapped and it is important for any government to ascertain where they are and what is the nature of their handicap. The Government is spending millions of dollars trying to assist people who are handicapped and it is important to try to identify them. There is a valid reason for the questions asked. The same can be said in regard to language. Again, there was a ready acceptance of that question. There are a large number of people who do not speak English and the Government wants to try to identify their problems, to ascertain what language they speak and where they are located. It is very important for the social welfare and benefit of those people. These questions are not invented just because some individual thinks that he would like to know how many languages you speak. There is a reason to take these samples, and the point that I am making is that they are readily accepted by the people. On the question of mortgages and monthly repayments, it has been ascertained that the housing institutions have very little information about sources of finance or the financial burden being carried by Australians in the current housing difficulty. Why should the Government not try to identify them? I make that point in passing.
It has been said, and I welcome it, that everybody thinks this is a good Bill. It is good because it gives the Statistician independence. No longer is he subservient to some influence by a department. I congratulate the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) for his attitude in this debate. It set a very good standard. I cannot answer all of the questions that have been asked, but one question that has been prominent in the discussions is when the other Bill is to be introduced. A draft Bill is now before the Parliamentary Counsel. It has been there for some time. There are a number of difficulties involved in the wording that has to be used in order to satisfy all these problems. The Bill cannot be introduced any sooner than it is received from the Parliamentary Counsel, but the fact that it is with the Parliamentary Counsel surely is some evidence of the Government’s bona fides in this matter. My colleague, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), asked whether a standing committee for co-ordination had been set up. This is an interdepartmental matter and obviously it will be dealt with at that level. It does not require any amendments to existing legislation or any further legislation.
The most important matter for discussion is whether the Government will accept the amendments. We are not going to accept the new clause 6a because that would delay the collection of information that might be required urgently. For example, during the last recess the Government had to find urgent information relating to import statistics and it would be quite wrong to think that we could not get that information if it were necessary first to lay it before both Houses of Parliament. As I have already pointed out, under the existing statistics regulations information can be obtained on any one of about 25 different matters. This can be done by regulation now or by statute under the Census Act itself. In section 16 of Part IV, it will be seen that all this information is readily available. When additional information is needed the Government wishes to be able to obtain it. The Government will certainly let the Parliament know because reports are going to be tabled not only by the Minister but also by the Advisory Council.
That brings me to my second point. The Government welcomes the suggestion that there should be representatives from the States. We want to improve on this representation to the extent that the Prime Minister has written to the State Premiers asking whether they would like to nominate a person to the Council. While I am not being critical of the wording, the Bill provides that there shall be 2 members chosen by the persons for the time being holding office as Deputy Australian Statistician. That means that they are Australian public servants who hold that office, and I think it would be unacceptable to the States for the Australian Government to ask its public servants to nominate 2 members. I foreshadow an amendment, to which I hope the Opposition will agree, that if the Premier of a State nominates a person for appointment to the Council the Minister shall appoint that person as one of the members referred to in the clause unless the Council already includes a member appointed on the nomination of the Premier of that State. In other words, the Government wants the States to co-operate. At the present time, all State Statisticians are virtually Australian Government officers, so there is close coordination. There is already existing legislation in the form of the Statistics (Arrangements with
States) Act under which we have close cooperation. It is a question of getting co-operation and getting the statistics.
I do not want to delay the House any further, except to thank honourable members for the contributions they have made to the debate. Some doubts have been expressed about the contents of future legislation, and I give an undertaking that all of the comments made this afternoon will be taken into consideration in the drafting of that legislation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 6- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Proposed new clause 6A.
– I move:
After clause 6, insert the following new clause: ‘6a. Each new proposal for the collection and compilation by the Bureau of Statistics and related information shall be laid before each House of the Parliament before its implementation.’.
I listened carefully to the comments of the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) and I have had an opportunity to have some personal discussions with him. We are, however, dealing with a statutory authority whose functions and responsibilities will be very broad. Not only in the Crisp report but also in the second reading speech of the Minister was it clearly indicated that there would very likely be a number of new initiatives taken and a lot of new areas in which information would be sought. I appreciate that maybe in all of those areas- certainly in the great majority of them- it would be desirable and in the interests of the nation and of the Parliament to have such information. We are dealing with tremendously increased complexity of legislation.
The Minister has indicated that the Government is not prepared to accept this amendment. Basically, he claimed that the reason for the Government’s inability to accept it was that there may be a need for urgency when Parliament is not sitting to make some information available. Valid though that comment may be, we are concerned about 2 aspects. The first concerns the maintenance of the role of the Parliament, bearing in mind that we are taking this operation out of departmental control and into a position of autonomy. The second matter concerns privacy as it might relate to any new initiative that was being considered by the Government, Whilst we agree to the autonomy of this Bureau- we accept the need for it for a number of reasons- we want to see the role of Parliament maintained. We believe that it would be in the interests of better government if proposed new clause 6a. were to be accepted. The Parliament has a right to know. Again, I appreciate that the Minister has informed us- and I accept his personal word- that he will keep the House informed. But we believe that it is desirable to have the House officially informed in this way so that a debate can occur if needed and the new initiative discussed in the general context of what is desirable both for the Parliament and for the nation.
– I support my friend, the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson) in this amendment. I know that the Minister has stated that one of the reasons the Government opposes the amendment is that there will be times when the Parliament is not sitting and the Government might want to collect information urgently. I reject that as expediency. When the privacy of an individual in this nation is at stake, I am not prepared to adopt a departmental attitude whereby individuals hardly count and permission is given without some safety brake. Regretfully, under both Liberal and Labor Governments, we have seen an expansion into the privacy of the individual- an erosion of the individual’s liberty and rights. The amendment moved by the honourable member for McPherson is the way to check it.
It is certain that if people who devise new proposals are aware of the fact that these proposals have to walk the gauntlet and that greater interest has been taken in the privacy of the individual, they will certainly be more careful in the type of questions that they ask. In the case which I cited earlier, and to which the Minister did not refer, people were asked to name the member of the family who had lent them the money to go for a holiday. Things like that cannot be justified. While such things slip through, I believe we have a duty to give the nation as much protection as possible.
– The amendment is not acceptable for the reasons which I have outlined in my closing remarks in my second reading speech. It will inhibit the freedom of the Statistician when there is a requirement to obtain information because of the added difficulty of having to wait for Parliament to meet. Under this legislation Parliament will not be deceived in any shape or form. In fact, whoever the relevant Minister is at the time, he will be responsible for the administration of this Act. I have no doubt, knowing members of Parliament, that even though the House were in recess they would readily contact any Minister if they felt there was an objection to a type of question being asked or an invasion of privacy.
On the question of privacy, do not let us get too dramatic about it, because under the existing statistics regulations which I notice were passed and amended in 1958, we can ask all sorts of embarrassing personal questions if we come to things of that nature. These include questions concerning personal income, expenditure and savings, entertainment including sport and recreation, crime, and unemployment.
Again in the main Act, the Census and Statistics Act, which was amended also, section 16 states that we can now obtain statistics on vital social and industrial matters. In other words, there is nothing sensational about the questions that have already been asked. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) is worried about people being asked who lent them money to go on holidays. As I have said already, they do not have to answer the question. If he wants to know why it was asked, I can tell him that it was because there is limited information available as to the type of recreation available to Australians. It is understood that at least 50 per cent of Australians are unable to take holidays because of lack of finance. It was on that basis that the question was asked. There was no objection to it in the sampling.
Whilst people make this allegation of invasion of privacy, we can only say that there was no compulsion to answer. I mention that point agains because it is one that was specifically raised and I understand a Senate committee will be seeking information on it. The point at the moment is that while we can go into arguments as to what a person should or should not be asked, all that need be said by the person is that he will not answer. He does not need to cooperate. It is as simple as that.
That the new clause proposed to be inserted (Mr Eric Robinson’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Mr J. M. Berinson)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses 7 to 18- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
– I have had circulated in my name a proposed amendment to clause 19. It reads:
Omit sub-clause ( 1 ), substitute the following sub-clause:
1 ) The Council shall consist of-
2 members chosen by the persons for the time being holding office as Deputy Australian Statisticians in each State from among their number; and
such other members, being not less than 8 and not more than 20 in number, as the Minister determines.
Originally the Opposition wanted to have the Bill amended in that respect because it was concerned about having inserted in the Bill the suggestion of the Crisp Committee that there be representation from the States. Subsequent to that proposed amendment being circulated the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) has had circulated an amendment to which he has already referred. In view of the nature of the Government’s amendment the Opposition will not pursue its amendment, but I would like to make it quite clear that the matter of the representation of the States is significant to the Opposition. The thrust of the Government’s amendment is somewhat different from that of the Opposition, but the Opposition’s main concern is to have representation from the States and the Government’s amendment appears to be acceptable to the Opposition. We will, of course, talk with the States about this matter and take appropriate steps in another place if any concern is expressed by the States. But, because of the initiative taken by the Government following the circulation of the Opposition ‘s amendment, I will not pursue the amendment circulated in my name.
– I thank the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson). The Government has always adhered to the principle that the States should be involved. It will be noticed that in the report of the Crisp Committee it was suggested that there be 2 representatives of what was deemed to be the conference of statisticians. What we have indicated here is that we think that we can improve upon the situation. The New South Wales Government raised the question of representation on the Australian Statistics Advisory Council. For . that reason the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) wrote to all the States. The Government would not have supported the proposed amendment circulated by the Opposition because it proposes to move an amendment that should be satisfactory. I now move:
At the end of the clause, add the following sub-clause:
If the Premier of a State nominates a person for appointment to the Council, the Minister shall appoint that person as one of the members referred to in paragraph ( 1 ) (c) unless the Council already includes a member appointed on the nomination of the Premier of that State.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen)- by leave- read a third time.
Debate resumed from 26 February on motion by Mr Enderby
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-This Bill is a small amendment to the Trade Practices Act, which came into force last year. The Opposition will support the passage of the Bill. During the Committee stage of the debate we shall move amendments to clauses 4 and 5. The Bill deals with 3 separate issues. Firstly, the Bill provides that when regulations in respect of consumer product information standards and consumer product safety standards are made under section 62 and 63 of the Trade Practices Act, those regulations may exclude from their operation goods which are intended for use outside Australia. It is in respect of this particular clause of the Bill that the Opposition amendment to which I referred earlier will be moved during the Committee stage. The second provision of the Bill is to clarify the operation of sections 5 1 and 45 of the Act. The third, and perhaps the most publicised section of the Bill, is designed to outlaw the unsolicited sending of credit cards.
Dealing in turn with each of those 3 provisions, the Opposition accepts the proposition of the Government that when regulations under sections 62 and 63 are made, it is proper, and in fact necessary in the interests of Australian businessmen endeavouring to compete for overseas markets, that those regulations should, where appropriate, exclude from their operation goods which are intended for use outside Australia. The Opposition, in common with the Government, believes that Australian exporters should not be put at what could be, in many circumstances, a competitive disadvantage. I think it is worth noting in respect of this particular provision that standards set, both in respect of safety and product information under sections 62 and 63, may not always be such as to lead to a situation where goods which are excluded from the operation of the regulations are necessarily of an inferior quality. I know there are some who may say that, irrespective of whether the goods are to be sold inside or outside Australia, the same standards ought to apply to them. Whilst this is a superficially attractive argument, from a practical point of view an Australian exporter must naturally direct his attention and tailor his goods to the export market. The sorts of standards that in those circumstances he should be interested in are the standards imposed by the country to which the goods are exported.
The second provision of the Bill merely seeks to clarify the operation of section 5 1 of the Act. The whole scheme of Part IV of the Act is to prohibit certain practices and to render unenforcible certain contracts. These prohibitions are covered by sections 45 to 50 of the Act. Section 51, which is the last section in Part V, then contains certain exceptions to the prohibitions and the unenforcibility provisions contained in sections 45 and 50. Clearly, it was never intended by the Government when framing this legislation that any contract provisionally rendered unenforcible by section 45 should remain unenforcible by section 45 and not be covered by the exceptions contained in section 51. This amendment is necessary to clarify a construction doubt which has arisen regarding the impact of section 5 1 and the Opposition will support it.
The third provision of the Bill is the one that deals with the question of the unsolicited sending out of credit cards. Honourable members will recall that when the various banks throughout Australia introduced credit cards last year, considerable Press publicity was given to the fact that they were sent out on an unsolicited basis. Whilst the Opposition accepts that the amendment proposed by the Government in respect of credit cards is desirable, I would like to make a few comments on the second reading speech of the Attorney-General (Mr Enderby) when introducing this Bill. In many respects the AttorneyGeneral’s speech exaggerated the situation which arose when these credit cards were sent out. The Attorney-General spoke of many instances of the cards falling into the wrong hands. He spoke of confusion caused to the business community and he implied confusion and problems for the consumer.
I did not find in the Attorney-General’s second reading speech very much evidence of the problems which had been occasioned by the sending out of the unsolicited credit cards. I think that perhaps the point was lost in the AttorneyGeneral’s speech and ought to be made at this stage that under the system that operated in respect of the credit cards any liability in respect of cards which fell into the wrong hands and were put to the wrong use rested with the banks themselves. I do not think evidence has been produced to justify the claims made in the Attorney-General’s second reading speech that the cards did, in fact, cause the confusion and the mischief which was alluded to in his remarks, nor did they create quite the menace to the business community that the Attorney-General claimed in his speech,
I think it is also worth the House’s noting that the banks have accepted, I understand on a voluntary basis, the gist of the Government’s proposals contained in this Bill. Whilst, as I said earlier, the Opposition believes that it is desirable to write this amendment into the Trade Practices Act, I think some of the hysteria that surrounded the sending out of the credit cards initially perhaps was not warranted. As some evidence of that I am informed that until the end of March of this year not one complaint was received by the consumer affairs ministry in New South Wales in respect of the wrongful use of credit cards or any problems which had arisen to consumers in respect of the use of those cards. Whilst that does not mean that other complaints of that nature were not made in other parts of
Australia, I think it is indicative of the general situation that no such complaints were received by the appropriate consumer affairs body in the largest State of Australia.
I return briefly to the amendment which the Opposition will sponsor during the Committee state of this debate. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that if goods aTe excluded from the regulations envisaged under sections 62 and 63 of the Act on the grounds that they are intended for use outside Australia and ultimately find their way to the domestic market, a clear need exists for the Australian consumer to be put on notice that such goods may not necessarily comply with the safety and product information standards laid down by the regulations made under the 2 sections. The Opposition believes that the consumer is entitled to the protection that he is put on notice that goods may not necessarily comply with the standards laid down under the regulations and principally intended for goods designed, in the first instance, to be consumed on the domestic market.
Before finalising my remarks at this second reading stage, I would like to make a few general comments about the issue of consumer protection as envisaged under the Trade Practices Act. I think all members of the House will agree that the role of the Federal Government in the area of consumer affairs is still an evolving one. The Opposition and I hope that in the implementation of Government policies priority will be given to the elimination, as far as possible, of confusion. The Opposition believes that the consumer protection provision of the Trade practices Act were introduced in the first instance without adequate consultation with the States.. The Government was aware that the various State governments of Australia had extensive consumer protection laws. In many areas the Federal Government recognised that the provisions it was writing into the Trade Practices Act could come into conflict with and could overlap many of the laws in operation in the various States. This, of course, is evidenced by the inclusion of a special saving section in the Part of the Trade Practices Act dealing with consumer protection in respect of existing laws of the Australian States and Territories. In the Opposition’s view, if consumer protection laws are to be effective there must be the minimum of confusion.
One of the charges made against many manufacturers, advertisers and the like in the community is that advice given and material circulated in respect of products that are sold throughout the community confuse the consumer, attempt to mislead him and attempt to deceive him. I hope that in the Government’s development of its treatment of consumer protection it will give very high priority to the elimination of consumer confusion, because it is no good having a consumer protection policy and a set of consumer protection laws and having a situation whereby the consumer who has a problem or a complaint does not know to whom this complaint should be addressed or to whom his problem should be taken. I think that some of the confusion has arisen as a result of the Government in the first instance acting without proper consultation with the States and with local government. I know that honourable members on the other side of the House will say that whenever the Opposition debates legislation it talks about the role of State and local government, but perhaps in this area more than others it is necessary to recognise that if we are to have adequate consumer protection laws there must be agencies and authorities at the local level to which a person seeking information or wishing to make a complaint can go. It is no good establishing a fairly remote commission unless as part of the establishment of that body adequate provision is made for the ordinary consumer and the ordinary citizen at a completely local level to take complaints and to seek information.
The final point I would like to make relates to the question of confusion. I think those in the community who are interested in consumer protectionthe consumer movement- and also this House are entitled to have resolved the confusion which apparently exists regarding which Minister in the Government is to be responsible for consumer protection. The House will be aware that apparently there has been a difference of opinion and a dispute in the ranks of the Government between the Attorney-General and the Minister for Science (Mr Morrison). Announcements have been made and Press reports have been circulating in recent days as to who has won the battle and who is finally to be in charge. In the interests of the consumer movement, this dispute has to be put to rest. In the interests of the consumer there should be no confusion. The ordinary consumers and citizens of this country ought to know as a very minimum who is to have ultimate ministerial responsibility for and control of what is a very important area. In concluding my remarks, in general terms I commend the Government for bringing forward these amendments to the Trade Practices Act. The Bill will receive the support of the Opposition.
– I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the Trade Practices Bill 1975. At a later stage I will make some comment on the progress made thus far in the implementation of the provisions of the main Act, the Trade Practices Act 1974. The object of this Bill as stated is, firstly, to amend the Trade Practices Act 1974 to prohibit the sending of unsolicited credit cards and, secondly, by amendments to sections 62 and 63 of the existing Act, to permit consumer product safety and information standards to be prescribed so as to exclude goods which are intended to be used outside Australia. This will overcome the problem of Australian exporters having to attempt to comply with incompatible standards; for example, where Australian standards differ from overseas standards. It also will prevent inconsistencies arising with regard to standards set pursuant to Australian export regulations.
In our present business world a large percentage of trading is conducted on credit, and it is in the area of credit transactions that credit cards are coming to fulfil an increasingly important, convenient and in many ways desirable function. The need for these amendments was demonstrated by the large scale dispatch by Australian banks last year of unsolicited credit cards and also by the large number of complaints surrounding the dispatch of Gold Key credit cards in Queensland. The effect of the amendments in respect of credit cards will be that credit cards will be able to be sent only in pursuance of a written request by the person who will be liable on use of the card or to replace a card which had been previously requested in writing or properly used by the person, such as would be the case where a person properly made use of an unsolicited card sent by mail. It is true that the present Trade Practices Act has provisions relating to unsolicited goods, but these are inappropriate for credit cards.
The terms and nature of the credit standing of a citizen with a creditor is a personal and private matter of concern between the citizen and the creditor- be it bank, lender or vendor- and, as such, details of credit rating should be privy only to the citizen and the creditor involved. The mass distribution last year of unsolicited credit cards showing limits of credit available was a serious breach of that privacy. A number of other undesirable events flowed out of that mass distribution of cards. In some cases the issue of cards was duplicated. People received and used cards to which they were not properly entitled. People whose cards were fraudulently used by other persons were put to the unnecessary trouble of proving that they had not used the cards. Some people were caused anxiety because on receiving the credit cards they felt they had some commitment to use them.
The Bankcard executive itself admits that there have been some 80 to 100 cases of fraudulent use of bankcards since their introduction, involving amounts on average of $400 to $500 but ranging up to $2,800. 1 return to the point of privacy. The Bankcard credit rating accorded each of the 1.5 million citizens who received unsolicited bankcards last October was shown on the attachment to the bankcard sent out, to be seen by anyone who happened to have access to the unsolicited mailing whether he was properly entitled to see it or not. This happened in many cases of errors in addresses, changed addresses and fraudulent possession of the cards. I repeat that the terms and nature of credit arrangements are a matter of the utmost privacy which ought to be known to the borrower and the creditor only and certainly ought to be made available to third parties only with the borrower’s express permission.
There was a time when the best way to buy was with cash; a consumer’s best bargaining power was the ability to pay in cash. However, with the expanding use of credit cards and the commission that sellers have to pay to the credit card organisations, the position now is that cash customers, through the price they pay, are contributing a component to help offset the commission or service fee, which ranges from 3 per cent to 7 per cent, that the seller has to pay to the credit card company or organisation concerned. To this extent then credit cards are inflationary as they are an addition to selling costs. In addition, the expansion in readily available credit following the mass distribution of credit cards was an inflationary influence.
I am sure that honourable members opposite would agree with the principal objectives of the Trade Practices Act and the amending legislation now before the House- the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) has indicated that they do- in that it seeks to give both businessmen and consumers a fair deal and to facilitate free competition in all areas of the marketplace. I believe it is true to say that the Trade Practices Act has been generally well received by the world of commerce. No longer can the large corporation dominate a market by its ability to restrict smaller businesses from competing.
The Act has been in existence now for a little over 6 months and although some of the major provisions relating to restrictive trade practices came into operation only a little under 3 months ago, I think this is an appropriate time to review the operations of some of the provisions of the Act. Generally, the public is becoming increasingly aware of its rights and remedies under the Act. However, one area of the Trade Practices Commission’s activities that has come in for criticisms is in the large scale granting of interim authorisations of existing contracts or arrangements in restraint of trade or exclusive dealing arrangements. The Act allowed the Commission to grant clearances for either class of conduct where the effect of the restrictions upon competition was insubstantial. The Commission could also grant authorisation where substantial public benefits not otherwise available arose from the particular contracts or arrangements in restraint of trade or exclusive dealing.
The Act also allowed the Trade Practices Commission to grant interim authorisation if it considered that it was proper to do so for the purpose of enabling due consideration to be given to the application. I have had it put to me in my electorate that, in particular, the failure of the Commission to date to act against the brewery monopolies and oil company arrangements with service stations, is an indication of an un, willingness on the part of the Commission to act on behalf of consumers and in consumers’ interests. In the case of breweries, I have had complaints not only from consumers but from hotel proprietors as well. I am aware that the Commission was literally swamped with applications in the last 3 weeks of the time period for applications. But it needs to be made abundantly clear that interim authorisations by the Commission are in no way to be interpreted by the public or the parties concerned as a rubber stamping of existing contracts in restraint of trade or exclusive dealing.
I can appreciate the work load and pressures involved in trying to deal with the 2100 odd groups of applications received prior to 1 February and the trickle that has come in since, which probably would boil down to about 200 issues if common issues relating to the same industry were linked. The facts are that to the end of March 1975 only 61 clearance applications and 13 authorisation applications have been decided. Of these the Trade Practices Commission has rejected on merit 9 clearance applications and one authorisation application.
Among the authorisation applications granted are 3 cases where the Commission has issued an authorisation following a certificate issued by the Attorney-General stating that there are special considerations relating to the particular acquisition that make it desirable in the interest of national economic policy that the authorisation be granted. I refer here to the B. F. GoodrichOlympic merger, to the Peek Frean-Arnott’s take-over and to the Marrickville Potato CrispsAmatil merger. If the work load facing the Commission is such that additional staff and facilities are required to speed up the processing of applications, the additional staff and facilities should be made available as a matter of urgent public interest.
My own view is that the public interest may have been better served if the interim authorisations had not been granted but rather each application had been dealt with and resolved as time permitted. Again, I appreciate that this course may have caused some difficulties to parties to existing arrangements but I believe the public benefit to be of greater importance. I would be interested also to know whether any cost benefit analysis was made to justify the continuation of agreements until they are examined by the Commission. Certainly, a discontinuation of” the existing arrangements across the board would have entailed a cost to the companies concerned in disbanding existing arrangements. But against that has to be ranged the considerable cost to the public in allowing the agreements to continue pending their examination by the Trade Practices Commission. To date the Trade Practices Commission has launched only 3 proceedings for injunction, namely against the Sharp Corporation in relation to resale price maintenance in respect of calculators, against the Hammersmith Storage Module Sales for misleading advertising in respect of cardboard storage modules represented as pyneboard modules, and against Vapor Nordic for misleading advertising in respect of fuel injection systems.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
-Prior to the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was referring to the 3 proceedings for injunctions instituted by the Trade Practices Commission in respect of the Sharp Corporation, Hammersmith Storage Module Sales and Vapour Nordic. To date no prosecutions under the Trade Practices Act have been launched by the Trade Practices Commission. I want to turn now to the consumer protection provisions of the Act. My observations are that the public is not sufficiently aware of the level of assistance available from the Australian Legal Aid Office in respect of complaints under this legislation and the principal Act. The public does not seem to be aware that the Australian Legal Aid Office will give legal advice and also give legal assistance by way of instituting court proceedings to people who are eligible for such assistance, being people of limited means or people for whom the Australian Government has a special responsibility such as pensioners, migrants or infants. I suggest to the AttorneyGeneral that there is a need to focus greater public attention on what the Australian Legal Aid Office can do to assist people in connection with this legislation.
A particular practice that has been brought to my notice in my electorate by some of my constituents is that followed by some major discount houses in buying in slightly imperfect products, or seconds as they are known, from manufacturers and marketing these products as specials at reduced prices in a style that leads purchasers to believe that the products are first quality. When a complaint was made recently to a discount house the staff said words to the effect: ‘Well, you knew that the product was slightly damaged when you bought it’. One product that comes to mind is New World clothes driers. Clearly this is a breach of the Act and I reiterate to the Attorney-General that more public attention needs to be focused on the assistance available to people from the Australian Legal Aid Office in matters such as this.
The legislation now before the House will strengthen and broaden the existing Trade Practices Act. The public of Australia had great expectations of a new deal for consumers when the principal Act was passed. The legislation promised a dramatic change in consumer rights and a dismantling of agreements and conduct in restraint of trade. I hope that those expectations will not be delayed by tardy implementation of the provisions of the Act. In concluding my remarks I want to make a brief reference to the proceedings in the Industrial Court today instituted by the Attorney-General’s Department against the Sharp Corporation in relation to advertisements of the Sharp Corporation for microwave ovens. The fine of $100,000 imposed on the Corporation by the court points out very clearly that the Trade Practices Act has teeth, that it can be very effective and that it heralds the beginning of a new deal for consumers in consumer advertising. I commend the Bill to the House.
-As has been indicated by the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), the Opposition supports the Trade Practices Bill. The purpose of the Bill, as has been mentioned by a number of honourable members already, is to prohibit the issue of credit cards when they are not solicited by individuals as well as to cure the difficulties that are alleged to have arisen in relation to the issue of bankcards and in relation to the issue of certain cards which were referred to by the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris) in Queensland. It seems to me that the introduction of this legislation is somewhat like bolting the stable door after the horse has gone. Certainly, the only major organisation that would issue cards in this way would be the organisation involving the banks and the cards known as bankcards. It seems to me that the Commonwealth, with the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia as a party to the organisation issuing bankcards was in a position to ensure that in its operations the sorts of problems that were spoken of in the issue of those cards would not have arisen. I wonder why we see the rushing in of an amendment of this type to deal with credit cards when there seem to be other sections of the Act that need to be looked at and reviewed in the light of circumstances that have arisen since the Bill was introduced, passed and more recently promulgated.
The second major provision in the Bill seeks to overcome a drafting problem. I wish to refer later to a number of drafting problems of which I have become aware. To deal with one in relation to clause 5 1 (4) and not to look at others at this time is a defect in this legislation. This ought to encourage the Attorney-General (Mr Enderby) to look promptly at the Bill and its more general operation. We also have included in the Bill amendments to sections 62 and 63 of the Act. These sections are to provide for regulations to be made for the purpose of excluding from their operation goods of a kind specified that are intended to be used outside Australia.
Mention has been made already by the honourable member for Bennelong of the need for that section to be reviewed. There is good reason for the clause to be limited in its operations by referring to goods that are intended to be used outside Australia. It does allow for goods to be made with that intention but in fact for them still to be marketed in an Australian situation. I think that this is clearly a defect, if it is intended to overcome the manufacture of goods in Australia and then to prohibit their use if they are defective in some way. I recall a situation that recently came to the notice of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety. The Committee was inquiring into the use of car seat belts. Honourable members will be aware that seat belts have to be included in motor vehicles manufactured and sold in Australia. The Committee ascertained that Australian manufacturers, who agreed that it was desirable for seat belts to be included in their motor vehicles and who agreed that the use of seat belts saved lives, were quite prepared to take those seat belts out of motor vehicles manufactured for the export market. They did that for what they deemed to be commercial reasons without really giving any thought to whether the vehicles they were manufacturing ought to be made safe for the people in the export markets to whom they were selling those vehicles.
I wonder whether we as an Australian people, if we believe that regulations ought to be drafted that deal with the quality of goods and the safety matters pertaining to goods that are manufactured for Australian markets, ought to allow the export of goods that do not conform with those standards. I hope that in drafting regulations the Attorney-General will take very clear cognisance of the words ‘ may exclude ‘. I hope that very clear supervision will operate to ensure that we are not selling on overseas markets goods that we do not believe are suitable for our own markets but which for commercial advantage we are quite prepared to see sold overseas.
There are several other points that I want to raise in this debate. I was particularly grateful for the speech of the honourable member for Shortland because I think that he highlighted the need for a more widespread review of the Act now that it has been in operation. He highlighted certain problems of which he had become aware. Although I do not agree with his approach to authorisations and particularly his criticisms of interim authorisations I believe that he has validly raised some of the problems which are quite obvious in relation to the Trade Practices Act. I mention specifically sections 49 and 88 of the Act. Already there has been a good deal of comment in articles appearing in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ relating to each of these sections. I am not privy to the sort of information which the Attorney-General would have in his office or in the office of the Trade Practices Commission about the detailed complaints which I am sure would come to his notice but some practitioners have seen fit to draw to my attention certain defects which have already operated in this area.
I have also noted some comments on the Trade Practices Act prepared by the Company and Commercial Law Committee of the Law Society. These comments appeared in the Law Society Journal of November 1974 fairly shortly after the Act was promulgated. One of the matters in that journal dealt with the problems the profession was having relating to section 45. I shall mention that section as well. In that article of the Law Society in relation to section 45 it states:
The effect of Section 45 is that contacts made before the section comes into force will be unenforceable. It will be unlawful to make such contracts after the commencement of the section or to give effect to (defined to include ‘enforce’) such contracts made before or after such commencement.
There is provision in section 87 (3) entitling a parry to apply to the Court for a variation of contract made before the commencement of the section or an order ‘directing another party to the contract to do any act . . . that the Court considers just and equitable ‘.
The question is moot as to whether the common law rules as to severability apply to pre or post-Act contracts enabling enforcement of that part of the contract (if severable) not constituting a restraint. Without canvassing the arguments both ways, some assistance for the view that common-law severability does apply is found in the words ‘to the extent that ‘ in section 45 (2) (b) and in the general words of section 87 (5) as to powers of the Court not being affected by the powers conferred by section 87. However in the absence of amendment or a definitive decision one cannot really place the matter higher than to advise.
This is speaking of how practitioners might advise clients- that the matter is doubtful and to come to one’s own conclusion as to the preferred view . . .
Of course, as in most of these things, when one is dealing with them if one has to come to a preferred view somebody can suffer a loss. This can be quite expensive. It can lead to real difficulties. The articles which have been appearing in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ in relation to section 49 deal with price discrimination. Honourable members will be aware that section 49 of the Act prohibits discrimination as follows: . . . between purchasers of goods of like grade and quality in relation to-
The sorts of comments which appeared in relation to this section relate to oil producers and service stations. An article which I read indicated that these sorts of agreements which have led to restrictive trading- that is trading in one brand in country areas- have led to a situation where oil products and so on are sold much more cheaply than they otherwise would be if a number of people were trying to market in a limited area. Some of the commentators have asked whether it is not in the public interest that such specialised economies be made. In fact, a greater service to the public can be effected in rural areas by arrangements which would be quite contrary to this sort of provision. I ask the Attorney-General to look at this provision in the Act to see whether some review can be made which would permit of certain economies, particularly in rural areas. Section 49 raises certain other problems.
A matter which was referred to my attention related to the Australian Tin Smelters Association. I understand the matter is generally of some public knowledge. In that case agreements which had been operating for some considerable time were terminated. Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd had a special arrangement or a close relationship with the company in which it had had shares, as I understand it. Other shareholders were allowed a certain discounted price as well as BHP while other purchasers had to pay a slightly higher price. Ultimately because of the operation of this section BHP, as a major user of the tin products, had to pay higher prices. Other shareholders who perhaps had market interests had to pay higher prices. These higher prices would have been passed on to the community and to the users for the goods they were buying, such as tin cans. It is regrettable that when one operates in these sorts of situations and when one abolishes discountsthis has been seen in operation- one generally does not get a lower price at all. This is part of the problem with which the Prices Justification Tribunal has had to try to deal.
In fact higher prices are charged because these are necessary to maintain a market situation which the producer needs to be able to maintain a viable business. Other situations have emerged as well. It has been ascertained that long standing contracts have provided that goods be sold to a particular person at a reduced price. Of course these are contracts in which parties and suppliers of goods have had vested interests. Such contracts have been avoided by the operation of this section. This has also led to higher prices. I think this is quite contrary to the original intention. We should have seen competition that would have led to lower prices.
In the few minutes that remain I shall deal with section 88 which relates to authorisations. It was this part to which the honourable member for Shortland referred. I ask the AttorneyGeneral to investigate this section with a view to perhaps amendment if necessary to provide that the Commission be entitled to look at numbers of areas in which contracts are the same. So contracts will not have to be looked at individually in areas in which they are of a rather similar operation such as those oil companies which we have mentioned. Other areas have been revealed in an article in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ of 22 January which indicated that business bares its trade secrets. I notice from the article that there were arrangements between the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd and the Newspaper Proprietors Association governing the rules and agreements affecting newsagencies. There are a number of other arrangements involving newsagencies which were mentioned in the article and some involving breweries. There was some suggestion that these agreements be looked at not so much individually- which appears to be the case because of the small number of agreements which have been already processed as described by the honourable member for Shortland- but that they be looked at in a group so that we can see these situations and doubts being resolved quickly.
I put these proposals to the Minister because I believe that, in these areas and in many other areas about which I understand he has been informed by people who have now had some experience with the operation of this Act, it has become apparent that the Act needs reform in many more areas than those referred to in the Bill that we have before us. I ask the Minister to consider the matters that I have put before him and other matters that I know are coming before him, with a view to a major review of the Act being undertaken to ensure that those sorts of problems which have emerged, particularly those that have led to higher prices for goods, are remedied as quickly as possible so that we may have the benefit of a good trade practices law without the sorts of problems which have become quite apparent in the operation of the current legislation. Notwithstanding my remarks in relation to the need for a general review, the Opposition supports the limited proposals contained in the Bill which is before the House.
-Before commenting on any matter related to the Trade Practices Bill, I would just like to make the comment that the Australian Government should have a look at its own trade practices. It might have a look at a situation which has arisen in Canberra and which involves, I understand, the purchase of monthly bus tickets. In the present situation, of course, there are no buses upon which people who hold such tickets can ride, and I think it would be a good idea if the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) and perhaps the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry) and the honourable member for Canberra and AttorneyGeneral (Mr Enderby) had some discussions to see what can be done in the way either of refunding to the people concerned some of the money that they have paid in the purchase of their tickets or of making the tickets valid for travel in the Australian Capital Territory next month. I do not think it is a very good trade practice for this Government to allow people to buy tickets to travel on buses which are not running and therefore upon which they cannot travel. So I suggest that the Minister might have a look at that matter with his colleagues to see what assistance can be given to the people of Canberra in the present situation.
I do not want to go into detail in regard to the Bill. The detailed matters have been covered by my colleagues, the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) and the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock). As has been said already, this amending Bill is designed mainly to prohibit the sending of unsolicited credit cards to people. In one sense it appears from a perusal of the legislation that this Bill represents only the first of many amendments that are to be made to the trade practices legislation. It is perhaps unfortunate that legislation which was enacted, so recently after much long debate and many amendments has to be amended further. It is continuing proof and a further illustration of the Government’s inability to present legislation to this House in a form in which it can proceed immediately to become law. Two or three pieces of legislation that have been presented to this House recently have had to be amended in the same way. Not the least of those, of course, was the Corporations and Securities Industry Bill which was amended extensively. That legislation still has to be amended further. So the legislation which was presented and which passed through to the Senate was a sort of a hotch-potch. It appears that the same sort of procedure will have to be followed in relation to this legislation.
One other point that I want to make is that this legislation is indicative of the attitude of the present Government towards private enterprise. It places upon private enterprise all the restrictions it can, and with the maximum speed. I admit that there is a need for some control over private enterprise and private business firms, but I think we should have an appreciation of the contribution that private enterprise has made to the development of this country. In the comment and discussion on the spate of legislation that is being presented by the Government, that factor appears to me to have been overlooked. In the course of his speech the honourable member for Parramatta made a comment about the Broken
Hill Pty Co. Ltd. I sometimes wonder just what progress and development we would have achieved in Australia without organisations such as BHP. As I said, I think we need to have a look at this factor because our country has progressed and developed because of the contribution that has been made by private enterprise.
I want to emphasise that in my opinion the Trade Practices Commission should have discretionary power, and I believe that such power should be provided for in the legislation. To illustrate my point I would like to read to the House a letter written by my colleague, the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Hewson), to Mr St John who is the man in charge of restrictive trade and consumer protection in the Business Affairs Division of the Attorney-General’s Department. The letter illustrates the need for some discretionary power to be given to the Commission. My colleague wrote:
I write in support of the application by the Gippsland Certified Seed Potato Growers’ Association who have been in existence for some 20 years and who now seek clarification of their position in relation to the Trade Practices Act.
I have ascertained that they are not listed amongst the exempted industries under the 2nd Schedule of the old regulations, therefore it is necessary in view of their normal price agreement to seek exemption or authorisation.
To support their claim to be exempted or authorised, I submit that their normal practice is beneficial to them as seed producers, to the commercial grower, and to the consumer and can only be so under their present arrangement of a price agreement.
The history of this Association’s activities is a very commendable one and one which I trust you will see fit to uphold as one which guarantees-
a ) a plentiful supply of guaranteed quality certified seed to the commercial grower;
a product grown under the Victorian Government supervision and standards; and
seed which produces quantity and quality to the consumer.
It is essential that this procedure of potato supplies to the public is maintained, because it safeguards all three from exploitation by inferior quality or fluctuating prices.
In conjunction with the Victorian Agriculture Department, who initially propagate new varieties suitable to various soil and climatic conditions, the Gippsland Certified Seed Potato Growers’ Association members purchase their new seed from what is known as the foundation growers who multiply the tested seed for the seed growers’ purposes. This is done under strict supervision of Government inspectors to maintain standard certified seed.
It would be most unfair to place this most important section of the industry on the same basis as the commercial grower who, because of the quantity he grows or because of seasonal conditions, creates a fluctuating market price.
The price agreement arrangement has been acclaimed by the industry as one of the greatest safeguards guaranteeing at all times sufficient seed for commercial growers. It is a price agreed upon direct to clients with no third party involved and at no time reflects price fixing to the consumer.
I believe it is in the public interest that the Gippsland Certified Seed Potato Growers’ Association be allowed to continue their commendable action to preserve standard and quality for consumption. I therefore very resolutely defend their right to do so and respectfully request that your favourable consideration results in the Association being granted, if not exemption, authorisation.
It was signed ‘Arthur Hewson, member for McMillan’. I think the letter illustrates 2 things: Firstly, it illustrates the need for flexibility in the regulations of the Trade Practices Commission. Secondly, it emphasises the need for discretionary power to be given to the Commission. I understand that at the moment the matter is still being considered. I ask the Attorney-General (Mr Enderby) to take this matter up with the Commission, to see what can be done and to see whether a favourable reply can be given. As has been indicated by other honourable members on this side of the House, we support the legislation but ask that these amendments and other factors be given consideration.
– I wish to reply briefly to some of the contributions made in this debate by honourable members. Let me deal first with the remarks of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock). He asked us to consider certain suggestions and we will certainly do that because, in a changing society, the law relating to that changing society must also change. Consideration of the relationship between society and the law also should be continually under review. There is nothing novel in that proposition. It is just an indication of the need for constant study.
At the risk of being abrasive or striking a discordant note, because I welcome the support which the Opposition is giving to the Government’s measure, I have to say that I cannot help being a little amused by some Opposition spokesmen, particularly the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) who spoke about closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. My God. I ask honourable members to reflect on the facts, not so much on the words that the honourable member used. For 23 years Liberal-Country Party governments closed no door. For 23 years they kept the door wide open. For 23 years they did not even have a building. They tore down the little building that did existthe Australian Industries Preservation Act- and replaced it with a shanty made of cardboard which promptly blew away when it was exposed to the first challenge in the High Court. When this Government introduced its legislation the Opposition opposed it vigorously. How many times did this parent Act- this magnificent piece of legislation- have to face challenge in the Parliament before the Government eventually forced it through? Whence came the opposition?
It was from honourable members opposite. Was it 3, 4 or 5 times that the legislation had to face challenge in the Senate or in this House? How many times did my predecessor introduce it into the Senate, have it rejected out of hand, then have it brought down here and have it come up in the Senate again? Now unanimously the public applauds this legislation. Australia has the best piece of anti-trade practices legislation in the world but the Government received no help from the Opposition in reaching that result. Yet honourable members opposite stand up here and say that the Government is closing the door after the horse has bolted. My God, what else does one have to listen to?
The honourable member for Lyne said that there are too many restrictions on private enterprise. Although that point wanders from the legislation a little- I am sure he knew that it was wandering a little from the immediate purpose of this amending Bill- it calls for an answer. The parent Act is called the Trade Practices Act. It is the one for which the Government fought so hard to have enacted, the one that is so universally applauded these days. Perhaps it could be better called a competition Act. It does not really impose restrictions on private enterprise. It imposes restrictions on those practices in which private enterprise sometimes engages which negate competition. It is a pro-competition Bill. It is criticised because it exposes private enterprise to the winds of competition- free competitionthe very thing for which honourable members opposite are supposed to stand. It was introduced by a Government which they often criticise and abuse for being socialistic. But it is a pro- competition Bill.
I put to the honourable member for Lyne who talks about restrictions on private enterprise, that competition tends to give way to monopoly. Monopoly does not always work in the public interest. Businessmen tend to enter into negotiations and agreements to restrict competition in their own interests. The paramount section is section 45. What does it do? If honourable members opposite want to call this a restriction on private enterprise they may do so by all means, but I would suggest that it is the opposite. A contract in restraint of trade is unenforceable. Long before this was enacted the common law had a healthy resentment of contracts in restraint of trade, a resentment developed over hundreds of years because the common law- the judges themselves- recognised that businessmen often put their heads together, not in the interests of their customers but in their own interests. This Bill is a pro-competition Bill. It could well have been called a competition Bill. It does not impose restrictions on private enterprise; it imposes restrictions on agreements and arrangements that sometimes go against private enterprise, in which private enterprise sometimes tends to indulge. I just put that to the honourable member for Lyne because he raised the subject, although I think he recognised that it was outside the scope of the amending Bill.
May I congratulate the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Morris), who is not in the chamber at the moment, on an extremely good and thoughtful contribution to the debate. As I pointed out earlier, when trade practices and business practices continue to change the law has to watch them continually and perhaps adapt itself to change. There can be no absolute, unyielding, unchanging law these days, if ever there could be. The honourable member drew attention to some criticisms directed at the Commission, of which the Government is well aware. For example, he said that at times the Commission is a little too slow. It is far quicker than the old procedures that operated under the law, if one can call it that, before this Government changed it. Let me pause at this stage and say that the prosecution of the Sharp Corporation of Australia Pty Ltd that was referred to by one honourable member could never have taken place without this piece of legislation. What was it all about? A well known corporation in Australia decided to publish advertisements that were without doubt a fraud on the Australian public. The Corporation said that its product had been approved by a body of high repute in the community when it had not been approved by that body at all. ‘Deceit’ is the old fashioned word for it. Without that law that this Government made, that deceit would never have been exposed. It is true it can be said that in the past the States have tried to make laws to expose deceits of that sort but they failed miserably.
It was the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) who touched on the question of State rights in a kind of State rights-centralist context. We all know that the consumer protection provisions of the various State Acts have been totally inadequate. The Sharp Corporation prosecution is the biggest single testimony to the success of this legislation in the short time in which it has operated- less than a year. I think it was Mr Justice Joske who said something consistent with that in his judgment today. One could go on but I will not take any more time except to touch on one aspect that the honourable member for Bennelong mentioned. One is always amazed at the capacity of the Opposition to oppose something vigorously, oppose it persistently and, when it eventually goes through, to try to take some credit for it. Along the way the Opposition makes political capital of the position adopted. The honourable member tried to suggest that there has been some difference of opinion between the Minister for Science (Mr Morrision) and me on this matter. Let me assure him and the House that there has been no such difference of opinion. I read the articles that the honourable member read in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ by someone named Robert Haupt. I can assure him that when I read those articles I hoped that there might be a provision somewhere in the Trade Practices Act concerning misleading representations that would apply to those articles because they bore absolutely no relationship to the true situation. The same newspaper made some other contributions, if they can be given that name, at the same time dealing with other measures which the Government has been putting forward. I mention that just in passing.
In conclusion let me say that the Government accepts the amendments put forward by the Opposition. Indeed, the Government had it in mind to do this itself. As I am sure the Opposition will admit, we corrected the grammar, put the syntax right, gave the Opposition access to Parliamentary Counsel and wrote out the amendments for the Opposition. It is important that the legislation be kept under continuous review. We all know what the 2 major measures are. One is to exempt from goods that are intended for export the standard provisions that are appropriate in Australia because the country to which the goods go will set its own standards. It is proper that they should set their own standards. Unsolicited credit cards have been a nuisance to many people. They were not wanted; they were an invasion of privacy. The sending of unsolicited credit cards was an irresponsible act and was recognised as such overseas, where they have been outlawed. This Government is only doing what many overseas countries quite rightly have done themselves.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I seek leave of the Committee to move together amendments 1 to 4 standing in my name.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock)-Is there any objection? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The amendments refer to clauses 4 and 5, which read:
In clause 4, after proposed sub-section (2a), insert the following sub-sections:- “ ‘(2b) For the purposes of sub-section (2a), a statement shall be deemed to be applied to goods if-
In clause 5, after proposed sub-section (2a), insert the following sub-sections:- “ ‘(2b) For the purposes of sub-section (2a), a statement shall be deemed to be applied to goods if-
The Attorney-General (Mr Enderby) was kind enough to pre-empt me on the subject of collaboration between myself and officers of his Department regarding the preparation of these amendments. I do acknowledge, as I had intended, that collaboration and the assistance of the Attorney-General in the drafting of the amendments. As I indicated during the second reading debate, the purpose of these amendments is to make it perfectly clear that any goods which, by the regulations made under sections 62 and 63 of the Act, are intended to be used outside Australia should not come within the ambit of those regulations. Quite clearly, circumstances in Australia may require standards and information regarding products which are not appropriate for overseas countries. Let me again emphasise that the Opposition in no way wishes a situation to arise whereby Australian exporters are encouraged to export goods of a quality inferior to that of goods sold on the domestic market. We merely seek a situation where Australian businessmen in a competitive export situation should not have to pay undue regard to consumer standards other than standards in force in the countries for which their goods are intended.
The other matter that I should like to add is that, notwithstanding that there is genuine confusion in some areas of consumer protection and a need to clear it up- I do not think it can be pushed aside by some references to State rights versus centralism- the Opposition believes quite strongly that an area in which the Government indisputably has a direct interest and ought to have a direct involvement is the laying down and enforcement of product safety and information standards and the labelling and packaging of goods. These are areas in which the Commonwealth Government, quite properly, does have an interest and they are areas that I hope the present Government will continue to review, while it has custody of this Act, in the light of circumstances as they change.
In respect of the consumer protection section of the Trade Practices Act, I think that there is perhaps more need there than anywhere else for this process of fairly constant review because it is an area which is still evolving. It is a comparatively new area for a Commonwealth Government and there is still a tremendous need for greater consultation between the Commonwealth Government and the States. I hope that in the course of drafting its legislation for the consumer affairs commission, to which some attention has been given recently by the Minister for Science (Mr Morrison), there will be a level of co-operation and consultation between the Federal Government and the State governments which the Opposition believes was absent when the consumer protection provisions at present in force under the Trade Practices Act were prepared.
– I will be very brief, Mr Deputy Chairman, because the amendments are a matter of consent between my friend and myself, by arrangement. (Quorum formed) The honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) touched on the confusion that is sometimes said to exist between the various State laws on consumer protection and Part V of the legislation which is under consideration tonight. I think one has to agree with him on this subject. There is a certain amount of uncertainty, but one should not draw from that the conclusion that the Australian Parliament should not have laws on consumer protection. We have already seen the deficiency in the State laws, and I often wonder how many people, how many members of this House, let alone citizens, realise the absurdity that exists in the Australian legal system when it comes to laws of this sort.
As a consequence of our history we have eight or nine sets of laws. Certainly we have 8 sets of laws on defamation, company law, securities law, consumerism, criminal law, land laws, the law of torts, the law of nuisance, the law of negligence. The laws of New South Wales and Victoria and Western Australia and Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, to go on without mentioning all of them, are as different from each other for practical and legal purposes as the law of Paraguay is different from the law of the Soviet Union and are treated as such in terms of public international law. I just touch on this and I put it to the honourable member that, when he talks about confusion, it is a confusion resulting from our history. What absurdity it is that when a motorist drives a motor car from the Australian Capital Territory to New South Wales and crosses the border his entitlement to damages suddenly depends upon whether he is a few hundred yards south or north of an invisible line. One gets quite absurd situations. This legislation seeks to take a step in the direction of a kind of uniformity and avoidance of that confusion that the honourable member singles out for attention and regret, and which I also regret.
The answer to the honourable member’s criticism is not to abdicate the field as his Party did when in government, but to try to occupy the field where possible and to try to negotiate with the States. I refer to those parts of Australia called States. That is all they are. They are not something above criticism. They are parts of Australia as such and just merely in passing are called States. We must try to bring some sense to this ridiculous situation that exists in the country because we have so many sets of laws. That give rise to confusion. If that is called a States’ rights or a centralist argument, so be it. But this legislation is a step in the right direction.
– All I wish to say is that I am most pleased to hear the Attorney-General (Mr Enderby) acknowledge that in this field there is a need for negotiation between the Australian Government and the governments of the various States. It was precisely the absence of such provision for negotiation and that sort of attitude when this Act was being processed that drew some of the criticism which has come from this side. I do not advocate that the Australian Government in the present situation withdraw from the activities which are laid down in Part V. I am not advocating that at all. I am simply urging the Attorney-General to direct his attention again to the need in the interest of consumers for the least possible differences and the least possible confusion between the laws of the Australian Parliament and the laws of the various States. He knows, and I am glad that he has acknowledged, that the best way in which that can be achieved is by the process of negotiation.
Amendments agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments; report- by leave- adopted.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Enderby) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 5 March, on motion by Mr Whitlam:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– It might seem to honourable members that there is an incongruity in my leading for the Opposition in this debate because of my almost complete ignorance- a confessed ignorance- in matters of art and art galleries. Therefore, I will leave it to those more expert honourable members who follow me to deal with the specific issues raised by the Bill. The Opposition shadow Minister responsible for this area is Senator Rae. He has asked me to say that, in his usual diligent fashion, he has circulated the State governments and the directors of the State so-called national art galleries on this legislation. He has not yet received any response from any of the State governments but he has received no adverse comment from any of the directors of the State galleries. In fact, what he has received from the directors of the State galleries has been commendation for the Bill. For that reason and for the reason that the Opposition finds no objection to the Bill itself, I declare on behalf of the Opposition that we support the Bill and commend the Government for introducing it.
I strike one small note of discord at the beginning of my speech which my friend the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) will follow up with some detail. In reading the second reading speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), one could be led to believe that he was the only person interested in this subject and that he has been the champion of establishing a national gallery because he uses the first personal pronoun so many times in his speech. For example, he states:
Honourable members will be aware of my long standing interest . . .
Other such expressions may be found in that speech.
– Quite right too.
-I do not deny that the Prime Minister has a long standing interest in this matter, but that claim looks ridiculous. The history of this gallery goes way back before 1968 when former Prime Ministers Gorton and McMahon took an extraordinary interest in the establishment of a national gallery. The first point I wish to make is that this is not an initiative of the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, or the Labor Party. It is an initiative which was shared, I think, by all members of this House and is now simply being carried on by the Labor Party in Government.
As I said, the Opposition supports the Bill. I wish to make a few points on the second reading speech of the Prime Minister. First, the Prime Minister says:
The affairs of the gallery will be conducted by a council including a director of the gallery and not more than 10 other members chose with regard to their knowledge and experience with respect to the visual arts or other areas of knowledge relevant to the affairs of the gallery.
The constitution of that Council does concern me a little. I am not an expert in art and I do not pretend to be, but what I do say is this: If those people who are vitally and specifically interested in the arts think or believe that this national gallery should be something only for those people who are expert and who can stare at a painting for hours and get all sorts of sublimated joy out of it, it would be a tragedy for our national gallery to develop that way. I would like to think that this should be an opportunity to create our national gallery and to develop it in a way in which it will broaden the interest in an among more people in Australia.
It would be ghastly if the council of this gallery was specifically inclusive only of art boffins, directors of art galleries, or artists or people who follow that pursuit. I would have thought that that council should include people such as those interested in social welfare who would know the needs and the wants of people who at this time in Australia do not appreciate the niceties of a classical painting or a classical graphic drawing but who can be stimulated to satisfy their minds more in a way in which would add to their enjoyment of life. I would hope that in choosing the council the Government might be directed to that point and might include people other than art boffins and might in fact include simply an ordinary guy- someone who is not specifically interested in art but who might look at the whole concept of the national gallery and try to get it to interest the ordinary people of” Australia.
Another feature of the Bill which I commend and with which I agree is that it has 2 statutory officers, the director of the Australian National Gallery and the secretary and manager of that gallery. It is provided that the Director shall have the overall responsibility to the Council for the running of the Gallery in its artistic direction. The Secretary-Manager, under the Director, shall manage the day to day administration of the affairs of the Council. I thoroughly agree with that provision because although it is not an unbreakable rule, artistic people are not notorious as good managers and conversely good managers are not notorious as artistic people. I think that this is a very sensible balance that the Government has made in the construction of the Council. The last point I wish to make about the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) concerns the part where he said:
Much has been said over the last year or two about some of the Gallery’s acquisitions of contemporary art from overseas. On balance, I think this has been for the good. Many art-interested Australians have been obliged to reconsider some of their values and tastes and I believe that this is a salutary experience for us all every once in a while.
I quote from an article by Bernard Smith in the ‘Australian’ newspaper of 22 February which begins like this: ‘What do you think of Whitlam?’ a Sydney taxi-driver said to me recently in a state of irritation. ‘I call him Van Gogh Whitlam.’ ‘What,’ I said, ‘Don’t you like Gough or Van Gogh?’ ‘Yes,* he said, ‘I like Van Gogh but I don’t like those bloody awful things Whitlam ‘s buying now. ‘
I think that illustrates the Prime Minister’s point. There you have a taxi driver- one of the people whom some journalists and others call ‘ockers’- interesting himself in an. I think that controversy in this area, as long as a person is interested in the field of an, is not necessarily a bad thing.
But when we talk about an, what are we talking about? An can take many forms. I should like to take 60 seconds to give my personal philosophy. It comes to the basis of why any of us should be here, in this House of Parliament as parliamentarians. Surely the only reason that we are here, or should be here, or should remain here is that we can do something to make Australians happier or less unhappy. If none of us meet either of these conditions, I believe we should not be here. This leads me to a definition of happiness. I have found that the one which satisfies my criteria is that happiness is a state where there is stimulation and satisfaction of the 3 components of the human being- the mind, the soul or the spirit, and the body. An is one of those things which can almost simultaneously satisfy and stimulate both the mind and the soul. I believe, and I hope, that the Council of the Gallery would not be carried away with any other criterion than that. Members of the Council should try to provide some stimulation and satisfaction to the minds and spirits of the Australian people. How can they best do that? I should like to make a few brief comments as to show how they might.
They should not get carried away. Members of the Council who are on reasonably high salaries should not expect that everybody in Australia can visit and view and enjoy the paintings and other works of art in the National Gallery. Canberra is a place which is 200 miles from Sydney, 300 miles from Melbourne, 2500 miles or more from Perth and 1000 miles from Adelaide. The Commonwealth, with virtually unlimited money, was able to buy ‘Blue Poles’ and other well known works of art. I do not wish to enter into a controversy as to whether ‘ Blue Poles ‘ was worth buying or not as I am not an expert. But if this Council were to think that all of Australia can see these works of art it would be mistaken.
I advocate that one of the first concepts the Council should adopt is that the paintings and works of an acquired should be moved around Australia as much as possible so that everybody can see them. I have heard directors of galleries saying that this is not possible. They say it is impracticable because precious works of art should not be moved. It is said that they cannot be transferred, it is expensive to insure them and so on. I point to the exhibition brought to Australia by Mrs John D. Rockefeller. I know that she should not get all of the credit for it but whoever organised the bringing of that exhibition of impressionist paintings to Australia should certainly get credit. I believe 8000 people in Sydney are now queuing up for admission. This gives the lie for ever to the statement that works of art and exhibitions cannot be moved around the country.
I would like to think that the first concept which the Council adopts is that the precious things which they can buy with the preference that Commonwealth agents have over the States and other people, could be shown to the people in Port Adelaide, the people in Hotham and the people all round Australia. They should have the opportunity to view them. I believe the visiting Museum of Modern Art exhibition has illustrated that this is feasible, practicable and possible.
As somebody who is a confessed non-art boffin, I believe that the Director of the Gallery should assume when he is doing the layout of the Gallery- the layout of the paintings and the works of art- that most of the people who will go to that Gallery are not experts in art. It should be laid out with simplicity and with some background explanation to people who are interested enough to go to a gallery. I believe that the Director and the Council have a duty not only to put on works of art for display but to do it in a way that will interest anybody who comes to see them. They should try to be evangelistic and try to win to an interest in art the tourists who are now flocking into Canberra. If there is a beautiful building and a beautiful layout the tourist goes there because it is on his schedule of places to visit in Canberra. A director should have imagination and enough humility to be able to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I do not use that word in an offensive sense. He should be able to appeal to a person like me who should be able to say: ‘There is a painting and there is an explanation under it concerning its origin or its author or what he is getting at. ‘ It would then interest me to look at the painting or work of graphic art longer than if I simply saw something that my finite mind in this field of art might not otherwise appreciate.
– That is a pretty moralistic description of evangelism.
– Is the Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Crean) suggesting that evangelism should be limited to proselytising only religious matters? If not, I do not understand his kind interjection.
– I do not understand the term ‘evangelistic’ in your suggestion.
-There are a lot of things which I say which the Minister does not understand. That does not bother me at all. Maybe an exhibition could be set out in chronological order. Maybe it could be set out in the order of development of an in particular country. At least it should be put in such a way that the ordinary person can understand it. I am told that in the Capetown Art Gallery- I have never been there- there is a small note under each painting which says what the artist is trying to do and something about the artist. It certainly adds to the enlightenment and understanding of the people who visit the gallery.
There is another matter which I should like to warn the Council about: It is my experience that in the art galleries in some States, the directors have personal prejudices against some style of art, some period of art and indeed some artists. I should think that one of the jobs of the Council would be to ensure that such prejudices are not expressed. I will give just 2 illustrations. I understand that there are no oil paintings by David Boyd, who although he is not quite as well known as his famous brother is an accomplished artist, in the galleries of New South Wales or Victoria. I wonder whether that is simply an oversight or is due to the prejudice of the directors of those galleries? There are many Australian artists who have won big prizes and whose works are not displayed in any of the galleries. Is that due to the prejudice of the directors? I cite the case of Wesley Penderthy of Melbourne, who won a Sulman Prize for a mural. To my knowledge, none of his murals is hung in any Australian art gallery.
I think the Council has a responsibility to look at the actions, aspirations, concepts and philosophies of the artistic director of this Gallery. I will not mention any names, but I am appalled by the kind of people who have been appointed to the councils of art galleries in some States. They know less than I do about art. They have been appointed simply because they are belted earls or patrons of the arts in those States. Friends of the directors of art galleries also have been appointed to the councils of those art galleries. I hope that the Council of this Gallery will exercise some responsibility in that respect.
I conclude by speaking about something which is barely relevant to this Bill but about which I feel very strongly. Anybody who knows a person who is close to the War Memorial or to the Government in Canberra can be led down to some dark vaults in the War Memorial and can view something like $100m worth of beautiful Australian works of art that are hidden down there. It is very difficult to get down there to see them. Apparently the view of the Government- I am not being critical of the Labor Government in this respect because the position is exactly the same now as it was when the Liberal-Country Party Government was in power in that both governments have been influenced by the bureaucrats- is that they are not good enough to be hung in government buildings throughout the nation and they are not bad enough to be allowed out into government offices; so they are stored in these deep, dark vaults in the War Memorial. It is like trying to extract a tooth to get one of these paintings to hang in, say, the Parliament Offices in Adelaide, Melbourne or wherever. If it is worth while to have these sorts of riches in Australian art in store, I should have thought that it would be worth while to show them off to the people of Australia and to have them adorning some of the walls of government offices. I should think that it would be a ridiculous exercise for a member of Parliament to try his luck by asking the appropriate authorities to lend one of these paintings to him to hang in his office, as such a request would be refused outright; yet they are being kept where nobody can see them. These works of art are being wasted.
The Opposition supports the Bill, with the warnings I have sounded and with the point that my friend the honourable member for Gwydir and perhaps other speakers will make, namely, that this initiative is not entirely the prerogative of the Labor Government. We on this side of the House take a great deal of pride in sharing the fulfilment of a dream which began many years ago.
-The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) thought it was ironic that he should lead for his side of the House in the debate on this Bill. I think we on this side of the House have matched that, because most of the painting I saw being done in my youth was done with a tar brush. Like the honourable member for Hotham, I am sure that I will be followed in the debate by a colleague who has far more expertise in this matter. I will be followed by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). Not only has he a great love of the arts, but his very features have been submitted in an entry for the Archibald Prize. The entry was unsuccessful; nevertheless it was submitted.
A couple of points made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his second reading speech are worthy of repeating. Firstly, in talking about the history of a National Gallery, the Prime Minister pointed out to the Parliament that the establishment of a National Gallery was, of course, part of the original master plan of Canberra. It is a great tragedy that the original master plan was not acted upon much sooner than it has been. Secondly, he said that in the establishment of a National Gallery we have the beginnings of an institution which it is his hope and the hope of the Government will be a source of pleasure and artistic stimulation for generations of Australians to come, a worthy addition to our growing national heritage and an endeavour in which we might all take pride. I think that we all do take such pride, although we might have different priorities, we might place different degrees of importance on the particular forms of art that will be displayed in the Gallery and we might also lay different emphasis on the role of the Gallery in terms of the Australian community. I have taken an interest in the establishment of the Gallery because I happen to represent a very underprivileged area. I hope that the Gallery will play some part in bringing the artistic works, particularly of Australians, to those areas which previously have been devoid of the opportunity to see them.
I believe that the very concept of a National Gallery is both stimulating and exciting. It is in no way contradictory that it is a Labor Government which has introduced the Bill for its establishment, as no government has done more for the arts than the present Labor Government has done; nor has any Prime Minister done more for the arts than the present Prime Minister has done. It could be simply put, of course, that by sheer weight of money we have done more, but in the final analysis one cannot and should not make judgments on the basis of the amount of money allocated. People should understand firstly that there always will be criticism of government action in this field. Art being what it is, there is no final criterion for judgment. There is a good deal of subjective pride in the performance of artists and, as in industrial relations, in relations between governments and creative people there is no perfect recipe.
The Government has taken giant strides in its drive to involve the community. If honourable members look at clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill they will see inherent in them the maintenance of this principle. Involving the community is not a oneway traffic. The artists themselves should be and must be involved. Really, as the Prime Minister pointed out in his second reading speech, the establishment of the National Gallery cannot be separated from the Government’s support for the Australia Council. The Gallery and Council boards involve artists. They themselves become the refiners of policy and they themselves become the decision makers. Notwithstanding all the steps that have been taken, there have been many disputes; but I put it to the House quite seriously that no one will get on better with the artists than a Labor Government will. I believe that we have seen demonstrated over the past 2 years a common commitment by both the Government and the artists to excellence and quality. There can be no doubt that we share this commitment.
Nowhere is that principle demonstrated in more depth than in the Government’s brave policies on the arts, and in the vanguard of those policies would be the policies on the acquisition of art. The acquisition of art should never be without question, but the questions raised on it should be raised on a rational basis and not merely because of prejudice against quality. However, all artists, especially painters, will have a fundamental sympathy with the Government ‘s pursuit of excellence. Both the Government, and the artists have another common ground, because the artists instinctively want their works to be displayed in the public domain and not in private collections, although I quite understand that the private collector quite often helps to keep the wolf from an artist’s door.
It is important, when speaking on this Bill, to stress that the Government does not consider the public domain to be one fine building in Canberra for the local people and the 300 000 tourists a year who journey to Canberra. Both this Government and the artists have the desire to communicate and, as I have said, clauses 5 (2), 6 ( 1 ) (b) and 6(2) give the Gallery Board great freedom. Whether the Gallery is bringing students to Canberra or taking exhibitions from the Gallery to the people, it will be an exercise in communications. Communications in this case should include the utilisation of all the up to date equipment, such as audiovisual methods, to portray to the people the works of art that belong to the people of Australia. There can be no doubt that one of the Government delights for any citizen of this country is to visit an Australian art exhibition. The great tragedy is that too few people in Australia share that experience.
Since the war there has been a great resurgence in art and our artists have performed superbly in truly reflecting the Australian spirit. It would be incredible not to link the Australian landscape with the names of Drysdale and Williams. As a result of the establishment of this
Gallery, the experience of the few will be the experience, I would hope, of the majority. I reiterate that this Government is not all about cocktail parties and opening nights, where the photographer taking photographs for the next days papers invariably shows the people with their backs to the paintings.
The Gallery should sponsor not only travelling exhibitions to all Australian cities and regional centres, but also should sponsor the artists to go out into the community as much as possible. In joining with the honourable member for Hotham, I say that there are many underprivileged areas in this country, underprivileged from lack of galleries, lack of libraries, lack of child care centres, all the matters that go to make a proper quality of life. Indeed, the National Gallery of Australian can play an extremely important role in bringing to all of those people some of the efforts, some of the artistic talents, some of the works of art that may be available to them in the National Gallery. I think it is an extremely important institution to be established, and I am very pleased to be associated with the Government which has introduced this Bill to finally see the establishment of a National Gallery in Canberra.
-Some weeks ago this House had the pleasure of debating in a totally bipartisan manner the establishment of the Australia Council. Once again, tonight, we have the pleasure and the privilege of debating the Bill to establish the National Gallery. I reiterate the point made by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp)- the National Gallery did not just suddenly appear with the advent of the Labor Government in 1972. Although the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) is quite prepared to say that artists could not possibly find any government more amenable to their desires than his own Labor Party, the same could be said of his Party and the unemployed. I wish him to realise that as early as 1 965 Sir Robert Menzies announced the establishment of the National Art Gallery Committee. Ever since then, successive Prime Ministers have gone out of their way to emphasise the need to establish a national gallery in the national capital in accordance with the original plans laid down by Walter Griffin.
As I said during the earlier debate on the Australia Council, we have indeed come of age as a nation. We are therefore in a position at last where we can afford a national collection of the highest quality and to have a building in which to place such a collection. The original quotation of the cost of establishment of the National Gallery was some SI 3m. Due to inflation and other factors brought upon us by the present Administration, no doubt this construction will now cost as least $20m. We might even have another Opera House on our hands and the cost could well be higher than that. Regardless of these mundane matters concerning cost, however, as the honourable member for Port Adelaide pointed out the important thing is the quality of life. But when we refer to this excellent term ‘quality of life’, surely what we must be trying to achieve is an upgrading of the standards of excellence within our community and an appreciation by as many Australians as possible of the beauty and the conception of excellence as seen through the visual and the plastic arts. Since 1973 Canberra has had an estimated I 277 000 visitors annually which is, of course, a fairly substantial number. But then Canberra is the national capital. What concerns me, however, is that of that number only a fraction in fact will visit the National Gallery. Those who will visit the Gallery will probably come merely to goggle at a construction made of iron, cement, ferroconcrete and perhaps a little marble, somewhat similar to the National Library which is situated at the other side of the parliamentary triangle.
The major problem, therefore, is that the Australian people should be given the opportunity, through our institutions and especially through the National Gallery, to appreciate more than just the tradition of art which we have in Australia. I am very pleased to say that Mr Mollison and the other members of the Council have gone out of their way in the last few years to ensure that the national collection has the most excellent cross-section of art since the early days of the colony at Port Phillip. Notwithstanding that, because of our isolated position Australians must also be given the full opportunity to appreciate that we are merely a small segment of mankind, and for that reason we need to build up satisfactory collections of a high standard of Asian, South American, African and European art. This again is something of which the Council has been well aware and is a principle which I certainly would support.
Mr Mollison, the Director, has been reported by the Press, probably incorrectly, as suggesting that the Gallery’s educational program for schools would consist essentially of lending minor but interesting objects to schools within a radius of approximately 150 miles of Canberra. This again gets to the crux of the problem as I see it. I would be the first to appreciate the obvious technical difficulties of moving collections around Australia. But the facts still remain that Australians, as a nation, are not going to come to Canberra- only a small section does so- and therefore the national collection, which will be the heritage of the Australian people and paid for by them through their taxes, must be taken, to some degree at least, to the State galleries as well as throughout outback Australia. I am not suggesting for a minute that ‘Blue Poles’, for example, has to be carried around. We then would read ankles about flecks of paint falling off the edges and so forth. This would be unfortunate. We are dealing with very finite objects. But the principle must be accepted and maintained at all costs. In clause 5 of the Bill we notice that nothing prevents the National Gallery extending outside the Australian Capital Territory or outside Australia its exhibitions of works of art from the national collection. I have not doubt whatsoever that on the construction of the Gallery we will see probably on an annual basis the movement of fairly large consignments of Australian art overseas to show the rest of the world the standard of our culture and our excellence. However, I honestly suggest that our first responsibility is to give the Australian people every opportunity to participate in and appreciate this high standard of excellence which undoubtedly we are going to achieve.
Through the Australia Council various amounts of money have been made available to the Visual Arts Board and so forth to enable an upgrading of the standard of Australian artists. It is worth remembering, however, that in 1974 a survey was carried out in Melbourne which showed that only 3 per cent of all students going through the various technical colleges and so forth to qualify as artists were still practising professional artists one year after graduation. Is this a human cost that we can allow to be perpetrated indefinitely? Why is it that only 3 per cent were still artists? Was it because the other 97 per cent merely wanted to spend two or three years of their lives learning more about art before they went into other aspects of life? Perhaps this is the case. Perhaps, indeed, the standard of excellence will be found in only one per cent of the community. I venture to suggest it is considerably less than that.
What does disturb me is that in our great search for excellence we might well lose sight of the fact that the national collection in a national gallery we would need to see at any specific time a reasonable amount of work prepared by young artists who obviously have shown a standard of talent but who are not yet fully recognised. It is through a national collection and the fact that their art will be on display that many young artists will be given a first class opportunity which they are not going to get otherwise, unless they are given some form of official recognition by what will in fact be the highest standard of art criticism in Australia. Many Australians, regrettably I believe, have seen the purchase of ‘Blue Poles’, ‘Woman V and so forth as merely flamboyant examples of conspicuous waste but, as I said earlier, I think that Australia should now be a nation which has come of age. We have the right and the need to establish in this nation an appreciation of the depth, the quality and the capacity of the human ability to produce beautiful things. These symbols of beauty must form a part of Australia’s future heritage. That is what we are in fact building up- a high standard of excellence, but above all a heritage that we can pass on to our future generations. I commend this Bill to the House.
– As the Minister responsible for the National Capital Development Commission I welcome the introduction of the National Gallery Bill. The NCDC has worked closely with the Prime Minister’s Department in the lead-up to the building of the great new National Gallery. I am glad that this Bill now sets the seal on the new Gallery, and I am sure it will be warmly supported by all members. I am pleased by the attitude expressed on both sides of the House. I think the Gallery represents a coming of age. It will provide a home for the works of Australian artists and all artists of the human race. We find art expressed in many different ways. Art is an expression of an artist’s attitude to life, his aspirations, his frustrations, his ecstasy or her ecstasy. It is the expression of the artist who has eyes to see, a mind to think and a heart to feel. Some artists who have been oppressed and still are oppressed are expressing their attitude to freedom. We owe much to the artists of the past, and of course even to the artists of the present. I am indeed happy that we are creating this National Gallery to house their works so that the present generation and future generations can enjoy the work they have done and the expression of attitudes they have given to their fellow men.
One of the most important features of the National Gallery is the way it will enhance the concept of the parliamentary triangle in Canberra. In broad terms this is the area bounded by Commonwealth Avenue, King’s Avenue and Lake Burley Griffin. At the apex of this triangle stands Capital Hill with the present parliamentary building in front of it. It is a formal area of great natural beauty which has been supplemented by careful landscaping. Already the triangle includes the National Library building, which by any standard is a fine piece of architecture. Now we are engaged in building a High Court building and the National Gallery.
The Gallery will give Canberra a building of international stature. Honourable members will recall the criticism of the British expert, Lord Holford, when he visited Australia about a decade and a half ago. He said that the only building of international distinction in Canberra at that time was the National Library. Of course we now have other fine buildings which together with existing buildings will give Canberra an even greater character than it has had. The addition of the National Gallery to the parliamentary triangle will take much of the sting out of this sort of criticism.
As honourable members are aware, we are making progress in the planning of a new Parliament House. When all of these projects are completed I am certain we will have created a formal centre for our city of great distinction. It is one of the hallmarks of national capitals that they provide the legislative and creative heart of the nation. Formal areas of this sort are not always successful. They can be contrived in a way that is artificial with buildings and landscaping at odds with perspective and the natural environment. So far we have avoided this problem. By careful planning aimed at blending new buildings into the great backdrop of lake, mountain and sky, I am sure we can make the parliamentary triangle a formal area of unsurpassed quality.
I do not want to go into great detail on the nature of the building. The plans and specifications of the Gallery have been well publicised. There have been some changes in details of design, finish and programming since the NCDC published a descriptive brochure on the Gallery in August 1972. In essence the plans for the Gallery remain the same and I commend this paper to honourable members who want more information. There is some new information on the cost and completion date of the Gallery which should be supplied to my Department. When the contract for construction was let the cost of the Gallery was $13,168,792. In view of the sharp rises in costs in recent years some revision of this cost has been inevitable. According to the latest information I have, the estimated cost of the Gallery is now $15,696,782. This is an increase of around 20 per cent. Of course we are not happy about this extra cost, but I suggest that in view of the upward revision of all estimates in the past year it is a moderate one. I assure the Parliament that we are very conscious of the dangers of cost escalation, and care is being taken to control costs.
When the contract for building the Gallery was issued by the Government 2 years ago it was expected that the Gallery would be completed in August 1977. Despite progress made on construction, it is likely that this completion date will have to be extended. Again the NCDC is conscious of the fact that the nation has waited many years for this Gallery. It is no cause of satisfaction to the Government that a great art collection is stored in warehouses and crates. We want the Gallery to be finished as soon as possible to put this vast holding of art treasures before the Australian people at the first possible moment. With this aim we will press for the completion of the Gallery at the earliest possible date.
The Gallery floor plan includes the greatest possible allowance to show the collection to the best advantage. About a third of the floor space will be devoted to display galleries and the circulation links between them. By comparison with other great galleries of the world this is a good ratio of display space to total floor area. The Gallery will also provide a number of other amenities and facilities. It will stress the educational side of a Gallery with the provision of 2 theatres and 2 lecture rooms. This will allow an ambitious program of art education with a key emphasis on our Australian art history. It will have a library of 45,000 books, again with a strong leaning to Australian art. It will provide a restaurant to seat over 130 people, a museum shop, storage space, a photography department, and space for workshop and building services. The library will lack none of the resources and services needed to support and sustain a great collection of art treasures.
Another important feature of the new Gallery will be its closeness to the lake and to the gardens on both sides of the lake. One of the most successful events at the recent Australia ‘75 Festival in Canberra was the outdoor sculpture display in the Commonwealth Gardens across the lake from the Gallery site. Displaying pieces of sculpture and other works of art in an outdoor setting is one of the better ways of putting the fine features of an art collection before the people. When the new gallery is built I hope it will be possible to display sculpture and other suitable pieces against a rich backdrop of lake, mountain and sky.
I want to conclude with some comments about the National Gallery collection. This has been a source of strong comment in the past 2 years. I think it is a pity that critics should focus on single works of art rather than on the broad sweep of this great collection. There will always be strong differences of opinion about the merits of individual art works. Only by looking at the range of a collection and the forms of art it includes is it possible to make a sound judgment of its total worth. The range of the National Gallery’s collection is truly impressive. Some of the impact of the collection can be measured by looking at the additions made to the collection in the past 5 years. Too much attention has been given to ‘Blue Poles’ and ‘Woman V. This has distracted attention from the excellence of many other pieces of art that have been bought.
One of the significant trends of these years has been a decline in the number of Australian works acquired as a percentage of total acquisitions. Australian works were 96 per cent of the collection in 1971-72. In the first 6 months of 1974-75 they dropped to 68 per cent of new purchases. Spending on Australian works as a percentage of the total has fallen even more sharply- from 95 per cent in 1971-72 to 3 per cent in the first 6 months of 1974-75. This reflects 2 factors- the virtual completion of the Australian collection to the present day and the adoption of a policy of buying pieces which represent other schools of art.
Any national collection of paintings is never complete. There are always gaps to be filled and which can be filled as for one reason or another pieces of historical art come on the market. There is also the constant need to keep a collection up to date with new works by established artists and the work of new artists. I am confident that these duties will be discharged faithfully by the Gallery in its acquisition policies in the years ahead. If this is assured, it makes sound sense to build up collections of ethnic art and of paintings, sculptures, drawings and other pieces from the great heritage of world art.
A careful look at the purchases of the past 5 years shows that the gallery has done a fine job in building a balanced collection. A wide range of Australian paintings has been bought. It includes famous figures from our art history like Rupert Bunny, Streeton and Tom Roberts. It includes also the works of artists now working at the height of their powers, great Australian painters like Fred Williams, Clifton Pugh, John Olsen, Albert Tucker and Frank Hodgkinson, just to name a few. Fine, rich collections of Australian sculpture, crafts, prints, drawings photos and posters have also been assembled.
In step with the build up of Australian work has gone a gradual expansion in purchases of worldwide art and ethnic art. To my mind this is an extremely sensible way of approaching the task of building a great national art collection. When the collection is unveiled in this new gallery I am sure that its breadth and richness will silence any lingering criticism of purchase policies. In recent years the ranks of the great art galleries of the world have been joined by some fine new galleries. The Van Gogh Gallery in Amsterdam and the new gallery in Rotterdam are two that come to mind. When this art gallery is completed and its treasures are put on display I am sure that it will not be overshadowed. It will be a great and enduring monument to our artists and a source of pride to the Australian nation. This national art gallery above all is a part of our developing Australian character. It is a part of the development of our people. This gallery is for people. It is for them to draw from and to express themselves. It will give them the opportunity to give and share their contributions to our human family. I think that is the whole basis for this gallery.
I think that the Australian National Gallery will show the maturity that the people of this country have reached. I am not giving the credit for its establishment just to this side of the House because I know that the seed was sown years ago when the Government of honourable members opposite was in office. But I think all members in this Parliament must give credit to the drive, initiative and inspiration of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in giving men like Mollison and the men who are now in charge of the gallery a fair go and the moral support that is necessary to make it a great gallery. I think that we should all give full support for this measure which expresses the growing maturity of the Australian nation.
-The Opposition welcomes the National Gallery Bill as an extension of the efforts made by many distinguished people and indeed by several Liberal-Country Party governments over a long period of years. I have no basic argument whatsoever with the speech just made by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development (Mr Uren). I think that he set out to be very fair to the Opposition and to those people who have been associated with the early history of this project. We support the legislation and see great value in the administrative procedures outlined in the second reading speech made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) which provide for 2 statutory offices, namely, the Director of the Australian National Gallery and the Secretary and Manager of the Gallery. The Director is to have overall responsibility to the Council of the Australian National Gallery and for the running of the gallery and its artistic direction, and the Secretary and Manager shall under his direction manage the day to day administration of the affairs of the gallery and act as Secretary to the Council. The Prime Minister said that this provision has been introduced to avoid the problems which have arisen so often elsewhere where unlikely and unreasonable combinations of different expertise and experience have been demanded of the person usually with unfortunate results. I think that is a very commendable approach to try to arrive at the right form of administration of what will be one of Australia’s most important artistic institutions. However, the Prime Minister exhibited one of his worst shows of vanity in his second reading speech. In his not unusual extravagance he stated one of his most obvious untruths. He said: . . . this is another historic initiative taken by the present Government to promote interest and activity in the arts in Australia.
He went on to say:
Our commitment was reiterated in the Policy Speech for the 1974 election and confirmed in the Governor-General’s Speech on 9 July 1974.
The last sentence is in fact correct. But it is quite unfair and it is untrue to try to claim the full credit for an initiative that has evolved over a period of time when so many people have been involved in the development of this concept. Just for the record I want to run through a true account of some of the contemporary history of the National Gallery. In August 1963 the Government agreed in principle to the establishment of a national centre on Capital Hill, the first building of which was to be the National Gallery. Subsequently the then Prime Minister appointed a committee of inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Daryl Lindsay, to examine and report on the requirements for the National Gallery. The committee’s report, presented in March 1966, included recommendations on the purpose and size- 125 000 square feet- of the building. In October 1967 the Government of the day approved the then Prime Minister’s recommendation that planning and design should proceed and authorised the construction of the Gallery as the next major prestige building in Canberra. In this decision it indicated that it did not regard the then estimated cost of $4m as setting a limit for planning purposes. That was the figure that was contemplated at that time. From 1963 until 1 968 planning proceeded on the basis of the site being on Capital Hill. However, in 1968 the
Parliament rejected the lakeside site for parliament house and the Government’s decision on the Camp Hill site in 1969, with its implications concerning Capital Hill, necessitated a reexamination of the site in question.
I think it is very important to get into the total context some of the difficulties that the Government of that day experienced, particularly with relation to the siting of the Gallery. Following the decision that the new and permanent parliament house should be sited on Capital Hill, the National Capital Development Commission, in association with architectural and traffic consultants, carried out a comprehensive review of the planning and design of the parliamentary triangle and the central area of Canberra. Following this review, sites for the High Court of Australia and the National Gallery were recommended in the north-eastern sector of the parliamentary triangle. These sites were approved in April 1970. The Lindsay Committee, in its report to the then Prime Minister in 1966, recommended in general terms accommodation totalling 125 000 square feet.
Following the appointment of the Interim National Gallery Council in July 1 968, with responsibility for the planning and construction of the Gallery, a joint working group was formed, consisting of representatives of” the Interim Council, the Prime Minister’s Department and the NCDC. The first task of the group was the preparation of the brief for the building. In this the working group was assisted by Mr James Sweeney of New York, an art critic and gallery director of world repute who was engaged by the NCDC as a special consultant to advise from the point of view of a gallery director. Of course, there was some controversy in respect of Mr James Sweeney. But in my time as Minister for the Interior I found the man to be extremely helpful. He came to Australia on two or three occasions and gave us sound advice on the general construction and planning of the proposed Gallery. I will not forget his comment on his last visit to Australia in my time as Minister for the Interior. He said that he was satisfied that the planning and the project were meeting with general satisfaction. He said that the syntax was right. He went back to America believing that this Gallery ultimately would become one of the great galleries of the world. I think that we should place on record our great appreciation to this remarkable man, Mr James Sweeney, for the work that he did in assisting in the development of the National Gallery. It is regrettable in a sense that the Prime Minister did not think to pay some tribute to him and to the services that he gave this country.
However, the working group, starting from the basis of the Lindsay report, prepared a preliminary brief, setting out requirements totalling some 1 85 000 square feet, which was formally approved by the Interim Council in October 1968. This brief was further examined by the working group and the architect and tested against conditions and practice in galleries overseas. The final brief was approved by the Interim Council in March 1969. The Prime Minister’s Department, which was then the sponsoring department for the Gallery- I think it probably still is- offered no objection when advised in May 1969 of the building area and other requirements set out in the brief. The significant increase in total area from that recommended by the Lindsay Committee resulted not from any great increase in display and public areas but because further comprehensive investigations indicated that the working and storage areas recommended in the Lindsay report were quite inadequate for the efficient operation of the appropriate gallery. Then, of course, in 1968 a limited competition was conducted to select an architect for the project. The successful contestants were the Sydney firm of Edwards, Madigan, Torzillo and Briggs Pty Ltd. The final brief, calling for preparation of sketch design and cost estimates, was issued shortly after Government approval had been given to the site for the Gallery in the parliamentary triangle.
That is some of the history- it is an accurate history- of the development up to that time of the concept of the National Gallery in our national capital. I join issue with the Prime Minister in his rather extravagant statement that this is yet another historic initiative taken by the present Government. Quite frankly, I am proud to say that I was involved in a very small aspect of the historical development of the Gallery. I want to incorporate in Hansard, just for the record, a Press release by Mr Howson, the then Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, issued on 16 August 1 972.
-Is leave granted?
There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Tenders for the Australian National Gallery in Canberra are expected to be called before Christmas this year.
In a joint statement the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, Mr Peter Howson, and the Minister for the Interior, Mr Ralph Hunt, said today the Government had approved inclusion of the gallery in the National Capital Development Commission’s 1972-73 Works Program for an estimated cost of $ 1 1 .3m.
The architects, Edwards, Madigan, Torzillo and Briggs Pty Ltd, are now preparing final drawings and specifications for the gallery.
The architects’ initial sketch design which was approved by the Government was prepared in association with a working group representative of the Gallery Interim Council; the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the National Capital Development Commission.
Mr James J. Sweeney, an eminent world authority on galleries and gallery operations, acted as a special consultant.
Mr Howson said the Director of the Gallery, Mr James Mollison, had been closely associated with the final planning of the building and was working in co-operation with the architects and the NCDC in the production of final drawings. ‘The four-level gallery is to be located on a site of about 5 acres set some 450 feet back from the lakeshore in the northeastern sector of the Parliamentary Triangle, towards Kings Avenue Bridge’, Mr Howson said. ‘The site for the proposed High Court building for which the design is to be decided by a two-stage design competition is some 370 feet to the west and somewhat nearer Lake Burley Griffin. ‘The gallery will have a floor area of about 220 000 square feet, of which some 75 000 square feet will be devoted to exhibition space ‘, Mr Howson said. CANBERRA, A.C.T. 16 August 1972
– I want to mention one man who has been at the butt end of a lot of criticism. I refer to Mr James Mollison. What an excellent job he has done. He was appointed by Prime Minister McMahon. On 27 October 1971 the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ reported his appointment under the headline ‘National Gallery Director Named ‘ in this manner:
Mr James Mollison, 40, is to direct the new National Art Gallery in Canberra.
The Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, announced the appointment in the House of Representatives tonight, ending a long-standing controversy between the Government and its art advisers.
Mi Mollison ‘s appointment was exclusively forecast in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald ‘ on 8 October.
A former director of the Ballarat Art Gallery (1967-68), he has been with the Commonwealth Public Service since 1 969 as exhibitions officer.
He has worked with the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board on the development of the national collection and detailed planning of the Australian National Gallery building.
Mr Mollison has suffered much abuse for his choice of art and, as I said earlier, has been at the butt end of a lot of unfair criticism. However, he has remained calm throughout. I found it a great pleasure to work with him when I was Minister for the Interior and I have always admired his dedication, his quiet strength of character and his sense of purpose. I do not join with those who unfairly criticise his contribution to the National Gallery in Canberra. I think that he has had a difficult job in trying to satisfy the art tastes of all sorts of people. I am sure that when the National Gallery opens Mr Mollison will receive great applause for the job that he has done in helping to select a range of art to suit the tastes of people generally. I commend the legislation and look forward to its progressive development. I hope that we do not hear again this hogwash and nonsense which the Prime Minister utters in his moments of fantasy as when he said that this is yet another historic initiative taken by the present Government. It does not do him justice; it does not do his Government justice, and it does not do justice to a great body of people who have done so much to see this Gallery come to fruition.
-I have undertaken to conclude my remarks within 5 minutes. I shall do just that. I shall make a couple of points. Firstly, this is a National Gallery. I hope it will maintain its character as preeminently an Australian gallery. I do not mean that it should not have works from overseas. In terms of world art I do not think it will ever be a great collection but it can be the best collection in the world of Australian art. I hope that that will be achieved. Secondly, I hope that co-ordinately with this Gallery we will press on with an Australian museum in Canberra- the Australian museum presently is in Sydney- and that in that museum we will have what is pre-eminently Australian and is of world importance, namely, the gallery of southern man with Aboriginal relics civilisation and artifacts. Co-ordinated with that, I hope we have artifacts from other parts of the southern hemisphere so that the display can be seen in perspective.
It is time now to press on with this and other public buildings. The building industry is in a state of depression and is likely to remain so for some time. The building of the Gallery will be an appropriate alleviation. It will be appropriate that we should use this construction as a means of tapering off the unemployment which will otherwise occur in the building industry, particularly in regard to large buildings. I know that public buildings such as hospitals and schools will and should take up the major part of this slack, but as far as the industry as a whole is concerned, there will still be need for employment. This is an opportunity for us in the next decade to undertake in Canberra works of monumental significance of which the Gallery is one. I hope that the Canberra museum with its gallery of southern man will be the other.
– I would not have come into the House and spoken on the National Gallery Bill except that I heard the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) refute some statements made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) this morning. The Prime Minister’s statements were totally and completely inaccurate. I appointed the Director of the National Gallery, Mr James Mollison. I had several people to choose from and I chose him. I asked Mr Sweeney to come out from the United States to talk over the matter with me. He agreed that the most appropriate appointment was Mr Mollison and he said that he would be prepared to give Mr Mollison assistance whenever it was necessary. I, with Mr Hunt, and I believe, with Mr Howson, approved all of the plans for the construction, for the architectural developments and the estimates which were to be made. Approval was given to those estimates for the National Art Gallery. This is all set out in the records of this House, in Hansard and, if we care to look, in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of 17 August which reports:
Gallery tenders ‘before Christmas’. Tenders for the Australian National Gallery in Canberra are expected to be called before Christmas.
They were, and we approved the finance. There was an initial appropriation of something like $ 11.3m. Those are the facts. I regret that the Prime Minister always wants to get the credit for what has been done by other governments and not by himself. It is deplorable. It is a disgraceful performance. I set the record straight.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
I do not think it is of much use calling the Prime Minister names. I think it must be clearly stated that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has given the thrust to the National Gallery.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Standing Orders state that speeches at the third reading stage must be devoted entirely to the provisions of the Bill. It is quite improper and out of order for the Minister to canvass any speech at the second reading stage, and particularly the true remarks of the right honourable member for Lowe.
-It is a fact that comments at this stage must be strictly limited to the contents of the Bill. I ask the Minister to do so.
-Yes, I will make that clear. I wanted to put the record straight.
– The Minister cannot.
– I could move for the suspension of Standing Orders.
– I was being courteous. I gave the right honourable member for Lowe the right to speak. I just want to clarify -
– The Minister did not give that right. He cannot give it. It is the Speaker who gives that right, not the Minister. What is the Minister talking about?
– I wish the honourable member for Hotham would not be so much of a prima donna. It so happens that the numbers are on this side of the House, not on the other side. Might I say, with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker -
-For what purpose?
-To explain that the Prime Minister stated in his second reading speech:
That is Mr McMahon- also announced at that time his Government’s intention to appoint Mr James Mollison as the Gallery’s first director.
– I uphold the point of order but I do not think the transgression is serious enough to call for an exclusion from Hansard” Has the Minister concluded his comments?
-I have, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 5 March on motion by Mr Lionel Bowen:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– This is a rather simple and short Bill. It seeks to amend the Grants Commission Act 1 973. Before addressing myself to two or three of the major provisions of the Bill I remind the House that the history of the Grants Commission goes back to 1933. 1 believe it was introduced in the days of the Lyons Government. Its purpose was to assist the less populous States and to make certain that they could function at standards not appreciably below the standards of other States. To my knowledge, over the years the reports of the Grants Commission have never been rejected or refused and there is no doubt that the smaller States have obtained a great deal of assistance amounting to considerable sums of money over more than 40 years.
The Grants Commission Bill was introduced in 1973. It is now the Grants Commission Act 1973. Its purpose was to allow local government authorities to appear before and obtain assistance from the Grants Commission. That was one of the policies of the Labor Party when in Opposition, and I am bound to observe that it was one of the reasons why the Labor Party achieved office at the end of 1972. It achieved office for other reasons as well, but that was one of them. Assistance was needed then and is needed now. All honourable members would agree that, when one looks at the trend in the availability of finance to various units of government in Australia, there is no doubt that finance made available to local government authorities to enable them to discharge their responsibilities has lagged behind that made available to both State and Federal governments.
One of the purposes of this Bill is to increase from six to seven the number of members of the Commission. In his second reading speech the Special Minister of State (Mr Lionel Bowen) pointed out that the appointment of an additional member to the Local Government Division is necessary to relieve the work load of the four existing full time members, and I am well aware that the reasons stated for the appointment are accurate. The work load in this new section of the Grants Commission has been substantial. It has required a considerable amount of travel on the part of members of the Grants Commission. I am aware myself of the amount of travel that has been done throughout the State of Queensland and, indeed, my own electorate. Therefore it is obviously essential that we appoint sufficient people under the Act to discharge the duties that have to be undertaken. So the Opposition does not oppose the Bill.
However, we wish to make one or two observations. We are concerned that what is proposed here is another indication of the sort of empire building that has been going on at the Federal level since Labor came into office in 1972. We have seen a great proliferation of committees and commissions, not only in the area of the Grants Commission but also in many other areas, such as education. We make the point that when we are returned to Government we will not continue with the same format which the Labor Government has adopted in relation to making money available to local government authorities. We accept that local government authorities come within the constitutional responsibility of State governments, that they are the children of State governments. Indeed, the method of assisting local government authorities which has been adopted by the Australian Government has come in for a great deal of criticism. The report of the Grants Commission has by no means been a happy one for all local government authorities throughout Australia. When returned to government we will see that assistance is given to local authorities so that they are able to maintain a standard which is not appreciably below that of the larger and better established local authorities. But we will set up such a mechanism within the States where decisions can be reached at a level which is much closer to the people affected. We believe that a better judgment will be ensured and that therefore a greater degree of acceptability, efficiency and effectiveness will result from the decisions reached.
The Opposition is concerned about clause 3 (b) of the Bill. Its purpose is to give to the Chairman of the Commission who, immediately before his appointment, was a judge of a Federal court or of the Supreme Court of a State or Territory, the same designation, rank, status and precedence as a judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. We wish to make a couple of observations in that regard. We are far from convinced that a judge is necessarily the best person to put in charge of a commission whose main responsibilities lie within the field of economics. The present Federal Government has chosen to appoint a judge to that position. The Opposition accepts the view that the person concerned should have the rank, status and precedence of a judge, but we do not accept that he should have the designation of a judge. I hope that honourable members realise that that is in no way meant to be a criticism of the present incumbent, but as a matter of principle and bearing in mind the number of commissions being set up by this Government we do not accept the fact that a judge who may accept such an appointment ought to continue to have that particular designation. I shall be moving at the appropriate time an amendment to delete the word ‘designation’ from clause 3 (b).
The purpose of the other major provision in the Bill is simply to update the Grants Commission Act so that it falls into line with the Remuneration Tribunals Act. We accept that that is now desirable as the Remuneration Tribunals Act now deals with the remuneration to be paid to the holders of public offices. The existing remuneration provisions of the Grants Commission Act 1 973 are obsolete. So we accept and give our support to the updating of that particular section of the Grants Commission Act. The Bill has our support, but we will take the opportunity at the Committee stage to move the amendment that I have outlined.
-We are delighted to learn that the Grants Commission Bill 1975 has the support of the Opposition. I would like to comment on one or two remarks made by the honourable member for McPherson (Mr Eric Robinson). He expressed concern at what he calls empire building since Labor came to office, and I think he mentioned education as an example. It was of great necessity that a structure, not an empire, be built which gave some attention to education in Australia because it had been starved by successive Liberal governments for many years.
I was interested to hear that the Opposition will discontinue the format that we are using in making grants available to local government authorities. They are given free, without strings. I have been told by councillors who have given evidence before the Grants Commission that they have been extremely delighted at the hearing they have received and at the extent to which they have been able to put and present their cases. I do not know that Melbourne would be any better situated than is Canberra for ascertaining the needs of Victorian local government authorities. If the Opposition intends to regard local government authorities as the children of the State governments, then I would say that the States have been starving their children for years -in fact, since Federation.
The Grants Commission Bill provides for the appointment of a further full time member of the Grants Commission to relieve the heavy burden that has fallen on the four existing full time members of the Local Government Division of the Commission. I would point out that it is just coincidence that the present Chairman of the
Commission, Mr Justice Else-Mitchell, is a judge. I do not think it is the intention of the Government constantly to appoint a judge to that position. I am sure that no one in this Parliament will oppose the Bill, as everyone must be aware of the tremendous amount of time that the commissioners have put into the hearing of evidence from those engaged in local government all over Australia. There are some 900 local government bodies in Australia, including semi-government authorities. Their submissions to the Commission have been sophisticated and detailed, and they have given a lot of evidence to back up their submissions. As well as that, the commissioners travel quite extensively so that they can have a first hand look at many of the projects for which local governments bodies are seeking finance. I think that it would be true to say that the Grants Commission has rejuvenated interest by councillors and councils who for many years considered that they were quite invisible to both State and Federal authorities and governments. In fact, they have for so many years been neglected by previous governments and starved by State governments that it is a wonder that the men and women who voluntarily service local government bodies have had any enthusiasm left to give. One of the aims of this Government has always been to upgrade the role of local government. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in that area of government that has long been the Cinderella of the 3 tiers of government in this country.
Anything I might say in criticism of local government should not be taken as a criticism of the dedicated men and women who serve in the cities, shires and municipalities of Australia. Indeed, they have fought for better local government, for better services, for a better financial deal, and they have fought against very heavy odds. Evidently they have now fought against their mother or father- whichever the States are presumed to be- if they are their children. There is much that they have accomplished and much that they have been prevented from accomplishing. The fault lies in the whole system of intergovernmental relation. The remedy lies in balancing the functions and the finances of the 3 levels of government- local, State and national.
There is a resurgence of interest and concern for local government. It marks the end of a long era of public apathy. We have lived through the years of cynical public indifference in council elections, in sullen resentment over the burden of increasing rates, and in irrational criticism of the services the councils have provided. Why can they not provide the services that people are now demonstrating they want? It is because they have been denied for far too long the means by which they might provide those services. Incredibly, local government was forgotten by our forefathers who framed the Constitution. It was again ignored when the financial agreement between the Commonwealth and the States was drawn up. It was not until 1936 that the Loan Council began dealings with the borrowings of semi-government authorities. Since then more and more demands have been placed on local authorities, and at the same time their financial difficulties have grown.
When it came into office this Government moved to correct such an injustice- to correct a system that had been allowed to worsen year by year. For years nothing had been done to check the intolerable burden of rates and charges imposed on Australian families, on pensioners and on those who live on fixed incomes. We passed a new Grants Commission Act authorising the Commission to inquire into applications for assistance by regional organisations of local government. Assistance thus recommended by the Commission and approved by the Australian Government is paid to the States under section 96 of the Constitution, and passed on by them to the organisations concerned. The Commission’s recommendations have been universally accepted. All political parties have implemented them. The Grants Commission is a respected body and I am quite sure that its commissioners are also respected, in spite of the criticism of political bias that was raised when the last grants were made.
Recently the Government initiated the free grants under the Grants Commission, and last year $56m was distributed amongst councils without any strings at all. This Bill simply appoints a further Commission to share this workload. These 2 innovations have been widely acclaimed by those connected with local government but one thing is needed desperately. Even though it is not contained in the Bill I intend to voice it. It is that local government should have a voice of its own on the Loan Council, At the Premiers Conference in 1973 the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) proposed that local government have both a voice and a vote on the Loan Council and that the Australian Government be empowered to borrow money on behalf of local governments. This could have been effected quite simply by agreement between the Premiers and the Australian Government to amend the financial agreement. The States refused. We held a referendum. The people refused. But I still say that the Australian Government and the local authorities should be able to deal directly with each other and in the public interest/If it is good enough for the States and the Australian Government to deal directly with each other, why is it not good enough for the Australian Government to deal directly with local government? Why should local government not have the same opportunities to deal with the national Government and to participate fully in the system?
This national Government has a responsibility to ensure that every level of government will be in a position better to perform its assigned duties for the better welfare of citizens wherever they live. Anyone who has had the experience of unsewered suburbs, poor health services, inadequate local transport, neglected environmental standards, shortage of playing fields, shortage of community centres and opportunities for culture and recreation knows that higher rates are not the answer. People no longer accept that they must go without all these services. They no longer accept the need for ever increasing rates and charges. There’ is a greater awareness of local government and a greater endorsement of its role’. Local government faces a tremendous task. It is the grass roots of government and it is the tier most closely associated with its people. It cannot continue to serve the people adequately in 1974-75 with the antiquated financing from which it has suffered for decades.
I believe that local government must have its own voice and vote on the Loan Council and that all councillors in all cities, shires and municipalities should be fighting for a voice on the Loan Council. I believe that they must not be conned by the old argument that the federal Government wants to gobble them up. Until the voice and vote on the Loan Council is obtained local governments will limp along getting further and further in debt. I believe that local government will be restrained and, indeed, crippled for generations if left in its present state. The Grants Commission gives some help. The grants can be used in any way the council needs to use them. But this is only one avenue- a needed one, certainly. Loan Council representation would be the final and complete answer, the answer that will make worthwhile the work that the men “and women of Australia perform on local councils.
Debate (on motion by Mr Hodges) adjourned.
’ Constitutional Qualifications of Members of Parliament -Australia’s Trade Routes
Motion (by Mr Crean) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-The question of the interpretation of the Constitution relative to actions of members of Parliament which may put them in breach of the Constitution has recently received a considerable amount of publicity.
– Why don ‘t you resign, Jim?
– I do not know of any way in which I have breached the Constitution, but I am very concerned about the situation in which many honourable members may find themselves. There may be many of us who are in breach of the Constitution without being aware of it. In any case it would be appropriate for any honourable member to look for a fair and just solution to a problem which has arisen in regard to possible breaches of the Constitution, and I look for the support of honourable members on both sides of the House in an endeavour satisfactorily to resolve this disturbing situation. The” Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has stated:
Now if we find that many of us have transgressed the Constitution and placed our seats in jeopardy, then the cure is not to ignore the Constitution but to ask the people to amend it.
The weakness of this approach is that there is no guarantee that the people would be prepared to amend the Constitution. The whole history of referenda in relation to amending the Constitution is that the Australian people are very reluctant to make any change. However, I think that this matter must be clarified.
I feel that it is a very important question and one which could affect many honourable members. As I have said, as far as I am aware, I am not affected by it myself but I think that if we were to give some thought to the matter we might find that quite a few honourable members would be affected, and who knows who would be included. Quite a few honourable members might be in technical breach of the Constitution. I want to emphasise that I am referring only totechnical breaches of the Constitution or breaches that have occurred without honourable members being aware that their actions could be in breach of the Constitution and where no impropriety is associated with the action. I am concerned that these breaches could be very widespread and could reach a position which the Prime Minister has called a farcical situation. If this is the case, then clearly the matter must be cleared up. The Government in the Senate has. proposed that a question currently under discussion should be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns for determination.
-Order! Before the honourable gentleman goes too far I would point out that he is not entitled to debate in this House a question which is before the Senate.
– I will accept your ruling on that, Mr Speaker. I will not refer to that matter insofar as it is concerned in the Senate. I believe that there is no real need for any matter which applies to this House to be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns to be resolved. I am at a loss to know why that course should be proposed, despite the statement this morning by the Prime Minister that this is a seemly way to do it. Section 47 of the Constitution makes it quite clear that it is for the Parliament itself to determine questions relating to the qualification of a member of this House to take his place in the Parliament. Section 47 states:
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, any question respecting the qualification of … a member of the House of Represen tatives -
That applies to a senator as well- or respecting a vacancy in either House of the Parliament, and any question of a disputed election to either House, shall be determined by the House in which the question arises.
Although I have no legal training, that section seems quite clear and unambiguous to me. Any matters such as those that have been discussed in this House this morning of which I believe there could prove to be many is to be determined by the House concerned. It is quite true that the Commonwealth Electoral Act provides for such questions to be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns if the Parliament so resolves, but such a referral is not mandatory. I repeat that either House can itself deal with these matters and I submit that the House concerned should deal with matters such as the ones to which I have referred.
I should like to suggest that the Parliament ought to work out some guidelines to help members and senators decide just where they stand in relation to the Constitution. Clearly, the provision in relation to this matter in the Constitution is wide and hard to interpret and we ought to have guidelines laid down. I put that suggestion forward in the hope that Parliament will give serious consideration to it. I am sure that all members of this House share my concern that this matter should be cleared up and cleared up in a proper way with reasonable expedition. I submit that members on both sides of this House should give serious consideration to the position in which they or their colleagues could find themselves, and if the Parliament can resolve the issue in a fair and satisfactory manner then I contend that the Parliament should take that action.
– I want to express my concern regarding the future of Australia’s trade routes, particularly our trade routes to Great Britain and Europe. To do this I must first refer briefly to certain aspects of the Middle East situation. A few weeks ago a South Carolina Republican, Senator Jesse Helms, told the United States Senate that he agreed with the Administration decision that it was time for a reassessment of Middle East policy. A United States labour leader, George Meany) went further and urged a review of the entire policy of detente following the collapse of Middle East peace negotiations and communist gains in Portugal and in South-East Asia. Very shortly after those 2 statements were made, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia was assassinated. This tragedy heightened anxiety with regard to the Middle East, where at the best of times there is a high degree of uncertainty and tension. King Faisal’s main objective strategically was to preserve Western influence in the Middle East and to exclude Soviet influence.
The great strategic importance of the Middle East to Australia and to many other countries cannot be overstated. Oil supplies, of course, are of great significance, but I am thinking particularly of our traditional trade route across the Indian Ocean, through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and thence to Great Britain and Europe, a trade route that unfortunately has been denied to us and to others for the past 8 years. The Soviet fleets in the Indian Ocean and in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea could well be in a position to hinder if they so desired the free use of the Suez Canal route when it is re-opened next June. Since the closure of the Suez Canal in 1967 our main trade route to Britain and Europe has been via the Cape of Good Hope. As I see it, this route is also threatened by an uncertain and deteriorating situation in the southern part of the African continent. I am convinced that the international pressures on that area are based primarily on strategic concepts and only secondarily on racial issues. I say that because racial issues also exist in quite a number of other countries that are not subjected to similar pressures.
To illustrate my point, I refer to the strategic railway built in recent years, with the help of Peking, from Dar-es-Salaam on the eastern coast of Africa right down into the southern part of Zambia. For what reason other than strategic reasons would China have played a major part in the construction of this railway in the southern part of the African continent? If Australia were to be deprived of its vital trade route to Britain and Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, as well as the more direct route via the Suez Canal, then I put it that certainly we would be in a difficult and even dangerous situation. For very many years a significant proportion or our imports and exports have flowed along one or other of these 2 trade routes, and most of our migrants also have come to us across the Indian Ocean.
Finally, with regard to the matter of detente to which I referred earlier, surely Australia and the rest of the free world should take careful note of a speech reported to have been made by the Premier of the People ‘s Republic of China, Chou En-lai, at the Fourth National People’s Congress in Peking last January. I have in my hand a photostat copy of News Bulletin No. 7503 dated 26 January 1975 issued by the People’s Republic of China. Time will permit me to quote only briefly from this bulletin. The reported text reads in part: __ there is no detente, let alone lasting peace, in this world.
At present, the factors for both revolution and war are increasing.
I think we would all agree that these are very disturbing words, to say the least, and if in fact there is no detente in the eyes of the leaders of the People’s Republic of China then surely it is high time that the free world made a re-assessment of the situation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.38 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
There are several areas under my authority where activities associated with research and development work are undertaken.
The Australian Advisory Committee on Research and Development in Education.
All ten members are pan-time. The committee is serviced by a secretariat of three officers who spend about two-thirds of their time on work associated with the committee.
The officers are employed in Canberra and the committee normally meets in Canberra.
The committee advises me on priorities in educational research and on financial support for research proposals. It initiates proposals and may guide research projects which it funds, but does not conduct projects itself.
The 1974-1975 budget for funded projects is $700,000. In addition an estimated $62,000 is available to meet the committee’s direct and indirect costs, of operation.
I decide the nature of projects for support on the advice of the committee, within the terms of reference of the committee.
The Research and Investigation Committee of the Commission on Advanced Education.
All six members are part-time. The equivalent of 1.5 persons is employed full-tune as a secretariat.
Meetings are generally held in Canberra. The secretariat is stationed in Canberra.
The Committee makes recommendations on financial support for research and investigation projects in advanced education, for instance in the planning of courses in line with the needs -of industry. It does not conduct research projects itself.
Over the 1973-75 triennium $300,000 is available for grants to projects. The cost in salaries of the secretariat is about $ 1 5,000 in 1 974-75. Other costs are not identifiable.
All projects recommended for financial support require my approval.
The Curriculum Development Centre.
The Interim Council of the Curriculum Development Centre has a full-time chairman and eleven pan-time members. Eleven full-time staff are employed exclusively on the activities of the Centre.
Seven of the staff are located in Canberra and four staff are located in Melbourne. The Centre is expected to expand staff numbers considerably in the near future.
The Centre’s functions are: to undertake curriculum development tasks and to develop teaching and learning materials for use in schools; to commission and support curriculum and materials development; to display equipment and materials; to publish assessments and information about equipment and materials; to provide advisory services relating to curriculum and materials development; to arrange the printing and marketing of materials.
The Centre directly undertakes some curriculum development projects, and other outside projects are commissioned and funded by the Centre.
Within its terms of reference all projects initiated by the Interim Council require my approval.
The Research Branch of the Department.
. An average of 1 6 full-time staff.
The Branch conducts several in-house projects. Current projects in this category include a survey of the income and expenditure of tertiary students, studies relating to the enrolment and progress of tertiary students, and a survey of schools with high migrant density. The Branch also commissions and arranges for the funding of outside projects such as a project evaluating the Aboriginal Secondary Grants Scheme, the Tertiary Education Entrance Project, a project examining the unsettling effects of periodic movement faced by soldiers’ children. There are also research projects on the English proficiency of migrant children and the bi-lingual teaching of Aboriginal children.
An estimated $600,000 in 1974-75 is being spent on activities associated with research and development. In addition the Branch administers the Australian Government’s half share in the funding of the Australian Council for Educational Research. The budget for this item is $185,000 in 1974-75.
Major research projects conducted by the Branch and any research projects commissioned through it and conducted by outside agencies require my approval. Decisions on the remainder of research conducted by the Branch are made within the Department.
Within other areas under my authority there are units which perform tasks which could be regarded as research and development, for example, the development of language teaching materials for migrants, within my Department. Some aspects of the functions of the Schools Commission are also related to research and development. The innovations program worth $7.2m in 1974 and 1975 is an example.
It is difficult, however, to reasonably quantify the resources which can properly be attributed to research and development only.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1-2) Since the introduction of the Australian Government’s Community Health and Community Mental Health, Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Programs, some hundreds of applications for financial assistance, including requests from voluntary organisations, have been received by my Department and by the Hospitals and Health Services Commission.
The following voluntary organisations have received Australian Government financial assistance for the establishment or maintenance of a national secretariat, viz:
National Life Line Association- which has received assistance under the Community Health Program
The Australian Foundation on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (AF ADD)
Recovery- which have received assistance under the Community Mental Health, Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Program
Australian Federation of Family Planning Associations
Australian Council on Smoking and Health
In addition, the Hospitals and Health Services Commission currently has under consideration requests from two voluntary organisations for financial assistance for the establishment and maintenance of national secretariats. An announcement concerning these requests will be made as soon as possible.
I am reluctant to authorise the time which would be involved in obtaining information regarding voluntary organisations which nave unsuccessfully requested financial assistance for the establishment or maintenance of national headquarters.
If the honourable member requires information concerning an application for assistance for a specific voluntary organisation I will endeavour to obtain it for him.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
However, the business of health centres is not simply to provide consultations on a par with private, fee for service general practice work. Costs should be related to the type and quality of service provided and to the possible savings arising from reduced hospital admissions, referral to less costly and more appropriate health personnel and to reduced travelling time, time off work, etc., of patients. In addition health centre workers undertake a wide range of community health and welfare activities, other than consultations, which are not usually found in general practice and for which no deduction has been made in the above cost estimates. Evaluation studies of the impact of these activities on the general health and well being of the community and on the total cost of health services will be undertaken when the centre has been operating for a sufficient period.
Component parts included in the determination of the average cost of a consultation are as detailed below:
The amount includes notional apportionment of estimated costs arising from the Centre’s overheads (cleaning, watching, maintenance, supplies, electricity, telephones, office requisites, travelling, etc.) central administration and capital depreciation.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
When will he answer my question No. 1698 which first appeared on the Notice Paper on 1 3 November 1 974.
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the right honourable member to my answer to question 1698 in the daily Hansard of 9 April 1975 at page 1447.
asked the Minister for Overseas Trade, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 April 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1975/19750416_reps_29_hor94/>.