29th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. G. G. D. Scholes) took the chair at 10 a.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable, The Speaker, and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Their great dismay at the decision of the Australian Government to abolish the Army Corps of Cadets from our Secondary Schools.
The enthusiastic acceptance by leading educators, those nearest to the secondary education scene (our Headmasters), the approval and encouragement of thinking and caring parents and the dedicated support of those teachers involved (the Officers of Cadets) bear certain witness to the reliability of this activity as a character builder for our youth.
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that why, after a century of proven usefulness, would you destroy so well established an institution for good in our community?
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bonnett, Mr Kevin Cairns, Mr Donald Cameron, Mr Drury, Mr Hodges, Mr Killen and Mr Eric Robinson.
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That whereas the natural environment of Fraser Island is so outstanding that it should be identified as part of the World Natural Heritage, and whereas the Island should be conserved for the enjoyment of this and future generations.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure: that the Australian Government uses its constitutional powers to prohibit the export of any mineral sands from Fraser Island, and that the Australian Government uses its constitutional authority to assist the Queensland Government and any other properly constituted body to develop and conserve the recreational, educational and scientific potentials of the natural environment of Fraser Island for the long term benefit of the people of Australia.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Clayton, Mr Drury and Mr Morris. Petitions received.
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 die traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, 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 Dr J. F. Cairns. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the establishment of an Australian Government Insurance Office will:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives rejects completely the Australian Government Insurance Office Bill 1975.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Connolly. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the undersigned persons believe that the $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Connolly. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth.
That the increases in postal rates are far too high and are an imposition on an already depressed farming community.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to restore postal charges to the pre- September levels.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr Drummond. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House urge the Government to request the Australian Broadcasting Control Board not to approve television advertisements of a personal or intimate nature.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Dr Edwards. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That we strongly oppose any change to the statutory time requirement binding radio and television stations to provide religious broadcasts as recommended by the Department of the Media.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take no measures to interfere with the existing requirements.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray,
Petition received. by Mr McVeigh. Petition received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of certain citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will withdraw its confidence from the present Prime Minister, in order that there may be a speedy election and that the people of Australia may be given their proper opportunity to pass judgment on the Government responsible for the present level of unemployment and other national losses.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Wentworth Petition received.
Mr Speaker, I inform the House that yesterday His Excellency the Governor-General accepted the resignations of Senator the Honourable Ken Wriedt as Minister for Agriculture and the Honourable Rex Patterson as Minister for Northern Australia. His Excellency subsequently directed and appointed the Honourable Rex Patterson to hold the office of Minister for Agriculture and the Honourable Paul John Keating to hold the office of Minister for Northern Australia.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. I refer to the misleading answer he recently gave in this House that the Sandilands Committee in the United Kingdom had not reported that current cost accounting should be introduced quickly. I ask him whether he has read pages 3 and 4 of that report which says, amongst other things, that: 1a. An initial standard of Current Cost Accounting should be made mandatory for listed companies and should be implemented for accounting periods beginning not later than 24 December 1977. and that:
In our opinion Current Cost Accounting is a fully comprehensive method of accounting for inflation . . .
Has the Treasurer woken up to the fact that already the United Kingdom Government has taken action to assist overcoming the 2 relevant problems mentioned in the Mathews report and that the cost to the United Kingdom revenue was proportionately of the same order as it would be in Australia if the Mathews Committee’s report had been adopted? Finally, does he now know that the Sandilands Committee did not recommend, as he had alleged, that a royal commission should be held before definitive action was taken?
– First, I would like to congratulate the right honourable member for Lowe for getting as far as pages 3 and 4 in the report. Secondly, the report does say a little further on, as he will discover, that a task force or a working party or some such group should be set up to work out details of the proposals put forward. It was my understanding when I answered the question- it still is my understanding- that there was a recommendation to hold a royal commission before anything definitive was done. I did indicate that I had not had a chance to read the report fully and I still have not had an opportunity to do so. The right honourable member has more time, if less understanding, than I have so perhaps I could call on him at some stage to get more details. I might mention in passing that the right honourable member has seen me about a onehour television debate on economic matters which he has arranged. I might mention that I am still waiting for the telephone call from the television channel that he said would contact me.
– My question is to the Prime Minister. Will he inform the House whether^ if the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Bill 1975 is passed, he will be permitted in law to direct the tapping of telephones?
– I have noticed that the Leader of the Opposition has made this allegation. It is one of his attacks upon the Governmentthe fact that the administration of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the issue of warrants for telephone tapping have been transferred from the AttorneyGeneral to the Prime Minister. I am disappointed, although I suppose not surprised, that the Leader of the Opposition should make such allegations. The honourable gentleman knows because he has been informed right from the beginning that these changes are within the terms of reference of Mr Justice Hope, the royal commissioner looking into Australia’s security services, and are recommendations which he has made; but, moreover, the Telephonic Communications (Interception) Act itself says how warrants can be issued. The Attorney-General hitherto had, the Prime Minister henceforth has, no authority whatever to initiate action to have telephones tapped. The action can be initiated only by the Director-General, as he has hitherto been known, of security.
It is true that the Attorney-General and henceforth the Prime Minister can veto the action by the Director-General, but he cannot initiate it.
No warrants to intercept telephone conversations can be issued in Australia without the initiative, without the recommendation, of the Director-General of Security. I believe it is quite irresponsible for the Leader of the Opposition, who has been given access to all these matters while I have been Prime Minister, to make such reckless accusations. Quite apart from that, the Act is a quite simple clear one. Anybody could understand it and one would expect that the Leader of the Opposition would be able to understand it and would have taken the opportunity to look it up. After all, it is being amended at the moment and this House has passed the amendment. One would think that he would therefore have read the Act.
Henceforth, initiative for telephone tapping will be in the hands of the Director of Security who is a judge. No criticism has been made of this very wholesome change. The Leader of the Opposition knows why the change was made. He would, I believe, endorse and applaud the appointment of Mr Justice A. E. Woodward as the new Director of Security, and the Australian people ought to be reassured that there will be no telephone’ tapping warrants issued in Australia unless Mr Justice Woodward makes that recommendation. The Prime Minister can override it. The Prime Minister cannot initiate it. It is indicative, however, of the degree of desperation the honourable gentleman is showing that he makes such allegations. He does not make them in the House because he will never confront me here. I do not think after yesterday’s episode he will confront me very often in front of this House, either.
– I address a question to the Minister for Northern Australia. May I congratulate the honourable gentleman on obtaining his office. Has the Minister any information in his possession which he could place before a meeting of the Executive Council which would in any way vindicate the position of the honourable member for Cunningham?
– That is a matter outside the ambit of my responsibility. The answer is no.
– I ask the Minister for Manufacturing Industry whether he is aware of a recent statement by the chairman of Chrysler Australia Ltd concerning the proposal for 4-cylinder engine manufacture in South Australia. Can he inform the House of the present situation with regard to this proposal?
-I did notice the statements by the manager of the Chrysler firm. The car industry is the subject of a new proposal which will give a great deal of life and vitality to Chrysler and to South Australia generally. Under the proposal of the Government, under the car plan, for the first time we will be able to manufacture in this country a 4-cylinder engine. At the present time the market shows that the Australian people are very favourably disposed towards 4-cylinder motor cars. In fact, the Japanese manufacturers virtually have the monopoly of that market at present and all the vehicles are imported. There has had to be import control to try to get some rationalisation of the supply of these 4-cylinder engines. I know this upsets the honourable member for Wakefield who wants to have everything imported; he does not want to manufacture anything here. I am delighted to assure him that the Japanese firms concerned welcome the Government’s initiative and are anxious to take part in the plan. Progress is very favourable. Already, from the point of view of the componentry industry, the Japanese have placed orders totalling $18m and this gives not only to the South Australian area but to all the component industries throughout Australia some guarantee and some security for their industry. The motor vehicle industry is changing with fashion. People are changing their tastes. It may no longer be appropriate that we can have what is deemed to be the Australian motor car in design but it is important that we have an Australian motor vehicle industry. The 4-cylinder engine industrial development will be a great advantage to the Australian industry, a great advance for the Australian people, a most welcome addition to South Australia and an advantage to Chrysler.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Is he aware of a report by the former Federal Secretary of the Carpenters and Joiners Union that he was told in July that the Budget would introduce a $2 per barrel levy on crude oil. What action does the Prime Minister propose to take to investigate whether decisions contained in the Budget were leaked and whether this knowledge was used by any persons for their own financial advantage? Is the Prime Minister also aware that the agreement between ACTU-Solo Enterprises Pty Ltd and Allied Petrochemicals Pty Ltd was concluded in July?
– I am not aware of the report and off hand I cannot think who holds the position that the right honourable gentleman mentioned. It should not be any surprise to honourable gentlemen that I adhere to the findings and the recommendations of Mr Justice Collins, the royal commissioner into petroleum. The only thing that worries me is that I have not yet been able to ascertain precisely which particular oil company the Leader of the National Country Party represents here as its agent.
-Has the attention of the Treasurer been drawn to a report of premature disclosure of information from his recent Budget? Is there any truth in the report?
-There was a report in last night’s Melbourne Herald which stated:
A former Victorian ALP executive member claimed today that he knew what was in the Federal Budget three weeks before it was announced in Parliament.
The report continued:
Mr David Woodhouse said: ‘I was told at the end of July that the Budget would introduce a $2 a barrel levy on the production of crude oil.
It is a shame that the Melbourne Herald is prepared to write this sort of rather damaging hearsay without doing some basic checking. Certainly it could have reported in the article that Mr Woodhouse was expelled from the Australian Labor Party in about 1956. It could have indicated that he was an Australian Democratic Labor Party candidate on 2 occasions, that he stood against endorsed ALP candidates, that he is a millionaire and that he made money during the service station boom in the 1950s from getting franchises for land through oil companiesthe same sorts of interests as the Leader of the National Country Party represents.
Only 3 people, 3 members of the Cabinet, were privy to that decision- the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and myself. It and the other revenue measures which were taken in the Budget were totally secure. There were no leaks of them to the newspapers. All of them were novel to this Parliament and to this nation on the night they were announced in my Budget Speech. I conclude by saying that it is scarcely likely that either the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or myself would have any truck with a man who was expelled from the Labor Party in 1956, who has been a DLP candidate on a number of occasions and who has stood against ALP candidates. Certainly he is not the sort of man we would be searching out to invest confidences in.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Northern Australia. May I congratulate him on his appointment. I remind him that the gong has gone and I will come out of the red corner. Will the Minister indicate whether he intends to take the urgent steps that are necessary to have executive powers granted to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly? Further, will he act with urgent determination to urge the new Minister for Agriculture to have the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission regarding the beef cattle industry implemented? Finally, will he do what regrettably his predecessor failed to do, that is, ensure that some houses at least are completed by the Darwin Reconstruction Commission for the people of Darwin before the wet sets in? I remind the Minister that the clouds are gathering thick and fast.
– The honourable member has asked 3 questions in one. I might make the point that in 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government no tangible steps were taken towards responsible government or the giving of powers to the elected Assembly in the Northern Territory. The people of the Northern Territory have obtained an elected Assembly since this Government came to power. The Administrator’s Council is a council of elected people. We have passed the Senate (Representation of Territories) Bill in this House despite opposition from the honourable member for Kennedy as well as from other members of the Opposition in this place and in the Senate.
– And the Country Party Premier of Queensland.
– Finally, this legislation had to be validated by the High Court against challenge so that representation could be secured for the people of the Northern Territory. So no matter where one looks the Labor Party’s policy has been implemented with expedition. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Northern Territory, chaired by the learned and honourable member for Hunter, Mr James, has reported on the Territory. It is presently being considered by the Government. This matter bears upon the portfolios of at least half a dozen Ministers. It is a very complex matter and it is still under consideration. The second matter which the honourable member raises is not one within my responsibility. In respect of the third matter relating to the construction of homes in Darwin I might point out that to date 5000 homes have already been repaired.
-Can the Minister for Administrative Services say what limits are imposed by the Electoral Act on advertising and campaigning expenditure by political parties?
– Under the Electoral Act no limit is imposed on political parties in respect of the amount of expenditure. A limit of $500 is imposed upon a candidate for the House of Representatives and a limit of $1,000 upon Senate candidates. Recently in this Parliament the Government introduced legislation seeking to impose limits on the expenditure of political parties and candidates and also seeking the disclosure of the source of campaign funds. But as one would expect from recent events, the parties opposite opposed not only the limit on the expenditure but also the disclosure of funds. The reason for that is apparent when we look at the advertisements that are now being inserted in the Press by honourable members opposite at a cost of $30,000 a day. When we see an advertisement -obviously a political advertisement and a campaign advertisement- saying that the constitutional powers of this Parliament are being attacked, because the newspapers of Australia want it, we realise the need for legislation of the type about which the honourable member has spoken.
I have assessed what the Opposition parties are spending on the political campaign at this stage. One day’s advertisement last week in the Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Mirror and the Sun was worth $8,000 to them, or $48,000 a week. The Melbourne Age, the Sun-News Pictorial and the Herald ran advertisements worth $7,000 in one day, which is $42,000 a week. The Brisbane Courier-Mail and the Telegraph received $3,000 in a day, or a total of $ 1 8,000 a week. The Adelaide Advertiser and the News received $3,000 or a total of $18,000 a week. The West Australian and the Daily News received $1,500 in a day, or $9,000 a week. The Hobart Mercury received $750 a day or roughly $4,000 a week. The Canberra Times received $886 a day, or a total of about $5,000 a week. The Australian stands to gain about $19,000 in a week. Why should legislation not be introduced to enable us to know the source of those funds?
No wonder those people want to see this Government wrecked. Opposition advertisements are a goldmine for the newspapers, and their sponsor in this Parliament is the Leader of the Opposition. No wonder the great campaign has been waged. But where are the funds coming from? A lot of them are coming from the interests which the Leader of the National Country Party represents in this Parliament- the oil combines. Even last night, I understand, because of the support given and because of the money being spent the Leader of the Opposition was on the telephone to a senior executive from News Limited giving that gentleman a personal account of his talks with the Governor-General on the constitutional crisis. That is why this Parliament should know where the funds are coming from. Those opposite are breaking down all the tenets of the Constitution in an endeavour to wreck a government that seeks to make known to the Australian people the forces behind the Opposition parties.
– I take a point of order, Mr Speaker.
-There is nothing before the Chair on which to take a point of order.
– A serious allegation has been made against the Leader of the Opposition and he ought to be given an opportunity to make a personal explanation.
-Order! I call the honourable member for Fisher.
-Does the AttorneyGeneral confirm that his advice as AttorneyGeneral to the Prime Minister, as reported extensively in the Press, was that if the Senate failed to pass the Appropriation Bills they should be presented nevertheless to the Governor-General for his assent and signature? Is that still his advice, and does he adhere to it?
-No, I do not so confirm. I never said such a thing. The Press statement I put out was completely distorted in the Sydney Morning Herald and was put right by me in a letter to the editor published by the Sydney Morning Herald a day or two afterwards. I stress this point: I cannot be responsible for distorted reports by the Sydney Morning Herald. If anyone wants to see the Press statement I put out I shall make it available. But I should like to say that when one talks about advice being given to the Governor-General and the proprieties of the thing, one deplores the actions of certain members of the Opposition in making Press statements on the subject and sending them to the Governor-General.
-Has the Minister for the Media seen reports that the Government intends to use the resources of the Department of the Media to influence public opinion? Will the Minister give a categorical denial of these reports and tell this House and the people of Australia that their funds will not be used for Party political purposes?
– I am sorry but I have not seen the report. I can only say that it is utter nonsense. I have answered questions like this before. I see no point in anyone thinking or seeing what virtues we would find in trying to use the Department of the Media for the political purposes the honourable gentleman suggested, for a very simple reason.
– There is no virtue in it!
– Of course there is no virtue. If we could get away with it so could the Opposition if it were in government. So we would be numbskulls to try it. I assure the honourable gentleman that I have no intention at all of trying that tactic.
-Is the Minister for Defence aware of allegations of bias in the official publications of the Defence Department? In particular is he aware of a description in the West Australian of 9 October of the Defence Report 1975 as ‘a politically biased Defence Department report? Is there any truth in these allegations? Has the Department provided neutral, unbiased views to the public?
-I am very concerned at the highly reprehensible comments by the West Australian. The West Australian made the claim in its editorial about the tabling of ‘a politically biased Defence Department report’. The Defence Department report was tabled in the House and I think all honourable members have seen it. I strongly object to the charge that the Defence report is politically biased. In fact, the two senior advisers to the Government and to the Minister for Defence- the Secretary of the Department, Sir Arthur Tange, and Admiral Sir Victor Smith, the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff- were not appointed by the Labor Government. The Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff was appointed by the then Minister for Defence, the current Leader of the Opposition, and Sir Arthur Tange was appointed by the Liberal Party. I do not believe that any responsible peron in this House, and one would hope no responsible editorial writer, would suggest that either of those men was subject to political bias.
I believe that what the West Australian was concerned about was the statement in the report that the previous Government had, through incompetence or inadequacies, failed to take sound new equipment decisions in the last stages of its reign. This is not a politically biased statement; it is a factual statement. The Liberal Country parties in the last years of their control of this country did run down the new equipment purchases. I give the details of the value of new equipment approved in the following years: 1968-69, $30m; 1969-70, $53m; 1970-71, $153m; 1971-72, $24; 1972-73, $84m; 1973- 74the Labor Party’s Budget$96m; 1974- 75, $330m; and 1975-76, $290m. What in fact happened was that over the 3 years of the 3 Labor Government Budgets a total of $7 16m was provided for new equipment. This means that we provided in new equipment over 3 years twice the amount of money provided over 5 years by the Liberal and Country parties It is quite obvious that the reason the Opposition is opposing the defence budget is that it wants to get back to a stage where it was in the last five years of its administration from 1967 onwards, when the defence forces of this country were not provided with adequate equipment to conduct and to prepare for the defence of Australia. That is in short the meaning of its opposition last night to the Loan Bill and to the whole concept of providing sufficient funds for the defence of Australia.
– My question is directed to the AttorneyGeneral. I refer him to the question I asked him several weeks ago about the report of the royal commission on ACTU-Solo Enterprises Pty Ltd which he said he was then in the course of considering. Has he completed his consideration of that report, which he has now had for over a month, and will he inform the House whether, in the light of his consideration, he proposes to institute any criminal proceedings against persons mentioned in that report?
-The report is still being considered, and for good reason. The honourable gentleman would be the first to know that the provisions of the Royal Commission Act make certain evidence that was put before that commission inadmissible in other proceedings. That places enormous difficulty in the way of making an assessment on whether or not there is admissible evidence. It seems likely at this stage that there is no admissible evidence that would justify criminal proceedings.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Health. On several occasions since the presentation of the Budget, details of health allocations in Victoria and other States have been announced. An analysis of the figures involved compared with the populations suggests that Victoria has not received its rightful share of funds under the community health program, the school dental scheme, and health planning and research grants. Can the Minister explain the apparent discrimination against Victoria in the provision of funds by the Australian Government for health projects, and can the Minister indicate the future of health programs should the Budget be rejected or deferred in another place?
– The Australian Government does not discriminate against any State in its health programs. The Government has encouraged a more rational approach to the planning and provision of health services throughout Australia. We have ordered government priorities on the basis of need. The Department of Health and the Hospitals and Health Services Commission have depended on the cooperation and participation of State health authorities. Despite the Opposition’s fanning the claims of federalist confrontation, the health field is one of harmonious relationship with the States. Victoria has missed out in relative terms in allocations for health programs. For instance, Victoria received only $20,000 of the $500,000 made available for health planning and research this year that is, research into the delivery of health care, administration and so on. I announced recently the finance for the first 5 school dental clinics in Victoria, whereas all other States began building school dental clinics last financial year. Although final decisions have not been reached Victoria will receive about $4m this year for the school dental scheme compared with, for example, about $4.8m for Western Australia.
Community health projects in Victoria this year will absorb $15m compared with more than twice that amount $30.3m in New South Wales. Last year Victoria received about $5m for community health facilities compared with more than $ 14m for New South Wales, which is nearly treble that amount. The obvious loss in revenue for Victoria is not due to any ideological or philosophic objection to the Australian Government’s program or to our involvement. Rather it stems from the archaic and fragmented structure of health administration in Victoria which has recently been alluded to in the SymeTownsend report. It encourages inefficiency and poor coordination at all levels. Shortcomings in the bureaucracy are aggravated by the Liberal tradition of relying on private initiative to satisfy health needs. Certainly self help and community involvement should be encouraged but some
Government guidance is essential; otherwise the inequalities in the distribution of health services are accentuated.
Unlike this Government, the Opposition and its colleagues in power in Victoria rely mainly on private initiative even in the provision of essential public health services. The most vocal sections of the community are generally those in the least need, but they obtain the best services. A Liberal-National Country Party government at the national level would abandon our rational approach to the provision of health services. The result would be a reversion to stagnation by neglecting their responsibilities to the public and pandering instead to private interest. Those in the greatest need would be forced in due course to rely on second rate health services. In fact on all the figures that have so far been produced by the Leader of the Opposition and by the shadow Treasurer as to where their expenditure would go we would have to cut health spending by 12 per cent. That would require a drastic deficiency in the Northern Territory, in the Australian Capital Territory and in services provided by the States or a crippling imposition of charges- a backward step, a great leap back to the 1950s- for services which are now free.
– Is the Treasurer aware that the businessman named by him in an earlier answer is the person whose revelations about conversations with ACTU-Solo Enterprises Pty Ltd directors led to the exposure of the secret oil deal about which the royal commission claimed the former Minister for Minerals and Energy had been deceived? Is the Treasurer suggesting that the royal commission’s assessment of the credibility of evidence given by this businessman is less accurate than his own? Does he doubt now the royal commission’s findings?
-I am not quite clear how the royal commission got into the issue which was raised earlier, namely, that the person concerned was designated in the newspaper as being a former executive member of the Labor Party. The article neglected to mention that he ceased being a member of the Labor Party Executive or of the Labor Party when he was expelled in about 1955 or 1956. I restate these things because it takes a little while for simple propositions to sink into the Country Party’s mind. The next thing I mentioned was that he had been a Democratic Labor Party candidate on a number of occasions. The next thing I mentioned was that he had been associated with and had made a considerable amount of money from- he is reported to be a millionaire- land deals connected with the establishment of oil company service stations. I am not suggesting that from that must follow an association between that man and the Leader of the National Country Party. Because of an assumption obviously they have the same interest with the same oil company I do not think that necessarily follows at all. They may be different oil companies.
– I take a point of order. Is it in order for a Minister to slander a person under the cover of privilege?
– I suggest that there would be some extraordinarily short speeches in this Parliament, especially in the last few days, if I upheld the point of order.
-The point I am making is that there is no justification for inconsistent conclusions to be arrived at from different circumstances. The Deputy Leader of the National Country Party is doing exactly this. He is suggesting that because this man apparently supplied some information to the Royal Commission- I am not aware of the details; one can make one’s own assessment of how credible that assertion would be- and because in the view of the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party the information was credible, everything else must be credible. Frankly I think it is scarcely credible to imply, as the Melbourne Herald did, that this man got a leak of information on a revenue raising decision when the 3 people who were involved in that decision were the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and me- scarcely the sort of people who would seek out this gentleman to invest in him a very special confidence. I would rather invest that sort of confidence in the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party before I invested it in a person such as this one. Everyone here would appreciate how likely I would be to invest any sort of confidence in any members of the National Country Party. Apart from being worried as to whether they could hold it I would be more worried as to whether they could understand it.
(Mr Hurford having addressed a question to the Prime Minister-
-Mr Speaker -
-Order! The question is out of order. It asks the honourable gentleman to comment on a statement which has been made.
-Mr Speaker -
-The question is out of order.
– Let me speak on a point of order.
– I will hear a point of order.
- Mr Speaker, yesterday you allowed a question based on a newspaper report to be directed to me. It now appears that in the same papers the newspaper report was denied. This is a very clear example of the evil which flows from allowing questions to be asked which cannot be verified.
– Sack him.
– I suggest that if the honourable member for Darling Downs would like to remain in the chamber he might also like to remain silent and not make statements such as that. The question asked yesterday solicited information. The question asked today solicits an opinion, and opinions are out of order.
- Mr Speaker -
– I am not going to argue. I call the Leader of the Opposition.
– I ask: Had either the Treasurer, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Prime Minister been involved in any pre-Budget discussions with any of the directors of ACTUSolo Enterprises Pty Ltd in their capacity as directors of ACTU-Solo or in any other capacity such as President of the Australian Labor Party?
-The right honourable gentleman will grab at any infamy he can to try to denigrate the character of other people. It is increasingly obvious that in the last 48 hours personal integrity is being discounted rapidly by the behaviour of members of the Opposition. When I answered the initial question on this matter there were rather offensive objections from members of the Opposition. I suggest to all members of this Parliament that there must be respect for the personal integrity of members of Parliament or this system cannot function.
Opposition members interjecting.
– I do not think honourable members opposite have any justification for criticising or in any way stigmatising or impugning my integrity in any way at all at any time. I am objecting to the interjections more than to the question. The question itself flows from the general character of behaviour of members of the Opposition who will desperately say anything. For instance, the Leader of the Opposition a few days ago in this Parliament asserted dishonourable conduct on the part of a senior Minister of the Government. He suggested that the
Minister had smuggled a document to him because in some way he was set upon a course to help undermine if not destroy the position of the Government. It transpired a little later, when the issue was clarified, that the Deputy Prime Minister, as a matter of common courtesy, had handed a document on request and openly to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
How far can dishonourableness go in this Parliament? We can all smear by imputation if that is the pitch of the game honourable members opposite want to play. By and large when it comes to rough house pontics, members of the Labor Party can hold their own with anyone. I am talking to honourable members in a very serious fashion. I resent these personal imputations. I have spoken with no one and I would be confident in asserting that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister- both of whom have nodded to me- spoke with no one. No one knew about this matter except we three and, of course, a couple of senior public servants. I hope that the Opposition is not going to set out on a witch hunt now for the senior public servants and impute to the very top people in the Treasury that they have been leaks for this sort of information. There is no evidence to justify the imputation that the Leader of the Opposition has built into that queston. Anyone can assert that he had inside information and give details of the inside informaton long after the event occurred.
– Why not answer the queston which you did not answer?
– I answered it and I will say again bluntly that not one of us spoke with anyone on this issue.
-Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to a denial issued in Adelaide to allegations made earlier in Singapore by Mr Khemlani? Has all the information about this matter been given to this House?
-Yesterday afternoon my attention was drawn to newspaper reports of comments by Mr Tim Anderson, a solicitor of Adelaide, completely denying the statements which were made on television by Mr Khemlani and which were the basis of a question to me by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition yesterday. I would not ordinarily mention Mr Anderson’s name but he will be remembered as the counsel who was allowed by the Senate to advise Mr Karidis when he was called before its iniquitous inquisition last July. So he is known to the Parliament and his conduct on that occasion was widely commended by honourable senators on both sides. The question that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked me yesterday concerned contacts between me or my personal staff and Mr Khemlani. I gave a reply then. Mr Khemlani’s comments appeared in newspapers yesterday. Mr Anderson’s denials also appeared in the same newspapers yesterday. The program in which Mr Khemlani appeared was not shown on television on Monday night in Canberra- I believe that it was shown last night- so I had to go purely on general information that I was given. I had not been able to see the program, since I had been in Canberra on Monday night.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition deliberately raised this matter yesterday, relying on only half of the stories which appeared in the newspapers. Mr Khemlani alleged that Mr Tim Anderson had invited him to fly to Sydney to discuss a proposed loan and Mr Anderson had said that he would telephone my office. Mr Anderson has given the lie to these suggestions. His denials were published yesterday morning in the same issue of the newspapers as reported Mr Khemlani’s statements on television the night before. They were there for everyone to see. Specifically, Mr Anderson said:
I deny that I said I would make a call to either Mr Connor ‘s or Mr Whitlam ‘s office.
Likewise, I deny I told Mr Khemlani I had spoken to the private or personal secretary of Mr Whitlam.
I believe that there could not be a clearer example of the desperate lengths to which the Liberal Party will now resort under its present leadership and deputy leadership. As the Treasurer has just pointed out, the Leader of the Opposition did not scruple to say that somebody on the front bench had leaked documents to the Opposition. It turned out that he was referring to the Deputy Prime Minister. The Deputy Prime Minister had quoted in the Parliament from a Treasury document about the budget calculations of the Leader of the Opposition- his budget which the Leader of the Opposition said last Wednesday is no longer operative.
It turned out that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had afterwards asked the Deputy Prime Minister for a copy of the Treasury document and the Deputy Prime Minister had obliged him. On the basis of this, we had the Leader of the Opposition making these allegations about everybody on the front bench. Accordingly, last Thursday afternoon the Sydney Sun comes out with this main heading: ‘ Fraser tells: Leak by Minister! ‘ The next day the Sydney Daily Telegraph’s editorial describes ‘Revelation of a traitor in the ranks of Labor’s own front bench!’ Now we know that it is a document that the Deputy Prime Minister gave to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition at the latter’s request. I would be very nappy to have it incorporated in Hansard if leave were given to me.
-Is leave granted?
-Leave is granted?
Mr Malcolm Fraser- For what? (Honourable members interjecting)
- Mr Speaker, I apologise to the Prime Minister but I do not always listen to his acting in this Parliament.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will resume his seat. I have asked whether leave is granted. Leave is granted.
– For what?
– What is this for?
-Order! It is not the responsibility of the Chair to listen on behalf of honourable members. I have twice asked whether leave is granted and no one has refused leave. The Prime Minister has explained that leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
OPPOSITION PROPOSALS: COMMENTS AND COSTS
The Leader of the Opposition proposed a number of measures related to tax relief, business incentives and expenditure restraint. The main proposals are listed below, with approximate cost estimates where these can be made.
Personal Income Tax Relief
Further reductions in tax in 1975-76. The additional amount of relief specified is $500m. On top of the relief already given, another $50Om cannot be afforded. It is absurd to suggest that the relief proposed in the Budget is only $30m- on either a full year or current year basis it runs to hundreds of millions.
Introduce the Mathews proposals over 3 years. It is not clear that this means, as a three-year phase-in was not one of the Mathews proposals. Indexation would cost roughly $1 ‘A billion a year, but, apart from the cost, the system needs an overhaul before it can be considered a satisfactory basis for indexation. This Budget’s proposals aim to get it into reasonable shape after a long period of neglect.
Restructure tax scales so as to assist families, and especially single income families. This Budget’s proposals specifically direct a large share of relief to families, and the new dependants rebates and the sole parent rebate particularly benefit single income families. The new system also cuts marginal rates of the average worker, and reduces the disincentives which used to exist
It is asserted that there will be an increase in the tax burden for every taxpayer earning over $5,000. It is clear that the new system will impose less tax than the old on most taxpayers; the examples released with the Budget illustrate that. Of course, as incomes continue to rise, so will tax. But that would apply under the old as well as the new system, or under any system which would be a practical proposition.
-Mr Speaker, I thank the House. We find now that yesterday the Deputy Leader of the Opposition displayed his complete dishonesty in the questions which we have to face here. He bases a question to me on one story in the newspapers and omits any reference to the refutation appearing in the same issues. Mr Speaker, my patience has run out. The Leader of the Opposition, after three-quarters of an hour, has summoned sufficient courage to ask one question. He has his wits so far about him that he does not know what is being tabled or incorporated in Hansard.
Mr Speaker, since the man will not front up any further today, I ask that further questions be placed on notice.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the findings of the National Shopping Basket Survey conducted on 16 and 17 October 1975 by the Department for Science and Consumer Affairs.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the annual report of the Australian Council on Awards in Advanced Education for 1974.
– For the information of honourable members, I present a progress report of the Children’s Commission dated September 1975.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the annual report of the Department of Urban and Regional Development for the year ended 30 June 1 975.
-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Order! Does the honourable gentleman claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. We have had a great opportunity to hear the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) playing out his role of Falstaff this morning. The Prime Minister sought leave to table a certain document which he claims was the document that the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Crean) gave to the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch).
It was not the document the Prime Minister had in his hands. It is the typical misconception, the typical deceit of this Parliament that has permeated the Prime Minister’s term in office month after month, week after week, and I ask leave to table the appropriate document.
– Incorporate it.
– I ask leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? Mr Whitlam-Yes Mr SPEAKER-Leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Earlier today we received a copy of the press statement by the Treasurer on the costing of the Opposition’s budgetary proposals which was released by the Treasurer’s Office. We were in the process of preparing a minute for you on certain inaccuracies which, unfortunately, found their way into that Statement when we received a copy of Mr Lynch ‘s press release.
In the light of Mr Lynch’s press release the following comments can be made on the Opposition’s budgetary proposals:
Mr Lynch’s statement makes it clear that the $500m of additional relief this year is to be given by means of a first step towards indexation, and that the latter would not be in addition to the $500m. Mr Fraser’s speech was not entirely clear on the point
If our interpretation of Mr Hayden’s press release is correct, he assumed that there were to be two changes, and that the cost of the step towards indexation is included in the $900m he quoted for Mathews indexation proposal- i.e. the latter figure was not meant to relate only to the stock valuation adjustment, as Mr Lynch has supposed.
Mr Fraser says that he would implement the recommendations of the Mathews Committee on company taxation. Mathews preference was to apply both adjustments to 1974- 75 incomes, which would affect tax payable in 1 975- 76. Mr Lynch ‘s statement makes it clear that the Opposition ‘s proposal is to commence with half of the stock adjustment on that basis, but not start the depreciation adjustment immediately.
On that basis the cost this year would be half of the cost of the full stock adjustment. Mr Lynch puts it at$500m. That would be at the lower end of the range implied in the Mathews Report the figure could be$50m higher if the other end of the range were chosen, but this does not seem worth arguing about.
The proposal would leave the company tax rate at 45 per cent, which would save the $120m which the 21/2 per cent reduction will cost.
A 40 per cent investment allowance would have a full year cost of about $300m. Mr Lynch says that it would apply to plant installed from July 1975 (Mr Fraser did not specify the commencing date), and in that event there would be no cost in 1975-76.
It is still not clear whether the investment allowance would be in addition to the double depreciation proposed in the Budget the latter has no revenue cost in 1975-76. Leaving aside current year revenue considerations, it is noted that full implementation of Mathews plus a 40 per cent investment allowance would cost $ 1 , 600m to $ 1 , 800m in a full year, and double depreciation another $75m. By comparison, company tax is about$21/4 billion.
The nature of the proposal is not explained and there is therefore no way of checking the $10m cost estimated for it. It seems likely that it would operate by easing or removing the need to pay out as dividends a sufficient distribution, and thereby reducing personal tax on dividends. Normally that would not have a marked effect on revenue in the year the dividends are paid (or not paid). One wonders therefore whether a$10m cost in 1975-76 implies a quite substantial full year cost involved in the proposal. In 1 972-73 (the latest year for which figures are available) required distributions of private companies were about $450m; personal tax on the dividends could be at rates of up to 65 per cent.
Items 9 to 14 in the table attached to Mr Lynch ‘s statement are estimated to yield economies of $ 1,000m. As our notes indicated, this estimate is considered excessive- maximum savings associated with zero public service growth, etc. are likely to be no more than half that estimated by the Opposition (zero public service growth itself would yield savings of about $20m) it is wrong to claim a $75 m cut in Treasurer’s Advance as a reduction in outlays there is no provision for Treasurer’s Advance in budgeted outlays other expenditure economies are estimated to generate $480m, or almost half of total economies, but the examples quoted by Mr Fraser would yield a maximum of only about $1 15m in 1975-76 and that would require cessation of growth centres, urban rehabilitation and area improvement programs.
Acting First Assistant Secretary 27 August 1975
-Mr. Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented and wish to make a personal explanation. The Minister for Northern Australia (Mr Keating) stated in his reply to a question that in spite of 23 years of Liberal Country Party government no effort was made to grant executive authority to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory.
– I raise a point of order. There was no reference made to the honourable member for Gwydir in the answer by the Minister for Northern Australia. I ask you, Mr Speaker, to rule that the honourable member may not make a personal explanation on the basis of the answer given to that question.
– It is a very line line. The honourable member was the Minister in charge of the Northern Territory during that period, but I suggest that he not debate any policy matters.
– In the last LiberalCountry Party Government I was the Minister responsible for the Northern Territory. For the benefit of the Minister for Northern Australia I refer him to Hansard of 25 October 1972 where he will find that I on behalf of the Government announced a complete package of proposals that were worked out with the members of the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory which offered to them executive autonomy and constitutional advancement. So I would ask him to read that and inform himself of the facts.
-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. Yesterday the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) claimed that I had misrepresented him by saying a report on migrant education had been virtually suppressed. The facts are these: My office sought a copy of the report. It was told by the Parliamentary Library that there were only 2 copies available and to get one we had to have it photocopied. We then rang the Department of Education. We were told that the report was virtually unobtainable, but it would get one for me and me alone because of my position.
(No. 2) 1975
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
-In accordance with the provisions of the Public Works
Committee Act 1969-1974, 1 present the report relating to the following proposed works:
Multi-storey Ward Block at Repatriation General Hospital, Greenslopes, Queensland.
Ordered that the report be printed.
-I have received a letter from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The evasion of the Government in the manner in which it reported to the Parliament and the people on the whole circumstances of the overseas loan negotiations.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)
-Mr Speaker, this is the third occasion -
- Mr Speaker, the most urgent business before the Parliament is the passing of the Budget. I move:
That the business of the day be called on.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Motion (by Mr Charles Jones) agreed to:
That the amendments be taken into consideration, in Committee of the whole House, forthwith.
Consideration of Senate’s amendments. Clause 3. ‘overseas transport’ means transport of goods or persons, being transport constituting part of trade or commerce with other countries or transport of goods that are the subject of such trade or commerce;
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
In sub-clause (1), leave out the definition of “overseas transport”.
Senate’s amendment No. 2-
Leave out sub-clause (2). Clause 5.
This Act has effect notwithstanding anything in any Act passed before the commencement of this Act but, except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act, nothing in this Act affects the operation of any other Act so far as that other Act is capable of operating concurrently with this Act.
Senate’s amendment No. 3-
Leave out “, except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act,”.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 4-
After clause 5, insert the following new clause: “ 5 A. Nothing in this Act or in the regulations shall affect, or authorize action in connexion with, any obligations imposed by any of the agreements referred to in section 3 of the Airlines Agreements Act 1952-1973 on the parties to those agreements.”.
Senate’s amendment No. 5-
In sub-clause ( 1 ), leave out “4”, insert “2 “.
As person shall not be appointed as a member unless the Government-General is satisfied that the person is qualified for appointment by virtue of his having had experience at a high level in industry, commerce, economics, law, public administration or some other field that has substantial relevance to the duties of a member.
Senate’s amendment No. 6-
Leave out the clauses, insert the following clause: “ 7.( 1 ) One of the members shall be a person who is or has been a barrister, solicitor, barrister and solicitor, or legal practitioner, of the High Court or of the Supreme Court of a State or Territory of not less than 5 years ‘ standing. “(2) The other 2 members shall be persons who have had experience at a high level in industry, commerce, economics, law, public administration or some other field that has substantial relevance to the duties of a member. ‘ ‘.
Part III- Regulation of, and Powers of Commission in Relation to, Trade and Commerce.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 7-
Leave out the Part, insert the following Part:
“PART III-POWERS OF COMMISSION
“9(1) The Minister may at any time, by notice in writing given by him to the Commission, direct the Commission to investigate any matter or matters specified in the notice, being a matter or matters relating to inter-State transport. “(2) Without limiting the generality of sub-section (1), the Minister may at any time, by notice in writing given by him to the Commission, direct the Commission to investigate all or any of the following matters:
whether the terms and conditions on which a service by way of or in relation to inter-State transport is provided are reasonable and just and, if not, what terms and conditions would be reasonable and just in relation to the provision of that service;
whether any preference or advantage in connexion with the provision of any service by way of or in relation to inter-State transport given to any particular person, State, locality or class or kind of transport is undue and unreasonable;
whether any discrimination or disadvantage in connexion with the provision of any service by way of or in relation to inter-State transport to which any particular person, State, locality or class or kind of transport is subjected is undue and unreasonable;
whether the doing of an act or thing by a State, or an authority of a State, as to any railway, in respect of or so as to affect trade or commerce among the States, constitutes a preference or discrimination that is undue and unreasonable, or unjust to any State. “(3) In deciding whether the doing of any act or thing constitutes for the purposes of paragraph (2) (d) a preference or discrimination that is undue and unreasonable, or unjust to any State, the Commission shall have due regard to the financial responsibilities incurred by any State in connexion with the construction and maintenance of its railways. “(4) Where the Commission has commenced to investigate a matter or matters, the Minister may, by notice in writing given by him to the Commission, direct the Commission to extend the investigation into any other matter or matters specified in the notice being a matter or matters referred to in sub-section ( 1 ) or ( 2 ). “(5) Where the Commission has been directed to investigate more than one matter, the Minister may give directions to the Commission as to the order in which it is to investigate those matters. “(6) The Commission shall comply with any direction given to the Commission by the Minister in accordance with this section. “10(1) Where the Commission had held an investigation, the Commission shall furnish to the Minister a report setting out any findings made by the Commission as a result of the investigation (including, where the Commission has investigated a matter referred to in paragraph 9 (2) (a), (b), (c) or (d), any adjudication by the Commission in relation to that matter) and any recommendations that the Commission thinks fit to make in consequence of those findings. “(2) The Commission may, if it thinks fit, recommend a system of freight cost equalisation or subsidy. “(3) The Minister shall cause a report furnished to him by the Commission to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 1 5 sitting days of that House after the receipt of the report by the Minister.”.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 8-
In sub-clause (1), paragraphs (a) and (b), leave out the paragraphs, insert the following paragraphs: “(a) the President shall be paid salary at the rate of $35,000 per annum and an annual allowance at the rate of $1,750 per annum; and
a member other than the President shall be paid salary at the rate of $27,500 per annum and an annual allowance at the rate of $500 per annum. “.
Senate’s amendment No. 9-
In sub-clause (2), leave out the sub-clause, insert the following sub-clause: “(2) Where a member is absent overnight from his ordinary place of residence in the course of the performance of his duties, he shall be paid travelling allowance at such rate as is prescribed.”.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 10-
Leave out paragraph (c). Clause 30.
If a member to whom section 29 does not apply was immediately before his appointment, contributing to the Superannuation Fund under the Superannuation Act 1922-1974, he shall be deemed, in respect of his service as a member, to continue to be an employee within the meaning of that Act.
Senate’s amendment No. 11-
In sub-clause (3), lines 1 to 5, leave out the sub-clause.
Senate’s amendment No. 12-
Leave out sub-clauses ( 1 ) to (3), insert the following subclauses: “(1A) Subject to this section, the Judges’ Pensions Act 1968-1974 has effect as if the President had the status of a Judge of the Australian Industrial Court. “(1) The Judges’ Pensions Act 1968-1974 does not apply to the President if section 29 applies to him. “(2) If the President is a person to whom section 29 would, but for this sub-section, apply and he elects, within 3 months after his appointment as President, by notice in writing to the Minister that that section shall not apply to him, that section does not apply, and shall be deemed not to have applied, to him. “(3) Where the President makes an election in accordance with sub-section (2), the Superannuation Act 1922-1974 applies in relation to him as if he had resigned.”.
Except with the consent of the Minister, a member shall not engage in paid employment outside the duties of his office.
Senate’s amendment No. 13-
Leave out the clause, insert the following clause: “32. ( 1) A member shall not engage in paid employment outside the duties of his office. “(2) Nothing in this Act prevents a member or members, with the consent of the Minister, from arbitrating without payment, on any matter on which the member is, or the members are, requested by a person to arbitrate.”.
Senate ‘s amendent No. 14-
In sub-clause (2), leave out “not less than 2 members”, insert “the other 2 members”.
Senate’s amendment No. 15-
In sub-clause (6), paragraph (a), leave out “3”, insert “2”.
Clause 34 (Operation of Prices Justification Act and Trade Practices Act)
Senate’s amendment No. 16-
Leave out the clause. Clause 40.
1 ) The Commission shall, within 60 days after each year ending on 30 June, furnish to the Minister, for presentation to the Parliament, a report with respect to the operations of the Commission in that year.
The Commission shall include in the report with respect to its operations in a year particulars of any matters into which the Commission was directed by the Minister during that year to hold an investigation.
Senate’s amendment No. 17-
Leave out sub-clause (2).
– I move:
That the amendments be agreed to.
The House will recall that in my second reading speech delivered last April I specified in some detail the need for, and the proposed operations of, the Inter-State Commission. Honourable members will be aware that the Bill for the reestablishment of the Commission has been before this Parliament since that time. I wish to announce that, in the light of deliberations after the Bill was introduced into this Parliament, the Government has decided to withdraw clauses 13 and 17 of the Bill. Also, following negotiations between the Honourable P. J. Nixon, the honourable member for Gippsland, and spokesman for the Opposition on transport matters, and myself, on behalf of the Government, certain further amendments to the Bill, seventeen in number, have been agreed to. These amendments were moved by the Opposition in the Senate and were agreed to by the Government. These are the amendments now before honourable members. I commend them for approval.
I am pleased to be able to record these developments which will lead to the reappearance of this Commission after so many years to work in the field of interstate transport. The Bill, as amended, will result in the reestablishment of an Inter-State Commission with strong powers of investigation in matters relating to interstate transport. The Government expects the Commission to make a positive contribution to actions by this Parliament in promoting the development of Australia’s transport system. I commend the amendments to the Committee.
-This Bill was introduced first on 9 April this year and was debated in this place on 2 1 April. I would like to recall to the minds of honourable members the circumstances of that debate. Honourable members will recall the very disgraceful situation arrived at purely as a result of the actions of the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) who, after allowing only 3 speakers from the Opposition to debate what was at that stage a most horrendous Bill, proceeded to gag the debate and allowed 30 minutes for the Committee stage of the debate. I make that point, Mr Chairman, to illustrate how important the Senate is in this Parliament. This is a typical example of the value of a House of Review. We could not get a better example of the value of a House of Review than what has happened with this Inter-State Commission Bill, because the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) admitted in his statement just now that 1 7 amendments were agreed to. I tried to move those amendments in this House but the debate was gagged by the Leader of the House.
On 2 1 April he declared that the Bill was an urgent Bill. He said that it had to be rushed through to get this Inter-State Commission into action. Now, on 22 October,’ months later, we finally see the reappearance of this Bill which was described by the Leader of the House on 2 1 April as an urgent Bill and which was guillotined through by the Government in this place. In his usual dictatorial fascist-like fashion he tried to get his own way. If it had not been for the power of the Senate, the House of Review, we would not be in this position today. We now have a reasonable Bill that the people of Australia can see and understand, not the horrendous grab for power contained in the original Bill. We now can proceed with a reasonable Bill. I would like to remind the Committee of what was intended by this Bill in the first place. What this Bill proposed in the first place was to make a grab not only for interstate transport matters but also by a very clever skilful piece of legislation for areas of trade and commerce. The Commission could have controlled the whole of trade and commerce from its very source right through the whole of its activity. Not only that but the InterState Commission would have had powers beyond the control of this Parliament. It would have had powers that exceeded the powers of any other body set up by this Parliament. Legislation to set up a supranatural body was introduced into this Parliament.
This Bill was declared to be an urgent Bill and was gagged in usual fashion by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly). It was gagged in the typical fashion that we saw the matter of public importance gagged a while ago. Open debate is being gagged by this Government all the time. So I make the point again about the importance of the Senate. One cannot underestimate the importance of the Senate as a House of review where fortunately the Government has not the numbers and as a result we can get reasonable legislation.
This is about the sixth piece of legislation that the Minister for Transport has brought into this House that I have had to amend in this fashion to get reasonable legislation. I feel sorry for the Minister. Perhaps he has been badly advised; I am not sure what it is. I do not really like to think that this is the result of the Minister’s own failings although I am fast coming to the conclusion that it might be because he gets caught in this position time and time again in respect of important pieces of legislation. The Minister proved in the second reading debate on this legislation that he did not understand what was involved. Therefore I am at a bit of a loss to understand the Minister’s position. But, in the many months following the introduction of this legislation he has done some homework. He has started to realise the value of my contribution and the amendments that I have attempted to make to the Bill.
But I have to say again that the Leader of the House is the guilty one. He is culpable. All of these months of delay would have been overcome if it had not been for his actions. On one occasion I heard the Minister for Transport harangue the nation outside this place for the delay over this Bill. He said that the Bill was held up in the Senate. What the Senate did in its masterly fashion was to put my amendments into practice. These amendments have now been accepted by the Government. What a shamefaced Minister it must be sitting at the table. I cannot get over it. I am really astounded at the haranguing that took place between the introduction of this Bill and the stage we have now reached.
The activities of the Commission are now confined. The Commission will now operate rather more on the basis of the Industries Assistance Commission. It is now an advisory body. It will not have the power to go out and hold an investigation and then to come back and lay down an order as to what will be done and control the States, private enterprise and the whole nation. We have taken that frightening power away. All that the Commission may do now is, on reference from the Minister, go out, hold an investigation and advise the Minister what might be done. It is then up to the legislative authority of this Parliament to put something into action if the Minister so desires. The Minister will not be able to hide behind some great supranatural body outside the Parliament which is not answerable to the Parliament. Members of the Labor Party ought to be grateful to me for having taken the sting out of this monster- a monster they would not have been able to control.
I would now like to refer to the situation in Tasmania. There is nothing in the amendments that I have moved to this Bill that stops this body- assuming that the proper appointments are made, and I shall come to that in a momentholding investigations into the problems of Tasmania. All I can say about that, of course, is that having appointed Mr Justice Nimmo to hold -
– He is a Mr.
– The Minister is right. I have mistaken him for someone else. He is not a Judge. Mr Nimmo has not reported to the Parliament. I have a sneaking suspicion that he has not done so because the Government does not want the report. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Government is not prepared to face up to what is in the report. It is not prepared to face up to the cost that is contained in the report. I think it is a tragedy, a shame and a dereliction of duty to Tasmania that Mr Nimmo ‘s report has not been tabled in this Parliament and acted upon. Are we to get the same sort of delays now that we have an Interstate Commission? Are matters to be bunged off to this body? Are we never to get any result?
– What are you talking about?
-Well, it is the Government’s fault that this Bill was delayed. It is absolutely the Government’s fault. It is nobody else’s fault but the Government’s. If it had not been for the fact that the Leader of the House gagged debate on the Bill when it was first introduced I would have had a proper opportunity to explain the amendments that have now been accepted. We could have reached agreement on this Bill on 2 1 April. But instead members of the Government have been carrying on like a bunch of dictatorspetty dictators at that- trying to steamroll their stuff through this Parliament. The nation has lost because of that This is a perfect illustration, as I have pointed out, of the need for a Senate.
I now wish to refer to the appointments that are to be made to the Inter-State Commission. I would hope that the Ministe might extend to me, as the shadow Minister for Transport, the courtesy of discussing who might be appointed on this Commission, not that I expect to influence him, but simply out of courtesy. It is the sort of courtesy I might extend to him if the position is reversed. The appointments to the Commission are of vital importance. The Commission can investigate such matters as the transport problems of Western Australia, the transport problems to Darwin and the need for different modes of transport in different areas. The Commission can play an important part in assisting to gather information. For example, I have never been sure whether the State railways commissioners are charging a proper freight rate or a more than competitive freight rate than they ought to be charging with the result that Associated Steamships Pty Ltd is being forced out of business in Western Australia. The Minister has never been able to tell us whether the freight rates are correct.
But as soon as ASP goes out of business I know what will happen to rail freights. They will go only one way, and that is up. The railways will then have a monopoly on the trade.
– You can blame the States for that. They control it.
– The Minister for Transport controls the central part of the railways system. It cannot work without the co-operation of the Australian National Railways. The Minister does not even know his own business. That is why I think he ought to talk me to about appointments.
I think the appointments are very important. I accept that there ought to be someone of repute from the transport field involved in this. I hope that the Minister will look for someone of repute and not just one of his trade union mates whom he is so fond of putting on these commissions. I hope that he will look for someone with knowledge, integrity and high repute who is known in the transport field. I think that such a man would be able to put some real life into this industry. I am pleased to see that the Inter-State Commission legislation has now come back into this Parliament after being delayed months by the Government’s own stupidity. The Bill is now in an acceptable and workable form.
– It is a wonder the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) has not broken his arm by patting himself on the back. I would like to put forward a few facts on the matter. The Bill has been held up in the Senate and not in this place. I think the Opposition should be very grateful to the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) for being big enough and co-operative enough to accept the amendments that were made in the Senate.
- Mr Chairman, I draw your attention to the state of the House.
– After all, it was a big document and it is a big piece of legislation.
– Order! The honourable member will resume his seat when he is called to order. A quorum has been requested. ( Quorum formed)
– The honourable n,ember for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) will probably receive a medal when he leaves this place for the number of times he has drawn attention to the state of the House and for the number of speeches he has interrupted in this chamber. That is his only contribution to this place. He is a teller. He counts the numbers during a division, and he draws attention to the state of the House. He might take note of what the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) said last night: The more times attention is drawn to the state of the House the fewer adjournment debates and business debates there will be.
Let me return to the Bill. In every shape and form this is a very historic Bill. I think the Senate has probably been very helpful in this matter, but I certainly do not agree with the honourable member for Gippsland who praised the Senate and said it is a great thrill to have such a Senate. After what has been happening in the last few weeks, the less said about the Senate the better. I think the Senate is actually digging its own grave very quickly by its present actions. The Government has accepted 1 5 amendments to this Bill.
– Seventeen amendments. Some of them have been suggestions of the former Minister for Shipping and Transport, now the shadow Minister for transport. I appreciate his concern, I appreciate his interest, but I feel that the Government should be praised for accepting these amendments. When we were in Opposition I suppose that we had one amendment a year accepted by the Liberal-Country Party Government. The Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs (Mr Clyde Cameron), who was formerly Minister for Labor and Immigration, accepted 15 amendments to one of his Bills last year. So this Government is co-operative. It is sharing responsibility with the Opposition on some of these important measures.
The honourable member for Gippsland referred to the slowness with which Mr Nimmo is preparing his report for this Parliament. I agree with that. I feel that Mr Nimmo has had long enough to bring this vital report to the Minister and to this Parliament. (Quorum formed)
Mr Chairman, I suggest that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Standing Orders should get together and work out a system to prevent honourable members from upsetting the business of this Parliament by drawing attention to the state of the House as they have been doing lately. They have made a complete farce of the whole set-up.
– You are like an outraged mouse.
-Mighty Mouse. In conclusion, I want to commend the Minister for Transport for having had the courage to bring this Bill into the Parliament in the first place. I thank all those who have contributed to the Bill’s going through the other place in its present form. It is a wonder it got out of the other place. I hope that Mr Nimmo will be able to present his report before the Budget session is concluded. I hope that the report will contain some of the answers to the problems of the Tasmanian and Bass Strait transport. I commend the Minister for his tremendous interest in what is going on across Bass Strait. At all times he has endeavoured to solve the problems of transport between the mainland and Tasmania. He has brought together in conference the Tasmanian members to discuss the problems of that State. I hope that this massive piece of legislation- this historic piece of legislation- will contribute to the solution to many of our problems of transport around this great continent and particularly in Tasmania, across the other side of Bass Strait.
– Very briefly in reply I want to clarify a few points raised by the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon). First and foremost, the Senate had nothing whatever to do with the amendments that we are accepting here this morning. The Senate was in a position to obstruct and to carry out the role that it has carried out so well during the term of office of this Government- the role of obstructing important national legislation. The amendments were amendments agreed to by the honourable member for Gippsland and me during an exchange of opinions. He put up propositions that were looked at, that were amended and that with the assistance of the parliamentary draftsman were knocked into shape and put into the correct parliamentary form. Quite frankly I thank the honourable member for Gippsland for his assistance and for the co-operative manner in which he has worked with me and my officers in putting this Bill together. I also want to thank the officers of my Department for the manner in which they have worked on the amendments to this Bill and on the original drafting. Let us get the picture clear. I think the honourable member for Gippsland wants as much as I do an interstate commission that will be in a position to investigate transport because he realises that it will be to the advantage of this country and because it should never have been allowed to lapse in the manner in which it did during the 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government. That is the position. We picked up the responsibilities of government to carry out an investigation into transport. We brought in the initial Bill. It was a wide-ranging Bill. That is the way in which it should have been drafted. That is the Bill that should have been brought into this Parliament and carried by this Parliament. But if we cannot reach an agreement with the Opposition, which has the numbers in another place and which has deliberately set out to obstruct legislation, we have to achieve the next best thing, and this is the next best thing.
We still have a transport commission- an interstate commission- which will be able to investigate transport to the degree which this Government wants. As I said, we would have liked to go a bit further. We could not, so we have what we want- an interstate commission to investigate and report to the Parliament on transport. It will be of great value and assistance to transport in this country, whether it is used by this Government or some future government. Reference was made to Mr Nimmo ‘s report into transport charges to and from Tasmania. I might even have a look to see whether we will ask the interstate commission to carry out an investigation because I do not want to see Mr Nimmo carry on his investigation into the future and never bring down a report, like the inquiry into repatriation which is an absolute disgrace. So I agree with that part of what the honourable member for Gippsland had to say.
I will consider what he had to say about appointments. Let me make one thing very clear. The honourable member for Gippsland made some caustic remarks about trade union representatives whom I have appointed to various commissions for which I am responsible. Honourable members can rest assured that I intend to continue appointing trade unionists to all these commissions. Let us have a look at the people whom I have appointed. Let the honourable member for Gippsland or any other member of the Opposition take to task any one of those men who have been appointed. They are all men with the highest credentials and integrity that have been appointed to these positions. Such people will continue to be appointed to commissions. We appointed another such person last Monday. That appointment will be announced at some later stage. Have a look at the people we have put on commissions. We have set out to put people on commissions who can contribute something. All this garbage that is tossed out from time to time about Party hacks, about jobs for the boys, is absolute distortion and lies because all the people that we have put on to these various commissions are men who are able to make a contribution.
Invariably so many of the people who were appointed by our predecessors have been left on commissions. None of them have been maliciously dismissed. We brought in an age retirement requirement which provides that when the people on these commissions reach age 65 they are not reappointed. I think that is the time when everyone should retire. The people who replace the men who retire are men of great integrity who can bring something to the job. When the honourable member for Gippsland stoops to those tactics of questioning the integrity of the people whom we appoint to these commissions he really besmirches the case he presents and the co-operation he extended to me in redrafting these Bills. We have an Inter-State Commission that is practical, that will work. We have an Australian National Airlines Commission Bill that was amended after negotiation and discussion with him and other members of the Opposition and that does work. It does not go as far as it should go. It allows monstrous inquiries like the one that was conducted in Western Australia into TAA’s entry into services there. It was a politically loaded inquiry.
– That is not right.
-Of course it was a politically loaded inquiry. (Quorum formed) All that the amendments to the Australian National Airlines Commission Bill did was stop the people of Western Australia from getting cheap air travel. That is all that was done by the setting up of a phoney commission by a phoney government. I thank the honourable member for Gippsland again for his co-operation with the officers of my Department.
Amendments agreed to.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the Leader of the Opposition claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. At question time this morning the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) misled this House in relation to a telephone conversation that I was said to have had last night. I was rung by senior executives of a certain newspaper because they had heard of certain stories that were being peddled around this building and which I am advised came from the Prime Minister’s office quite directly. The executives wanted to know whether those stories were true because they related to a conversation that I had had with His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. The stories were not true. They were completely false. I advised the Official Secretary to the Governor-General that the stories were being peddled around this building. He rang me back shortly afterwards and said that if anyone wanted confirmation of their falsehood I was to refer them to the Official Secretary. That is what happened. That is the nature of the matter. What the Prime Minister said this morning is completely false, as it so often is.
– I ask that the honourable gentleman withdraw that remark. I was not in the chamber from the outset of his remarks. I do not know what he is saying was false but I believe that -
- Mr Speaker, I am prepared to repeat the personal explanation for the Prime Minister’s advantage, if I may.
– It is most unusual but I think I ought to indicate that the Minister for Administrative Services made the remarks referred to.
-Mr Speaker, may I repeat what I was saying?
-This morning it was alleged -
– By whom?
-The Minister for Administrative Services. (Government supporters interjecting)
-Order! I suggest that honourable gentlemen allow me to conduct the business of the House.
-Mr Speaker, it was alleged this morning that I had rung certain executives of a newspaper and that I had related a conversation that I had had with His Excellency the Governor-General. Certain stories had been peddled around this building in relation to that conversation which were completely and utterly false. I had been advised that those stories had come quite directly out of the Prime Minister’s office. I immediately rang the Official Secretary and told him of the stories. He said that, if anyone in this building wanted confirmation of their inaccuracy, at that time I ought to advise them to ring the Official Secretary and he would confirm their inaccuracy. That is what happened. The initiation of the telephone conversations came not from me but from the executives of the newspapers on the simple ground that they did not believe the nature of the reports that were being peddled. If I may repeat the last part of this particular matter, the part that seemed to sting the Prime Minister, what has happened is typical of the inaccuracies that so often come from the Prime Minister and his office.
Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the Prime Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes. I heard the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) saying the first time he made his personal explanation that what came from me was false. I notice that he now says ‘ from the Prime Minister or his office ‘. I did not hear him say that before. But I made no reference before to this matter. It was not I who made any reference at all in the House to this and I assure honourable gentlemen that I have made no reference outside. I never discuss with anybody any conversation I have with the Governor-General. I never have. I never shall. As for last night, as there are a score of my colleagues who can testify, I was at Party committee meetings for about 3 hours.
-What about stag.
– If the honourable gentleman chooses to name anybody in my office who might have said this he should do so. It is quite unsatisfactory for allegations to be made about perhaps a dozen people. I have not discussed with anybody, including members of my staff, anything that I have said to the GovernorGeneral yesterday or at any time. I believe it is quite wrong for the honourable gentleman to cast a general aspersion on my staff. I have every confidence in my staff and if there is any person among them that the honourable gentleman chooses to name that person can make a statement, but of course cannot do so in the House. I do not suppose it is unparliamentary to say that something is false, but the fact is that I did not say anything in the House, and I assure honourable gentlemen I have not said anything outside the House to anyone.
- Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. May I seek your guidance as to the procedures for deletion from Hansard of the first personal explanation given by the Leader of the Opposition in which he pointed out quite clearly that it was the Prime Minister who said it.
-The Minister is not making a point of order.
– I am seeking the guidance of the Chair about a deletion from Hansard.
– It is part of the record. It could be deleted on my direction, but it would be most unusual.
- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the Minister claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. It arises out of the personal explanation by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser). He inferred that I had received certain information from the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), which of course is completely false. The source of my information I believe to be very reliable, and that is proved by the fact that the honourable gentleman did have a conversation. He should realise that sometimes when he loses a direct number he has to ring through his staff and others, and there may be leaks in those directions. It did not come from the source he mentioned, but the reliability of it is proved by the fact that the conversation took place.
Debate resumed from 15 October on motion by Mr Stewart:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise of point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) as they are associated measures. Separate questions will of course be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 2 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House that a general debate take place? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
-The Opposition agrees with these Bills. It will give them expedition in this House. In fact Hansard will have recorded that when the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart), representing the Minister for Social Security (Senator Wheeldon), introduced them into this House last week, on behalf of the Opposition I sought leave to move a motion that the debate be adjourned until a later hour that day so that the Bills could be given expedition in this House and passed to the Senate because we suspect that the Government will be trying to level the charge at the Opposition that we prevented pensioners from receiving their increases because of our delaying tactics. The Hansard of the House of Representatives would give the lie to that allegation. The following day in the Senate my friend and colleague, Senator Baume, asked a similar question of the Minister for Social Security. The Senate Hansard will again record that the Opposition said that it will give these Bills expedition. The two or three speakers on the Opposition side will be speaking relatively briefly to confirm that that is so.
Just for the sake of the record I should like to explain what these Bills do. They are part of the Budget and they give effect to the increases in benefits and pensions, both social services and repatriation. The standard pension is increased from $36 to $38.75, an increase of $2.75. The married rate is increased from $30 a week to $32.25 a week, an increase of $2.25. Exceptions are made- this is something I will refer to in a moment- for unemployment and sickness benefits for unmarried people under the age of 18 years. They remain unchanged at $36. There is an increase in the additional payment for children of pensioners, supporting mothers and unemployment and sickness benefit recipients from $7 a week to $7.50 a week, an increase of 50c. The Social Services Bill also extends a double orphan’s pension to children with one parent dead and the other in a prison or mental home. This is a commendable amendment to the Act.
The Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill proposes to increase repatriation pensions. The special or totally and permanently incapacitated rate is to increase from $68.10 to $74.10; the intermediate rate is to increase from $48.05 to $5 1.05 a week; the war and defence widows pension is to increase from $36 a week to $38.75 a week; and service pensions are to increase from $36 and $30 a week respectively for single and married persons to $38.75 and $32.25 a week, which of course is the same as the age pension. There is no increase in the general 100 per cent rate, which remains at $28 per week. They are purely changes in rates. There is no change in the basis of the application or elegibility for pensions.
This debate gives me the opportunity of referring to the social services policy of the Opposition which I had the honour to release last Monday and which I am delighted to observe that six out of the seven editorials of newspapers throughout the country commended in some way or another because of its innovations. It is appropriate to refer to one of the things it does not do. One feature of the Opposition policy is that, generally speaking, we will remove the means test concept and introduce in its place an income test concept. I shall not spell out, because one could write an essay on it, the abuses that could become apparent with an income test, but basically we see no justice or equity in applying a means test, for example, to a relatively small farmer who is suffering very bad times. The book value of his property might well run into several hundred thousand dollars and, because of the state of the primary industry and agriculture in this country, he might literally be on the breadline, but a means test disqualifies him from receiving benefits, generally speaking. Those honourable members who serve rural electorates will know that there are thousands of such people who are literally on the breadline. Professor Henderson in his report refers to them and to rural poverty. It is a fact that these people with children literally have not got the money to buy meals and clothing for their children; yet they cannot obtain benefits, whereas the person who works for them on their property as a labourer can, if things go bad, simply go to the social security office and qualify for some benefit.
I know that anybody who thinks about substitution of an income test for a means test could point immediately to a great number of ways in which people could go through some mechanism to obtain falsely benefits from the Commonwealth. When the Opposition is in office we will look to methods of preventing that as far as possible. I do not believe any system can be devised to stop that completely. The classic case that has been happening for years involves retired people who because of their assets, usually cash in the bank, cannot qualify for the pension or can qualify for only a small part of the pension. They deliberately seek to dispose of those cash assets by taking a trip around the world or investing in a more expensive home or disposing of the cash in some way they normally would not normally use just to divest themselves of assets so as to qualify for the pension. I do not think we will ever get to the stage when we will be able to eliminate all areas in which people will be able wrongfully to take revenue from the welfare system.
There are a couple of points about the Bill which I will just note. The Bill reverses the principle established by the Labor Party by reintroducing a third lower level of benefit for unmarried juniors. I will not canvass that matter at this time to any extent but the Minister did not advance any rationale to support the .implied view that the needs of an unemployed 17-year old are always necessarily less than those of an unemployed 18-year old. But this. Bill reintroduces or restores that differential, in 1973 the Labor Government abolished the junior rate of unemployment sickness benefit, leaving only the married or single rate.
I wish to quote Mr Hayden-I will be quoting him a couple of times- to indicate the tragedy of this Labor Party, which is dedicated to helping people in trouble, having to backtrack because of mismanagement and ineptitude. Its intentions were good; its ideals were good. It wanted to help the person in trouble but it failed miserably and is backtracking in so many areas. In 1973 Mr Hayden said:
In setting common benefit rates for all pensions and for unemployment and sickness benefits we have largely established the principle that common needs deserve common rates of benefit.
That principle has now been abrogated by necessity, I suppose because there is no money. I know that the honourable member for Henty (Mrs Child) has spoken many times about the pensioner who is paying rent. I agree with her. I think everybody who is interested in welfare would agree that those pensioners who have essentially no other income than the pension and who pay rent are the people for whom we should feel most compassion and to whom we should give most help. Because of inflation and other reasons and because there is no direct help in this Bill those people suffer even more.
The Bill fails to propose increases in any other benefits which form a significant part of the incomes of pensioners who are totally or nearly totally dependent on their pensions as their sole income. For example, in October 1972 at the time of the last Liberal-National Country Party pension increase supplementary assistance of $4 a week was introduced. That is the assistance that is paid to those people who are almost entirely dependent on their pensions and pay rent. We gave then an extra $4 a week. At that stage that equalled 20 per cent of the standard pension. The rate proposed in this Bill that we are now debating will set supplementary assistance at $5 a week, which is less than 1 3 per cent of the standard rate of pension. That is unfortunate. It is certainly not done by design by the Labor Party.
I think I have been fair in saying that all Labor supporters would agree that this class of pensioner desperately needs some assistance. But because of the mismanagement and ineptitude of the Government that person will suffer to that extent. If the October 1972 parity were to be maintained today this Bill would increase supplementary assistance from $5 a week to $7.75 a week. This sort of thing is expensive- I have done the costing of it- and I know that has precluded the Labor Party from doing this. This is the whole sad story of the welfare picture of the Labor Party. Its intentions are good, but because of mismanagement it has finished up hurting deeply those people who should be helped the most, in other words, the poorest in the community. The Labor Party seems somehow to have a genius for ripping off taxes and for making better the lot of the middle class and the people who are not in desperate straits at the expense of those who are very poor. This is a classic example of that.
The third issue is that at a time when inflation is running at 15 per cent to 20 per cent it is clear that in current terms the standard pension has not yet reached 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and will decline further before the next promised increases in pensions are enacted in 1976. That is an unchallengeable fact. I think the second reading speech of the Minister for Tourism and Recreation and Minister assisting the Minister for Social Security claims that the standard pension has reached 25.2 per cent of average weekly male earnings, but the Minister did not say that that is based upon figures for the June 1975 quarter. Although those figures are the latest available- I will concede that- they are already V-h months out of date and will move to being 10 months out of date between the time the proposed increases become operative next month- hopefully it will be 1 November nextand the next scheduled increases in the autumn of 1976. The point I am making is that the Government promised 25 per cent of average male weekly earnings. That is commendable and terrific. The pensioners said: ‘What the Labor Party is doing for us is wonderful’. Then the Labor Party produced a set of figures to show that the rate is 25.2 per cent, but that was 4 months ago.
– It will be a little more still because average weekly earnings are increasing at a lesser rate than the consumer price index.
-With great respect, that is a different point to which I will come in a moment. The point I am making now- still relying on the argument of average weekly earnings- is that when pensions are changed next in 1976 the rate that will be struck by these amendments will then be 10 months out of date. So it is hardly honest for the Government to say: ‘We have reached 25 per cent of average weekly earnings’.
The fourth point I want to make is that the Bill continues a reversal of Labor policies. I shall quote a few. Some of them are pathetic to look back on. In his 1972 now famous- or infamouspolicy speech the Prime Minister said:
The basic pension rate will no longer be tied to the financial and political consideratons of annual Budgets. All pensions will be immediately raised by $1.30 and thereafter, every Spring and every Autumn, the basic pension rate will be raised by $1.50 until it reaches 25 per cent of average weekly male earnings.
Then there is a typical sentence from the Prime Minister. I wish I was capable, as some of my colleagues are, of imitating that pathetic voice he adopts when he wants to make a ponderous point. But I cannot do so. I will quote him nakedly. He said:
It will never be allowed to fall below that level.
I compare that statement with the statement made by the honourable Frank Stewart last week when he introduced this Bill only 3 years after the Prime Minister made that promise. The Minister said: … in the present climate of high inflation and unemployment the Government believes that for the immediate future all of us should show restraint . . .
Unhappily ‘ all of us ‘ includes those pensioners to whom that heady promise was made in 1972. Mr Stewart continued:
We have decided to increase pensions this year by rises in the consumer price index as a temporary measure to ease the pressures of public spending on the economy.
I will not canvass that that is wrong because precisely that statement- that pensions should be tied to the consumer price index- is in the Opposition ‘s social security policy. But we have never promised 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. The Labor Party did so promise and it has broken that categorical promise in less than 3 years. Mr Whitlam said:
It will never be allowed to fall below that level.
Mr Deputy Speaker, it has never reached that level and now the Government has changed the whole basis and has abrogated its promise. It was not because of bad intentions. It is just mismanagement and ineptitude which has forced it into that situation. In his second reading speech on the Social Services Bill 1973 Mr Hayden said: … the former Government consistently compared increases in the rates of pensions with upward movements in the consumer price index.
In his typical habit of bucketing the Opposition he continued:
However, as I have stressed on so many occasions, the relevant comparison to make is to relate pension increases to average weekly earnings; average weekly earnings themselves give a fairly good indication of the average standard of prosperity in the community.
I ask the House to compare that statement with the statement by Mr Hayden in his Budget Speech of 2 years later. He said:
The standard rate of social service pensions and benefits will be increased in the Spring of 1975 by the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index between the December quarter 1974 and the June quarter 1975; and again in the Autumn of 1976 by the increase in the Consumer Price Index between the June and December quarters of 1 975.
That, to a reading audience of Hansard and to people listening in the chamber- we are not on the air today- is probably highly technical. I will make sure that copies of this speech get around to the pensioner organisations. I understand that statement means that by shifting the basis of the index from average weekly earnings to the consumer price index the Government saves something like $80m a year. I would like that figure challenged by the Minister and by his departmental advisers if it is incorrect. Maybe because of the current movements the figure might be less but millions of dollars a year are involved.
No one will criticise the Government for saving money. Opposition policy is to cut back spending in the public sector. But we would not save money at the expense of pensioners, which is precisely, when it is spelt out in its naked and unadorned form, what this Government has done. This Government has ripped off $80m from pension increases so as to cut back in the public sector.
– Is that figure $8m or $80m.
-It is $80m. The fifth thing I want to mention about unemployment and sickness benefits relates to what the honourable Bill Hayden said in regard to the pension increase in February 1973. 1 think this is a very significant and very sad statement to record for the purpose of history for again the honourable member was bucketing the Opposition. He loves to bucket people. I ask honourable members to remember that the words I am about to quote were used when the percentage of unemployed was relatively low. I should like to have incorporated in Hansard a table prepared by the Statistical Service of the Parliamentary Library showing the unemployed from December 1972 to September 1975. With the Minister’s courtesy I ask for leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
Compiled at request by the Statistics Group of the Legislative Research Service from issues of Monthly Review of the Employment Situation published by the Department of Labor and Immigration.
-I thank the House and I thank the Minister. In February 1973 when 1.8 percent of the work force was unemployed the now Treasurer said:
The bulk of the unemployed today are the innocent social casualties of the disastrous economic policies of the last Government and its 1971 Budget. These people and their unhappy families neither sought to be, nor wish to remain, among the ranks of the unemployed.
Mr Hayden went on to say in February 1973 when unemployment was only 1.8 per cent of the work force:
We are genuinely committed to a belief in the supreme importance of human worth, the individual’s entitlement to treatment with dignity and his right to self respect.
That is beautiful rhetoric; fantastic sentiments. How does he now reconcile that statement with the table I have just incorporated in Hansard which shows that the number of unemployed at September 1975 was 4.13 per cent of the labour force. Again, although it is fine rhetoric, I believe that the Treasurer meant what he said in 1973. He does not want people unemployed and the Labor Party does not want people unemployed, but the unemployment figure has increased almost 3 times since the Treasurer himself described it as being disastrous.
We support the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1975 as well. The chief anomaly in this Bill lies in the proposal- I am sure my friend the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) will be commenting on this- that the general 100 per cent rate of pension be left at $28 a week, while all other pensions have increases proposed. This leads us to 2 possible conclusions, the only 2 possible conclusions. The first is that general rate pensioners are to suffer financial hardship compared with other pensioners. I think that is a statement of fact. The Minister for Tourism and Recreation did not offer any rationale at all to explain or justify this possibility. I would like him to do so when he responds. The second possibility is that the general rate pension has been excessively generous in the past, and the Bill seeks to correct this. Does the Minister believe that? Does the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who is to follow me in this debate, believe that? The Bill is correcting what they believe to be excessively generous pensions. If this is so no rationale is presented to justify that view either. Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate whether or not $28 a week is an appropriate pension rate at the current time. In this matter the Bill appears to be rather arbitrary and could affect significant numbers of people. As at 30 June 1974 there were 186 000 general rate pensioners with a disability ranging from 10 per cent to 100 per cent. These pensioners are veterans, accepted as having incapacity related to service, but who work full time although under some difficulty.
In the few minutes remaining to me let me make a suggestion to the Government. The Minister for Tourism and Recreation who acts in this place for the Minister for Social Security (Senator Wheeldon) yesterday used 3 words to which I wish to draw attention. We are living in a time of crisis. I would have thought that the Minister would have been one of the last people, for 2 reasons, to be throwing epithets, accusations and filth about this House. One of the unfortunate things about a crisis like this is that it does not bring out the best in human beings. It should, but it does not seem to. He suggested, and I quote: . . . most members representing the Liberal Party and the National Country Parry in this House have a complete disregard for truth, justice and honour . . .
He went on to suggest that we were misquoting figures in regard to Medibank. This is a tough game. He has been in it for a fair while. It is fair to be saying that members of the Opposition are inaccurate in what they say or that they have erred on the side of exaggeration or whatever, but when any man in this place imputes dishonour, lack of truth or lack of justice that person first, I suggest, has to make absolutely sure that his own slate in those 3 qualities is absolutely and perfectly clean.
Let me relate the facts of the matter. I offer to the Minister if he wants to see it the Hansard of a Senate Estimates Committee where time after time under the cross-examination of Senator Baume and others significant matters arose concerning Medibank expenditure. My Leader asked the Minister to table the paper from which he was quoting yesterday. I was delighted, for obvious reasons, that the paper did not seem to come from a departmental officer. If what the Minister had been saying had come from a departmental officer I would be deeply concerned. But it did not. Apparently it came from a member of bis personal staff. The paper that he tabled is substantially the same as the answer he provided in the House and shows that the JulySeptember actual medical expenditure in Medibank was $84m and that it was previously estimated to be $ 106m- a gap of $22m. He then goes on to suggest that this is a saving and in fact the Government has over-estimated the cost of Medibank.
Just for the sake of the record so that we can have a look when the actual figures are with us at the end of the year, I ask the Minister when he replies to state unequivocally and categorically to the House that Medibank this year will cost the Australian taxpayer less than $ 1,445m. That would be a fascinating assurance and an assurance far more assuring than the one on which he tried to make a cheap political point yesterday. What he did not tell the House yesterday was that under cross-examination in the Senate Estimates Committee officers of the Health Insurance Commission said that 500 additional temporary staff has been engaged. They admitted that 160 000 claims a day were being received rather than the 90 000 claims as estimated. I will concede that there were not as many items on each claim. They admitted that the claims which have not yet been received by the Health Insurance Commission or its agents are not included in that figure. Again, I should like the Minister to consult his advisers. I would be fascinated by their advice to the Minister concerning the 3 per cent of all claims received which I understand to have been outstanding after 3 weeks as at 5 September 1975. Another fascinating figure is that when Medibank began, an estimate of $5 5m -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order! I have been fairly tolerant. I think the honourable member for Hotham is straying away from the Bill.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, are you suggesting that Medibank is not a social service?
– I am suggesting that it is not a pension and is not covered by the Bill which is presently under discussion by the House.
– I see. I accept your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I said in my social welfare policy speech on behalf of the Opposition on Monday, if the Government really wants to do something for people in need it has first to look at the economy. It has to look at the remarks of Professor Henderson who said that a high level of inflation is one of the greatest causes of social inequality, injustice and poverty. That is the first factor at which I think the Government should be looking instead of using this kind of band-aid which this Bill represents. That is all it is. It is a band-aid to patch up temporary inequalities. The Government has to devolve power away from Canberra. I am told that the knowledge of my policy did not cause much joy to the several officers of the Department who had been saying around the pubs in Canberra that our policy would mean devolution of power and less power to the bureaucrats in Canberra. Might I counsel those kinds of bureaucrats that their conversations are passed on. I suggest that we have to cut out some of the bureaucracy in Canberra, simplify the forms and improve the service. We have to humanise the service to allow those people in trouble, those who have lost husbands and are in desperate financial and social trouble, to front up to the Department and be treated with compassion. The only way to achieve that is to devolve power down to the lower grass roots levels in the community and not centralise it in Canberra. We support these Bills. We will give them expedition.
-In dealing with Social Services Bill (No. 3), I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table of increases in social security benefits since October 1 972.
- (Mr Keith Johnson)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
-Firstly, I should like to reply to some of the propositions put up by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), not necessarily in the order of importance but in the order in which I have noted them down. One of the important things to remember is that the table which I have just had incorporated in Hansard shows very large increases in social security payments. I shall go into more detail in a few minutes. But if we look overall at the age, invalid and widows’ pensions, we will find that in the last financial year that the previous Government was in power, the amount allocated for pensions was of the order of $900m-plus and in this current financial year, under this Government it will be of the order of $2,800m. This is a huge increase. It is a 3-fold increase in this period. It is due not only to the large increases in actual payments to people, but to new categories being admitted for payment and so on.
I should like to deal with one of the first points that the honourable member for Hotham made. He criticised our decision not to increase unemployment benefits for single persons under 18 years of age.
– I did not criticise your decision. I just noted it.
-The honourable member noted it. Let us look at it the other way round. The reason he gave was that we were running out of money and were trying to save money. Let me make it quite clear that I do not support that proposition. I was one of those on this side of the
House who strongly supported an increase in unemployment benefits for those over 18. The view I held was that if unemployment benefits of $38.50 a week were paid to single persons under the age of 18 years, there would be very little incentive for those people to try to find employment. I think that the opposite argument obviously is also valid, that is, that the young person who does not live at home and who is genuine in looking for employment may well need just as much money as the person who is over 18 years of age. But it did strike me as being unfair and contrary to the overall policy of this Government that we should pay equal amounts to those under 18 years and over 18 years even thought I admit that the 1 8 years of age barrier is quite an arbitrary one. However, I would defend the decision that was made even if there were a surplus of money available on the ground that people should be encouraged to find work. One of the difficulties in raising the benefit for people under 18 years is that young people would be encouraged to leave school because if they attend school their parents are entitled only to 50c a week child endowment. If they leave school they are entitled to $36 a week unemployment benefit. I do not think that that is a good idea.
The honourable member for Hotham then turned to the general argument as to moving the relationship of pensions or benefits in general away from average weekly earnings to the consumer price index. I support that move. The last increase in average weekly earnings for the June quarter was 1 . 1 per cent. The increase in the consumer price index for the same quarter was something of the order of 3.6 per cent. Therefore pensioners and other beneficiaries are better off by having their pensions related to the consumer price index. But in any case this argument about the 25 per cent of average weekly earnings becomes fallacious because the average weekly earnings are defined as the seasonlly adjusted average weekly male earnings for Australia. This gives us a wrong figure. The average weekly earnings during the June quarter even in New South Wales where they are relatively high, were something of the order of $146 a week. Yet the seasonally adjusted figure was $152 a week. If we want to relate beneficiaries’ incomes to average weekly earnings because we want to relate those incomes to what the average person in the community is able to spend, then I think we should not correct them on the basis of seasonal adjustment. The average male in the community was not getting $ 1 52 a week but was getting only $146 odd in New South Wales. This is quite apart from the fact that the figures are corrected for average weekly male earnings. Whilst in theory male and female earnings in Australia are now equal, there is still a significant difference between average weekly male earnings and average weekly female earnings. Of course the vast majority of aged pensioners are females.
I wish to make a point on the question of unemployment. What I have to say relates to unemployment benefits. The honourable member for Hotham performed in the way that most honourable members on the Opposition side perform and emphasised and re-emphasised what he called the huge amount of unemployment in Australia. There is a relatively large amount of unemployment in Australia, but let us be quite clear as to what the figure really is. Do not let us bandy about figures of 400 000 and so on. The latest figure for persons registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service was of the order of 245 000. It is accepted that about onequarter of the people registered with the Commonwealth Employment Service in fact are not unemployed. These people are looking for another job, a second job or an alternative job. Even with respect to that figure, let us look at what has happened in the period of more than 216 years that this Government has been in power. There are now 232 000 more persons employed in Australia than there were in December 1972. There has been an increase of actual people employed of 232 000. A large number of different categories has come into the work force. During the last 2 years of Liberal Government the increase in the number of persons employed was 130 000. If the increases in the number of jobs available had continued at the rate at which it did under the Liberal Government, when we came to office, there would have been 100 000 less jobs for people as a part of the work force. That is the point I am making. Therefore, when honourable members look at figures for unemployed people, what has happened is this: Many persons where not really employed until 1972. They joined the work force- many of them were women- during the first 18 months or so of the term of this Government. Then a proportion of them lost their jobs. They then added to the unemployed figure. They were never counted as unemployed under the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. Therefore the outcome, to my mind, is biased employment and unemployment figures.
The honourable member for Hotham referred to his own policy which he unveiled last Monday. I make the point that he referred to what we have done as band aid measures. I suggest that his policy consists not even of a band aid approach but of soothing noises. The honourable member talks about a guaranteed minimum income because that is one of the concepts that people talk about these days. He does not refer to a guaranteed minimum income for everybody. He refers to guaranteed minimum income only for people in certain categories: People who are unemployed, people who are over a certain age, people who are invalid pensioners and people who are sick. I do not necessarily disagree with this proposition because I can see very great difficulties in having guaranteed minimum incomes for everybody in the community. I would not like to be a member of the Government Party defending that proposition at the time it is introduced. It may well be introduced. But I think that there will be many anomalies and it will be so difficult to defend those anomalies, that the proposal will be extremely difficult to introduce. The honourable member for Hotham claimed that the newspaper editorial writers supported him in his objective of guaranteed minimum income for people who are already in certain categories. All it means is that the newspaper editorial writers do not know what they are talking about. We have guaranteed minimum incomes now for people in those categories. That is what pensions and benefits are all about. They are guaranteed minimum incomes for persons who qualify for certain categories. The honourable member for Hotham is not introducing anything new at all. He gives what presently applies a new name.
I refer again to the table which I had incorporated in Hansard at the beginning of my speech, I wish to make a few points on it. The obvious fact is that we have increased social security benefits at a very fast rate since we have been in government. We have abolished the means test on all those over the age of 70. If we exclude the extra increase that will result from the passage of this legislation, the single rate pension for invalids and aged and widowed pensioners has been increased by 80 per cent between December 1972 and June 1975 from $21.50 a week to $36 per week. The married rate pension has increased from $37.50 a week to $60 per week, which is an increase of 74 per cent. This is during a period when the total increase in the consumer price index was 44.7 per cent.
AH pensioners have benefited from this Government’s actions. Former Class B widows have had an increase of 1 10 per cent. The Labor Government has brought in a supporting mother’s benefit. Payments for children dependent on pensioners, unemployed and the sick have been increased significantly. Parents of handicapped children now receive a $10 a week allowance. Pensioners over the age of 70, as I pointed out, are now no longer subject to a means test. The means test for those under the age of 70 has been eased considerably. Married couples now receive at least some pension until their combined weekly income reaches $154.50. In other words, it is only when their combined weekly income exceeds average weekly earnings that they stop receiving any pension. In the case of single pensioners part pensions are payable until the weekly income reaches $92 per week. Pensions will improve by another $2.75 a week for the single rate and $4.50 a week for the married rate from November, provided the Senate stops its present mode of behaviour.
The honourable member for Hotham went through many of the benefits that we are increasing. Listening to him I felt that it was almost as if he was responsible for increasing the benefits. I am not surprised that he believes in them. But it is a little peculiar that he seems to be taking credit for them. Let us be quite clear: We have to go out in the community and defend taxation and increased charges of all kinds so that we can provide those increased benefits. The Opposition’s position is that it applauds the increased benefits, emphasises them as though they resulted from its actions and then attacks us for increased taxation charges. I suppose that is one of the benefits of being in Opposition.
One of the points that is worth re-emphasising is that the proposed increase of $2.75 a week for single rate pensions to apply in 10 days’ time will maintain for pensioners the improvements in spending power that have been achieved by them since the Labor Government came to office.
With the proposed increase the standard rate of pension will have been increased by almost 94 per cent since December 1972 for single people and by 87 per cent for a married couple. By comparison, in the period from June 1972 to June 1975 the CPI, as I said earlier, has increased by only 44.7 per cent and the seasonally adjusted average weekly male earnings have increased by only 61 percent.
Another point that is worth re-emphasising is just what will happen to the means test after the introduction of this new pension. The Labor Government faces a lot of argument about the abolition of the means test and the limit of income which precludes payment of a pension to single persons without children or property which affects his pension. Let us remember that they may have their own house and car and personal chattels which do not affect the rate of pension. The rate will be increased by twice the amount of the pension increase to $97.50 a week. So, single persons will be able to receive a part pension until their weekly income exceeds $97.50. On the other hand, other than the exempt property to which I have referred, they can have property up to a value of $51,100 and still receive a part pension. For a married couple without children the equivalent limits of income and property will be $163.50 a week and $85,840 in property respectively. I think that, if people were aware of these limits for pensions as far as the means test is concerned, there would be less fury on the part of some of those who are arguing for the complete abolition of the means test.
I congratulate the honourable member for Hotham and, I suppose, the Opposition as a whole for their statement last Monday. They did not commit themselves to the abolition of the means test at any particular time but just talked about it as a ‘when practicable’ type of proposition. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government and the Department of Social Security for bringing about all these advances. The present Minister for Social Security, Senator Wheeldon, and the previous Minister for Social Security, Bill Hayden, who is now the Treasurer, worked very assiduously in persuading the Government as a whole- the Cabinet- to bring about these extra benefits. I think the whole of Caucus has always been completely in favour of these extra benefits. If we have a number of major reasons for being in this Party and for aiming to be in government I think one of the major ones, possibly the major one, is to help those people out in the community who are unable to help themselves. I am therefore very proud about what we have done in a period of more than 2’/5> years that we have so far been in office.
I appeal to members of the Opposition to have a word with their colleagues in the Senate to persuade them to pass this legislation so as to enable the payment of these extra benefits from the beginning of next month and to have a word with their Senate colleagues to remove the general obstacles which they put in the way not only of the actual amounts but of the method of payment. It is ridiculous for an Opposition to block Supply in the way in which this Opposition is doing it at the present time with the result that the persons who have to interview the applicants for social security benefits and the people who have to mail the cheques will themselves not be paid. They cannot be paid because of a quite ruthless attempt by one person to become the Prime Minister and I think an equally ruthless attempt by a large number of people on the Opposition front bench who are supposed to be the leaders of the Opposition trying to better themselves very significantly by becoming Ministers and not being prepared to wait until the normal time to fight an election during the next 1 8 months or so.
– I have no desire to delay the passage of this legislation through this House. I wish to speak exclusively to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1975 which I support. I should like to take the opportunity to reply to the remark just made by the Honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) when he appealed to us to appeal to our Senate colleagues to pass the Budget Bills. I suggest that if he were to appeal to his Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to name the date of the general election he would get the Budget through tomorrow. I support these amendments to the Repatriation Act which I regard as completely machinery measures, but there are a couple of points I should mention. I will take only a couple of minutes. I trust that the Government does realise that the greatest threat to pensions as far as the recipients are concerned is inflation. Therefore as I see it, it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the erosion of the value of pensions does not occur. This could be achieved by constant checking by the Department of Social Security and if necessary more frequent increases being granted to meet the rise in costs or- I suppose this would be the best idea of all- for the Government to introduce policies that would control inflation and not increase it.
I was disappointed that the general rate pensions did not get a run in these amendments. I think they deserve it. I shall certainly be looking forward to the legislation proposed to be brought in early next year to adjust them, as the Minister has promised. The Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart), in delivering his second reading speech, spent considerable time heaping praise on the Government for what it had done. In my opinion it has done no more than it should have done. I have no desire to delay things any further. I support these amendments to the Repatriation Act.
-The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), made the point that the greatest enemy of social security benefits is inflation. I think it is necessary to view that statement with which every member of this House would concur in the context of the improvements in social security benefits which have been achieved over the last 3 years and which are being taken further in the legislation now before the House. It is necessary to recall that in December 1972 when this Government came to office the pension for aged, widowed, invalid and unemployed Australians was $20 a week for the first 3 categories, and even less in the case of the unemployed, and that at that stage a pension of $20 a week was the equivalent of 20 per cent of average weekly earnings. Today we have a situation in which the pension is $36 or 24 per cent of average weekly earnings, and when the legislation currently before the House is passed, if indeed it is passed in these uncertain times, the pension will be $38.75 or 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. So despite all the pressures which have been operating on this Government, this Government has achieved within 3 years the objective which it set out to achieve and which it announced in the Prime Minister’s policy speech in December 1 972.
It is necessary to go on a bit further than that. In December 1972 when the present Government came to office social security benefits, the age pension most notably, were subject to a very rigorous means test indeed. Today the age pension is means test free for all Australians 70 years of age and over and before very long it will be means test free for all Australians 69 years of age and over, but that is not by any means the limit of what has been achieved in the interests of Australians who through no fault of their own find themselves incapacitated or their way of earning curtailed or who are living in retirement.
Medibank too has been a very significant contribution to the well-being of these people. In December 1972 under the previous health insurance scheme pensioners were entitled to attend the general practitioner of their choice for medical consultation but if they needed specialist attention, as inevitably is most frequently the case among pensioners in comparison with other sections of the community, they were obliged to go to a public hospital to get that attention and they were obliged to accept the services of the specialist they found working in that public hospital. Today of course a pensioner enjoys the same rights as far as medical treatment is concerned as do other sections of the community. That is, he can still go to the general practitioner of his choice as was the case under the old arrangements. That freedom of choice has been enlarged to allow him to choose his own specialist medical adviser and to receive the services of that specialist medical adviser in his own consulting rooms. The situation in which pensioners living in the outer suburbs of the various State capital cities, and even more so the pensioners who found themselves living in rural districts, found themselves totally transformed by these new arrangements.
Secondly, as far as Medibank is concerned, in December 1972 and in all the years preceding it pensioners were limited in their entitlement to hospital care to the public wards of public hospitals and when for any reason they were obliged to receive hospital care in intermediate or private accommodation the Government made no contribution whatsoever towards the cost of that care. Now, of course, under Medibank pensioners have the same entitlement to hospital care- that is, they receive the same hospital benefit irrespective of whether they have standard ward care, intermediate ward care or private ward care- as other sections of the community. If they want to insure themselves -
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I think you required the honourable member for Hotham to get back to the point of this legislation when he strayed onto Medibank and I think we have the same situation before us now.
-I agree with the honourable member for Murray. I think the honourable member for Casey is straying from the Bill.
– I can get back on to it very quickly. I was making the point that under the present arrangements pensioners are able to secure their health insurance for a much lower rate than was the case previously if that is what they choose to do. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), in opening for the Opposition in this debate, generated his customary synthetic indignation over what he said were Government attempts to suggest that the Opposition had in mind preventing pensioners from receiving their increased pension rates. Mr Deputy Speaker, you would agree that so erratic has the behaviour of the Opposition become in recent weeks and so confused have the statements of Opposition leaders and spokesmen on a whole variety of subjects become over recent weeks that it would be very difficult for anybody to misrepresent their position at any particular hour of any particular day with any certainty of pulling off the trick. It is true, as the honourable member for Hotham indicated this morning and as he indicated last week, that apparently it is the present intention of the Opposition parties to allow this Bill to be passed through the Senate when it arrives there; that is the Opposition parties are not showing the same active prejudice against pensioners in this respect as they are showing against the armed forces of this country, against the rural community of this country and against many other groups which will suffer as a result of the Appropriation Bills being deferred.
However, what I should draw to the attention of the House is the much more subtle assault which is being mounted against pensioners in this respect and how it is the most needy and the most vulnerable pensioners who are being singled out for this assault. While it is true, or it may turn out to be true, that the Opposition parties in the Senate ultimately will give passage to this Bill- here comes the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) to interrupt what I have been saying to the House, as is his custom.
– Therefore you will shut up. Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.
-Order! There is no necessity for the honourable member for Griffith to make comments like that. (Quorum formed)
– As I was saying when I was interrupted by the honourable member for Griffith, whose lack of concern for the pensioners of this community is notorious from one end of the country to the other and who again demonstrates this lack of concern by his attempt to cut short my remarks, the Opposition does not have the courage to front up to the pensioners of this country and say directly: ‘We are turning down the pension increase to which you are entitled and which will bring the pension to a hitherto unprecedented level in terms of average weekly earnings.’ Opposition members do not have the courage to get up and say that directly. What they do instead is reserve their assault for the most vulnerable sections of the pensioner population in this country and the chief ones amongst them are the Medibank beneficiaries because they are the people who will be hit first. Already the Opposition by default has caused great damage in this respect. It has incited the medical profession of this country to charge cash on the knocker for medical consultations.
– I take a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think you have been very lenient and we have been very lenient in allowing the honourable member for Casey to stray and he now has strayed again.
– I uphold the point of order. The honourable member for Casey will confine his remarks to the Bill.
-The sincerity of the honourable member’s intervention in this debate is demonstrated by the fact that this is the third time in less than 15 minutes that my remarks have been interrupted by an Opposition member. What is very clear is that the truth hurts. Opposition members do not want to hear these things said. They do not want to know that it is their connivance with the medical profession which has brought in this pernicious custom of cash registers in doctors’ surgeries. The cash registers are tinkling as much with the cents of the pensioners as they are tinkling with the money of the rest of the community. We know that this has been well demonstrated. Mr Deputy Speaker, you would be aware from your experience in your electorate that it is not the 85 per cent of the scheduled fee, not the scheduled fee itself, it is the Australian Medical Association fee -
-Order! I remind the honourable member for Casey that the subject of the Bills before the House is not the Health Act.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, when we are on the subject of social security you would acknowledge that it is very difficult to differentiate because over the years when members of the Opposition were in government they were concerned always to demonstrate the relevance of the fringe benefits to the pension itself. It is to the fringe benefits that I am addressing myself now. The most important fringe benefit is the Medibank benefit. We all remember how the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) used to tell us over many years what the pensioner medical scheme was worth. The pensioner medical scheme pales by comparison with the benefits that Medibank has brought to the pensioner population of this country. Other important fringe benefits have been provided by this Government in the measures it has taken to enhance the whole range of accommodation arrangements for the elderly -
– I take a point of order. Earlier this afternoon or this morning the Chair was very strict in making a Liberal Party speaker stick to the Bill. This honourable member is being allowed to wander far and wide, apparently freely and without curtailment. We ask for a fair go.
-Order! That last remark by the honourable member for Griffith cast imputations against the Chair.
– I did not mean to do that.
– I suggest that the honourable member withdraw that imputation against the Chair. Whenever this matter has been raised I have asked the honourable member for Casey to speak to the Bill just as I did in the case of the honourable member for Hotham. At present the honourable member for Casey is drawing attention to the fringe benefits associated with the Social Services Bill (No. 3) and to that extent he is in order. If he strays from the Bill I will bring him back to order.
-Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker for that judicial ruling in the face of the fourth attempt made by Opposition members to interrupt my remarks. I was making the point to the House of how greatly the value of the pension (Quorum formed). My speech has now been interrupted for the fifth time, a new record I suggest by Opposition members who are not willing to have the truth about the position of pensioners in this country brought home to them. I would think, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would fairly draw the inference from what has gone on here this morning in the course of my remarks that Opposition members are getting geared up to reject this Bill in the Senate, the way they have already rejected the Appropriation Bills.
I was making the point when I was interrupted for the fifth time of just how greatly this Government has enhanced the value of the fringe benefits available to pensioners in this country. I had made the point of how much Medibank had effectively increased the fringe benefits available to pensioners in Australia. I was going on to speak about the very greatly enlarged and extended facilities for accommodation for pensioners because payments under the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act, the Aged Persons Hostels Act, the Handicapped Persons (Assistance) Act and the Homeless Persons Assistance Act have all been increased very greatly. In effect most of this legislation has been completely rewritten. For all practical purposes it is new legislation.
It was this Government that brought in the arrangement of a four to one subsidy for this form of accommodation which opened up for the first time enormously increased business for the building of accommodation for aged and invalid people.
– You will not be able to meet the payment.
-The honourable member for Mallee interrupts and says that we cannot meet the payment. This is a measure of the extraordinary stimulus that has been applied to the voluntary effort in the community, to the many organisations which are applying for the first time for assistance under these Acts. A renaissance has been brought about in housing for the aged and handicapped people in the community. This again is a significant accretion to the fringe benefits associated- (Quorum formed).
– I call the honourable member for Murray.
-The honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews)-
Motion (by Mr Nicholls) 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.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Stewart) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 15 October on motion by Mr Stewart:
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
That the Bill be now read a second time. Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Bill (on motion by Mr Stewart) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 2.15p.m.
Suspension of Standing Orders ( Quorum formed)
– I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent-
1 ) an Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) 1 975-76 [No. 2] and an Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1975-76 [No. 2].
being presented together at this sitting and read a first tune together and one motion being moved without delay and one question being put in regard to, respectively, the second readings, the committee’s report stage, and the third readings, of the Bills together, and
being considered in one committee of the whole.
a Minister making one declaration of urgency and moving one motion for the allotment of time in respect of an Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1975-76 [No. 2] and an Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1975-76 [No. 2].
That motion is moved to facilitate the business of the Parliament. Appropriation Bills (Nos. 1 and 2) were introduced into this House several weeks ago and were passed by this House. They had the endorsement of the House of Representativesthe seat of government. It is a notorious fact that the Senate is prepared to corrupt three-quarters of a century of constitutional convention and has now decided to block the passage of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and Appropriation Bill (No. 2) in that chamber. Today the Government is reintroducing the Appropriation Bills very much in their original form to give the Senate an opportunity to withdraw from the rather foolish and, if persisted with, terribly destructive course upon which it has set itself. I do not believe that there is any need to delay the business of the House in establishing further the case in support of the proposition which I have put to the House. My proposition will certainly facilitate the business of the House and allow adequate opportunity for the issue to be debated.
-Mr Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Hayden) put:
That the question be now put. The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question put:
That the motion (Mr Hayden’s) be agreed to. The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Messages from the Governor-General transmitting particulars of proposed expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for year 1975-76 and recommending appropriation, and transmitting particulars of certain proposed expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for year 1975-76 and recommending appropriation, announced.
Declaration of Urgency
– I declare that the following Bills are urgent Bills.
Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) 1 975-76 [No. 2], and
Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1975-76 [No. 2]
-The question is that the Bills be declared urgent Bills.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Allotment of Time
– I move:
Already this House has spent more than 36 hours debating Estimates flowing from the introduction of the Budget, or the Appropriation Bills (No. 1 ) and (No. 2), several weeks ago. It is undeniable that there has been extensive opportunity for members of this House to canvass all aspects of the Appropriation Bills. Equally, it is undeniable that full advantage has been taken of that opportunity by members of the House. Indeed, to judge from the behaviour of the Opposition, some members have gone well beyond what can be gleaned from within the Bills to conjure all sorts of false conspiracies and fears in relation to the purposes of the Appropriation Bills and ancillary legislation such as the Loan Bill for the defence Services.
The need for further extended debate is, I believe, not supportable. What is necessary, and that is why we are introducing this legislation today, is for an opportunity to be created first for this chamber to establish whether the economic strategy which is implicit in the budgetary framework, and therefore the relevance of the Appropriation Bills, still has the confidence of the House of Representatives, still have the support of this House of Parliament, the people’s House. This is the House which is elected by popular constituency vote as distinct from the second chamber, which is a States’ House. It is a House which has representation elected on a different sort of basis, where all States, regardless of size, have the same number of senators, so that in very small States a small number of voters can ensure equal representation with the very large States. The reasons for this historically are well known, but we should not lose sight of the effect of this peculiar voting system. It results in a situation in the Upper House in which it cannot be asserted with any truthfulness at all that the senators are representatives of the people of Australia on the basis of a popular constituency vote, certainly not in the way in which members of this House are.
Furthermore, it is essential to establish that the Government of the nation, which is seated in this
House, not the Senate, has the confidence of the House in which it is seated- the House of Representatives. Thirdly, it is probably most important of all that an opportunity should be created for senators of the Opposition to reconsider the unfortunate course of events which they have unleashed by their unprecedented action of blocking the passage of the Appropriation Bills. They may care to hide behind a fiction and suggest that they are deferring the Bills, but the effect is the same. The purpose is the same. The intent on the part of the Opposition, however, is, on the one hand, to try to avoid the historical stigma which will go with the blatant rejection of the Appropriation Bills, but no one will be deceived by this fiction, and on the other hand, to hold together waivering Opposition senators who as a matter of firm principle are very unhappy about the proposition that the Appropriation Bills should be rejected by the vote of the Senate.
I repeat that it becomes necessary with the load of work which this House has to discharge to limit the time for debate. There has already been more than adequate time. The Bills are essentially the same Bills as those that have been presented and debated in this Parliament for more than 36 hours earlier. I move:
-The Minister cannot move that the question be now put until I put the question that is now before the Chair. The question is: ‘That the motion for the allocation of time be agreed to’. I call the Deputy Leader of the National Country Party.
Motion (by Mr Hayden) agreed to: That the question be now put. Question put:
That the question be now put. Question put:
That the motion (Mr Hayden’s) for the allocation of time be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bills presented by Mr Hayden, and together read a first time.
– I move:
I am sure that all honourable members will now know why the Government is taking this unprecedented step of re-presenting these important money Bills to the House. We are obliged to do so because there occurred, last week, unprecedented obstructionism to the passage of a Government’s Budget in the Senate. These Bills are presented to this House today in practically the same form as they were passed by this House on 8 October, so I do not intend to spend time discussing the Government’s economic strategy once again. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has referred to the Budget as an ‘admitted failure’. I should make it clear to the House that I cannot know what the Leader of the Opposition imagines he is referring to when he uses the phrase.
As Treasurer, speaking to this Parliament on behalf of the Government, I re-endorse our Budget economic policy completely. Curiously enough, the Leader of the Opposition rushed to embrace it in his Budget debate speech. He now seeks to disavow his favour. But there should be no wonder at such an inconstant heart. Following his accession to office on 21 March this year, he made firm statements about the right of a government to govern for a 3 year term. Journalists throughout the country clearly understood him to imply time and time again that he had pledged that he would not reject the Budget. Not once did he discourage those reports; in fact by his behaviour and comments he gave every cause for journalists and the public to believe that he would not reject the Budget, that he was committed to a proper, upright and responsible course of conduct consistent with constitutional convention.
I have nothing whatsoever to add to or subtract from my Budget Speech as a statement of economic policy, other than to say that while the Labor Party retains control of the House of Representatives, we will press on with the economic policies that I have outlined both to this House and the nation during the past few months. I am presenting these Bills to the House again for 2 main reasons. The Leader of the Opposition now has a second opportunity to consider the wisdom of rejecting Supply. During the last few days the Opposition cannot but have been dismayed by the hostility that its decision of last week has generated. It now has an opportunity to think again, and to pull back from the awful course to which its terrible misjudgment has committed it.
Second, the Government is giving the House of Representatives the opportunity to endorse once again the economic policies outlined in the Budget. These Bills have already been passed on one occasion by this House; they were endorsed a second time by this House yesterday and I have no doubt that today they will be passed a third time. Once that is done, it will be clear to all that this Government is determined, as an issue of fundamental principle, to defend the right of the House of Representatives, the first House, the ‘People ‘s House ‘, to pass or reject money Bills.
The political issue that must be settled in Australia in the near future is no mere passing squabble; it is an historic issue basic to the functioning of the Westminster political system. The question that is before us is this: Is it the inalienable and sole right of the people’s house, the House of Representatives, to determine money Bills and therefore, on such issues the fate of a government, which by tradition reposes in the House of Representatives? If the Opposition hopes that it will be able to muddy the waters with extraneous issues, it had better think again. What an ironic corner the Leader of the Opposition has blundered into! He holds himself up as a political conservative, as a defender of traditional values, yet he is prepared to endorse a deliberate series of steps which, if successful, will certainly and inevitably erode the authority of this House, and will sow the seeds of a 6-monthly cycle of political instability in Australian politics.
Does anyone seriously believe that if the Opposition gets away with the rejection of the Budget on this occasion, it will not happen again? In all seriousness I urge the Opposition to weigh the situation carefully. In politics, sooner or later, the wheel always turns the full circle. Sooner or later, the roles are reversed. Even if the Opposition were to be ultimately successful in its present short-term exercise of a grab for power, it would then live to rue the day that it succeeded.
What an entertaining spectacle it would be for us all, if by some strange twist of fate, the Leader of the Opposition were to succeed in his present careless gamble and become Prime Minister, only to find that the right honourable member for Higgins had been transformed into Senator Gorton and held the balance of power in the Senate! I urge the Opposition to think again. The supremacy of the House of Representatives must be firmly confirmed now. If it is not, whenever the Government of the day is faced with a hostile Senate in the future, political uncertainty will prevail.
Several weeks ago I said quite deliberately, and I say it again now, that the truth of the matter is that the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues are not conservatives at all, but rightwing radicals. It is this House which is, and which should remain, the seat of the Australian Government. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are appointed from the membership of this House. We do not have 2 Prime Ministers. We do not have 2 Treasurers. We should not have 2 governments!
The Westminster system of government which has served this nation well since Federation just cannot endure if a de facto second government, not elected by the people as the Government, but self-appointed, seeks to operate in the Senate. Under the Westminster system, it is the party that holds control of the lower house that forms the Government. This constitutional convention has been clearly recognised and has been unbroken in Australian Federal politics since Federation. The incumbent Government has complete control of the affairs of state in this chamber, and has the confidence of this chamber. As recently as yesterday its control of this chamber was reaffirmed.
There is a free flow of government business through the House of Representatives. It is not this House which is being obstructionist, but the Senate. Any delays in government legislation occur in the Senate- not here -and any obstruction to the Budget, to the payment of government monies, will occur in the Senate- not here! The Senate was originally conceived as a States’ House. Indeed, the Conservatives- the Liberal and Country parties- have always stressed this principle when it suited them to do so. Even when they have been pursuing their political ends in the most ruthless way, they have always cloaked their tactics with the argument that they were exercising the rights of the States ‘ House.
On this occasion, however, no such camouflage can be erected. The personal role of the Leader of the Opposition himself is of significance. Ultimately, it was his decision, and his decision alone, to block the Appropriation Bills. Of course, he was urged on by such distinguished statesmen as the Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Anthony), a man noted for his caution, balance of judgment, and dignified responsibility! His eloquent turn of phrase epitomised by his comment that he would remove all photographs of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) from public buildings and ‘suitably perforate them and hang them in the smallest rooms of those buildings’, endears him to the hearts and minds of fellow Australians who look forward with special favour to his subtle prose further enriching the lexicon of parliamentary expression. The Leader of the National Country Party dangled the keys of the Lodge before the eyes of the Leader of the Opposition and left him dazzled and insensible to reality and responsibility. The Leader of the National Country Party believes as an implicit article of faith in one sheep, one vote. The Leader of the Opposition now stands revealed. He is a man -
– He wants drenching.
– I did not hear that.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The Treasurer will proceed without assistance from either side of the House.
– What about the Leader of the House?
-The honourable member for Kennedy will remain silent. I call the Treasurer.
– Is he permitted to cast aspersions?
-Order! I have already asked the honourable member for Kennedy to cease interjecting. I suggest that he not defy a request of the Chair.
– I take a point of order. Mr Deputy Speaker, I comply with your request. But are you going to permit the likes of the comment that came from the Leader of the House?
-Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member for Kennedy will resume his seat. The Treasurer will proceed without assistance.
– I think it is better for the Leader of the House to say that he was drenched rather than soaked. The Leader of the Opposition now stands revealed: He is a man who has undermined a series of Liberal leaders before him; he is a man who a few short months ago was espousing principles of responsibility and stability in government; and he is even a man who is prepared, quite deliberately and with malice aforethought, to falsely accuse- and, knowing it was false, accuse- a senior Minister of smuggling a confidential document to the Opposition, when the truth of the matter was that the Minister openly passed the document to the Opposition as an act of courtesy.
All of this is the product of a crude, naked consuming ambition on the part of the honourable gentleman. He believes that he is born to rule. No one should under-estimate the determination of the honourable member for Wannon to become Prime Minister, by fair constitutional means or foul. Of course, in itself it is an honourable ambition to wish to become Prime Minister of Australia, to wish to serve as first Minister of State to this nation. I daresay there are others who sit just a foot or two behind the Leader of the Opposition who share that ambition, and who might actually mention it in a casual way to one or two of their colleagues if the Leader of the
Opposition himself does not come out of the present escapade too well.
But what is unreasonable, and thoroughly objectionable, is the unbridled and unprincipled way in which the Leader of the Opposition has allowed his ambition to get the better of him. In pursuing his burning ambition, the Leader of the Opposition is apparently prepared to inflict considerable pain on both his own political party, and on the country. He is the most divisive Leader that the Liberal Party has ever had. He has had to destroy more of his predecessors to gain the Liberal crown than has any other Australian Liberal Leader. And now he is determined to carry his divisiveness through to the whole country.
It is my responsibility as Treasurer to warn the House and the nation that the present political impasse will inevitably carry with it economic costs. For one thing, the ordinary business of government is bound to be upset when Ministers and public servants do not know from week to week whether they will have authority to spend money or not. From day to day it becomes necessary to constantly re-evaluate the position, making ad hoc decisions as the situation unfolds. For another, the private sector of the economy is thrown into a state of uncertainty. Long standing Government contracts are likely to dry up, but exactly when is unkown. Investment decisions are likely to be postponed by businessmen. The purchase of major consumer items, such as refrigerators, cars and television sets is likely to be delayed by consumers. Retail sales may well be affected, but nobody can predict by how much. How could anybody predict by how much, when such a situation has never before occurred in Australia?
What businessman can confidently build up his stock of goods in preparation for Christmas sales when an atmosphere like this prevails? The degree of the problem is unquantifiable but it will be significant. It will seriously erode the recovery under way and its adverse effects will show up significantly in the early new year. As the Minister responsible for the management of this country’s economy, I warn the House and the nation that the Opposition’s present policies of obstructionism will, if continued, deepen the recession, retard the economic recovery and will prolong and exacerbate the present bout of high unemployment. It cannot be otherwise: In every country in the world, experience bears out the fundamental principle that political instability is damaging to a country’s economy.
With the re-presentation of these Appropriation Bills today, the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues now have the opportunity to adopt more responsible behaviour. I expect that these Bills will pass quickly through this House. If, however, all that happens in the Senate is a replay of last week’s unedifying spectacle, then it is that chamber, the Senate, which should account for itself to the electorate. I want to make it clear that I reject the Opposition’s calls for a double dissolution on the ground that the Senate has rejected Supply. There is nothing in the Westminster system of government which requires that a government that has had its money Bills delayed in the Upper House should go to the people. On the contrary, in the English Parliament, in the Palace of Westminster itself, the second chamber has no authority to delay, or reject, or in any way impede, the passage of money bills. In our sister Commonwealth country, Canada, with which we have so much in common and against which we are so often compared, the upper chamber, their Senate, has no authority to impede the flow of government business.
As things stand at present, there is no reason for the House of Representatives to be dissolved. The present Australian Labor Government has been in office for a total period of less than 3 years. In this time we have fought 2 general elections successfully, but we are now confronted with the demand of the Opposition that there should be yet a third election. Just how often does a government have to go to the polls before it is allowed to govern? Not a full term of a normal Parliament has yet expired and we have 2 elections behind us and a third in prospect. I remind honourable members that every 6 months since this government has been in office- every 6 months- it has been confronted with the threat of a forced election. It is clear that after 23 years of government, the Liberal and Country parties just cannot accept the fact that they are out of office- that they have been twice defeated. They are presently establishing the worst forms of precedent for the conduct of the future affairs of the Australian Parliament. Neither should we assume that the natural state of Australian politics must always be one of stability.
If we value stable political institutions, and I for one do value stability, we should protect our institutions, not violate them. In recent years, there has been a growing tendency for small minority political parties and independents to gain representation in the Senate. This tendency, combined with the new rules of the game that the
Opposition is now proposing, means that it is no longer inconceivable, as has been assumed for so long, that the instability that marked the Fourth Republic in France could emerge in Australia. I wonder; does the Opposition have the vaguest idea of what, in broad terms, the rejection of Supply implies?
Appropriation Bills (No. 1) and (No. 2) between them provide for outlays of over $9 billion in 1975-76- some $750m a month, on average. When Supply runs out, and for so long as the Bills are not passed, there will be a shortfall in Budget outlays of $700m-$800m a month-more in December because of a bunching in planned outlays in that month. Gross domestic product in Australia is currently running at less than $6,000m a month, so we are talking about cutting off a flow of funds equivalent to around oneeighth of gross domestic product each month. The effects of that would be incalculable, and the Government will make every effort to minimise them. But it is intolerable that such efforts should have to be made at all. So too would it be intolerable for public servants to find themselves without pay; for doctors bulk-billing Medibank or patients claiming on Medibank to be told there is no money; for suppliers of goods and services bought by the Government under Appropriation Bills (No. 1) and (No. 2) to be told that they cannot be paid. Obviously the disruption will not just be within the public sector- it will spread out into the private sector in a myriad of multiplying ways.
The Leader of the Opposition has sought to give a thin and brittle veneer of respectability to his grab for office by citing various reasons for refusing Supply. He says that he is justified in seeking office because of the so-called failure of the Budget. I am at a complete loss to understand how a Budget can be said to have ‘failed ‘ when it has not even been passed by Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition is being downright ridiculous. No doubt he is being advised by his specialist in economic affairs, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch). What the Leader of the Opposition probably means is that he hopes that the Budget will fail. He is certainly doing his best to make sure that it will.
Nothing could be more reckless or inappropriate at this time of delicate economic recovery than to precipitate a political crisis. Careful attention to details and prompt responses to early signals are needed from the Government at present, but it is quite impossible to guarantee this with the present uncertainty as to the availability of funds from now on. Indeed, by his behaviour, the Leader of the Opposition has created a climate in which it is even conceivable that the signs of an economic recovery will fade away. If that happens, the difficulties of restoring confidence and rekindling the economy will be compounded enormously.
To take just one example, it is dissembling of the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that high unemployment in January and February will be evidence of the failure of the Budget. He knows quite well that seasonal factors make it certain that unemployment will be high in the new year. He knows quite well that because of the time lags involved in economic management, the effects of the Budget on the economy will be barely evident at all by that time. He himself said just last week that a Liberal-National Country Party Government would need 3 years for its economic policy to work yet he expects this Government’s Budget to work in 3 months!
As his shadow Treasurer said last year: . . . regardless of what this Government may do in the short weeks and months ahead, it will take many months before these decisions in fact work their way through the system . . .
He was drawing attention to the well known fact of lags in the economy- the delay between when an action is initiated and when it starts to have effect in the economy.
I suggest to the members of the Opposition that rather than attempting to undermine the Government’s economic policies, they would be better served spending their time in improving their own platform. The Leader of the Opposition is being remarkably cagey in providing details of his economic policy, but from what we can glean from his non-replies to journalists recently, quite extraordinary expenditure cuts are likely. It seems clear that the Opposition intends to cut present expenditure plans by something like $ 1 ,700m. The total cut would represent close to 8 per cent of Budget outlays. But many areas of government spending cannot be cut. Most payments to the States, which represent 38 per cent of total Budget outlays, cannot be cut.
The total of $ 1,700m would have to fall on the remaining sections of the Budget, and would require a cut of more than 12 per cent acrosstheboard. But it is even worse than this. The 12 per cent across-the-board cut in annual expenditure would now have to be concentrated into about 6 months. The consequences of this would really be quite extraordinary. In the Department of Defence, for example, this action would result in the retrenchment of something in excess of 10 000 servicemen and civilians. Further, there would have to be an immediate cessation of all recruitment, which would involve an additional reduction in Service strengths of around 6000 men. All orders for major and minor equipment, including the destroyer program and additional tanks, would have to be halted. In the Department of Education around 3000 teachers could be expected to be retrenched. Alternatively, between 7000 and 7500 academic and nonacademic staff in universities would have to be sacked and existing contracts would have to be broken. There would be 25 000 fewer entrance opportunities offered to hopeful students in the new year. In the Department of Agriculture the consequences of the Opposition’s proposed cuts would include the following: Government contributions to joint industry research programs would be reduced; no new applications for beef carry-on-loans could be approved; some approvals in the dairy adjustment scheme would have to be cancelled; there could be no further rural reconstruction loans, rural re-establishment loans or wool service credit. It goes without saying that there would be absolutely no money at all to implement the Opposition’s extravagant promises to help the beef industry. Similar examples of the consequences of the expenditure cuts promised by the Opposition are available for each Government department. I promise the Opposition that in the days and weeks to come, my colleagues and I will be providing many more comprehensive details than I am able to do today.
What is clear is that in those areas where the axe fell, it would need to fall heavily. But we are left to guess where these massive cuts would take place. Would there be massive lay-offs of teachers, of roadworkers, of building workers and of soldiers? The Opposition will not say. But we do know that the consequences would be such as to threaten the whole economic recovery and could plunge the economy into a deep recession.
The second ground on which the Leader of the Opposition rather thinly seeks to justify the refusal to pass the Appropriation Bills in the Senate is the overall state of the economy. Now I do not deny that the Government believes that both the rate of inflation and the level of unemployment are too high. But these problems must be seen in perspective, both against the steps that the Government has taken to restore economic health, and relative to the experience of comparable countries abroad. It is too easily forgotten that in the last year or so, other industrialised countries have suffered similar problems which have been more severe in some respects than
Australia’s. In fact, in terms of unemployment and lost production, Australia has suffered comparatively lightly. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates, in calendar year 1974 real gross domestic product in Australia grew by 1.5 per cent. By contrast, real gross national product grew by only 0.4 per cent in Germany in the same period, and fell by 1.8 per cent in Japan and by 2.1 per cent in the United States. And as I announced to the House last week, the latest forecasts that I have received from overseas remain gloomy.
The OECD is presently forecasting that this calendar year, real gross national product will actually fall in France, the United States and in Germany. The latest OECD forecasts that I have to hand indicate that for the main OECD nations as a group, real GNP is expected to fall by the staggering amount of 2.4 per cent in calendar 1975. In short, the economies of the Western world are currently passing through the most severe, the most prolonged recession, that they have experienced since the great depression of the 1930s. Does the Opposition seriously mean to imply that all of these problems are the fault of the Australian Labor Government? Does the Opposition mean to suggest that the Australian economy could have remained unaffected by this severe international recession? Are we really all expected to believe that the Opposition’s proposals for further extraordinary expenditure cuts would help the situation? I completely fail to understand how the dismissal of many thousands of public servants would lead to an improvement in the employment situation in Australia.
The evidence now is that the Australian economy is slowly recovering. It is important, however, at this stage that the recovery should not be too sudden, because an artificially rapid expansion of the economy would merely lead to higher rates of inflation later. Fortunately, on the inflation front the situation is now looking better than was the case at the beginning of the year. The rate of increase in the consumer price index has fallen in each of the last three quarters, and is likely to show a further slowing when the figures for the September quarter are announced. Other indices of prices and wages also suggest that the inflationary problem is, for the time being, gradually coming under control.
The third major ground on which the Leader of the Opposition has sought to defend his decision to refuse supply relates to the so-called loans affair. I am sorry to bore the House with this matter, but I can only repeat what I said last week in this Parliament. The result of the new information that was produced on the loans affair last week was that a senior Minister resigned from the Cabinet. His resignation accords with all the proper standards of the Westminster conventions. He was in error, and he has paid the high price for that error. Every other matter that was raised by newspapers in the most recent articles had already been canvassed many times over in newspapers months ago and at the special one day sitting of Parliament on 9 July that discussed the loans affair. But now, he is trying to revitalise the so-called loans affair.
In re-presenting these Bills the Government is intentionally reasserting the rights of this House. Let the Opposition understand this well: Unless it relents from its present course, before the next few weeks are out, the people of Australia will see as they have never seen before the ugly lengths to which the Opposition is prepared to go in order to gain power. The present crisis has been brought about by a blind lack of reason, a headlong rush in pursuit of power, the singleminded abandonment of principle by one man in too great a hurry to grasp a destiny which many would agree does not belong to him.
I conclude with a relevant quote. The quote, simple, unemotional and highly relevant is:
If the Parliament becomes unworkable by destruction of convention, democracy itself becomes unworkable because democracy rests much more on adherence to convention than to the rigid application of rules and laws.
There are many challenges to the preservation of Parliament. There are forces within our community, some of great power, that do not believe in parliamentary government. There are economic and social problems which the Parliament has not yet been able to solve.
These problems alone would be daunting for present legislators and Ministers. If we add to that list the problems created by the behaviour of Parliament itself, the destruction of convention, the defiance of reason, the pursuit of power without concern for the rights or privileges of minorities, then Australians will have little faith in the future of Australian democracy.
Mr Speaker, that statement was made on 2 March 1975 by the present Leader of the Opposition. Would that he would honour the declaration of principles he then enunciated. Would that he were more responsible, less ambitious and not indifferent to the great strains and stresses which he has suddenly and selfishly cast upon our democratic institutions of parliamentary government.
The Appropriation Bills will be passed by this House. This is the seat of Government- the popular House or the people’s House of Parliament. The Government has the confidence of this House. It is to be sincerely hoped that when these Bills reach the Senate on this occasion they will be passed in accord with proper constitutional convention and a real sense of responsibility to the Australian community. I commend the motion to the House.
-The wizardry of the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) in economics is well known to the mounting number of Australians unemployed, to small business men and business women ravaged by accelerating inflation and mounting bankruptcies, to the great rural sector whose desperate plight is well known, to those who are on fixed incomes, the superannuitants of Australia, to those many people who are today being destroyed and will remain destroyed until they die, if this Government remains in office. The Treasurer has now moved the weight of his mind from monetary to constitutional matters. On behalf of the Opposition I can only wish the honourable gentleman greater success in that field than he has had in the area of economic mismanagement.
None of the quiet tedium that we have heard from the honourable gentleman today can hide the simple fact that this country is, and has been for some considerable period, in a position of economic crisis and chaos; that this chaos has been perpetrated by the Labor Government of which he is now the most senior Minister with financial responsibility; that the Government does not have the policies or the capacity to resolve the problems which mount as the days and months go by; and that this Government should resign while it still retains a modicum of respectability throughout the Australian community.
We have heard from the present Treasurer that inflation is somehow now coming under effective control. There was some marginal reference in passing to the September consumer price index figures which will be announced shortly. I recognise, Mr Deputy Speaker, that those figures may well show a downturn. The fact is, if honourable members think ahead of the December quarter, that inflation will continue to mount. What the Treasurer has said of the September quarter figures reminds me very much of what the present Administration said of the March quarter figures in the election which took place last year. This Government’s capacity to manage the Australian economy has no credibility whatever. For the Treasurer again to repeat the same tired, worn, hackneyed statements about our economic problems being derived from overseas is to stretch credulity and his credibility beyond belief.
These Bills will be opposed by the Opposition in this House as they have been opposed before.
The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) can be assured that they will not pass the Senate until he is prepared to agree to an election. There is no change in our position and there will be no change because there is no other way in which the Australian people can be given the opportunity to judge the Whitlam Government. The Opposition parties will not be stood over by the Prime Minister and his ministerial stooges. We will not be intimidated by smear tactics that are currently being employed. The Prime Minister is responsible for the present deadlock because he has within his own capacity the means to resolve it.
What are the fundamental constitutional principles to which the Treasurer sought to refer in brief? I remember what the present Prime Minister said on 4 April 1974 in this House in circumstances similar to those which face this Parliament today. He stated: . . . it is not just time for the election of a government of Australia but for a parliament of Australia- an election of the whole Parliament of Australia.
He went on to say:
If the Senate rejects any money Bill … I shall certainly wait upon the Governor-General . . . not merely to dissolve the House of Representatives but to dissolve the Senate as well.
The Opposition is acting in accordance with section 53 of the Constitution which clearly gives the Senate power to reject Supply Bills in exactly the same way as it can reject any other Bill. Sir John Quick and Sir Robert Garran, draftsmen of the Constitution, expressed the position clearly in their authoritative commentaries on the Commonwealth Constitution in the following words:
The Senate has co-ordinate power with the House of Representatives to pass all Bills or to reject all Bills. Its right to veto is as unqualified as its right of assent.
The Prime Minister himself acknowledged this power in Parliament on 12 June 1970 in the following words:
Any government which is defeated by the Parliament on a major tax Bill should resign.
This Bill will be defeated in another place. The Government should then resign.
The Prime Minister has also acknowledged that it is proper to use this power by stating in the House on 25 August 1970:
The purpose of the Labor Party is to destroy this Budget and to destroy the Government which has sponsored it.
This Government stands discredited as the most reprehensible, the most dishonest, the most incompetent, the most improper government in the history of this country. It has failed the people and I believe it has dishonoured its trust.
It has created record inflation, record unemployment, the highest interest rate since the Rum Rebellion, a major downturn in capital investment. It has brought the whole of the free enterprise sector of Australia to a position of stagnation and virtual standstill. It has brought down the 3 most irresponsible Budgets in Australian history.
The Appropriation Bills before the House, treated in light fashion by the Treasurer, are, in view of the Opposition Parties, phoney, dishonest and inaccurate and I took pains a few days ago, subject to no effective refutation by the Treasurer, to point out that the present deficit Budget figure as put down in the earlier Budget which the Treasurer brought down is clearly now already subject to major distortion because of the underestimates of expenditure and because of the downturn in the wage and salary area. These Appropriation Bills are the fabric of dishonesty and deception which I believe surrounds this Government and I lay heavy emphasis upon this fact. I do not put it lightly. I will be at pains to dwell on this aspect later.
This is a government which is not simply discredited by absolute economic mismanagement and the chaos which it has caused in the Australian community; it is a government with a taint of suspicion and scandal which has surrounded the Government since December last year when the sorry loans affair began. The Appropriation Bills provide no basis for economic recovery which Australia so desperately requires. I repeat here for the record what the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said in announcing his decision concerning the Appropriation Bills. He said:
The Opposition now has no choice. We will use the power vested in us by the Constitution and delay the passage of the Government’s money Bills through the Senate until the Parliament goes to the people. In accordance with long established constitutional practice which the Prime Minister has himself acknowledged in the past the Government must then resign. We will do this because there is no other way that the Australian people can be given the opportunity to judge this disreputable government. The air must be cleared.
The air must now be cleared by the Government to dispel the suspicion and taint of scandal that has enveloped the Labor Administration in the whole of the sordid loans affair which the Treasurer referred to in the latter part of his comments in presenting the Appropriation Bills. It is no coincidence that during the course of this parliamentary week I have sought on 3 occasions to raise the loans affair in this national Parliament and on each occasion I have been subjected to a Government gag. I can well understand why this Government wants to wash its hands of the loans affair, but that scandal is the most sordid and disgraceful affair which has ever involved any Australian Prime Minister and I say today that the scandal and the sense of dishonesty go right to the top. The Prime Minister is as much involved, in the view of the Opposition Parties, as are the Ministers that he has in fact sacked not resigned’ to use the Treasurer’s term but the Ministers the Prime Minister has in fact sacked. The Prime Minister and his men are guilty of an illegal conspiracy and a cover-up which has no precedent in Australian political history. This in fact is part of the context in which these Appropriation Bills and this Government’s credibility and standing both in this Parliament and outside must be judged.
The Prime Minister has personally suppressed information and held back facts which ought properly to be available to this Parliament and the people. The Prime Minister stands condemned by his own words, words which he has used to mislead the House and by his failure to take proper responsibility for the dishonest actions of his own Ministers. This man has consistently avoided the responsibility which any head of state, any Prime Minister, must accept for the conduct of his own Ministers. The Prime Minister cannot stand aside. He is as guilty as the men around him. He is as guilty as the 2 Ministers whose dismissal he caused. I ask this House today in consideration of the Appropriation Bills and the Government’s financial standing and credibility: What is the Prime Minister hiding? Why does he fear the scrutiny of this House and the people? Why does he refuse to table all of the documents? I have here more documents. They are not the only documents the Opposition has in relation to the loans affair, but as I recall it the Prime Minister is on the record as saying that all of the relevant documents have been published in the House. Why is it then that I hold before me what purports to be a telex from the former Minister for Minerals and Energy dated 7 February to Sheik Ghassan Chaker? Why has that document not been produced. If the Treasurer is anxious to seek scrutiny of it I will invite his permission to have it tabled in the House.
Why is it that there has been no reference in the documents which have been so far tabled to a telex from the Overseas Development Bank to the former Minister for Minerals and Energy, which I have before me? What in fact has been the involvement of a Mr Gray of the Australian Consulate in Geneva, the signatory to a document which was prepared for Mr Khemlani in Geneva on 3 April? Why is it that time and time again it remains for the Opposition to continue to produce documents when it has been within the capacity of this Government to produce the whole file to tell the whole truth? But, of course, the story has been one of continuing deceit, deception and mounting evasion.
- (Mr Keith Johnson)- Order! Do I understand that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is seeking leave to table documents?
– I am happy to table those 3 documents.
– You have to ask for leave only to have them incorporated in Hansard.
– They can be incorporated in Hansard.
-There being no objection, that course will be followed. (The documents read as follows)-
382236 SYD 08 +
Is the manager of the bank available pls. I have a confidential message for transmission to Sheik Ghassan Chaker + ? MOM
Minister for Minerals and Energy Aust
KA EE cant you call as tomorrow at 1 0PLS +
Is the deput manager available PLS + ?
Is the deputy manager there PLS + ?
Sorry the manager is not here +
Operator would you please make sure that the Sheik gets the following message PLS- I will send tape now ok + ?
Areyou there PLS +?
Pls give us your message + TKS
To Sheik Ghassan Chaker
To his excellency Sheik Ghassan Chaker
BANQUE DULIBAN ET D’OUTREMER
Thank you for your message delivered by Mr T. H. Khemlani of 7 February and transmitted through Dalamal and Sons Limited of London. We accept your advice and to initiate the transaction herewith transmit text of our response transmitted today to Moscow Narodny Bank London in answer to their telex message of 30 January
Our reference AG/MME +
Your reference DIKS/MAC/AUS/C20/CAS5.
Following our reply of 3 1 January to your telex message of 30 January and subsequent to Mr Tirathdas Hassaram Khemlani ‘s visit to your bank of 3 February we are currently in discussion with Mr. Khemlani who is present whilst the contents of this are being drafted and communicated to you. We understand that five hundred million United States dollars (dollars United States 500,000,000) are currently available in blocked accounts in United States prime banks and are immediately available with the permission of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) for transfer to the account of the Reserve Bank of Australia with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. On this basis and subject to your confirmation thereof and in respect of this sum we would be prepared to accept an advance of this amount to the Reserve Bank of Australia in accordance with the following draft terms and conditions
Date of Issue
Date of Maturity
For the value received, the undersigned…………………………………
On behalf of the commonwealth of Australia hereby irrevocably and unconditionally and without protest or notification promises to pay against this promissory note
To the order of:……………………………………………………………………….
Or the holder of this Primissory Note at…………………………………
The sum of………………………………………………………………………………
In lawful money of the United States of America without interest.
This Promissory Note is payable free and clear of deductions for, or on account of any taxes, imposts, levies or duties present or future of any nature imposed under the laws of Australia or any political subdivision thereof or therein.
The Commonwealth of Australia promises that if it shall be compelled to make such deductions, then it shall pay such additional amounts as may be necessary to ensure that a new amount received by the lender shall equal the net amount of this promissory note.
The terms and conditions of this promissory note will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England at the date of signature of this note.
The failure of the holder to exercise any of his rights hereunder in any instance shall not constitute a waiver thereof in that or any other instance.
The Commonwealth of Australia hereby certifies and declares that all acts, conditions and things precedent to the creation and issue of this promissory note and to constitute this promissory note the valid obligation of the Commonwealth of Australia in accordance with its terms have been done and performed and have happened in due and strict compliance with the applicable laws of Australia.
All rights arising from ownership of this promissory note are freely transferable, assignable and divisible.
The requirement imposed by the second paragraph hereof that the promissory note is payable free and clear of deductions for, or on account of any taxes, imposts, levies or duties present or future of any nature imposed under the laws of Australia or any political subdivision thereof or therein does not apply where the promissory note or an interest therein is beneficially owned by any person (incorporated or otherwise) residing in or being a resident or Australia or any of the Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Island, Norfolk Island or Christmas Island.
From R. F. X. Connor
Minister for Minerals and Energy
Intlx opr tks v much for all your assistant
You r welcome you finished now + ?
Yes at last
minme aa62680 22053z odbch
April 3, 1975 2 1:00 local time second call from overseas development bank, geneva to the honourable r.f.x.Connor,Australian minister for minerals and energy, parliament house Canberra yourref: ae + ag/420/dsell/khem /3001 1975 your excellency, further to our yesterday’s telex to you, and our telephone conversations, we confirm the following: based on information received from your office, your embassy and consulate in our country, as well as documentation presented to us byMr.Khemlani, we agree to act as trustee for the following functions in the loan transaction contemplated by your ministry. -to cause your request as outlined in your telex ofFebruary 1975 to the sfnb and in your letter of 22nd march 1975 to Mr.Khemlani to be transmitted to potential lenders and/or their representatives, -to cause receipt of acceptance of terms and conditions as well as confirmation of funds’ availability to be transmitted to your office and to the reserve bank ofAustralia. -it is further understood that our bank is to obtain funds from the lenders in a sufficient amount to pay all operational charges or other expenses or commissions. -as trustee, our establishment does not at any stage undertake to participate in the loan financing or to bring the transaction to a satisfactory conclusion. we understand that further to negotiations which have taken place, we are to be contacted shortly by the potential lending bank regarding the final commitments that are to take place. we shall report to you further as required by developments. respectfully yours, overseas development bank angeloni/ferrier well received? yes, thank you we await further information when you are contacted by the potential lending bank regarding the final commitments that are to take place we accept your statement of your functions in acting as trustee rfxConnor
Australian minister for minerals and energy parliament house
Canberra thank you and good day bibi for now minme aa62680 22053z odbch
Geneva, April 3, 1975
I, Tirath Hassaram Khemlani, holder of British passport no. G 621722, authorise Dr. Sinha and/or Dr Jha full exclusive negotiating rights for the loan of US$8 millions to the government of Australia, as per letter of Rt. Hon. R. F. X. Connor, Australian Minister for Minerals and Energy dated March 25, 1975, addressed to me.
Tirath Hassaram Khemlani
I, KEVIN SIMON GRAY of the Australian Consulate, Geneva, DO SOLEMNLY AND SINCERELY AFFIRM that the signature T. H. KHEMLANI above, is to the best of my knowledge the true signature of TIRATH HASSARAM KHEMLANI.
IN WITNESS THEREOF I HAVE HEREUNTO SET MY
HAND AND AFFIXED THE SEAL OF the Australian Consulate, Geneva this fourth day of April one thousand nine hundred and seventy five.
DONE AT GENEVA in Switzerland. (Signed K. S. Gray)
-Why is it that the Prime Minister has time and time again refused to give direct answers in this Parliament to questions without notice? Why has he refused to deny that action has been taken to destroy incriminating documents? Why has he refused to table the Khemlani and the Phillip Cairns files held by the Treasurer? Perhaps I should say to the Treasurer who is seated on the front bench: Why is it that the Treasury file in this matter has not been subject to the full scrutiny of this House? I can only interpret from the honourable gentleman’s silence that if this Government had nothing to hide from in that Treasury file it would long since have been produced in this House.
-Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition should know that had the Treasurer answered him I would have called the Treasurer to order. I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition not to invite comments from honourable members.
– I accept that because one does not want to embarrass the Minister beyond the normal forms of the House. I accept the ruling and the suggestion you have made, Mr Deputy Speaker. But why has the Prime Minister of this country enforced executive privilege in this matter to gag senior public servants? Why has he refused to appoint a judicial inquiry? Why has he not applied to himself those standards of parliamentary conduct that he allegedly applies to his Ministers? The reason is obvious. He is as guilty as the Ministers he has dismissed. It was this Prime Minister who signed the original Executive Council Minute of 13 December. In so doing he made himself the principal agent in an act which was unconstitutional, unlawful and based on deception.
It was this Prime Minister who received official advice from the then Treasurer and the Treasury warning him against the Government’s course of action and the intermediaries employed. In disregarding that advice, advice he even now refuses to make public- but no doubt it is known to the Treasurer in this House- he made himself primarily responsible for the subsequent events which have occurred. It was this Prime Minister who was in receipt of ail Government files and documents concerned in this matter as at 31 May. In failing to act on those documents- once again, documents which have never been made completely available to the Parliament- he compounded his own personal responsibility. It was this Prime Minister who, according to his own words, has been closely consulted by his colleagues on all occasions and at all times. It was this Prime Minister who wrote to the Treasurer on 29 May and to the former Minister for Minerals and Energy stating explicitly that any proposals for further borrowing should be referred to himself in the first instance. In failing to ensure that these instructions were carried out he abrogated his responsibility.
I have consistently questioned the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers over the months since December last year. I have been lied to persistently in this House. On 2 occasions those lies, lies deliberately told to me, have led to the dismissal of two of this country’s most senior Ministerswho can over-emphasise the seriousness of that fact- men who have acted during periods as Prime Minister of Australia. It was this Prime Minister who refused to appoint a royal commission or judicial inquiry as demanded by every leading newspaper in Australia and by the Opposition in this Parliament.
This House can no longer accept this Prime Minister’s word. It has been proven false on too many occasions. The Government stands accused by the very financial intermediary it employed initially in the raising of some $4 billion-$4,000m-and later $2 billion$2,000m Mr Tirath Khemlani, a man whom the Government now conveniently seeks to disown. What sort of proposition is it for a government to seek out a man that it could trust with the raising of the greatest amount of money in the history of Australia- for purposes known to the Government but unknown to us, purposes that must have been serious and matters of substanceand now to seek to disown him?
The Government stands accused by the same intermediary of deliberately seeking to deceive this Parliament, by using a device to pay commission on loans without parliamentary approval. Why is there no word on that score from the Treasurer or from the Prime Minister? This Ministry is charged with a conspiracy to pay a higher interest rate than that charged by the lenders in order to avoid payment of a direct commission which would have required parliamentary approval. There has been no response from the Government to this serious accusation. In the view of the Opposition parties, over the period since December of last year the Prime Minister and his Ministers have conducted a cover up of Watergate-type dimensions. Is the Prime Minister now satisfied that the Australian public knows all it needs to know about this shabby affair? If the Prime Minister is satisfied, the Opposition parties certainly are not. I challenge the Prime Minister once again to assure this House that all relevant documents have been tabled. Because the Treasurer referred to this matter specifically in this House, I challenge the Treasurer, across the table, to assure the House, by nod of the head if need be, that all the relevant documents have been tabled.
- (Mr Keith Johnson)- I warned the Deputy Leader of the Opposition against inviting members of the House to participate when they have already spoken. I do wish he would heed the warning.
-Only last week the Prime Minister said that they were all tabled on 9 July. The Prime Minister knows, this House knows and the public knows that that is false. Will he assure the House that the Treasury files will not be tampered with and will remain intact? I challenge the Prime Minister to tell the House what the involvement of the Overseas Development Bank in Geneva has been in this affair. Is he prepared to say that this Bank was not enjoined to act as the trustee Bank during the negotiations? This fact has not been revealed. I ask the Prime Minister: Why not?
Why did the former Minister for Minerals and Energy apparently change the wording in his cable to the Overseas Development Bank from the words ‘The Government wishes to borrow’ and replace those words with the words ‘The Australian Government is ready to borrow’? Is there any significance in that change in wording? Why did the Prime Minister say on national television last night or the night before that the Government was not negotiating loans which could have totalled $8,000m? He knows and this Parliament knows that the letter from the former
Minister for Minerals and Energy to Mr Khemlani of 22 March demonstrated that statement to be a lie, that it was misleading and a complete untruth.
What documents did the Australian Ambassador to Switzerland issue or authenticate and why did he do so? What involvement did the Australian Ambassador have in the loans affair? The Prime Minister has refused to answer questions on notice which I recall putting to him in relation to this. Was the Australian Ambassador to Switzerland present at a meeting held in that country on or about 1 8 April last at which proposals for a loan of some billions of dollars to the Australian Government were discussed? Did any Minister or Ministers authorise the attendance of the Ambassador at such a meeting for the purpose of those discussions? If so, which Minister or Ministers?
One reason why the Prime Minister consistently refuses to answer questions in this House is simply because he has aided and abetted, from the earliest time, the actions of his Ministers in seeking overseas loans. Even in his speech in this House on 9 July the Prime Minister endorsed the objectives of the loan and the Government’s intention to continue to pursue it. On that occasion he said:
The purposes for which we sought the loan command the clear support of the Australian people.
During the same speech he went on to say:
If the opportunity presents itself with reasonable chance of success, we shall try again.
He said this in spite of the fact that on 10 June he told his Press conference that the Government’s loan raising activities had concluded. I quote what he said on that occasion for the record of this House:
The whole of that transaction has ended. I thought I made that plain.
In other words, the Prime Minister of this country has changed his story to suit his own duplicity. The Opposition has been given certain information that the Prime Minister was involved in discussions between 20 May and 10 June with the former Minister for Minerals and Energy concerning overseas loan raisings. Why has that former Minister made no attempt whatever at any explanation concerning his dismissal? Is this the reason for the Prime Minister’s refusal to answer the questions put to him yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition and myself? The Leader of the Opposition asked whether the Prime Minister had had discussions with the Minister for Minerals and Energy between 20
May and 10 June concerning overseas loan raisings. I followed with a further question asking the Prime Minister to assure this House that neither he nor any of his Ministers were aware of continuing negotiations or communications after 20 May about the raising of a major overseas loan. Both questions were evaded by the Prime Minister. What does he really have to hide in relation to this affair? When will he permit the total truth to be finally established, or will he continue to allow this Government to be caught up in a web of fabrication and deception of its own making?
The simple fact is that the Prime Minister cannot stand aside from his personal involvement. Mr Khemlani- I repeat, the trusted Government intermediary, the man supported in this House in earlier days by the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers but now a man that the Prime Minister conveniently seeks to disown- on 10 October said:
However, after we had agreed in principle the commission would be given, we began studying the draft acceptance, penalty clause and promisory note. Then while some alterations suggested by the Government’s advisers were being telexed to London, Sir Lenox asked me if I could go to Canberra. Discussions were going with the legal advisers and the Prime Minister- but they hoped to have the slight problem over the commission over by Monday. I knew that Mr Whitlam was involved in the discussions then as he has been ever since.
In other words, the Prime Minister knew well what was going on according to the statement made by Mr Khemlani. If there be any doubt as to the discussions which had taken place between Mr Khemlani and this Government and certain of its Ministers, why does not the Government call him to Canberra to clarify that matter so that it can be put beyond dispute?
As late as 8 October the Prime Minister confirmed his confidence, in answer to a question in this House by the Leader of the Opposition, in the administration of his portfolio by the former Minister for Minerals and Energy. Not only was he prepared to endorse the former Minister’s administration; he has consistently refused to provide information as to the alleged manner in which the commission was allegedly to be paid. This again is clear from the many statements made by Mr Khemlani, the Government’s trusted, original financial intermediary. The fact is that the Prime Minister has not been prepared to act until a time when publication of evidence in the Press and questioning from this side of the House has forced him to so act. Can anyone imagine the chairman of any board large or small in this country acting in a similar fashion?
The Prime Minister dismissed the former Treasurer on 5 June. But he had been informed by the former Treasurer almost 2 weeks prior to that about the letter which was to be the basis for his dismissal. This is clearly set out in the answer given to this House on 4 June by the former Treasurer. But only last night, or the night before, the Prime Minister when appearing on national television said:
Nobody knew that Dr Cairns and Mr Connor weren’t telling the truth.
I believe that statement is false. The one person who did know was the Prime Minister of this country. I refer to Mr Khemlani ‘s own words on 20 October:
During our discussions on the telephone, Mr Connor used to point out to me that the Prime Minister had been particularly informed and was waiting for the confirmation of funds to come through.
Mr Khemlani was specifically asked whether this was so after 20 May. Mr Khemlani has stated without reservation that it was after that date. I quote again what Mr Khemlani has said:
When it was a matter of confirming funds at any time … Mr Connor used to say that we are keeping the Prime Minister late in the Parliament House or even at home.
Mr Khemlani has also said:
Certain messages were sent to Mr Connor which were definitely to my knowledge and to the knowledge of Mr Karidis to be conveyed to the Prime Minister.
There is no point in the Prime Minister’s evading this issue any more because what is at stake here is the propriety, honesty and integrity not simply of one man but of this whole cabal of Ministers. The Prime Minister himself has admitted that he was consulted in the way that Mr Khemlani has alleged. I repeat what he said on 22 May:
I have been consulted by my colleagues, the AttorneyGeneral and the Minister for Minerals and Energy, in this whole affair.
There is no point in resorting to excuses such as ‘messages were conveyed through other people’ or ‘without his knowledge’. Mr Khemlani has specifically stated that the Prime Minister’s personal staff have been involved in communications about this matter. Having regard to the misleading, inaccurate nature of the statements that have been made consistently in this Parliament, the untruths that have been told by two of the country’s most senior Ministers who at varying times were Acting Prime Minister of Australia, who can believe this Government and this Prime Minister any longer? If they have nothing to hide and if there is nothing to evade and if there is no basis whatever to what Mr Khemlani asserts, let the Government for the first time table all of the files and let the
Treasurer himself, who is a man of honour in this Parliament, specifically state that all the documents have been tabled. Let him produce the Treasury file which I understand to be known as the ‘K file’.
It is a lie in itself to say that no charges have been levelled, as the Prime Minister has said time and time again. Over the course of many months we have laid charge after charge. We have brought undone Minister after Minister, we have forced out fact after fact and we have started to put together a series of documents which have forced this Government out into the open, but not quite out into the total glare of that form of publicity, condemnation and indictment which will follow when the total story is told. The Prime Minister has said that no charges have been levelled and that Mr Khemlani was not the Government’s intermediary. Well, if he was not, I do not know who was during the period. As was said last night on television, the Prime Minister is simply compounding the felony.
The Prime Minister is the central figure in the loans affair. The Prime Minister has run out of excuses. He should go now and he should go quietly. The Prime Minister at the very least should be prepared to enter this debate and make a detailed statement of his Government’s duplicity and reveal for the first time the documents which have so far failed to be produced in this national Parliament. The Government for all of the many reasons that I have put forward, for reasons of gross impropriety on the part of Government Ministers, for reasons of total, absolute and massive financial mismanagement, stands condemned. We oppose the Bills as we have done before. We will refuse their passage in the Senate as we have done before. I move:
- (Mr Keith Johnson)- Is the amendment seconded?
-I second the amendment. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) has clearly demonstrated in his address to the House this afternoon that this Government, this rabble of a Government, not only deserves to but must go to the people. The Treasurer (Mr Hayden) in the introduction to his speech said that we should endorse the economic measures taken by his Government. No one in his right mind would endorse the economic measures taken by this
Labor Government. All we have to do is look very quickly at the record of this Government since it came to power in 1 972; note that we have at this stage record unemployment- an unemployment level higher than at any stage since the great depression; and realise that hundreds of thousands of school leavers face a situation in which they will have no opportunities to obtain jobs in the foreseeable future and no program designed by this Government which would offer them any hope of jobs becoming available. I believe that when we think about these things we should divorce our minds from the splendid rhetoric of members of the Labor Government and assess for ourselves the effect that such a prospect has on the future lives, the future ambitions, the future possible happiness of so many young Australians.
In this instance I am not speaking about the great number of older Australians who have already lost their jobs. I speak particularly about the school leavers who face this dim and unwelcome prospect, a prospect which has been clearly spelt out by all speakers- clearly spelt out by the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Senator James McClelland) himself when he revealed that as an estimate there will be 400 000 people out of work by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Honourable members should place themselves in the position of migrants who have come to this country expecting opportunities to work, expecting that if they show enterprise, thrift and initiative and if they work hard they will be able to gain some reward for it and make a better life for themselves but more particularly for their families. Honourable members should assess the view of these people coming to Australia about the prospects that their families will inherit due to the economic mismanagement brought about solely by the efforts of this Government.
It is not a constitutional crisis that we face at the moment Let no one be misled by those who say that it is a constitutional crisis. The constitutional position is quite clear. There may be a political crisis; it is certainly not a constitutional crisis. The political crisis has been brought about by the actions of dishonest men within a dishonest Government. Four people were involved in this notorious loans affair- the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) himself, his then AttorneyGeneral, his then Deputy Prime Minister and his then Minister for Minerals and Energy. Three of those men have either left or been sacked. One remains. The Prime Minister constantly asserts that no charges of impropriety have been made. This has been given the lie yesterday and again today in the speech of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Crean). It is no longer tenable for this Government to say that it commands the support of the Australian people. If it believes that then let it have the courage to go to the Australian people and test it at the ballot box. It does not have that courage. I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
-In the one minute remaining let me say that I was interested to hear the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) interject: ‘I have got some new documents’. When I was overseas recently I found it very hard to answer a question that was posed to me. The question was: Why is money being offered for information on overseas loans by the Opposition in Australia? I did not know the answer. I still do not know the answer. But I think that the people are entitled to know. The community is concerned about the role of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in respect of overseas loans. The sordid role he has played and the principals for whom he acts are yet to be revealed. Who are the overseas bankers with whom he is liasing? What is their interest? What is the purpose of his visits with them? (Quorum formed)
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Lynch’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question put:
That the Bills be now read a second time. The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bills together read a second time.
-The time allotted for the Committee stage has expired.
Leave granted for third readings to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Hayden) proposed:
That the Bills be now read a third time.
-Because of the actions of the Opposition, these are sad days for the Australian nation.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the honourable member for Shortland be not further heard.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the negative. Question put:
That the Bills be now read a third time.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Bills together read a third time.
LOAN BILL 1975 [No. 2] Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Crean) put:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent a Loan Bill 1975 [No. 2] being introduced and passed through all stages without delay.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon.G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Mr Crean, and read a first time.
Declaration of Urgency
– I declare that the Loan Bill 1975 (No. 2) is an urgent Bill.
-The question is that the Loan Bill 1975 (No. 2) be declared an urgent Bill.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. B. Scholes) Ayes . . . . . . . . . 60
Majority ..’..>… 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Allotment of Time
– I move:
This Bill is being re-presented because it is part of the financial program of the Government. The Bill authorises the raising and expending of moneys for defence purposes and as such it can originate only in the House of Representatives and may not be amended by the Senate. I hope in speaking later on this Bill to indicate the reasons if they are thought through they will be seen to be correct why sensible usage in 1975 would suggest that the section in the Constitution which states that the Senate may not amend a money Bill can be sensibly interpreted only to mean also that the Senate may not reject such a Bill. I hope to indicate in some detail the sort of consequences that can follow from the Senate’s continuing to take the stand that it is taking, a stand which in 1975 is contrary to common sense and to accepted conventions. It is a course that if continued in can lead only to economic and social chaos. I repeat that the Government stands firm upon the principle that governments are made and unmade only in one place, that is, when they lose the confidence of the House of Representatives.
– That depends on the Prime Minister.
– Despite the sorts of authorities that can be arrayed in support of the argument that the Senate still has the right to reject money Bills I suggest that if anybody with sense I am not too sure I would apply that remark to the interjector thinks the implications through he can only believe that in this day and age the section in question means that the Bills cannot originate in the Senate, cannot be amended in the Senate and, sensibly, cannot be rejected by the Senate. Because the Party that has the numbers in the Senate does not have the numbers and cannot carry the day here, it is carrying it in the other place. At the moment it is doing so with at least one bodgie vote.
It is absurd to suggest that the Senate is as democratic as is this House. The Senate is supposed to be a House of Review. The Senate is supposed to be a State’s House. The Opposition in the Senate, on a political basis only, is nakedly using its numbers to get its way numbers that it does not have in this chamber. What the Opposition cannot do in this place it gets done, with the same political line-up, in another place. The Senate is destroying any sort of validity it may claim to have as representing the States or being a House of Review. I hope to enlarge on these arguments and to give some examples of the dreadful consequences that can follow from this action when I speak at the second reading stage. We have made the Bill an urgent measure because it was debated before at great length in this House and also in another place. I do not think there is any need to repeat in great detail the reason for the legislation. I shall briefly outline it when I make my second reading speech.
Motion (by Mr Nichols) agreed to:
That the question be now put.
Original question put:
That the motion (Mr Crean’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker-Hon. G. G. D. Scholes)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I re-present to the House the Loan Bill 1975. As with the Appropriation Bills which the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) reintroduced today, the Loan Bill is being re-presented in precisely the same form as it was passed by the House some 8 weeks ago on 27 August. Nevertheless, I think that I should outline briefly for the information of honourable members the purposes and nature of this Bill.
In the very first sentence of the Treasurer ‘s second reading speech on 20 August, he pointed out that the Bill is a machinery measure. It is a means of meeting the requirements of the three fund accounting systems operated by Australian governments virtually since Federation under the provisions of the Audit Act. Put simply, there will be, in the absence of a Loan Act or some similar piece of legislation, a prospective deficit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund. That Consolidated Revenue deficit, which is part of the overall Budget deficit, must be funded in one way or another. The Loan Bill aims to allow this to be done by permitting the transfer of part of our defence expenditures from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the Loan Fund. It would authorise borrowings to finance the defence expenditure so transferred. There is nothing mysterious, or sinister, or reprehensible, to use that famous word, in this machinery process. Loan Acts including the Act proposed by this Bill, do not authorise any expenditures over and above those authorised in Appropriation Acts passed by the Parliament. They simply reallocate approved defence expenditures between the Consolidated Revenue Fund and the Loan Fund.
In drafting Loan Bills, it is long established usage followed by both this Government and previous Liberal-Country Party governments that defence expenditures are chosen to be transferred to and financed from the Loan Fund. As is known, borrowings for defence purposes are specifically exempted from the provisions of the financial agreement relating to control by the Australian Loan Council. The view has been taken, rightly in the Government’s estimation, that Loan Council involvement in the detailed financing arrangements of the Australian Government Budget should not be any greater than necessary. Loan Acts are far from a new development. They have for very many years been used by successive governments as the traditional and simplest method of completing the financing of a deficit which extends over the end of the financial year.
In the last 10 years of Liberal-Country Party Government Loan Acts were foreshadowed in Budget Speeches and statements no fewer than 8 times, and no less than 9 Loan Acts were passed by the Parliament. Given the mechanical, indeed virtually accounting, nature of the Bill, it is difficult to understand why it has provoked so much interest and attention by the Opposition parties. The Bill was first introduced into this House on 20 August, debated on 27 August and passed the same day. The day before, on 26 August, however, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) announced to the Press that the Opposition would be deferring passage of the Bill in the Senate. Since then the Bill has been debated on 7 separate occasions between 28 August and 15 October in the Senate. Three separate series of questions leading to the provision, by the Treasurer and some of his colleagues, of 36 detailed answers have appeared. With the Treasurer’s approval Treasury officials have met Opposition senators to explain further the reasons for the Bill. Yet we find, even after 8 weeks and a flow of information not previously seen in respect of any other Loan Bill, that the Opposition in the Senate has persisted in deferring the Bill. Similar legislation in 1971 with the same type of clause limiting the amount authorised to be transferred, introduced by the then Liberal-Country Party Government, took, for example, only a matter of days to pass through all stages in both Houses.
The information provided on most aspects of this Bill has already been so extensive that I feel little would be achieved by going again over all of the ground so far traversed. One aspect, however, needs to be covered to make it clear to the House why the Bill is being re-introduced now. (Quorum formed) The Opposition has argued to the effect that this Bill would permit unlimited borrowing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed anyone reading the Bill properly should know that the form of limitations used in the Bill now before the House were first used in 1968 and similar limitation clauses were used again in 1970 and 1971. There is no basis on which it could be implied now that there is something sinister about these clauses. However, since they are apparently not understood, I will explain in terms as simple as possible. Even though clause 3 does not state a specific amount, there are two very important limitations upon the amount which can be borrowed and utilised under the Bill when it is enacted. First, the borrowing authority is limited to the extent of the anticipated deficit in the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Secondly, and more importantly in the current context, the amounts borrowed can be utilised only to finance Defence expenditures incurred after the passage of the Bill into law. Such Defence expenditures must, at the same time, have been approved by Parliament under other Acts which are mentioned in the Bill or expressed by Parliament to be subject to the Loan Act. Once Defence expenditure has already been charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, this Bill will not authorise its subsequent transfer to Loan Fund. The delay in its passage must, therefore, substantially affect the scope for this necessary piece of accounting. A lot of damage has been done by delay.
Out of a potential total of $1,7 11m expenditure under the heading ‘Department of Defence’ close to $500m has been charged to the Consolidated Revenue Fund already and that amount, of course, increases as the days go by. It may be that the notion that delaying this measure will somehow hasten the point at which the Government runs out of money is still abroad. There is no question of the Government running out of money. What the Loan Bill is, and Loans Acts have always been designed to do, is to provide authority to complete the financing of a prospective deficit over the financial year as a whole. Refusal to pass the Loan Bill does not, of itself, therefore, prevent any expenditures being made. Obviously, however, the smaller any recourse to such alternatives has to be, the less unorthodox and confusing would be the measures then forced on the Government. Purely from a legislative point of view, the delays occasioned on the passage of this Bill in the Senate could result in a requirement for an amendment to be made to it before it completes its passage through the Parliament. It simply means that some other less appropriate way of financing the Consolidated Revenue Fund deficit will be forced upon the Government at some future date. The delay which has so far taken place with this machinery Bill may already have pushed us to the stage where further legislation may be required to clear the Consolidated Revenue Fund deficit at the end of the year. The Bill was drafted on the assumption that it would receive royal assent before Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and would need to be amended to be appropriate if Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) were to be getting royal assent first. To sum up, when the Bill was first introduced, it was an urgent machinery measure. It remains so.
I indicate that this Bill now re-presented is part of what ought to be regarded as an historic battle for the assertion of the rights of this House. It is a pity to me that those issues are not seen in this light. I take the opportunity now to clarify something that I said in the course of a television interview telecast last Sunday evening. I was asked by Mr Alan Reid, the questioner:
As a hypothetical case, if both sides stay firm, how is the deadlock resolved?
I replied: ‘ I think that is a difficult thing’.
I would stress again that it is a difficult thing. The situation can be resolved by calling off the numbers in the Senate. It is not going to be resolved by this House and the Labor Government backing down on what it believes are its fundamental rights. I went on to say: ‘ In my view what is happening is unconstitutional ‘.
I believe that what is happening is unconstitutional. I went on to say: ‘Now if it continues, there certainly have got to be unconstitutional things done to stop the system from breaking down’.
Upon reflection now, instead of the word ‘unconstitutional’ I should have used words like ‘unusual things’, ‘unconventional things’ or ‘unprecedented things’.
I heard a very virtuous speech last night or yesterday afternoon and I was rather surprised at the deliverer of it who paid no attention whatever to the constitutional issue, and he ought to be an authority on the constitutional issue. He chose to say that he was taking the action he was taking because the Government was dishonest, beneath contempt and so on. I simply ask those who have not thought through what the consequences of refusal of Supply are to do so. Despite all the assurances from Sir Robert Menzies today, I still believe that his more genuine opinion was in the letter that the Prime Minister read out here the other day, but that in an attempt to save his Party from doing something foolish he came out, I guess, reckoning the damage was beyond repair. I should like to cite the sort of things that can happen in the event of Supply being refused. I speak about my own Department of Overseas Trade. I will not cite the actual examples or give the names of firms and so on. We have legitimately engaged people to provide a consultancy service for us. They are honestly engaged, but until Supply is passed they cannot legally be paid. Is there something unconstitutional already? Surely this applies to the whole of the Public Service. Permanent employees cannot be sacked but cannot be paid. This is one of the consequences of a refusal of
Supply, the sort of thing that honourable members opposite have not thought through.
– Go to the people.
– For goodness sake, Mr Deputy Speaker, close him down.
-Order! Interjections will cease. There has been sufficient interruption in the debate today. Debate should be carried out with some dignity and decorum. I will call for silence and I will not tolerate further interjections.
– I endeavour always to debate with dignity and decorum but I must say that I become rather annoyed because the only speeches that the honourable member for Bendigo ( Mr Bourchier) makes involve calling attention to the state of the House or making interjections. These are the sort of consequences that ought to be looked at. People who are legitimately employed will not be able to be paid. Where has the Constitution broken down first? Cannot those who think they ought to be paid sue the Government for breach of contract? Services are available and willing to be given but the people involved are unable to be paid. Another example is the Australian Post Office, but it can continue to operate because it is outside the Budget. The people in the Commonwealth Trading Bank will continue to be paid because they do not come within the Budget. People who have contracts with the Post Office can be paid. People who have contracts with my Department cannot be paid.
I suggest that these matters have not been thought through by those who are prepared to take the step of rejecting Supply. If in the context of 1975- as of now- the Senate can no longer claim that the section of the Constitution which says it may not amend carries an implication that nevertheless it can reject the Budget, the people who want to do these things should take into account the consequences of their action. Constitutions are more than written documents. Constitutions have a spirit as well as letter of the law. Constitutions are operated with conventions as well as with laws and, above all, constitutions ought to operate with common sense. Common sense is not being displayed in another place. The Senate is not representing the States in the actions it is taking. It is acting in the same way as the same political line-up in this place, the line-up which cannot win in this place but which tries to win in that place. It is trying to win in that place by asserting the right- the presumptive right, the impertinent right- that it can say: ‘We will only do what we ought to do if you have a House of Representatives election’.
We are standing upon the assertion of the rights of this House. People can look at my record in this place over something like 24 years. I have at other times when I was in Opposition said, when money Bills were sent down to the Senate, that it was time that this House asserted its fundamental rights, its priority over the power of the purse. I believe that what we should have in Australia in 1975 is what was written into the British system in 1911, that is, that an Upper House can do no more than sniff at a money Bill and if it delays it for more than a month it does not matter whether it passes it or not. Our system is the only Westminster parliamentary system under which the present situation can happen, and despite the quotations about why the words are there, they were taken out of some of the State Constitutions that existed prior to the Australian Constitution being written in 1901. It adopted what was then the convention of the British system, the convention that had been accepted as far back as 1861. It was accepted because when the House of Lords tried to do something to stop social reform, the then Prime Minister used the device of putting all the Government measures into one piece of legislation. Those in Opposition could not reject the measures one by one in piecemeal fashion. They had to pass the lot or reject the lot. Commonsense-wise they said they could not reject the lot because by so doing they would bring the whole financial and economic framework of the nation into disarray and the nation to a standstill.
This is the situation that faces Australia at the moment. It cannot be resolved by Mr Fraser going to the Governor-General. Mr Fraser cannot claim that he can form a government. He cannot. He does not have the numbers. Governments are formed and unformed by votes in this House and both sides of this House ought to acknowledge the ascendency of that reality and what is being done. I must say that I almost felt sick the day that the Senate did what it did. I must say that I still believe common sense will prevail against sheer political lining up. I still think that if Opposition members were given a free vote or there were a secret vote there are people who would vote differently from what they were dragooned to do the other day. I still hope that there are some in this House who will assert the rights of this place and who will understand that the Opposition is bringing the constitutional arrangements into chaos.
If the Opposition brings chaos are things going to remain constitutional? I found that one or two pious writers of leading articles and editorials took my two or three lines out of context and that is why today I have tried to suggest that it would have been better if I had said unusual, unconventional or unprecedented instead of unconstitutional. What are the consequences of the Opposition’s holding firm, digging in its toes in the other place with a majority of one vote, a majority that honestly it ought not have? With that kind of franchise is the Opposition in this place going to yield and say: ‘Yes, the Senate has a right to do this.’?
The Senate has no right to force a House of Representatives to an election without any penalty upon itself. The House of Representatives ought to be able to survive for 3 years. We of the Australian Labor Party won in 1972. We were pushed to an election again in 1974 and we won and then we did not take office, as a Parliament, until July of 1974. We are not even half way through our life. People are saying that the Government is unpopular. So are some State governments unpopular, but they do not have a body like the Senate that can say: ‘We will not give you the necessary finance for the responsibilities of government unless you have an election.’
It ought to be observed that the Opposition Parties are not turning down the whole of the Government’s financial program. They are turning down, or trying to turn down, $9 billion out of $22 billion. This again is another reason why the antiquated practices that the Senate tries to perpetrate upon us should be re-thought. No government of either political character that introduces a Budget should ever have any fear that its passage will be other than delayed in the Senate. It ought to be assured of that. A party cannot govern if every time there is a Supply Bill the threat is exercised that the measure will not be passed. On this occasion the Opposition is not only stopping new initiatives; it is preventing the implementation of programs already honestly and legally entered into. When anybody wants to do that I ask: Who is being unconstitutional? Surely that is the question that members of this Parliament with any pride in parliamentary institutions ought to be prepared to ask.
The Opposition has dragged in something extraneous and has said that it is giving the Government the opportunity of going before its masters, the people of Australia. That is nonsense. The program and Budget of this Government provide a better plan than any alternative to get Australia out of the difficulties it is in. The Opposition does not have an alternative program. We ought to be given the chance to see our term through. If we are given a chance we are going to be in office a long time. Candidly, I believe that that is the reason why the Opposition is endeavouring to do what it is doing. It is not taking into consideration constitutionality or anything else but is being guided only by sheer political expediency.
It will be a sad day if a Senate; is able to get away with this. I have been asked and I will put my answer on record here- what I would do if the numbers situation were reversed. I would assert the same as I am asserting now. I would stand for the rights of this House against the Senate.
– You might, but what about your Party?
– I can give only my own answer to the question. There have been selective quotations in the last few days. We should not go back into history; we should look forward into the future. If we look to the future it means that on this historic occasion we should be asserting the rights of the popularly elected House as against another House. (Quorum formed) My time is about to expire but I hope I will now have the indulgence of the House in speaking for the 5 minutes that was taken from me. I tried to suggest to the-
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
Motion ( by Mr Daly) agreed to:
That the honourable member’s time be extended.
– As I said, I regard this occasion as an historic one- the assertion by this House of its rights. I believe that in any sensible and workable constitutional arrangement ground rules have to be accepted for its operation. I have been a student of constitutional practice for a long time. I suppose I have been a practitioner of it for longer than I was technically a student. I have great pride in the Westminster parliamentary system of government. I think it is the best form of government so far devised by mankind but I am astonished at times when I find that those who claim to be the upholders of constitutions and constitutional practice will bend the system to suit their own short term advantage. I suggest that that is what is being done on this occasion.
This Government has never been defeated on the floor of this House. Its numbers are not very greatly above those of the Opposition. In the last 12 months or so of the life of the previous Government it would have been rejected if it had been forced to the people. We did not seek to do that. That Government was able to see out its proper time and endeavour in that time to resuscitate its stocks so far as public opinion was concerned. I believe that is the rule that ought to operate. Any government having the numbers here should be assured of being able to continue for the life of the Parliament unless the Prime Minister seeks a dissolution to resolve some great issue. There always has to be the right to have a dissolution if that is wanted but there should not be a right exercisable in another place to force another representative chamber to election. I hope that commonsense may yet prevail in the days that remain before this country could be plunged into economic and social chaos.
The Treasurer earlier indicated the sorts of things that can happen. They have not happened yet. One does not want to become unduly alarmist but they can happen if certain other things do not happen. The only other thing that needs to happen is for some senators to change their minds upon the stand that they have chosen to take so far in this highly important matter.
I believe that the level of expenditure required in Australia by modern government, no matter who conducts it, is such that once a Budget is made and agreed to by the House of Representatives it cannot be undone anywhere else. It would be an act of irresponsibility to do so. It would be irresponsibility largely operating against a background of ignorance about the full circumstances. I am sure that those who are trying to do what they are doing now have not thought through the consequences of their actions. I repeat that when an action is taken the consequences ought to be contemplated and those who take the action have responsibility for the consequences that follow. I suggest that this is the situation here. How long can we go on without a grant of Supply? I ask that question quite seriously. Who should resolve this matter? I think in this stand the resolution can come from only one direction, that is, by the Senate changing its attitude and by this House reasserting its fundamental, historical and commonsense rights.
– I listened with very great interest to what the Minister for Overseas Trade (Mr Crean) said. He is a person whose integrity in this House is not disputed; he is a person who personally commands a very wide respect. I was particularly impressed with his comment that common sense ought to apply to the operation of our Constitution. It is a proposition with which I do not think any members on this side of the House would disagree. Of course, common sense must apply in the operation of any constitution. No constitution can contemplate every situation; no constitution can embrace all situations.
Where I depart from my agreement with the Minister for Overseas Trade is that the remarks that he addressed to the operation of the Constitution and the very proper appeal that he made to the operation of common sense were remarks addressed to conditions of normalcy. As the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) said last night during the debate on the Appropriation Bills, at the present time we are not living in conditions of political normalcy. It is not politically normal to have a situation in which 2 persons who acted as the Prime Minister of this country have been removed from office during the past 9 months because according to their leader, the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), they misled the Parliament.
It is not a condition of normalcy for a Budget which was introduced on the basis that a deficit would be of the order of $2,800m is now believed on very sound grounds to contemplate, when the ultimate is known, a deficit of $4,000m. It is not a condition of normalcy to have brought this Parliament- this House and the other place- back from a winter recess in July for the purpose of resolving once and for all the doubts that existed in the minds of many people, not only on this side of the House but throughout the community, regarding the conduct of the loans affair. It is not a condition of normalcy that that extraordinary gesture by the Prime Minister failed to remove the doubts. So far from failing to remove the doubts it has, by reason of what was said on that occasion and by reason of what was left unsaid, multiplied the doubts that have existed throughout the community. Does anybody seriously suggest that the doubts which had lingered on since 9 July were due entirely to the political posturing of the Opposition? Does anybody seriously suggest that it is entirely due to the attitude of the Opposition that those doubts have remained? Of course that cannot be seriously asserted.
It is not, I suggest to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a condition of normalcy for it to be on record in this Parliament that four of the most senior Ministers, including the Prime Minister and the then Deputy Prime Minister of this country, advised the Governor-General that a loan repayable in 20 years was a loan for temporary purposes. This is a proposition which in the words of Sir Robert Menzies yesterday would have evoked laughter from any first year student, be he a law student or any other student.
We are not living in times of political normalcy, and that is precisely the basis of the stand that the Opposition has taken. This is not a normal government. In the Opposition’s view, it has not behaved with normal responsibility. We take a stand not completely dictated by political attitudes or political expediency. We believe- I put this to the House with the same sincerity as the views expressed by the Minister for Overseas Trade- that this Government and its leader, the Prime Minister, have misled this House, have been guilty of dishonesty and have misled the Australian people. That is a view which is held with great sincerity by a large number of people, not only by those who sit on this side of the House but also by people throughout the community. I think that the Minister for Overseas Trade would agree with me that inevitably in the situation that now confronts us there is a good deal of hysteria and emotion. Whereas truth is said to be the first casualty in war I think it can also be said that truth has become very much a casualty in the political battle which is presently raging in Australia.
There are three or four aspects of the proposition I have just made that I would like to canvass briefly in the time available to me. The first is the proposition that governments are made and unmade in the House of Representatives. In the ultimate that is not true. Governments are made or unmade by the people and by nobody else. In the Opposition’s view it is the refusal of the Prime Minister to face his makers that is causing the present crisis. It is his refusal to face the people who ultimately make and unmake all of us and who ultimately decide whether honourable members opposite or honourable members on this side will sit on the Government side of the House. The Deputy Prime Minister said that of course it is always available to a government to have a dissolution on a great issue. I put it to the House that there is a responsibility on this Government and on this Prime Minister because a great issue is now involved- the great issue being the clear deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate, a deadlock not contemplated in conditions of normalcy by those who wrote the Constitution. The power which has led to this deadlock was put there not with a mental reservation, as Sir Robert Menzies said yesterday, that it would never be used but in the belief that circumstances might transpire which would justify its use- not normal circumstances, not usual circumstances, not just circumstances of political disputation but circumstances of quite an extraordinary and abnormal nature.
It is the basis of the Opposition’s case- a case which we put to this House and to the Australian people- that the behaviour of this Government and particularly the behaviour of its Prime Minister and 2 former senior Ministers was so abnormal as to justify the Senate using the power which has been given to it. I put it to the House also that there is no attempt by the Opposition to gain government other than in the only way in which any party can gain government in this country, and that is by obtaining the support of the Australian people. We ask for one thing, and that is for the Government to test the stand it takes, to test its record, to test its credit with the Australian people. It is the belief of the Opposition and, I am sure, the belief of a growing number of people throughout Australia that the Government is unwilling to test its standing with the Australian people.
The second departure from truth during the heat and turmoil of this debate is the proposition that the Opposition would not have been able to block the Appropriation and Loan Bills in the Senate without the assistance of 2 senators appointed in circumstances of great controversy. Government supporters know that that proposition is incorrect. They know that the 30 members of the Liberal and National Country Parties who sit in the Senate at the present time were elected on the same occasion, at the same poll, by the same franchise and on precisely the same day as every single person who sits in this House, whether he be a Government or an Opposition supporter. There are 30 out of 60 senators who sit in the other place who belong to the Liberal and National Country Parties. Every Government supporter knows that a proposition which is opposed by 30 members of the Senate is a proposition which does not pass through the Senate.
The third departure from reason and truth in this debate is the proposition that in the past the Australian Labor Party has had within its power to do in the Senate what the Opposition has now done. The Prime Minister himself has lent his weight to this proposition. The Labor Party, although it had that power, has scrupulously refrained from using it. We all know the circumstances of the quotations which have been used- I think, quite rightly- during the past few days to describe the attitude of the Prime Minister in 1970 to the use of the Senate’s power. We know the quotation. Honourable members on the Government side know quite well that the Prime Minister was in no doubt that the Senate had the power and that if he could have mustered the numbers in the Senate he would have destroyed the Budget of 1970 and the Government of 1970- a Government that had been elected in October 1 969 and was then 10 months old. What has to be said because of this proposition is that in 1970 the Australian Labor Party did not command the numbers in its own right in the Senate to bring about the stated purpose of the then Leader of the Opposition.
The fourth misleading element that has been introduced into this debate is to draw any analogies between the Australian Senate and other Upper Houses in the Westminster system. To draw any analogy at all between the Australian Senate and the House of Lords is a complete nonsense. Every member of this House and every student of constitutional and legal practice know that the House of Lords is an undemocratic, hereditary body, not elected. So to draw any analogies at all between the Australian Senate, which does have unique powers as an Upper House, and the House of Lords is totally irrelevant and a complete nonsense in this whole argument.
The other unfortunate element which has been introduced into this debate- I am very pleased to note that a number of Government speakers have not lent their weight to it- is the proposition that in some way we are headed for violence in the community. Every responsible, commonsense member, whether he be a Government member or an Opposition member, knows that violence to settle political disputes in this country is abhorrent to any party that believes in democratic practice. Every responsible member knows that this confrontation between the House of Representatives and the Senate will not lead to violence. Talk of violence, blood in the streets and rioting is totally and utterly irresponsible. It is a matter of some regret that one of the senior Ministers of the Government in another place was one of the earliest contributors to this incitement to disorder.
The other thing that I would like to observe briefly is the turn of events which has occurred in the Government’s presentation of its case. I am reminded by the question that was asked in the House this morning that only on 17 September the Attorney-General in the present Government (Mr Enderby) issued a statement in which he put forward what I regard, what I think he probably now regards and what almost certainly the Prime Minister regards as an extraordinary statement. He said that the power lawfully vested in the Senate to do what it has done during the past week had become atrophied and, in his own words, a complete dead letter. It was also interesting to note the proposition advanced by the Minister for Manufacturing Industry (Mr
Lionel Bowen) that if the Appropriation Bills were delayed or rejected by the Senate the Government would simply ignore that and present them to His Excellency for signature. That argument has also gone by the board. Neither of those arguments had any credence at the time they were put. Neither of those arguments should ever have been put. I think it is a matter of regret that the Government’s principal legal adviser, the Attorney-General, was prepared to lend the weight of his office to the proposition that a power which is very clearly spelt out in the Australian Constitution, because the extraordinary circumstances to justify its use had never arisen before, had in some way become a dead letter or had become atrophied.
I think it is of some significance that during the series of debates we have had in this chamber during the past week on a matter involving constitutional considerations to my knowledge we have not had one contribution in any of those debates from the Government’s principal legal adviser, the Attorney-General. The fact of the matter is that the original posturing of the Government that the Senate did not have the legal power to do what it has done is now acknowledged by Government spokesmen, by the Prime Minister and by his senior Ministers to have been incorrect.
I conclude my remarks by saying again that the Opposition says to the supporters of the Government that ultimately this dispute must be resolved by the Australian people, that there is a clear responsibility on the Prime Minister at least to dissolve the House of Representatives, to dissolve both Houses if he so wishes, that it is a deadlock between the 2 Houses of the Australian Parliament. It has been brought about not by conditions of normalcy, not by just the normal political conflict and confrontation that occurs whichever Party is in office, but it has been brought about by conditions of abnormalcy, by the extraordinary conduct of two of the most senior Ministers who have held office in the present Government. It has been brought about because the Opposition believes that the Prime Minister was party to many of the things for which those senior Ministers were removed from office, because the Opposition believes that the Prime Minister has been unwilling to apply to himself the same standards of conduct that he applied to the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) and the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor).
Because of these perhaps unique and certainly very abnormal circumstances the situation is too serious for the Senate to do other than to respond responsibly and to use the power given to it by the Constitution. In any parliamentary democracy, just as there is a place for the government party there is also a place for the Opposition parties. Just as there are responsibilities placed on the government there are also responsibilities placed on the Opposition. The responsibilities of an Opposition are not in normal circumstances ones that require it to use the extraordinary power that is given to it in special circumstances but on occasions the Opposition is required to act, to take a very difficult step, and to do it responsibly.
It is the united view of this Opposition, both here and in the Senate, that we are in very special circumstances, which are not circumstances of normalcy. The Opposition has used the power given to it by the Constitution to delay the Appropriation Bills and the Bill we are now debating until such time as the Prime Minister sets an election date for the House of Representatives. Therefore, I propose an amendment to the motion moved by the Minister for Overseas Trade. I move:
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment, Mr Deputy Speaker, and reserve my right to speak to it.
-The honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) nearly did not have a seconder for his amendment. There was no other senior member of the front bench of the Opposition from either the Liberal Party or the National Country Party in the House to second the proposition. As the mover of the amendment he had suddenly to look across and to obtain the approval of the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) to second the amendment. Of course the honourable member for North Sydney abided by his responsibilities. The Loan Bill 1975 is essentially, put very simply, to assist in the financing of our defence expenditure. The Opposition Parties have always given great emphasis to the fact that they are advocates of defence, although the Minister for Defence (Mr Morrison) showed clearly in this House this morning that this Government has spent far more on defence. As a matter of fact, in 3 years we have spent twice as much on defence as the previous Government spent in 5 years. We can claim a credit on this question of defence. We do not talk about it a lot but without a doubt we do act much more than the Opposition in this area. But the Opposition always gives Up service to defence. Yet the first item, the first Bill which the Opposition delayed in the Senate in respect to this constitutional crisis was a Bill the purpose of which is to provide finance for our defence expenditure. (Quorum formed) As I said, the Opposition, which gives great lip service to the issue of defence, chose as the first item of legislation which it delayed in the Senate in respect of this constitutional crisis that we have today a Bill to provide finance for our defence expenditure. That shows how hypocritical the Opposition is.
Of course the major issue here is that the Opposition is attacking the very foundations of the Westminster system by the action it is taking. It is putting in jeopardy stable, sound government in Australia for generations to come. It is not just a question of this Government; it is a question of future governments. It is a question of governments which may not be the political colour of this Government, of governments of all parties and of all politics. These governments are placed in jeopardy. We could have the same type of situation occur in this country as has occurred in many European countries. Many of us remember what happened to France between the 2 World Wars when governments would last weeks and months. The result was that the bureaucracy got stronger and the voice of the people got weaker. For that reason the Government is fighting this issue. We believe it is not just a question of survival of this Government; it is a question of survival of our whole democratic system of government.
– Every 18 months.
– The honourable member for Evans said: ‘Every 18 months’. It is much worse than that. This Government has faced a crisis as to whether we would be denied Supply by a contrived Senate, by a Senate which has equal representation for every State. Tasmania has 10 senators and about half a million people and New South Wales, which has nearly 5 million people, also has 10 senators. (Quorum formed) The honourable member for Evans made the point that every 18 months we faced a crisis, but we have faced a crisis every 6 months because there have been threats from the Senate to withdraw Supply every 6 months. As I have said, the Senate is elected with equal representation in every State. The large States get the same representation as the small States. The vote of the people of Tasmania in a Senate election is nearly 10 times as great in value as the vote of the people of New South Wales.
Furthermore, it is a Senate which is a contrived Senate. There have been 2 examples of this. The late Bert Milliner, a senator from Queensland and one of the most respected members of the Senate, died and his place was taken by an anti-Labor person, who gave an undertaking before being appointed by the Queensland National Party Government that he would vote against Supply. In New South Wales the same thing happened. As a result of the resignation of Senator Murphy a non-Labor person was appointed to that vacancy. In each instance there was broken a convention which was laid down to ensure that the people’s voices as expressed in a Senate election would be reflected by maintaining the representation in the Senate. That is a very sound convention. The precedent established by the Opposition for the sole purpose of grabbing for power is a very dangerous one for the future of Australia.
For these reasons it is very important that the Government must make sure that this issue is fought in order to maintain the very basis and the very principles of the Westminster system. What is the Opposition hanging its hat on? Section 53 of the Constitution says:
Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate.
It goes on:
The Senate may not amend proposed laws imposing taxation, or proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys for the ordinary annual services of the Government.
The Senate may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people.
Then it goes on to point out that the Senate may make suggestions to the House of Representatives. It then says:
And the House of Representatives may, if it thinks fit, make any of such omissions or amendments, with or without modifications.
Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.
The Opposition is hanging its hat on the fact that it does not actually mention the word ‘reject’. Yet the inference is very clear. There is a very definite inference that the Senate has not power over money Bills. So we have a situation in which it is quite clear that the Westminster system -
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m. (Quorum formed)
-Before the sitting was suspended for dinner I was pointing out that section 53 of the Constitution is quite clear insofar as it makes the point that the Senate shall not initiate a money Bill and shall not amend a money Bill. It may make suggestions to the House of Representatives but the House of Representatives, if it so desires, will accept or reject those suggestions. Yet we find a situation in which the Opposition is trying to hang its cap on the very flimsy suggestion that because the Constitution does not actually mention the word ‘reject’ it can reject the Bill. But the intention of the Constitution is quite clear.
We should look back to the original history of the Constitution and to the constitutional conventions during the 1 890s when this Constitution was founded. During that period it was found that there were great jealousies amongst the States. It was found necessary to provide for a States House. Originally it was intended that that should not be a political House and that it should be purely a House of State representatives to guard the rights of the States. Of course it was rather impractical because politics had to intervene. For that reason it was intended that that House should be purely a States rights House with equal representation for the States- ten each, as it is today- irrespective of the population of each State. I cite the example that this Government in the last Senate election received 200 000 more votes than all the other political parties and groups put together; yet because of a quirk of the electoral system and because of the States representation the Government did not win a majority.
We now have an example of a Senate which has been contrived and deliberately bodgied by the supporters of the Opposition, in Queensland by the Premier of Queensland appointing a nonLabor representative to the Senate in place of a Labor representative and in New South Wales by that Premier appointing a non-Labor representative in lieu of a Labor representative. Accordingly there is a false majority for the Opposition in the Senate at this time. It is using that majority with the object of refusing Supply to this Government and rejecting the Budget of this Government at a time when, if the Senate had been truly representative as it was at the last election, the resolutions that went through the Senate last week would not have been passed.
Let us look at the reputation of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Let us look at this man. His reputation is in absolute tatters. This is the man who swore loyalty to the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), a former Prime Minister of this country. He used all treacherous means to undermine him and finally to have him defeated as the Prime Minister of this country by his own Party. He set out to destroy his own leader. That was completely and utterly treacherous. Then on 2 occasions he swore loyalty to his leader, the right honourable member for Bruce (Mr Snedden). On 2 occasions he completely reneged on that. On 2 occasions he was utterly and completely treacherous to him. When he assumed the mantle of the Leader of the Opposition he stated quite clearly and definitely that as far as he was concerned this Parliament- as this was the seat of governmentshould run its full term of 3 years. In tiny printone must look very carefully at every word that this man uses- he added the words ‘unless some reprehensible action occurs’. When this Budget, which he is now proposing shall be rejected or delayed, was brought down he stated that it should be allowed to pass the Senate.
This man gave 5 fundamental promises or undertakings: One to the right honourable member for Higgins, 2 separate ones to the right honourable member for Bruce, an undertaking that the Parliament should be allowed to run its full term, and finally an undertaking that the Budget should be allowed to pass the Senate. He has broken every one of those undertakings. His reputation today is completely in tatters. Is it any wonder that one hears of a mass movement without this Parliament amongst the rank and file of the people? I understand that on the radio today there was a statement that a further gallup poll has been taken which shows that there has been a 10 per cent swing to this Government in recent weeks. That is only the beginning because as this whole thing unfolds so will the massive support for this Government increase. That is the picture which the Opposition must face. It is time Opposition supporters looked at themselves. It is time they realised that they got on the wrong horse. It is time they went to their leader and said: ‘Do something about it’.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! Will the Assistant Government Whip make up his mind whether or not he is entering the House. He has already been spoken to about standing around in the aisles.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, he is an Opposition Whip.
– I thank the Opposition Whip for his correction, but it still does not affect the standing order to which I was referring.
– Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Opposition is a very unruly Party; we know that. It is time the Opposition realised that it is backing the wrong horse and that the vast majority of the people are making very sure that they are expressing their opinions. Honourable members on this side of the House are receiving letter after letter, telegram after telegram, asking us to stay firm because the whole future of democracy is at stake.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– In view of the interruptions to the honourable member, I move:
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The time allotted for the second reading stage of the Bill has expired.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Howard’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. ( Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion ( by Mr Daly) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, we are considering this legislation for the second time because of the incompetence and the dishonesty of the Whitlam Government. I say incompetence because in less than 3 years -
– I rise to take a point of order.
Opposition supporters- Stand up! Stand on top of the desk!
-Order! The House will come to order. I will hear the honourable member for Shortland on a point of order.
Mr Morris- Mr Deputy Speaker, I cannot hear you for the noise from the Opposition. (Honourable members interjecting)-
-Order! The honourable member for Shortland is attempting to make a point of order, and I cannot hear the honourable member. (Honourable members interjecting)-
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I cannot hear you.
-Order! The House will come to order. I call the honourable member for Shortland on a point of order.
– Now that we have achieved some silence, the point of order that I was trying to make is that we on this side of the chamber wish to hear the contribution of the honourable member for Bradfield. Is it in order for the honourable member for Bradfield to address the Chair, but to address -
-Order! The time allotted for the remaining stages of the Bill has expired. The question is:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
The House divided: (Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Bill read a third time.
Bill presented by Mr Beazley, and read a first time.
The purpose of this Bill is to set up, in place of the Universities Commission and the Commission on Advanced Education, a Teriary Education Commission assisted by 2 Councils which are to advise the Government on the development and support of higher education in Australia. The establishment of a Tertiary Education Commission has been a possibility for a number of years, but the importance of greater co-ordination has recently become more apparent. Since 1965, when the advisory body on advanced education was set up in parallel to the Universities Commission, a number of significant changes have taken place. The panel, whose recommendations the Government has accepted in deciding to establish the Tertiary Commission, has pointed out these factors: There has been very considerable growth in tertiary education, particularly in the advanced education sector, which has matured and is now comparable with the universities sector in terms of the resources committed to it; teacher education has been accepted within the advanced education program; tuition fees have been abolished; and the Australian Government has taken on full financial responsibility for tertiary education. A great deal of consultation takes place between the 2 existing commissions, but their formal responsibilities remain separate, and no amount of consultation can guarantee the degree of overall co-ordination and rationalisation in tertiary education programs which are now clearly desirable.
The panel in its report has made a valuable attempt to delineate the main distinctions between universities and colleges. These include different patterns of legal basis, relation to Government, vocational or academic emphasis, degree of research commitment, and the nature of courses provided. Even so, these distinctions are clearly very difficult to define with precision. Many characteristics are shared across the 2 groups of institutions, just as there is considerable variation within each group in the size and activities of particular institutions, and demarcation is sometimes blurred. A number of different views were put to the panel about the nature of the advisory arrangements which should be established. The main alternatives are set out in the panel’s report. In general, the proponents of the various possible systems were agreed on the importance of giving due recognition to the characteristics of existing institutions and maintaining appropriate distinctions in any process of rationalisation. (Quorum formed)
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Before calling the Minister I would remind honourable members that when a quorum is called for no member may leave the precincts of the chamber. This has happened on 2 occasions in respect of members of the Opposition in recent weeks. I ask that the Whips remind honourable members of that duty.
– I raise a point of order. When the honourable member for Griffith drew your attention to the state of the House the honourable member for Bennelong was present in the chamber. The honourable member for Griffith waved to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and spoke softly to you in drawing your attention to the state of the House and during that period the honourable member for Bennelong left the chamber.
-Order! There is no point of order. I have already asked for the attention of honourable members to be drawn to this duty.
– I congratulate the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) on speaking softly and urge him to continue doing so. The Government recognises the importance of maintaining the 2 existing systems, and this is reflected in the present Bill, which defines universities and colleges separately, and provides for the Commission to have the assistance of 2 councils- a Universities Council and an Advanced Education Council- each with a special concern for its own area. The Bill ensures that membership of these 2 Councils must be sufficiently different at all times to maintain fully their separate identity. The Councils will respectively represent the Commission in dealing with individual universities and colleges, which will thus find that they have much the same channels of communication as they do with the existing Commissions.
I believe the measures I have just outlined will ensure the continuation, under the new Commission, of the valuable distinction between the 2 sets of institutions. As this distinction is essential to efficiency, the separate Councils are established. As the claims of universities and colleges of advanced education on resources have become enormous, the co-ordination of these claims- especially capital claims- through a tertiary education commission has become essential. At the same time, the Government recognises that its machinery in this area should not be static or inflexible. Whilst the Bill reflects present policies and practices to the extent I have outlined. it is sufficiently adaptable in its approach to cater for future changes in policy and circumstance. For example, whilst the schedules to the present Bill have been drawn up on the basis of the existing situation, the new Commission will be expected to give careful consideration to the lists in the schedules, and the position of some institutions may need to be re-appraised, now that there is a Technical and Further Education Commission operating.
The Government will look to the Commission and its Councils to take steps to increase the chances for higher education throughout the nation in diverse ways, including what has become known as open tertiary education. The Bill enables me to appoint committees to assist the Commission in relation to specific matters. Open tertiary education is clearly a matter worthy of such special attention.
I would like to make special mention of the extent to which the Commission will be expected to consult with all those bodies which have a concern with tertiary education and its interface with other areas. Clause 7 (2) of the Bill provides that the Commission shall consult, as appropriate, with the Technical and Further Education Commission, with universities and colleges of advanced education and with the States, as well as with other appropriate persons and organisations. As an aside I would like to draw attention to the power of the new Commission in respect of offcampus courses. It will be capable of making decisions concerning what is called open tertiary education, a function that was recommended for a body called the National Institute of Open Tertiary Education which the Government has not accepted.
When the new Commission comes into operation, we can expect increased effectiveness and savings in administration. The two secretariats will merge, and their staff numbers and costs are likely to be reduced. Tertiary education capital planning calls for skilled building labour, a great flow of building material, and the prevention of wasteful competition between programs. We have reached the stage where educational building has reached over $400m in a year.
It also calls for the greatest availability of courses without wasteful duplication of rarer but essential courses of study and training. Thought needs to be given, where possible, to shared facilities. The Commission will, in these respects, achieve what is needed. The Bill should receive the speedy assent of Parliament.
Debate (on motion by Mr Wilson) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Les Johnson, and read a first time.
– I move:
The Bill when enacted will be the continuing legislative authority by which funds will be made available to the States for the purpose of implementing programs of assistance to Aboriginal people. On the basis of advice from the then AttorneyGeneral it has been the practice since 1968 to introduce each year during the Budget Session the States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bills for this purpose. Such Bills have been presented in accordance with section 96 of the Constitution and have contained conditions under which the Minister may release funds to the States and recover moneys not expended for the purposes for which they were provided.
Following upon comments made by the AuditorGeneral in his Special Report on the Administration of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, the method of appropriation of funds for State programs was changed in the financial year 1974-75. Instead of the funds being provided from the Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account, as in previous years, States grants were appropriated under division 806 in Appropriation Act (No. 2) 1974-75. This Bill, if passed into law, will replace the practice by which a States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) Bill has been introduced each year, and will provide for the payment to the States in any year of such amounts as are appropriated by Parliament for that purpose in that year. Such standing legislation will also overcome a deficiency in the present situation in that there is at present no specific legislative authority in terms of section 96 of the Constitution for payment to the States during the Supply period, as the annual States Grants (Aboriginal Assistance) legislation has not been enacted in past years until after the introduction of the Budget.
In previous years my predecessors used the opportunity of the introduction of the annual States grants Bills to give Parliament detailed information of Aboriginal affairs programs undertaken by direct funding as well as through State instrumentalities. In future years this information will be made available to the Parliament in other ways, particularly in the Department’s annual report, but for this year I take this occasion to carry on the practice to date. I therefore seek the agreement of the House to the incorporation in Hansard of several tables setting out the broad purposes of the proposed payments to the States in 1975-76, as well as details of programs directly funded by the Department during 1974- 75. Table 1 shows the proposed payments to the States during 1975-76 as well as corresponding payments in 1974-75, broken down by State and by function. I seek leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Table 2 similarly shows the funds proposed to be spent during 1975- 76 on direct programs of assistance through Aboriginal organisations compared with corresponding funds provided in 1974-75. These figures too are broken down by State and function. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Table 3 contains details of significant grants provided directly to Aboriginal and other organisations during 1974- 75 with an indication of the amounts provided to each organisation and the purposes for which the funds were provided. I seek leave to have that table incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted. I assume it is within the capacity of Hansard to handle these tables.
-Yes, indeed. I thank the House.
Total identifiable Australian Government expenditure on Aboriginal assistance in 1975-76 is estimated to be $192m of which $142,753,000 will be channelled through my Department. The balance of approximately $50m is proposed to be expended on Aboriginal programs by the Department of Education for study grants, secondary grants, overseas study grants and expenditure in the Northern Territory; the Department of Health on health and medical services for Aboriginals in the Northern Territory; the Department of Labor and Immigration on the Aboriginal Employment Training Scheme; and the Departments of Housing and Construction, Northern Australia, and Urban and Regional Development on various services and facilities. Honourable members will realise, of course, that the figure of $ 192m does not reflect the total of Australian Government funds available to Aboriginals who are entitled to assistance available to other members of the Australian community by way of social security benefits, assistance under the National Employment and Training scheme and the Regional Employment Development scheme, Medibank and other schemes. The amount of funds involved, while substantial in some schemes, cannot be isolated within the total funds available under such schemes. In accordance with the wishes of Aboriginal people and to enable them to play a greater part in the development and implementation of programs designed to meet their needs, greater emphasis is now being placed on providing funds direct to Aboriginal organisations in order that they might undertake programs which were previously the responsibility of State government departments.
Honourable members will note in table 1 that a total of $40,790,000 to be paid to the States in 1975- 76 compares with slightly more than $37m expended by them in 1974-75. Funds to be provided to the States in 1975-76 will enable State authorities to continue programs of assistance commenced in 1974-75 and in earlier years. Honourable members will note from table 2 that substantial funds have been allocated for the direct funding of Aboriginal housing associations. An amount of $21,817,075 will be spent on this purpose in 1975-76 in the Government’s attempt to overcome the backlog of Aboriginal housing which is believed to be in the vicinity of 7000 to 8000 dwellings. An amount of nearly $ 14m is being paid to the States for Aboriginal housing through the various State housing authorities and when this is added to the funds to be provided direct to Aboriginal communities, it will be seen that the Australian Government proposes to expend an amount in excess of $3 5m in 1975-76 to help alleviate the housing problem which still remains pressing.
Substantial funds will also be provided for the provision of such services as health, education, employment, legal aid and other social assistance programs to Aboriginals either by funding Aboriginal communities direct or by providing payments to State instrumentalities. I would like to re-state the comments of my predecessor in introducing the States Grants Bill last year to the effect that while funds are provided through my Department for social assistance programs, it is not the Government’s intention that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs should assume wide functional responsibilities for Aboriginal affairs, but rather ensure that special services and programs are provided for Aboriginal people through appropriate specialist agencies. Accordingly, payments are made to the States to assist State departments make up the deficiencies caused by past indifference and neglect.
This philosophy is proving itself to be effective as the various Australian and State government instrumentalities develop their understanding of Aboriginal needs and increase their capacity and skills to serve those needs. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs remains and will continue to be the Australian Government’s monitor of the overall needs of the Aboriginal community and of the effectiveness of programs administered by other government instrumentalities. The Department, of course, maintains a continuing review of overall Government policies in relation to Aboriginal affairs and of its own direct funding programs in the pursuit of these policies. The Department continues to have good relationships with Australian and State government authorities in this field.
It is appropriate on this occasion for me to summarise progress in Aboriginal affairs in the past financial year. Housing for Aboriginals has always had a very high priority for the Australian Government. Initially our efforts in this field were directed towards establishing an awareness of the housing needs of Aboriginals and to gearing up programs for the satisfaction of these needs. This initial thrust is now bearing fruit and our programs are having a real impact on the backlog. $ 13.86m was provided to State Housing Commissions and $21m to over 150 Aboriginal housing associations throughout Australia. This money represents a large number of housing units and the Government’s aim of housing all Aboriginals may well be capable of achievement by 1982.
In the field of education approximately $9m has been spent on costs associated with schools and equipment, staff accommodation and so on, directly associated with the bringing of education to the Aboriginal community. Nearly 12 000 Aboriginal children have been assisted under the Secondary Grants Scheme and 1400 Aboriginal people who had previously foregone further educational opportunities have been assisted under the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme. These and other localised schemes supported by the Government for the improvement of educational opportunities for Aboriginals have begun to produce a flow of Aboriginals into the general workforce with better educational qualifications than would otherwise have been possible. I expect that as these schemes are consolidated and further developed, the community generally will see their benefit in the number of Aboriginals who are taking their place alongside other Australian citizens in well paid, stable employment.
Health programs rank in equal importance with the Australian Government’s approach to the housing, educational, and employment needs of Aboriginals. The Australian Government has financed the construction of hospitals and medical facilities in Aboriginal communities in the States and the Northern Territory. It has encouraged, as with education, the training of Aboriginals so that they may bring appropriate health services to their own people. It has made concerted attacks upon specific diseases and health problems which seem to be peculiarly prevalent in the Aboriginal community and in doing so has taken substantial steps to involve the affected Aboriginal community in the solution of its own health problems. Aboriginal medical services throughout Australia last year received almost $500,000 from the allocations of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and State instrumentalities received over $10m for the improvement of State government-run health services for Aboriginal citizens.
The Australian Government continues its development of these and other programs within the context of its policy of improving the Aboriginal community’s capacity to conduct its own affairs and to determine its own life style within the social, political and economic framework of Australian society generally. Of particular importance to the Aboriginal community has been the attainment of land rights and the Government has, as honourable members will recall, established the Aboriginal Land Fund in response to this felt need on the part of the Aboriginal community. It has also established the Aboriginal Loans Fund which is assisting Aboriginals to purchase their own housing and which continues the assistance previously available under the Aboriginal Enterprises (Assistance) Act for Aboriginals wishing to establish themselves in a variety of businesses.
I believe that honourable members on both sides of the House are aware of the need to consider Aboriginal questions on a bipartisan, nonparty political, basis. That honourable members have, by and large, taken this approach in the past is evident through the work of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and the Senate Standing Committee on the Social Environment. I trust that this co-operative approach will continue to prevail as the Australian Government endeavours to implement policies which are acceptable to the Aboriginal community. I commend the Bill to honourable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr Howard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Stewart, and read a first time.
– I move:
The purpose of the Bill is to authorise increases in ordinary care and intensive care nursing home benefits payable in respect of nursing home patients. The increases apply to patients in approved nursing homes other than nursing homes for which State governments have accepted a special responsibility. The increases were announced by the Treasurer (Mr Hayden) in the Budget Speech and, as foreshadowed, the Bill provides for them to be effective from the first age pension pay day in November- that is, 13 November 1975.
There are three different benefits paid to nursing home patients:
The basic benefit of $3.50 a day authorised by section 56 of the National Health Act and payable in respect of all qualified patients; the supplementary benefit of $3 a day authorised by section 57a and payable in respect of intensive care patients- that is, those patients in need of continuous nursing care and supervision or who are receiving intensive rehabilitation; and the additional benefit authorised by sections 57b and 73c. This benefit is payable at rates which vary from State to State. The Government finances the benefit for Pensioner Medical Service Pensioners. Other patients can insure with a registered hospital benefits fund to receive the benefit.
No increase in the basic benefit of $3.50 a day is proposed.
The supplementary benefit of $3 a day was introduced in recognition of the fact that the cost of caring for an intensive care patient was higher than the cost of caring for an ordinary care patient. The margin of extra cost has widened since the benefit was introduced in 1969. Accordingly it is proposed that this benefit be increased from $3 a day to $4.40 a day. The basic benefit of $3.50 a day and the supplementary benefit of $3 a day have always been paid at the same rates in all States. However, the rates of the additional benefit vary from State to State, reflecting the different costs of conducting nursing homes from State to State. These variations in costs stem in part from variations in State government requirements as to physical and staffing standards in nursing homes.
The variable benefit rates have caused anomalies and have led to criticisms of the arrangements. The Government believes that it is preferable to have uniform benefit rates in all States. The proposal to fix a common rate of $5.95 a day for the additional benefit in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia is the first step by the Government towards uniform rates. The amounts of the increases over existing benefit rates are $1.60 a day in New South Wales and the Australian
Capital Territory, $1.15 a day in Queensland and $ 1 .75 a day in Western Australia. The rate of $5.95 a day is based on the costs of a model nursing home having physical standards and staff sufficient to provide adequate nursing home care. The model was developed after consultation with officers of State governments.
The rate of additional benefit at present payable in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory is $7.80 a day and in Tasmania $6.40 a day. These rates are already higher than the uniform rate based on the model nursing home. The Government therefore takes the view that increases in the rates in those States or the Northern Territory are not justified at this time. Further, the Government believes that the State governments should be prepared to accept a greater share of the responsibility for financing nursing home care. They should be prepared to give any necessary assistance to nursing home patients in States where private nursing homes charge higher fees due to the costs they incur in meeting State determined standards, particularly staffing standards, that are higher than those regarded as adequate in other States.
State governments should also be prepared to accept a greater role in the financing of nursing homes for which they have accepted a special responsibility. Consistent with this belief the Government does not propose to increase the rates of benefits for nursing homes conducted by or on behalf of the States or which receive State subsidies. These are Government or assisted nursing homes as defined in the Bill. The estimated cost of the increases in benefit rates provided in the Bill during the current financial year is $10m. Including this additional expenditure, it is estimated that Australian Government assistance towards meeting the cost of nursing home care under the National Health Act and the Nursing Homes Assistance Act will be some $190m during 1975-76. This compares with expenditure of $93m in 1972-73 and means that expenditure in this area will have more than doubled since the present Government assumed office.
Finally, the Bill provides for the term ‘Government or assisted nursing home’ to be substituted for the term ‘Government nursing home ‘. It further provides for nursing homes that have been prescribed as Government nursing homes to be deemed to be prescribed as Government or assisted nursing homes. This is a technical amendment designed to ensure that the term used in the Act adequately covers all the nursing homes that are at present prescribed as
Government nursing homes. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Howard) adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr Stewart, and read a first time.
The purpose of the Bill before the House is to make amendments to the Nursing Homes Assistance Act 1974 in connection with the definition of a ‘government or assisted nursing home’. The amendments are consistent with proposed amendments to the National Health Act for which provision is made in the National Health (Nursing Homes) Bill 1 975.
The Bill provides for the term ‘government or assisted nursing home’ to be substituted for the term ‘government nursing home’. It further provides for nursing homes that have been prescribed as government nursing homes to be deemed to be prescribed as government or assisted nursing homes. This is a technical amendment designed to ensure that the term used in the Act adequately covers all the nursing homes that are at present prescribed as government nursing homes. I commend the Bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Howard) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 14 October, on motion by Mr Clyde Cameron:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation. Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill and the Trade Practices Bill (No. 2) as they are associated measures. Separate questions will of course be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 2 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 2 measures? There being no objection, I shall allow that course to be followed.
-The Consumer Protection Bill 1975 and the Trade Practices Bill (No. 2) 2) 1975 represent a substantial and important move by the Federal Government in the area of consumer protection. I therefore think it appropriate to state at the outset the total commitment of the Opposition Parties to the development and maintenance of laws which effectively protect the rights of consumers in a society in which consumers are being increasingly offered a wider range of goods and services and are increasingly confronted with sophisticated sales techniques in both design and promotion. Freedom of choice in the market place is quite central to the philosophy of both the Liberal and National Country Parties. We believe that such conditions of free choice can exist only where a consumer has been adequately informed as to the choices available to him and is not influenced in his decision to purchase products by coercive or misleading conduct
I think all honourable members would agree that modern market conditions inevitably place many consumers in a position of disadvantage It is the responsibility of governments at both a State, and where appropriate, a Federal level, to prevent the exploitation of that position of disadvantage. The Opposition believes that the area of consumer protection law offers a major challenge to co-operative federalism There can be no doubt that the primary, but not exclusive, responsibility for the day to day administration of consumer protection is and ought to remain the responsibility of the States. This is a view which the Opposition parties hold quite strongly. We do not believe that consumer protection is totally a matter for the States. We are not asserting that solutions to consumer problems will be obtained by the Commonwealth simply vacating the field and taking no interest in it but we do assert that it is primarily a matter for the States. Their primary role ought to be recognised in any legislation which this or any future Federal Government might bring forward in the area of consumer protection.
Increasingly in Australia there is a single national market for consumer goods and services which pays little regard to State boundaries. In these circumstances there are some practices which are beyond the legislative power of any one State. Certain objectives in the field of consumer protection cannot be achieved by the
States acting alone. But a solution to this dichotomy is not to be found either, as I said earlier, in the Commonwealth vacating the field or in the Commonwealth unilaterally adopting a position of doubtful constitutional validity which creates confusion by duplicating areas already covered by State law. The objective of this Parliament, the objective of the Liberal and National Country Parties, will be to achieve a coherent and, where necessary, uniform body of laws governing the exchange of consumer goods and services. It is for that reason that the Opposition Parties warmly commend the efforts of the Standing Committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General in its attempts to bring about uniform consumer credit laws throughout Australia. It is for that reason that the Opposition Parties in 1974, at the time of debate on the present Trade Practices Act, criticised the present Government for having included in the Trade Practices Act what is now Part V of that Act without having carried out adequate consultation with the States.
These Bills were introduced into this Parliament on Wednesday last, 15 October. We are now debating them a week later. The first question the Opposition asks is: Why is it necessary for the Parliament to debate and to decide upon these Bills in such haste? Can the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs (Mr Clyde Cameron) explain to the satisfaction of the Parliament why it has been necessary to deny to the Opposition, to the States, to industry, to consumer groups adequate time to examine the provisions of these Bills. If indeed, as stated in his second reading speech, the Minister believes that the activities and the role of the Federal Government in consumer protection is to complement the work of the States and not to compete with them I suggest he would fulfil that objective far more effectively by allowing adequate time for the State governments, Labor and non-Labor, to examine and to form an attitude on the detailed provisions of these Bills.
I know that a large section of the Consumer Protection Bill consists of a lift of Part V of the Trade Practices Act. From my examination of it and based also on what the Minister has told me- I accept this- the lift has been a faithful and accurate one and there has been no attempt in the course of it to interpolate any amendments. This Bill does not consist only of a reproduction of Part V of the Trade Practices Act. It establishes a new regulatory authority. It confers on that authority quite substantial powers beyond those presently conferred on the Trade
Practices Commission under Part V of the Trade Practices Act.
I put to the House, and in particular to the Minister, that this Bill should not be allowed to slide through the Parliament on the basis that all it does is give to a new authority power to administer what is already existing law, namely, Part V of the Trade Practices Act. For reasons which I shall develop later in my speech, the Bill goes considerably further than just reproducing Part V under the auspices of the new Australian Consumer Protection Authority. We will be looking during the course of this debate for evidence of whether the States have been given an opportunity to express interest in what the Authority is going to do or to express a desire to liaise with any Federal consumer protection authority. If this Authority is established, of course the States will be interested to know what it is doing. Of course they will be interested to co-operate with the Authority if it is established. For our part on the Opposition side, we would encourage the States to do that. But what we want to know from the Minister and what we are putting to the House is that the States in particular and nonetheless industry groups and consumer bodies ought to have an opportunity to examine in detail and with some time the detailed provisions of this Bill.
This legislation raises 4 basic questions which the Opposition puts to the Minister. Firstly, the Bill establishes yet another authority whose operations will involve the monitoring of business behaviour, whose operations will impose upon business throughout Australia obligations, administrative expense and additional operating costs, all of which are ultimately borne by the ordinary Australian consumer. I think it is legend to debate in this House over the past 12 or 18 months that during the term of office of the present Government the number of agencies and authorities with which a wide range of Australian business enterprises have had to contend and to comply with has multiplied greatly. I do not condemn, nor does the Opposition condemn or oppose, the necessity for having regulation of certain business activities. We do not oppose for a moment the fact that there are certain practices in business throughout Australia which ought to be the subject of legislative interference, restraint and, where necessary, penalty. But what we basically question is the ultimate value of business being required to comply with an increasing degree of interference and regulation from government. It is the responsibility of government to ensure fair conditions in the market place and to promote competition. They are tests that the Opposition will apply to any proposal of the Government to establish further bodies which will interfere with the operation of, in most cases, legitimate business organisations.
The second basic question we ask is: Why is it necessary after little more than 12 months of operation significantly to dismember the Trade Practices Commission. I do not think any retailer, manufacturer, consumer, advertiser or person in government involved with the administration of the Trade Practices Act would deny that the provisions of this Act when introduced were new, different, and far-reaching so far as business in Australia was concerned. The Act has now been in operation for little more than 12 months. I think it must be acknowledged that Australian business in general has made a very genuine and praiseworthy attempt to comply with not only the letter of the Trade Practices Act but also the spirit of the Trade Practices Act. Whilst one could never give total endorsement to the operation of legislation of this nature, I think it is fair to say that the Trade Practices Commission has fairly and honestly administered the provisions of the Act. Whilst there will always be with the administration of controversial legislation occasions when individual businesses or individual consumers will criticise the operations of the Commission in the discharge of its functions, by and large no serious charges of incompetence or maladministration have been levelled against the Trade Practices Commission. So it does strike the Opposition as a little curious that after little more than 12 months of operation it is necessary to take away from the Trade Practices Commission responsibility for a very substantial section of its operation.
The Opposition, in saying this, raises a further fundamental question, that is, whether it is desirable to separate the objectives of competition and fair behaviour in competition. Let me quote from the annual report of the Trade Practices Commission presented to the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Enderby) in July of this year. I think the remarks I shall refer to are relevant to the point I make. On page 1 of that report, in describing the approach of the Act, the commissioners said as follows:
The Act has a double thrust-
to strengthen the competitiveness of private enterprise at the various levels of production and distribution of industrial and consumer goods and services . . . and . . .
to strengthen the position of consumers relative to producers and distributors -
On page 2 the report goes on to say:
The trade practices provisions of the Act are really competition provisions, and the consumer protection provisions are really provisions for fair play in competition. The provisions, each affecting the same companies, dovetail with each other as they do in the legislation of Britain and the U.S.A.
Of course, what the annual report of the Trade Practices Commission was saying was very simply that the object of protecting the consumer and the object of promoting competition have a lot in common. They are different yet in many respects similar aspects of the same overall objective, that is, to promote fair play in the market place.
The Opposition at this stage enters a very serious reservation as to the wisdom of taking away from the Trade Practices Commission the responsibility for consumer protection. The Opposition believes that there are very strong arguments for giving to the one body- of necessity, and having regard to the fact that it already exists, that body ought to be the Trade Practices Commission- responsibility for both competition matters and consumer protection matters. Our view in this respect is reinforced by the fact that the Trade Practices Commission has been in operation for a period of only 12 months, and during that period of 12 months persons interested in its operation have had to accustom themselves to a new set of rules, a new order in the market place. To ask those people to become accustomed to the operation of another authority after such a short period, in the view of the Opposition, is entirely premature.
The third general question that this legislation raises is whether it is wise to vest in the same Authority the responsibility of monitoring market place behaviour and the development and supervision of the development of product safety standards. The first of those 2 functions essentially involves legal and economic considerations. The second of those functions essentially involves technical and scientific considerations. They are different functions. Their objective is the same, that is, to protect and to help the consumer and to promote fair conditions in the market place, but the expertise required to determine whether a radiator is safe is surely quite different from the expertise required to determine whether a particular advertisement is misleading or deceptive. That is the third basic question that the Opposition raises.
I draw the attention of the Minister again, as I have done earlier on this subject, to the American practice and the American experience. I do not suggest for a moment that this Government or any other government should slavishly follow overseas experience, although I think it is fair to observe that prior to the preparation of this legislation the Minister found it necessary to visit a number of countries, including the United States, and has gone on record as saying that he studied very closely the operation of consumer protection laws in the United States. So I draw the Minister’s attention to the American practice where product safety and product standards are kept quite separate from the monitoring of the market place behaviour. In the United States there is a separate product safety commission which has the responsibility of overseeing the safety of products and the development of consumer product standards. But it does not have responsibility in areas which are akin to areas covered by Pan V of the Trade Practices Act, those responsibilities being vested in the American Federal Trade Commission. I understand that a similar arrangement operates in other countries which have a not dissimilar market experience to Australia.
As I said at the commencement of my remarks, this Bill does much more than simply transfer Part V of the Trade Practices Act to the new Authority. In addition it gives to the new Authority very wide and, in many cases, new functions. I draw the attention of the House particularly to clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill. I refer to sub-clauses (f) and (1) of clause 7. The first of those sub-clauses states that one of the functions of the Authority would be: to examine critically, and report to the Minister on, the laws in force in Australia relating to the protection of the consumer;
Sub-clause (1) states: to make submissions to, or otherwise take pan in, proceedings before any tribunal or other bodies in relation to a matter affecting the interest of consumers.
Does the Minister envisage that that clause would entitle the proposed Australian Consumer Protection Authority to seek representation before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, before the Prices Justification Tribunal, before the Trade Practices Commission or indeed before any authority that the present Government might seek to establish in respect of companies and the operation of securities markets in Australia?
Clause 8 of the Bill gives very wide powers to the proposed Authority and by sub-clause (a) the Authority is empowered to:
Inquire into any matter relevant to the exercise of its functions;
That sounds very natural and very understandable at first glance, but in Part VI of the Bill a wide power of public inquiry is conferred upon the Authority. When one looks at a combination of clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill and Part VI of the Bill it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that the Authority would have the power to conduct public inquiries into complaints made against retailers and manufacturers by individual consumers. In my view, that does not sit very easily with the Minister’s remarks when introducing this Bill when he said:
Let me state clearly at the outset that it is not my intention that the new Authority should take over the functions of the State bureaus.
As the Minister knows and as honourable gentlemen in this House who are familiar with the operation of consumer protection at State level know, the investigation of individual consumer complaints is one of the principal functions, if not the major function, of State consumer protection bureaus. So I suggest to the Minister that whilst on the surface he has paid deference to the need for co-operation between the new Authority that he wants established and the State bureaus, when one examines the legislation in detail one finds that there is the potential for further duplication and further overlapping between Federal and State governments in the area of consumer protection.
The Bill also introduces some important new definitions in the consumer protection area. Whilst the objective of safety is one to which the Opposition gives its wholehearted support, nonetheless the new definitions introduce new concepts. That of itself is an argument why further time should be allowed for detailed consideration of the Bill. For example, the Bill contains a definition of what is called a ‘substantial product hazard’. That is a very important concept particularly in view of the heavy penalties which are contained in clause 39 of the BUI. Clause 39 says in effect that if any manufacturer, retailer or distributor is aware that a substantial product hazard exists in respect of a particular consumer good or might exist in respect of that particular consumer good, he has an obligation to inform the Authority of the existence or the possible existence of that substantial product hazard.
If he does not discharge that obligation he faces a penalty of $ 10,000 or 6 months in prison. Whilst in some cases that might be a justifiable penalty, it is a very serious penalty. I think it is one of the matters that ought to be considered. I do not suggest that the Opposition is totally opposed to such a concept but it introduces a new element as far as the operation of consumer protection laws in Australia is concerned. Its possible ambit of operation is not restricted to the large manufacturing companies; it can extend down to the very humblest of retailers and distributors of consumer goods and services. So that clause in particular imposes potentially heavy obligations on a wide range of companies and persons.
Therefore, the Opposition seeks to have this Bill delayed for a period of one month. One month is not a long period of time. We ask the Government to agree to the legislation being deferred for a period of one month to enable adequate consideration not only by State governments but also by consumer groups, manufacturing organisations, retailing organisations, the advertising industry and all others who will be affected by its operation. The Opposition recognises that the Government has no doubt had some consultation with bodies and persons in preparing the Bill. During the debate on estimates for his Department with my leave the Minister incorporated in Hansard a list of persons and organisations with whom he had had contact regarding the proposed Authority. But as I said earlier, it is not sufficient just to have contact with somebody or some group of people regarding a proposal. We believe that legislation of this nature which will have far-reaching implications if it is passed by this Parliament ought in all fairness to be considered and sufficient time ought to be allowed for that consideration. We submit that a period of one week is totally inadequate. We do not accept that the Government has advanced any reasons at all why the Parliament should be required to make a final decision on this Bill after only one week. The Opposition is not prepared to make a final decision on this Bill after a period of only one week.
If the Government does not agree to defer the Bill for a period of one month and if the amendment which I shall move in a moment is defeated in this House it will be the intention of the Opposition in another place to take a similar attitude and to move a similar amendment. We think that one week to consider legislation of this nature is totally unrealistic. It is liable to create resistance where resistance might not exist if a more reasonable approach were adopted. We want time to consider what the Bill means. We want time to consider the response of people who will be affected by the Bill. We do not want a repetition of what happened when the Minister’s former colleague, the former Attorney-General and now Mr Justice Murphy, introduced the Trade Practices Bill. Part V of that Bill was inserted without adequate prior consulation with the States. The
Minister knows and members of the Government know that the State governments were unhappy at the lack of co-operation which occurred in respect of Part V of the Trade Practices Bill. I ask the Minister not to duplicate what his predecessor did and not to repeat the error of introducing legislation and putting it through this Parliament without allowing adequate time for consideration.
The Opposition will support and facilitate proper and reasonable legislation to protect the rights of consumers throughout Australia. We adhere to the view that it is the primary responsibility of State governments to protect the consumer, and, although not an exclusive responsibility, that there is a clear and identifiable role to be played by the Federal Government. I remind the Minister that the primary function of the States in the area of consumer protection has been publicly acknowledged by none other than his own leader, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), during an interview on 25 March 1974. In answer to the question ‘Are you a centralist? ‘ the Prime Minister said:
I believe that there are some things which need to be done by a national government . . . There is a whole number of things which are primarily under our Constitution State matters. For instance consumer matters . . .
So, the Opposition says to the Government: Allow a bit more time. The Government may well find that by allowing some more time there will be a very reasonable response to the proposals it has in mind. The Opposition is not prepared at this stage to do other than move the following amendment:
That all words after ‘that’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘the second reading of the Bill be delayed for one month.
-Is the amendment seconded?
-I second the amendment. In seconding the amendment moved by the honourable member for Benelong (Mr Howard) I would like to say that the prop.sed establishment of the Australian consumer Protection Authority is a matter of significance to all Australians because, as the Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs ( Mr Clyde Cameron) pointed out very simply, but very much to the point, I thought, in his second reading speech, we are, after all, all consumers. Since the present Minister was appointed to this portfolio, consumer affairs has taken on a greater dimension and this is in no small way due to the Minister’s ability and also to his mode of operation.
The Minister has created what one could call a consumer crusade. We have witnessed the consumerneedsprotection ideal grow into the current proposal to split the Trade Practices Commission and transfer certain of its power to the Authority set up under this Bill. We have seen $lm- perhaps 10 times what initially had been predicted- allocated in this Budget to the proposed Authority. If, as the media has said, the Minister has been downgraded by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) he is certainly determined to upgrade his new Department. I think he has to be congratulated for that. Of course some honourable members might say: Has anyone heard of Parkinson’s law? I think this is something about which we all ought to be careful. The Minister explained in his second reading speech that the new Authority would be used both to establish and enforce consumer product standards and in addition that the Authority would prohibit certain unfair provisions of consumer transactions.
No one can deny that it is good to see initiatives for consumer protection being taken at the national level, at a level which influences importexport flow and the interstate passage of consumer goods. Not only could the proposed Authority provide minimum standards of quality to the products available to the Australian consumer but ultimately also, through its public inquiries, it could effectively rationalise the entire supplier-consumer relationship which, I think we would all agree, is a much needed step. However, it is a pity that in large part this Bill essentially will transfer the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974 to a new Authority.
The Opposition supports the principle of consumer protection. There is no doubt that in many respects the consumer needs protection. There is no dispute between the Government and the Opposition on this. But it is over-simplistic to point to the need for consumer protection without being constructive as to how the details of that protection will work. It is no good complaining that the consumer needs assistance unless the type of assistance required is spelt out. It could be argued that products will not sell unless they meet the consumers’ needs. However in today’s productive society there exists a high powered advertising industry. It is no longer true to claim a product will not sell unless it meets the consumer’s needs. With ever-increasing affluence and rising standards of living it has become the task of the advertising industry to show to the consumer exactly what his needs supposedly are. With the use of highly sophisticated psychology the consumer is now frequently the victim, perhaps not always, of deceit and manipulation, but certainly of over zealous advertising persuasion. It was pleasing to hear the Minister state that the Government’s new consumer crusade would be persuasive- persuasive in restraint of the enthusiasm of the supplier and the advertising industry.
However, this proposal to correct and rebalance the relationship between the supplier and the consumer is one which could adequately be undertaken by the Trade Practices Commission as it presently stands. To date the Government has supplied no valid reason in my” opinion for the special formation of this new Authority, unless perhaps it is the personal satisfaction of the present Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs. I believe we are justified in asking ourselves whether this Bill was really necessary when the Trade Practices Commission was apparently satisfactorily fulfilling the function of consumer protection. It is for this reason that the Opposition has moved its amendment so that the establishment of the new Authority can be given further consideration. We all know the Government has the numbers to defeat the amendment in this House and to pass the Bill, and this it will no doubt do. The position, of course, may be different in the Senate.
In his speech the Minister detailed the provisions of the Bill. He concluded his speech with a final paragraph on the impact of the Authority on the consumer and on the visible ways in which the man in the street would notice an appreciable improvement in his civil protection as a consumer. The Minister probably spoke for all of us when he said:
All of us have been dissatisfied from time to time with the quality of goods that we have bought; with the lack- of information about products; with the service we have received; or with the fine print in the contract that we have signed. This Bill provides the greatest step foward so far taken in protecting these rights . . .
I could not help but feel that it seemed strange that the Minister should concentrate only one paragraph in that whole speech on the rights of the consumer in a speech of some 1 9 paragraphs devoted to institutionalising the protection of those rights. The Minister spent the other 18 paragraphs outlining the complex machinery of the Consumer Protection Authority. He assures us that the Authority will provide the greatest step forward so far taken in protecting the rights to which we as consumers and members of the Australian public are entitled. He assures us that the Authority will complement the States’ existing activities and that it will co-ordinate the operations of the private organisations. Finally, he said that the Bill will centralise and specialise the powers to be transferred from the Trade Practices Commission.
The House should note however that $lm has been allocated to establish a special authority to do a job which is already being done, not only at the private level, not only at the State level but also at the Federal level by this Government’s very own Trade Practices Commission. As I have said, the Opposition does not dispute the need for consumer protection. We do not dispute the need for national action on this subject. But we do dispute the expenditure of $lm of taxpayers’ money on what might well be a needless special authority. This Bill achieves very little which is new and there is absolutely nothing within its provisions which necessitates the establishment of a special authority or the removal of the consumer protection powers from the Trade Practices Commission. The consumer needs rational and increased protection, but it is arguable whether this legislation is a genuine effort to effect that protection. One cannot help but feel that it may well be a device designed by a formerly senior Minister to regain some of his own personal power and prestige by spearheading such an authority.
If the purpose of this Bill is genuinely to expand and enforce consumer rights, then one cannot help but feel that the allocation of $ 1 m could have been better spent by being channelled through the Trade Practices Commission. This Bill proposes to establish a separate body to administer parts V and VI of the Trade Practices Act. Yet the Minister claims that there is no intention to duplicate activities or to build up a large bureaucracy. The Opposition proposes that the House temporarily delay the passage of this Bill and has moved an amendment accordingly. The $lm allocated to the proposed Australian Consumer Protection Authority in this year’s Budget should, I believe, be directed to the Trade Practices Commission where it could be of most value to and do the most good for the consumer.
– in reply- I must say that I am very disappointed that the Opposition has sought to prevent the kind of consumer protection that this Bill envisages. I should have thought that the Opposition which is shortly to face a Senate election, would have enough political nouse to realise that when it attacks consumers or prevents people from defending consumers it is siding with those who would seek to cheat and deceive 99 per cent of the Australian electorate. If that is how honourable members opposite want to treat the consumers of Australia, with that kind of contempt, let them do so. But they will do so at their political peril because the consumers will be quick to realise what kind of a subterfuge it is that they are putting up in the amendment that they now propose. The Opposition is not putting up this amendment for the purpose stated by their chief spokesman on consumer affairs. They are putting up the amendment as a device to defeat the Bill altogether. The Opposition does not believe in consumer protection.
– That is not true.
– It is true. Opposition senators will prove where the Opposition stands in relation to consumer protection. I am prepared to make a small wager that when this matter goes to the Senate, the Liberal and National Country Party senators will do exactly what the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) has threatened they will do. They will postpone the Bill for a month, hoping that in the meantime there will be an election for the Senate and that the Bill will never reach finality. So this is a cunning device by the Opposition to use the numbers that they know that they have in another place to prevent the consumers of this country from getting the kind of protection that the Government wants to give them. The Opposition will shortly face 7 million consumers and it will have to explain to those 7 million consumers, whose votes they will be seeking, why it was that in the very area that concerns the consumers most of all- protection from dishonest advertising and protection from dishonest manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers- it has used this device to prevent an Act being put on the statute book. There is no opposition from the main parties to this Bill. Not one single reputable manufacturer, retailer or wholesaler or advertising agent has expressed any opposition to this Bill.
– Did you get a telegram from the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia today?
-No, I did not.
– Well, I will give you a copy.
-That confirms the point that I was about to make: The Opposition’s chief concern is not for the consumers but for the manufacturers. That came out loud and clear throughout the whole tenor of the remarks of the honourable member for Bennelong. It was an indication of support for the manufacturer only. The honourable member said nothing during his remarks to indicate any concern for the consumer; he indicated deep concern for the manufacturer only. Who are the manufacturers that the Opposition seeks to protect? Who are the manufacturers to whom the Opposition seeks to give free rein to cheat and deceive the Australian consumer? In most cases they are the subsidiaries of foreign owned multi-national whose business directors live in New York. These are the businesses that the Opposition is chiefly concerned about.
The honourable member for Bennelong trapped himself just a second ago when by interjection he indicated that he is in close cahouts with the manufacturers. He knew more about what came into my office by way of an alleged telegram from ACMA than I knew myself. I am not saying that there is not a telegram from ACMA in my office; I am saying that I have not seen it. It is very interesting indeed that the honourable member should have got from ACMA a copy of that telegram because I have had no indication from ACMA that it opposes this Bill. In talks that I had with ACMA ACMA told me that it was not concerned with the manufacturer who sought to cheat the consumer and that the honourable, decent, reputable manufacturer had nothing to fear from proper consumer protection laws. Representatives of ACMA told me that they did not see anything wrong with the Bill as they understood it.
– Are not the State governments doing their jobs?
-The State governments cannot do the kinds of things that this Bill provides for. All the State governments can do is to operate in their own particular State. For example, if a person has land to sell in one State and likes to advertise that land in the newspapers of all of the other States, which State is it that takes action? No State can take action. Only we could deal with that kind of deception and there are thousands of them that one could mention. They can be adequately dealt with only by the Australian Government or the Australian Parliament.
Setting national standards is another thing that can be done only by the Australian Parliament. I was informed by Mr Teal from General MotorsHolden’s Pty Ltd who came to me that he was delighted that at long last we were able to get national standards which manufacturers who have activities in more than one State will be able to operate by, knowing that they will be within the law with regard to the goods that they sell in other States.
– All the car manufacturers want them. Evidence was given before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety to the effect that they wanted uniform standards.
-There is evidence of that from the honourable member for Robertson. Mr Teal told me this: In his company’s plant in
Victoria his organisation is bound by the Victorian State laws in regard to safety standards and to the other standards operating with regard to cars. But when his company sells its cars in other States, it finds that altogether different standards apply. Cars that reach the standards fixed by the Victorian Government may fail to reach the standards set by, for example, the Government of New South Wales. Emission control is another example of the problem created by each of the 6 States setting different standards. The manufacturers in the various States do not know how long they will be able to comply with the various standards fixed by the various States.
– The manufacturers are very worried about that aspect.
-They have good reason to be worried. What we want to do is to set national standards and to say to the reputable manufacturers: ‘Look, it does not matter in which State you manufacture your goods; nor does it matter in which State you sell your goods. The standards which are fixed by the Consumer Protection Authority will be standards that will protect you wherever you operate and wherever you sell your goods ‘. ( Quorum formed).
This Bill was introduced last Wednesday. The Opposition has complained that it has not had enough time to consider it. But for the 20-odd years that I sat on the benches opposite, it was always the custom- it varied very seldom- for the Government to introduce a Bill in one week and to expect the Opposition to deal with it the following week. I invite members of the Opposition to look at the Hansard reports for years gone by; they will find that this has been the accepted practice. The 2 main parts of this Bill are the part which is derived from Part V of the Trade Practices Act- which does not introduce any new law at all, just the transfer- and the notification of substantial product hazards, which was taken from the Act that applies in the United States of America, a copy of which section I gave to the Opposition many weeks ago.
– There is more to it than that.
-This Bill, the honourable member for Bennelong complains, does not consist of Part V alone. That is true. The Bill goes further than Part V. It provides that where a manufacturer is aware of a substantial product hazard he is required to notify the Authority. What is wrong with that?
– And the retailer and the distributor.
-Yes. What is wrong with people who become aware of a substantial product hazard being required to notify the Authority? Why should people who are aware of such a substantial product hazard be allowed to continue selling that article to the consumer? All the Opposition is concerned with, if what the honourable member for Bennelong has said represents its view, is the interests of the retailer against the consumer, the wholesaler against the consumer, the manufacturer against the consumer and, one must assume also, the false advertiser against the consumer. The honourable member objects to the monitoring of business behaviour. What is wrong with the monitoring of business behaviour? If business behaviour is likely to be bad it ought to be monitored. Loud throughout the remarks of the honourable member came the same note of deep concern for the manufacturer- the multinational corporation whose board room in New York controls the activities of its subsidiaries here. Deep concern is felt for them but no concern for the consumer. I cannot understand any political party that does not want to commit political harakiri saying that it does not concern itself with the consumer or saying that it does concern itself with the consumer but - (Quorum formed). This Bill does not take away anything at all from the Trade Practices Commission. Part V of the Trade Practices Act has already been handed to the administration of the Department of Science and Consumer Affairs. I am the Minister now in charge of the operations of Part V of that Act. That was done by administrative arrangements. So, that small part of the argument put by the honourable member falls flat to the ground.
I am sorry that the interruptions that have occurred have prevented me from dealing fully with all of the points raised. The honourable member asks, as though it would be terrible, whether clause 7 of the Bill would allow the Consumer Protection Authority the right to appear before the Prices Justification Tribunal. Of course it does. Why should it not? The Prices Justification Tribunal has been greatly embarrassed already, and has said so several times, because the consumers have not been represented or have not had a voice before the Tribunal. We want to give consumers a voice before the Tribunal. We want to hear from them before the Industries Assistance Commission, too. Why should they not have that right? According to the innuendo contained in the remarks of the honourable member, consumers should be locked out of the Prices Justification Tribunal as well.
The new definitions concerning substantial product hazard are not something which was dropped on the honourable gentleman only last Wednesday. These definitions were included in the American Act a copy of which was given to the honourable member weeks and weeks ago. The attempt to delay the Bill is, as I said, a device designed to prevent Australian consumers from having the protection to which they are entitled. It will be seen for the device that it is. I am sure the Opposition parties in the other place will reject this legislation. One could not expect them in their present frame of mind to do otherwise, bound hand and foot as they are to the multinational corporations from other countries. They are the paid hirelings of the multinational corporations, so they have to dance to the tune of the manufacturers and not worry about the consumers. They are welcome to all the votes the multinational corporations in New York can give them as long as we get the votes which the consumers will give to the people who they consider are looking after their interests best. The Government rejects totally and completely the amendment of the Opposition. It is quite unacceptable to us and we ask the House to reject it.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Howard’s amendment) stand part of the question.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Original question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time. Debate interrupted.
-I inform the House that the Government Printer has advised that the incorporation in Hansard of 36 pages of tabular and similar material submitted by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Les Johnson) would present technical problems and unduly delay the production of the daily Hansard. I have therefore directed that it be not included.
-It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 11 July 1974, I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Speaker, I require that the question be put forthwith.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker- Dr H. A. Jenkins)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. House adjourned at 10.37 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister for Housing and Construction, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Urban and Regional Development, upon notice:
Will he permit the National Capital Development Commission to give evidence to the public inquiry set up by the New South Wales Government to inquire into over the border growth from the A.C.T. into New South Wales;
If not, why not.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have asked the National Capital Development Commission not to give evidence to the public inquiry.
The reasons for my position are clearly detailed in a Joint Statement I released with my colleague the Minister for the Capital Territory on 20 May 1 975.
In summary we reject completely the unilateral approach of the N.S.W. Premier, Mr Lewis. The Australian Government made every effort, to consider the border growth on a joint basis as had been the case since 1 97 1. Even after the Premier announced the N.S.W. Inquiry the Prime Minister wrote seeking a joint inquiry but this was not acceptable to the Premier.
The Committee he has appointed is not a representative committee; it is strongly weighted to the interests of property holders and potential speculators in N.S.W. In the circumstances therefore Australian Government Ministers will not give evidence to the inquiry nor will the Australian Government sponsor any submission to the inquiry.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
With reference to the answer to question No. 38 1 in which the Minister for Urban and Regional Development indicated that the Department of Urban and Regional Development is examining various taxation provisions to curb land speculation, including capital gains taxes, is (a) his Department and (b) the Australian Taxation Office involved in this examination; if not, why not.
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Treasury and the Taxation Office are not involved currently in the examination of various taxation provisions that could be introduced to curb land speculation which is being carried out in the Department of Urban and Regional Development. Involvement would, of course come later if and when any specific possibilities emerge from that examination.
asked the Minister for Manufacturing Industry, upon notice:
– I refer the right honourable member to the Prime Minister’s answer to his question No. 31 10, Hansard Page 1598 of 1 October 1975.
asked the Minister for Environment, upon notice:
– The answer to the right honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice:
– The Postmaster-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 October 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1975/19751022_reps_29_hor97/>.