30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr SPEAKER (Rt Hon. B. M. Snedden, Q.C.) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the announced decision by the Commonwealth Government to reduce the 1975-76 Overseas Development Assistance vote by $21m and by the abolition of the Australian Development Assistance Agency.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Falconer, Mr Fry, Mr Charles Jones, Mr Mackenzie and Mr Ruddock.
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:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission, which was approved by both sides of this Parliament and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community organizations are needed to partially redress the gross imbalance in technical expertise and resources suffered by community groups in pressing the community’s case against the exploiter.
That a proper balance between the Governments programmes of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of 1975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Bradfield and Mr Ruddock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the Port Macquarie Koala Preservation Society respectfully showeth that:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission, which was approved by both sides of this Parliament and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community organizations are needed to partially redress the gross imbalance in technical expertise and resources suffered by community groups in pressing the community’s case against the exploiter.
That a proper balance between the Governments program of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of1 975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Lucock.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned members of resident groups which comprise the ‘Committee for Urban Action’ respectfully showeth that:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission, which was approved by both sides of this Parliament and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community organizations are needed to partially redress the gross imbalance in technical expertise and resources suffered by community groups in pressing the community’s case against the exploiter.
That a proper balance between the Governments program of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of 1 975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Shipton.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of
Australia respectfully showeth that there are certain matters concerning the Molonglo Arterial Western Distributor not sufficiently considered in the Molonglo Parkway Enquiry, 1972-73 and subsequent technical reports.
These matters are itemised below.
We your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Molonglo Arterial- Western Distributor be deferred until these matters be investigated and reported on.
Your petitioners also consider the disruption, increased health hazards and ecological imbalance resulting from the implementation of the project to be highly dangerous to the well being of residents in the area affected.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrStaley.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that milk substitutes be restored to the schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits for children up to the age of six years as soon as possible.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Armitage.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives of the Federal Parliament of Australia in Parliament assembled.
We, the undersigned citizens of Australia do herewith pray that Her Majesty’s Government of the Commonwealth of Australia reverse its decision to reduce bilateral aid projects and training programmes by $4.25m and direct foreign food aid by $5.3m as a matter of urgency in the interests of humanitarian international co-operation.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your Honourable House will give this matter earnest consideration and your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Beazley.
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.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the presence of Indonesian regular and irregular troops in East Timor, in defiance of United Nations General Assembly and Security Council resolutions and at the apparent equivocal policy of the Australian Government, of publicly supporting self-determination for East Timor but privately reassuring Indonesia of its ‘understanding’ and continued economic and military aid.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Australian Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Fry.
To the right 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 are deeply concerned at the proposed increase in tariff at Lawley House to be effective from 4 April 1 976. Giving due regard to the various incomes of the majority of residents and to the most recent rise in tariff on 15 February 1976, we consider that the actions of Commonwealth Hostels Limited are creating unnecessary hardships for the current residents and could force many, essentially not in a position to do so, to seek alternative accommodation.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will ensure that the proposed new tariff not apply.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem.
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 three service cadet forces have great value in the development of the youth of Australia.
That the disbanding of the cadet forces will disperse accumulated expertise and interest of those involved, and in some cases negate the efforts of many people over many years.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will reconsider its decision and that the Government will reinstate the cadet forces.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr McVeigh.
Petition to the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of electors of the Division of Leichhardt respectfully showeth that both the School Cadets and the Naval, Army and Air Cadets provide character building and disciplinary training for the future citizens of this Commonwealth.
The Cadets also provide some basic team training for our youngsters which must be considered to be valuable in these times of vandalism and drug taking. The estimated cost of the Cadets is only a fraction of the cost to our community (i.e. the Australian community) from vandalism and drug problems.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the government will immediately rescind its intention to disband the Cadets.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Thomson.
– My question is directed to the Prime Minister. I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to his replies to questions regarding the motor car industry given on 19 February and 3 March and in which, among other things, he said:
It is unfortunate that under the present motor car plan and the policies of the previous Administration unemployment in Geelong has been at, I think, 8 or 9 per cent.
In reply to a question from the honourable member for Adelaide the Prime Minister said:
The honourable gentleman would be well advised to have a close look at the present motor car plan . . . But it would result in body pressings being imported by virtually all the major manufacturers in Australia … It could affect the employment of 1400 people … in South Australia.
He further said:
How a motor car plan could be embraced which was quite directly going to lead to significant unemployment throughout the industry I find difficult to understand.
In view of the replies given earlier on the motor car industry by the Prime Minister, I ask: As the present plan of the Government is based on the Australian Labor Party’s policy announced in 1974, could the Prime Minister inform the House how, to avoid his black predictions, the present Government’s plan differs from the Labor Government’s plan?
– I think it is quite impossible to say how any policy differs in precise detail from some of the activities of the previous Administration because it never really knew what it was doing. If it did not know what it was doing, how could anyone else know what it was doing? This matter has been examined very closely by the Government. The Premier of South Australia has spoken to me about it, I think on more than one occasion. I raised with him the doubts which I had expressed in this House. He seemed quite prepared to run the risks. I pointed out the possibilities in relation to his State. He seemed to express not much concern in relation to them. If he, having particular responsibility for South Australia, understands that that is the position and that they are the possibilities obviously that is a matter which we will take closely into account. I hope the Premier of South Australia is not incorrect in that matter.
We certainly recognise the importance of the motor vehicle industry to South Australia. It is by far the most significant manufacturing industry employer. Much of the manufacturing industry in South Australia is built obviously around the motor industry. I think when one examines the extent to which there will be an increasing component manufacture through Nissan and Toyota as a result of the decisions it is now expected that total employment in the industry will rise. Over the last 2 or 3 years, partly as a result of the general policies of the previous Administration and the general uncertainty involved, there had been quite a significant downfall in unemployment. We hope that the present announcement will, over the longer term, reverse that situation.
– Can the Minister for Health inform the House whether the Rural Health Working Party has identified as a particular problem of country people the difficulty in obtaining access to specialist health care for people to whom such care is a necessity- for example, to those suffering from leukaemia and other cancer diseases?
-I am pleased to advise the honourable member for Capricornia that the Hospital and Health Services Commission, through the Rural Health Working Party, is preparing a report on rural health services in Australia. I understand the Working Party has recognised the very special difficulties that people suffer in isolated and remote areas of Australia. I am expecting the interim report from the Commission to be available within the next few weeks. I hope to be able to table it in the Parliament. I expect the report would focus attention upon this very critical area of concern to people living in isolated communities. Parents of children suffering from leukaemia, for instance, must travel great distances at their own cost to metropolitan cities and then must pay board for months and months while their children get treatment. I know that honourable members such as the honourable member for Capricornia and others who represent rural constituencies are very much aware of some of the great disadvantages that parents suffer as a consequence of remoteness and the high cost of medical services when there is chronic illness or disease such as leukaemia.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Administrative Services. I ask: To how many electoral divisions is each State entitled under the latest statistics of the Commonwealth? As the High Court has declared invalid the section of the Representation Act which purported to link this calculation to the holding of the census, what steps have been taken or how soon will steps be taken to have a redistribution of electorates in the lifetime of this Parliament?
– I shall refer the Leader of the Opposition’s question to my colleague and get an answer for him as soon as possible.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Minister’s attention been directed to the fact that last
December the seventh meeting of the Polish Communist Party decided to force certain changes in the Polish Constitution? Did those changes come into effect last February and do they further restrict the freedoms of the Polish people and make the foreign policy of Poland even more subservient to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? Has the Government expressed any concern about those violations of human rights to either the Polish authorities or the U.S.S.R., which is the real instigator of this outrage?
-My attention has been drawn to this matter. As I understand it, the changes did come into effect in February of this year. The Australian Government naturally would regret any move to inhibit the rights and freedoms of individuals anywhere in the world. However, the honourable member will appreciate that specific responsibility rests clearly within the domestic competence of the Polish Government. Having said that, I must say that I understand that news of these changes has led to a number of protests within Poland and that these concerns evidently have been expressed with a great deal of vehemence by members of the Polish community in Australia also.
The particular sources of concern with the proposals, which I am advised did become law on 14 February of this year are, firstly, the description of Poland as a ‘socialist state’; secondly, a reference to the Polish United Workers Partythat is, of course, the Communist Party- as the leading political force in the country; thirdly, a reference to Poland’s alliance with the Soviet Union; and, fourthly, a clause that would have made citizens’ rights contingent upon their fulfilling duties towards the state. I have no specific information that would confirm that Poland will no longer have an independent foreign policy. However, this was indeed the interpretation given by some observers to the original draft of the Constitution, which has, of course, undergone some amendments as a result of public pressure within Poland itself.
Naturally the Government would deeply regret any loss of independence in foreign policy which would be a derogation from the fundamental principle of national sovereignty by any country anywhere. We hope that the adoption of the new Constitution in Poland will not, in fact, have that effect. Finally, referring to the last point of the specific changes that I mentioned, namely, the clause that would make citizens’ rights contingent upon their fulfilling duties towards the state, I should say that I understand that in Poland there continues to be vocal opposition to the law as there does elsewhere in the world by Polish citizens. That is understandable. The Australian Government naturally would regret any move to inhibit the rights and freedoms of Polish citizens.
– My question is directed to the Attorney-General. Is it a fact that citizens are entitled under section 73 of the Matrimonial Causes Act to obtain copies of decrees of divorce? Can the Attorney-General inform the House whether instructions have been given to the staff of the Supreme Court of New South Wales to refuse to provide copies of the decree in the case of Robson v Robson’.
-I am unable to confirm whether any such instructions have been given. I would be very surprised if they had; but I have no knowledge of the matter.
-Is the Minister for Defence aware that an Opposition member of the State Parliament in Western Australia stated yesterday that he had information that nuclear weapons are to be stored on Garden Island in Cockburn Sound? Can the Minister provide the House with any information about that matter? Also, are there any developments arising from Vice President Rockefeller’s visit to Australia in relation to American ships using Cockburn Sound?
-In replying to the honourable member for Tangney I am tempted to use language which would not become this House. As to the basis of the matter raised by the honourable gentleman, there is no such proposal in prospect. I would nevertheless make it clear to the House, as has been stated -
– What about Garden Island?
– As a matter of fact, it is called Garden Island. It has been stated by the Prime Minister and by me on several occasions that the use of the faculty in Western Australia by the United States of America will be welcomed by this Government.
– Hear, hear!
– The honourable member for Kennedy comes from a hardy race. I would, nevertheless, indicate to the House that the use of the facility would, in my respectful opinion, be very properly a matter for parliamentary debate, and at some convenient time I would seek to facilitate that debate. Nevertheless, I make this observation: I hope the House understands that the United Nations today has in operation some 1 14 submarines and that 105 of those submarines are nuclear powered submarines. I would regard it as craven, cowardly and contemptible that we should say to the United States of America: ‘No, none of your submarines can use that base unless they are conventionally powered submarines. ‘ I hope that the honourable member for Port Adelaide, who is interjecting, also understands that one cannot get specific performance of a treaty agreement. The only thing, in ultimate terms, that one can cash is goodwill. This Government, unlike the previous Government, is determined to build it up.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. Is it true that expenditure on a number of area improvement programs has been deferred? Is the Minister aware that many local councils have committed themselves to these projects and will face severe financial problems if they do not receive the full allocation as set out in the 1975-76 Budget?
– I am aware of some of the problems that local councils are experiencing in relation to this matter. In order that the honourable gentleman may have a detailed reply I shall pass on his question to the Minister in the Senate and ensure that he receives a reply.
– I direct my serious question to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that when an Australian parliamentary delegation visited Bangladesh in 1974 and had discussions with the then President, the late Sheik Mujibur Rahman, he cited as that nation’s greatest problem its incapacity to teach the people about birth control? Is the Prime Minister aware that many governments of impoverished countries openly admit that the lack of birth control is their greatest single problem? Is the Prime Minister aware that at approximately midnight last Sunday the world ‘s population reached 4000 million and that since then it has increased by another 498 562 and will soon reach a figure -
-Order! Does the honourable member vouch for the accuracy of the statement?
-Well Sir, I have never been wrong before. Is the Prime Minister aware that that figure will soon reach 4.5 billion, a figure similar to the Australian Labor Party’s Budget deficit? Does the world pattern concern the Prime Minister? Will he consider insisting that a large percentage of future increases in our foreign aid expenditure will be set aside as a specific grant to assist those countries which desperately need help to introduce birth control, whether that assistance be in the form of loaned personnel or Australian dollars?
– I am glad to note that the honourable gentleman does vouch for the accuracy of the figures which he gave before the House. I think the only information he did not give related to his own contribution to those figures. However, it is a serious question, a serious problem, and a grave one for many countries. I believe the honourable member did the House a service in raising this question. I will consult with my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs so that when Australia’s proposals for the future of foreign aid are under examination by the Government this matter can be brought to the fore and given the proper consideration that it deserves. I thank him for bringing the matter to the attention of the House.
– I direct to the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs a question which in a sense is supplementary to the question asked yesterday by the honourable member for Higgins. How do customs police and drug squads fix the alleged value of drugs which are seized? Are the amounts alleged, often reaching $500,000 or more, not likely to glamorise the sale of drugs, just as the alleged huge amounts paid to entertainers aim to do? Are not the amounts greatly exaggerated in both cases? Will the Minister ask officers of his Department to give actual weights of drugs when giving evidence or making news releases and not to speculate on their alleged value?
– The honourable member’s question contains a mixture of assertions and speculation. Likewise it invites a response in the realm of speculation and opinion. I will give detailed consideration to the question and give him an appropriate answer as soon as possible.
-The Minister for Primary Industry undoubtedly will recall the statements I made in my maiden speech about the desirability of opening up the live beef export market. Is the Minister aware of a report in the Melbourne Age this morning relating to a letter sent to him from the Victorian Stock Agents Association asking him to facilitate the export of live cattle? What steps can he take, has he taken, or does he intend to take in this regard?
– Like every other honourable member of this House I am well aware of the recommendations the honourable member made in his maiden speech, particularly those in respect of the export of live cattle. Unfortunately this subject has engendered a great deal of emotion over recent years, emotion which I do not believe is soundly based. In the minds of people associated with abattoirs in particular there is a fear that live cattle exports will in some way prejudice their future opportunities for employment and a suspicion that to the degree to which live cattle are exported alternative meat exports will be reduced. I do not hold that point of view. It is true that to some degree exports of live cattle might replace alternative meat exports but that is certainly not true in a range of markets for a number of reasons.
In many developing countries, particularly in Asia, there is an increasing demand for cattle and sheep to improve their generally available genetic material. There is reason for Australia, with its significant expertise in animal husbandry, to contribute towards the betterment of its herds and flocks. I would like to see circumstances develop, in accordance with the honourable member’s suggestion, so that this might be done. Under the previous regime there was constituted a committee which each year considered the number of livestock that might be exported and which made recommendations on those lines to the Government. We are looking at ways by which a continuing consultation might take place between trade unions, exporters and producers on a range of matters affecting primary industries and not peculiarly the export of live cattle.
However, with respect to any particular application- the honourable member’s question referred to a particular application- I have suggested that the exporter or those responsible as his agents if he so desires, should contact those who might have an interest within the trade union movement and perhaps have an informal discussion as to the degree to which that particular export might be supported by the trade union movement. The Government, for its part, sees all livestock exports as contributing significantly to the improvement of returns for primary producers at a time when they have been significantly depressed.
– I ask the Prime Minister: Has the Government instructed the Bureau of Statistics to exclude indirect taxes when compiling the consumer price index? As pensioners are faced with a drop in the value of the pension since this Government moved from the Labor Government’s policy of aiming for pensions to be 25 per cent of average weekly earnings to a formula based on the CPI, will he instruct the Bureau to provide two sets of figures for the CPI, one paying regard to indirect taxes and one not, so that pensions are not further eroded?
– I am subject to correction but I believe that the Commonwealth Statistician makes his own decisions about these matters. Certainly no instruction has gone from the Government to the Statistician in relation to them. The point that the honourable gentleman raises concerning the problem and difficulty that pensioners may have is one which I think he is confusing- I know he would not want to do this deliberately- with a different problem concerning the appropriate means and mechanisms for wage fixation. They are two different and quite separate issues and our undertaking in relation to pensions and the movement of pensions in accordance with the consumer price index as the consumer price index is presently structured is quite unequivocal and quite firm.
I should not really like to remind the honourable gentleman of his own former Treasurer’s betrayal of an earlier promise by the Australian Labor Party to move pensions in accordance with average weekly earnings. It was interesting to note- again if my memory is correct and I believe it is- that two or three months after that decision was made the present Leader of the Opposition seemed to forget that it had been made. He made a speech on the assumption that pensions were still related to average weekly earnings. However, if the honourable gentleman is trying to suggest that under this Government the interests of pensioners will not be adequately and fully protected, he is certainly quite wrong. People who are in the pension arena will be protected and better protected under this Government because we are determined to overcome the problem of inflation. The honourable gentleman should also understand that in the poverty inquiry Professor Henderson has had some very caustic things to say about the harm done to a significant number of poor people in the Australian community as a result of the inflationary policies of the Leader of the Opposition, as he now is, and of those few remaining who sit behind him.
-Has the Minister for Transport seen the report of 30 March in the West -Australian about assault by pickets on a citizen of Perth who was legitimately at Perth Airport? Will the Minister describe what sort of action he can take to prevent pickets from entering and damaging airport property and assaulting citizens?
– I have in my hand the report of the West-Australian of 30 March. It describes some very unusual circumstances that occurred at the airport yesterday. It appears that a man entered the airport to pick up a parcel and was mobbed by some picketers. According to this report, he had his arm twisted and was generally knocked about. He went to a telephone to call the police and the telephone was ripped from the wall, according to this report. The manager of Trans-Australia Airlines called the Commonwealth Police who were on duty somewhere outside to intervene and the man was saved further embarrassment. The honourable gentleman raises the question of what can be done about this. I have had no report from the Department of Transport on the matter. I shall seek a report about it. I should think there must be normal recourse to law in a case of assault of this kind. I shall keep the honourable member informed.
– I ask that the Minister table the document from which he is quoting.
-I table the document. It is a newspaper report which the honourable member can read in the Library.
– I direct my question to the Prime Minister. Will his Government seek the participation and co-operation of the New South Wales State Government in a Federal-State inquiry into the physical and social consequences of the proposed port development at Botany Bay and any possible extensions to the Sydney Airport?
– I think I have been in communication with the New South Wales Government over this particular matter. But I shall see whether there is any information that can be given to the honourable gentleman.
– I address my question to the Minister for Defence. In view of the large number of petitions presented to this House relating to the Labor decision to abolish the school cadet system, when may a decision be expected about the proposed re-introduction of that system?
-It was my expectation that I might have been in a position to make a decision on this matter at the end of last month. I should apologise to the House and to all those people who have been interested in the issue for not having so resolved the matter. It is not a case of dither or irresolution on my part. But I asked people who were interested to give me the benefit of their views. I should observe that I have received more than 1000 letters on this issue. All of those letters were entitled to consideration; all of those letters have been so considered. My understanding is that a draft paper has been prepared. It will be considered departmentally within the next week. If that be the case, it would be my expectation that the Government would have an opportunity to consider it, say, within the next 2 weeks.
– My question, which is directed to the Foreign Minister, is the same as I asked him a week ago. What response has the Australian Government made to the appeals by the United Nations and Commonwealth Secretaries-General for financial assistance to Mozambique to meet her losses in applying sanctions against Rhodesia?
-There is little more I can add to what I gave the Leader of the Opposition last week. The problem has been compounded because of Sir Robert Jackson’s illness. He has had to be replaced as the Secretary-General’s envoy to Mozambique. I understand that the SecretaryGeneral’s nominee to replace Sir Robert Jackson will visit Mozambique next week. As a consequence, the sort of deadline that we would have been meeting is delayed further. The Leader of the Opposition can be assured that I have his interest at heart and as a consequence of this, have been following the progress. I was informed early in the piece that Sir Robert Jackson would have to be replaced. Immediately the report of the Secretary-General, together with the detailed proposals from the Commonwealth SecretaryGeneral have been received, I shall advise not only the Leader of the Opposition but the House of the Government’s attitude.
-Is the Minister for Transport aware of a report attributed to him that the proposed development of the Brisbane Airport has been shelved? If this is not correct, could the Minister outline any program that might be in hand?
– I have in my hand a copy of a Press report that appeared in a Brisbane weekend paper. The headline reads: ‘Government shelves new Brisbane Airport’. The article goes on:
The Federal Government has shelved indefinitely plans to build a new Brisbane Airport. It seems unlikely that any steps to redevelop the airport will be taken before the 1977 Budget, and possibly before the early 1 980s.
The article goes on to say that I find myself in a contrary position to that which I adopted in this House when I answered a question from the honourable member for Lilley, I think, a couple of weeks ago. Regrettably this article has a fair bit of poetic licence about it. It is what one might describe in Press terms as being a ‘beaten up article’. The fact is that nothing is changed from what I said to the honourable member for Lilley. I am in no position to say what financial assistance will be given or what capital works program will be authorised for the Brisbane airport in terms of the forthcoming 1976-77 Budget. I think I explained to the honourable member for Lilley that there are tremendous economic restraints on all aspects of government because of the stupidityand I think when I used that word before it was considered to be unparliamentary, Mr Speaker- of the actions of the previous Government.
– You are not saying it again?
– No, I am not saying it again. I am just recapitulating what I said. Because of the actions of the previous Government we are in somewhat of a financial straitjacket trying to get the economy straight. For that reason I am unable to say at this stage exactly when the new development at Brisbane airport will be announced.
-I direct my question to the Minister for Transport who will be aware of the important role of the monthly issue of airworthiness directives in safeguarding the lives of air travellers and aircraft operators. I ask the Minister: Why have the regular monthly issues of airworthiness directives to regional offices been deferred? Is it because of the freeze on finance in his Department? Will he assure the Australian public that his Department will not take any steps that will cause a reduction in the high standard of aircraft operation in Australia and that Australian lives will not be placed at risk as a result of the Government’s reallocation of expenditures program?
– Let me assure the honourable member and the House that there is no way known by which I am going to put the air travelling public at risk. Let me also assure the honourable member and the House that any steps that are taken under the cost recovery program and any economic drive that I have to undertake will in no way put at risk the air travelling public. I will look at the specific complaint that the honourable member has brought forward and check its accuracy and any effect it may have.
– You do not know the answer?
-I direct my question to the Attorney-General. Is the honourable gentleman aware of a recent book claimed to be of great literary merit entitled Kerr’s King Hit, particularly as the book relates to comments attributed to the Chief Justice of New South Wales? Has the Chief Justice categorically denied the book’s assertions and would this be yet more evidence that the book which so piously claims to be factual is, in fact, a work of second-rate fiction?
-I understand that the book does make that misstatement. Of course, I also understand that the Chief Justice of New South Wales has in fact denied it.
– Have you read the book?
-I have not read the book yet but I shall read it. I understand the President of the Australian Labor Party has acquired certain assets as a result of libel actions. I have no doubt that all of us will read that book, and read the others that come out. May I say that the book is basically ill-founded because it is attempting to prove a conspiracy which of course is absolutely false. The attempt to involve innocent people like the Chief Justice of New South Wales is a clear example -
– Have a burning of the book.
-If the Labor Party has any sense it will burn the book and forget the conspiracy theory that it and its Leaders as well as these books are trying to peddle because there is absolutely no truth in it.
I noticed in the Canberra Times yesterday an article by Professor Geoffrey Sawer who seems to have come to a view that would be contrary to this so-called conspiracy theory. The article also refers to the allegation that there was some deceit by the Governor-General. We all know that the only deceit involved in this matter was the Leader of the Opposition’s deceit of himself. He deceived himself into believing that the Governor-General was a person who would not be prepared ultimately to dismiss him if he was irresponsible. We know that the GovernorGeneral was prepared to do that in the interests of the country. The only deceit in this matter was by the Leader of the Opposition himself. In the process he did embrace certain legal propositions which turned out to be quite false. They were falsely based and turned out to be wrong. He deceived himself. One might have thought he was a better constitutional lawyer than he turned out to be.
-Well, he has had some experience in government and he is always telling us how he was on the Constitutional Review Committee in the late 1950s and how much he learned about the Constitution. The book is on a very shaky ground -
– You haven’t read the book.
– Order! The honourable member for Adelaide has said 5 times now that the book has not been read. Everybody in the House heard it the first time. It is not necessary to repeat it.
– The book is on very shaky ground insofar as it contains a mis-statement of fact such as this and attempts to support the ill founded conspiracy theory which the Leader of the Opposition will continue and continue to tell us about. For the sake of the Labor Party, I hope that he soon gives up.
-It was not the State Chief Justice who was a conspirator.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition made an interjection which had a clear implication. He said that it was not the State Chief Justice who was involved in the conspiracy. The implication is that it was another Chief Justice. I remind the honourable gentleman that he is not entitled in this House to reflect upon any person unless it is by way of substantive motion. I ask the honourable gentleman to take that into account and I ask him to withdraw the imputation.
-Mr Speaker, the implication was that the Chief Justice of Australia was a conspirator. In obedience to your direction, I withdraw the statement.
-My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In view of the decision announced last night in a statement on commercial vehicles not to pursue the increased tariff on trucks in the 2.72 tonnes to 10.16 tonnes area which had been agreed to by the previous Government, is it the intention of this Government to phase out the manufacture in Australia of trucks, of which the International Harvester Company is a major manufacturer and considers itself to be under substantial threat at the rates which were adopted in the report made last night, based upon recommendations made in 1974?
– This is a detailed matter. I understand that an application for temporary assistance is either being lodged or is being examined at the present time. I will see what information is available and provide it to the honourable member.
-The Prime Minister will be aware of the general impoverished state of local government throughout Australia. Will he advise the House whether the Government intends to provide assistance to municipalities in the 1976-77 Budget? Secondly, what role does the Government foresee local government playing within the general framework of federalism?
– I call the Prime Minister. The question does ask for a policy statement. It may be that the Prime Minister wishes to answer some parts of it, but under the Standing Orders he does not need to answer. I leave it to the right honourable gentleman-
– I think the House will be well aware that we do see an enhanced role for local government as a result of our federalism proposals. We do not see any need to impose on local government a forced regionalism which is often against, or was against, the wishes of individual local governing areas.
– You will not force money on them, will you?
- Mr Speaker, there still seem to be some odd people on the other side of the House. No doubt at the next election we will remove them. Local government authorities have an important role to play and ought to be allowed to make their own decisions. The kind of support that we would want to provide would be as a general supplement to the revenues of local government authorities because the obligations that are placed on them have in many ways gone beyond the capacity of their ratepayers to bear. We also intend under the general federalism proposals to establish an
Advisory Council for Intergovernmental Relations which will have on it representatives of local government, State governments and the Federal Parliament and thus be enabled to discuss problems that arise between the different spheres of government. Under our administration local government need have no fear concerning its own independence and the support that may be provided to it. Certainly it need have no fear about centralised direction which was so much to the heart of the previous Administration.
– Can the Treasurer explain how reducing Government expenditure on overseas aid programs can assist the fight against inflation in Australia when overseas aid in fact reduces domestic liquidity?
– It is part of the totality of the Government’s overall restraint program to reduce the Budget deficit. It is not in fact -
– Put it on cassette.
– It may be a long cassette, but if there is one thing that this Government has before it at the present time it is a series of economic strategies which is more than - (Opposition supporters interjecting)
– If honourable members opposite do not want the answer to the question, I will leave it at that.
– I desire to inform the House that the Address-in-Reply will be presented to His Excellency the Governor-General at Government House at 5.15 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 April. I shall be glad if the mover and seconder, together with all other honourable members, will accompany me to present the Address.
– I have received letters from both the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) and the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. I have selected the matter proposed by the honourable member for Blaxland, namely:
The threat to Australia’s trading and political relationship with Japan and other trading nations and the serious implications for Australia ‘s energy reserves caused by the recent statements and actions of the Deputy Prime Minister.
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)
-On Monday evening the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), in a major speech to the Australian Mining Industry Council, revived the disgraceful and discredited yellow peril concept as a basis for the Government’s resources policy. In a matter of minutes he fractured a relationship of trust and mutual interest that had been built up over the recent years with our major trading partners, particularly Japan. He said:
I believe the best way to ensure that we do not provoke others to try to get access to our resources by force is to make those resources available to them on fair and reasonable terms.
This statement attributed to our major trading partners, particularly Japan, attitudes and foreign policy initiatives for which there is absolutely no basis. The Deputy Prime Minister has caused severe embarrassment to the Australian Government and to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has a better understanding of the fundamentals of our international relationships than he has.
– Come off it.
– From the table he chides me. I say to him: Let him come clean. Let him say if and when he had some indication from another country of its intentions to resort to force. Let him identify that country. If he remains silent on these matters we can assume only that his utterances were a fabrication and the product of a bankrupt, cynical mind. All the editorials in this morning’s Press, bar one, condemn the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement. The editorial in the Melbourne Age stated:
There may be good arguments for mining and selling Australia’s uranium. But they are not the scaremongering and reckless arguments that Sir Philip Baxter and Mr Doug Anthony have been advancing in recent days.
It also stated:
It is a tactic which Australian politicians have long exploited, sometimes to their own cynical advantage and always to their shame. It is time they stopped. The public deserves better of its politicians than this simplistic and alarmist nonsense. In particular, it deserves better of its Deputy Prime Minister.
The editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, which is not known as a journal which supports the Australian Labor Party, stated something in the same vein. It stated:
The scare-mongering engaged in by Mr Anthony on uranium exports is extraordinary behaviour for Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister. To suggest that it is a case of export or be invaded is quite irresponsible.
It also stated:
It is a silly and dangerous approach to take, and Mr Anthony implicitly admitted as much when he sought to justify and modify his remarks in Parliament yesterday.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s mouthings about needing to reassure Japan and other countries of our willingness to sell and to negotiate fair and reasonable prices, as he terms it, are so much jargon. How could Australia negotiate a price when the Government believes we should sell our uranium at break-neck speed to save ourselves from armed attack? What sort of bargaining position would we have? The Deputy Prime Minister has done nothing of significance in the minerals field since the Government took office. He dashed off on a fruitless junket to Japan to seek a trade-off for increased beef exports at, as we now find, the expense of valuable iron ore and coal contracts. Already the mining industry is concerned at the performance of the Deputy Prime Minister and at his inability to deliver the goods. Look at some of his remarks during his speech on Monday in relation to iron ore. They have similar application to coal. He said:
In regard to iron ore, … I made the point while in Japan that if cutbacks cannot be avoided, I will be looking to the Japanese steel mills to ensure that at least minimum contract tonnages are accepted. I indicated also that I want to see that the Australian producers are treated no less favourably than suppliers from other countries . . .
Listen to this piece: both in terms of the reduction . . .
It is apparently part of his state of mind- and the make-up of tonnages as conditions improve.
This means that in the rough world of international commodity negotiations Australia has become the soft option. Each time the United States or any other supplier gets too tough or economic conditions are not favourable in Japan the respective overseas governments know that the Australian Government, under a LiberalNational Country Party coalition, can always be relied upon to agree to cutbacks in tonnages and prices. The last example of this was in 1 970 when the Liberal-Country Party Government agreed to cutbacks in iron ore shipments to Japan. Australia gives assurances on supply; apparently the Japanese are allowed now to renege on markets. The Labor Government gave firm assurances on supply, provided assurances on markets were kept. It was expressed as a relationship between a willing seller and a willing buyer.
With respect to coal, the Deputy Prime Minister refused to ally his remarks to those he made about iron ore. Mr Anthony came away from Japan expecting reductions in the tonnages and price of coal- a complete negation of the terms of the famous Inayama Agreement of 1975 that was signed by the Australian Government and Mr Yoshihiro Inayama on behalf of the Japanese steel mills. Under this agreement- the largest trade deal in Australia’s history, involving $7,000m worth of coal exports- Japanese producers were to double their purchases of Australian coking coal within the next 5 years. I quote from the text of the letter from Mr Inayama to Mr R. F. X. Connor, the then Minister for Minerals and Energy. This letter came from the Chairman of Nippon Steel, who negotiates on behalf of all Japanese steel mills. I want these words noted carefully. The letter states:
We have now examined our expected requirements for the years up to 1980. It is our sincere intention then, and continuously, to purchase the maximum quantity of coking coal from Australia on the condition that such coal from Australia is competitive and its quality acceptable to Japanese consumers.
This is the crunch clause:
If, through economic circumstances, there should be any reduction in the manufacture of steel in Japan, we would not reduce our annual purchases committed under the long term contracts of coking coals from Australia.
On the contrary, we would reduce our purchases under spot-sales contracts in order that there should be no reduction in purchases from your country.
Those are the words of the Chairman of Nippon Steel. He went on to say:
We appreciate your confirmation to us that in accordance with these forecasts you will ensure development of production from Australian coal mines sufficient to maintain shipments of this indicative order of magnitude.
I ask: Do those quotations sound like a convenient let-out? Even with this agreement the Deputy Prime Minister has now been forced to settle for less. If we ask ourselves why, we find that the answer is because he fails to understand the rudiments of international negotiation and is prepared to trade off millions of dollars of coal export revenue for the sale of a few hundred tonnes of chilled beef. If I wanted to do so, I could again quote the words of Mr Saburo Tanabe the Managing Director of Nippon Steel, whom I have quoted earlier in this House. Upon the return of the Deputy Prime Minister from Japan, Mr Tanabe stated that he had given no undertakings to the Deputy Prime Minister that there would not be reductions in coal purchases.
The Deputy Prime Minister went on to say that he reassured the Japanese of our intentions as suppliers. Let me again quote Mr Inayama on this point. This quotation comes from the same letter. He said:
We also appreciate your assurances of continuity of supplies and we look upon your country as the principal and reliable source of our requirements.
I emphasise the words ‘principal and reliable source of our requirements’. Does that sound like a note of equivocation? Of course it does not. We spent 3 years labouring the point to Japan and Japan understood and appreciated it. The Inayama Agreement was a vindication of the Labor Government’s policy on price intervention and orderly development- and Japan recognised the legitimacy of this intervention.
In respect of uranium, Mr Anthony said on Monday that there is no place for the Government in uranium development; yet he claimed that there was the question of security involved in Australia’s resources, particularly uranium. In the 1950s the Menzies Government considered uranium to be a strategic resource and controlled all development and sales of it. The Deputy Prime Minister has now rejected this concept, even though during the life of the Labor Government he supported every initiative taken in this area- from the enrichment proposals to the joint venture in the Northern Territory. He now wants private enterprise to take over an industry in which, in every other country in the world, government has a major stake- a stake that is growing. Mr Anthony’s backers among the uranium industry tried to pressure the Labor Government into signing long term contracts in 1973. They failed. Since then other factors have been taken into account, including the environmental considerations presently under scrutiny by Mr Justice Fox.
In 1972, in the last 3 weeks of its term of office, the Liberal-Country Party Government agreed to long term uranium contracts at prices as low as $6.50 per lb. Today, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s own admission, prices for spot sales are as high as $40 per lb. Now that the ploy of selling the reserves while the market was available in 1973 has failed, the new tune is sell it quickly before we are attacked for it- and the Deputy Prime Minister helps to create that spurious climate.
The export controls give the Government all the power required to administer a sensible resources policy. The sensational and extraordinary comments the Deputy Prime Minister made last Monday night are not only inappropriate but also unnecessary inasmuch as the extractive industries have a firm understanding of the issues affecting resources policy. The Deputy Prime Minister’s adoption of the Labor Government’s export controls policy on all minerals recognises the extra influence the national Government is able to assert in respect of resources policy. The previous Liberal Government introduced export controls on an ad hoc basis, namely with a view to preserving what it considered to be Australia’s inadequate reserves of iron ore, uranium, natural gas and mineral sands, because, basically, the controls at that time were a conservation mechanism.
On the other hand, the Labor Government’s policy of extending export controls to all minerals was to ensure not only that they were sensibly developed in the national interest but also that Australia achieved world parity prices on international markets. The spectacular results of this policy were seen in the four-fold increase in the price of coal exports between December 1973 and 1976 and a substantial increase in iron ore prices in January 1 974. Labor’s policy was to match the Government intervention in the consumer countries, particularly the activities of MITI in Japan. It sought to stop once and for all the cut-throat competition between producers for a united Japanese market. The Japanese understood that policy as the Labor Government went out of its way constantly to reassure the Japanese that Australia would always be a willing seller of its resources to Japan and other trading nations as long as we achieved an equitable price and a guarantee of markets.
The Deputy Prime Minister, in his speech to the Mining Industry Council, has now thrown this commercial relationship into total -jeopardy. This man does not understand the significance of what he says. He did not understand the impact of his statements on crude oil pricing during the 1974 election campaign and he does not understand today the potentially far greater significance of his statements in respect of our trading partners ‘ intentions.
The Deputy Prime Minister can hardly be let out alone. I should imagine, nevertheless, that as the Minister for National Resources this episode has been at least a salutory experience for him. Maybe he will start to realise just how important this nation believes its relations with Japan and other countries to be to our future prosperity, and he should not play foolishly with that carefully built up relationship.
– It is of great interest to listen to the Opposition trying to justify its approach to the Australian mining industry and to Japan during the last 3 disastrous years. The Australian mining industry will never forget the attitude and the approach of a Labor Government to it. In a country which is endowed with enormous resources, during the whole 3 years of its regime not one major mining project got under way because of bureaucratic interference and confusing policies. The Opposition talks about Australia- Japan relations; all it did was to produce stresses and strains between the 2 countries.
If there is any threat to Australia’s trading and political relationship with Japan and other nations, it is coming from the Opposition with this irresponsible matter of public importance today. If there is such a threat, it is coming also from the irresponsibility of some sections of the media in the way in which they reported my remarks, firstly, and then in the way they have written editorial comments based not on my words but on their own interpretation of what I said. To suggest, as the Opposition does, that my remarks have serious implications for Australia’s energy reserves is quite ludicrous. I think this is a deplorable attempt by the Opposition to seek political mileage out of a most serious and important matter. To set out deliberately, as the Opposition has, to damage our relations with Japan in this way is of the gravest irresponsibility. No other interpretation can be placed on the Opposition’s actions in raising this matter as it has today.
I think it might be useful if I were to begin by telling the House exactly what I said to the Aus.tralian Mining Industry Council on Monday night. There seems to be a great deal of ignorance on the subject. If people had taken the trouble to look at what I said, this debate might have been conducted in a more sensible way today than it has, and much of the public comment of the last few days might have been better informed. In particular, some of the reporting of my speech by the media, and especially by the Australian newspaper, might have been much more accurate. It is a pity that some newspapers seem to feel it is their job to report not what one says but what they think one means. It is a pity too that some newspapers have been putting words into one’s mouth and then proceeding to write editorials based on their own version of what was said. I note that the Sydney Morning Herald today bases its editorial criticism not on the words that appeared in my speech but on comments that it made yesterday. There is no excuse for the media because the media was given an advance copy of my speech four to five hours before I delivered it.
The first thing that should be pointed out is that my comments on Monday night referred not just to uranium but to all our vast mineral resources. No doubt the media and the Opposition have concentrated their remarks on uranium because to do so makes a better story.
Let me read to the House the words I used on Monday night. They are pertinent and they are sound. They might be lengthy, but I think they need to be recorded. I said:
Another mineral that I referred to particularly in my discussions in Japan, Mr President, was uranium.
I made it clear that the Government wishes to see the early development of the nation’s uranium resources. I also made it clear that any exports will need to be subject to certain specific factors, including international safeguards requirements and environmental factors. Subject to these factors, we envisage that the development of our uranium will be in the hands of private enterprise.
In this latter respect, I stress that the Government’s policy in this area will have regard to the findings of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry.
We wish to see uranium processed to the maximum extent practicable in Australia. The Government would want to see private enterprise participate as fully as is possible in the development of uranium hexafluoride and enrichment industries in Australia.
That does not mean exclusively private enterprise; it can have Government involvement in it. I went on to say:
I would welcome any expression of interest by private enterprise in these activities and I would like to see companies indicate their interest to the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.
Perhaps I should go on to say a little more about uranium.
It is a controversial substance. 1 look at it this way: one of the world’s most urgent needs, and fast becoming more urgent, is energy.
The living standards of many millions of people will increasingly depend on the availability of adequate energy.
The development of nations, and the use of resources to benefit mankind, hinges on the availability of energy.
Energy sources are diminishing. We are fast using up our reserves of petroleum, coal and so on. In uranium, we have a relatively new source of energy of tremendous potential.
Australia possesses almost a quarter of the western world’s known uranium.
This gives us an enormous responsibility. Some people say our responsibility is to leave that uranium in the ground. Others, including me, see our responsibility as being to make that uranium available as a source of the energy the world so much needs, and will need so much more as time passes.
It is estimated that by the year 2000- in about 25 years’ time- half the world’s power will be generated by nuclear stations.
If that does not happen, we need to ask ourselves where that power will come from- or if, indeed, the world will be able to generate the power it needs.
If we do not develop our uranium deposits- and I believe they could be far larger than they appear to be at presentthen I predict that Australia one day will have to face the judgment of a world that cried out for the energy it needed to feed, clothe and house its people, and which we denied it.
There’s another aspect-that of our national security. We possess great mineral riches, including vast deposits of uranium. Whether we like it or not, those resources are going to be coveted by other nations who need them, and whose needs will grow as the years pass.
I believe the best way to ensure that we do not provoke others to try to get access to our resources by force is to make those resources available to them on fair and reasonable terms. These terms need in no way run against our own national interest. To the contrary, it would be in our own interest to adopt the approach I suggest. It would be counter to our interests, in the long run, to fail to make our resources available to the rest of mankind.
I don’t think it is stretching things too far to say that our uranium reserves will give us a position of tremendous influence, even power, in the world economy.
What concerns me most, however, is that we should realise that these reserves also place tremendous responsibilities on us. I think the world will look to us with great expectation to see how we accept and discharge those responsibilities.
I believe those words are worthy of inclusion in Hansard.
I challenge the Opposition and the media to justify their criticism of what I said, their claims that my statement or my attitude was irresponsible. Do they question my statement that Australia has a great responsibility to mankind to develop and make available on fair and reasonable terms the great mineral and energy resources that we have in our care? Do they question my assertion that our possession of almost a quarter, perhaps more, of the world’s known uranium reserves gives us a tremendous responsibility? Do they challenge my belief that if we deny our resources to a world that will desperately need them we will one day have to face the judgment of that world? Do they dispute my claim that the world’s need for energy to maintain its living standards, to feed, to clothe and to house its growing population, will grow very rapidly in coming years? Do they dispute the information given to me that by the end of this century half the world’s power generation will come from nuclear stations? Do they contest my statement that the living standards of many millions of people and the development of nations will depend on the availability of energy in adequate quantity? Finally, do they deny my suggestion that the best way to ensure that we do not provoke other nations into trying to get access to our resources by force is to make those resources available to them on fair and reasonable terms?
One of the things that concerns me most about this matter is the way in which it has been deliberately distorted by the media to harm our relations with Japan. Some newspapers have interpreted my remarks to apply to the underdeveloped have-not countries and they have criticised me on the basis of their own interpretations. Others have interpreted my remarks as applying specifically to Japan and they have even sought comment from Japan on the basis of their interpretation of what I said. I deplore this irresponsible and mischievous behaviour by the media and by the Opposition. Having gone specifically to Japan recently to improve our relations, I do not appreciate people trying to strain those relationships again.
The point that seems to have excited people is my belief that our great natural riches will be coveted by other nations who lack such resources and who are going to need them. This seems to be fairly self evident to me. If history teaches us anything, surely it is that nations which find themselves in need of resources and are denied access to those resources sometimes are forced into having to take strong steps to get access to them. The Opposition, and some newspapers, are asking us to ignore the lessons of history. I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) is asking us to do that? Let me repeat the words he used in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 30 September 1974. If members of the Opposition contest anything in my words, I invite them to listen to the words of their Leader. He said:
In this difficult, complicated, crowded world we all are creating for ourselves the causes of conflict multiply.
Nuclear brinkmanship, ideology, border disputes, race hate, religious bigotry, national ambitions, foreign exploitationall provide actual or potential sources of tension, conflict, bloodshed and war.
Listen to these words:
Yet there remains for the future one of the oldest of all the causes of war- the threat of war for the possession of resources.
The Leader of the Opposition was the man who said that resources cause war. The Leader of the Opposition, who at the time was the Prime Minister of this country, went on to speak, in the resources context, of the fact that the pressures on our world civilisation have increased ‘to the very threshold of the intolerable’. He said this:
For countries which lack resources, the situation has become critical.
The developing countries have been grossly disadvantaged. Last year’s oil crisis brought this sharply home to all of us- developed and developing alike.
The Leader of the Opposition also said this:
We in Australia accept our responsibility to reassure countries which depend upon our resources that they shall have steady, secure access to those resources at fair prices.
We must protect our interests and we shall, but Ausstralia is not in the business of resources blackmail.
That is the way to international disaster- for producers and users alike.
Let us accept the plain fact that war for resources or food or markets by any nation or group of nations would, in modern times, represent the supreme folly.
If we choose not to listen to the voice of humanity against war, we might at least listen to the voice of commonsense and indeed ordinary, rational self-interest.
I would like someone in the Opposition to explain to me and to the House what difference there is between what I said to the Mining Industry Council the other night and what the Leader of the Opposition said to the United Nations in 1974.
-The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) wants to slither away from what he said in Canberra only as recently as last Monday night. He has tried to dilute the impact of what he said then by quoting extensively from his speech- the same technique that he tried at question time yesterday. This matter is not a fabrication of today’s newspapers. Yesterday at question time there were 5 questions on uranium and they came from both sides of the House. The first question was from the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) and it was addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister. The next, from the honourable member for Tangney (Dr Richardson), was addressed to the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The third was from me to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock). Later there were questions from the honourable member for Paterson (Mr 0’Keefe) and the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor). This matter already was a very big issue yesterday afternoon. Yesterday, in answer to the questions addressed to him by the honourable member for Blaxland and the honourable member for Cunningham, the Deputy Prime Minister resorted to quotations from his speech on other issues. He quoted other paragraphs. Today he did me the honour of quoting a speech of mine. I wish everything he quoted had been as rational and eloquent as what he quoted from me when I spoke to the United Nations. The fact is that the Deputy Prime Minister will not face up to the impact of what he said. Let me quote precisely what he said on this matter. It is a prepared speech. It is a deliberate speech. Let me quote the sentences concerned. He said:
There’s another aspect- that of our national security. We possess great mineral riches, including vast deposits of uranium. Whether we like it or not, those resources are going to be coveted by other nations who need them, and whose needs will grow as the years pass.
I believe the best way to ensure that we do not provoke others to try to get access to our resources by force is to make those resources available to them on fair and reasonable terms.
The honourable gentleman asked a great number of rhetorical questions- ‘Do we object to this? Do we object to that?’- and then the last one he slipped in was the particular quotation I have just made. That is the thing to which we object in this discussion of a matter of public importance. It is the thing to which all the newspaper editorials today objected. It is what we objected to by our questions yesterday.
At any other time the insult given to Japan by the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday night might have been excused or ignored as the outburst of a crass and insensitive politician. Coming as it does at a delicate but fundamentally hopeful stage in the relations between our 2 countries, it cannot be excused, or ignored or explained. It was deplorable in its substance and unforgiveable in its timing. Australia and Japan are presently negotiating a treaty of friendship. Two weeks ago the House passed a Bill to establish the Australia-Japan Foundation. Its purpose, according to the Prime Minister, is to ‘strengthen, broaden and deepen the relationship which already exists between Australia and Japan’. The purposes of the treaty and the objectives of the Foundation are noble ones. Both the treaty and the Foundation happen to have been initiatives of my Government, but their objectives are shared, ostensibly at least, by all parties. The Deputy Prime Minister has now gone on record with a gratuitous insult to the Japanese Government and people which undermines the very basis of friendship on which the treaty and the Foundation are built- the whole future of trust and co-operation between our 2 countries.
On a matter of the utmost sensitivity and importance affecting our relationship the Deputy Prime Minister in the Australian Government has accused our most important trading partner of aggressive military intentions towards Australia. That was the plain meaning of his words- force. His statement was distinguished by a stupidity and ignorance which, from any other Minister or member of this House, would be almost beyond belief. It is not just being ‘mischievious’, as he pronounces it; it is grossly irresponsible. It was no off-the-cuff remark. It was no slip of the tongue. It was part of a prepared, and presumably considered, text delivered to the Mining Industry Council. Nor was it made in isolation. It followed hard upon comments of equal irresponsibility by Sir Phillip Baxter, former head of the Atomic Energy Commission, appointed to that post by a LiberalCountry Party government, holding a post under legislation introduced by that Government. That legislation is now the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. The statement by Baxter was made on Sunday night. Is it to be wondered at that with the Deputy Prime Minister speaking the following night people should put one and one together and draw conclusions, because Baxter said that senior Japanese officials had threatened him on this very issue of uranium supplies.
It is not good enough for the Deputy Prime Minister to say now that he was theorising in general terms about Australia’s long-term security. His remarks on Monday night were made in the specific context of trade with Japan. It is less than 2 months since he returned from a visit to that country. Monday’s insult is best judged in the light of the Ministerial statement he made in this House on 25 February. He said:
My main objective was … to ensure that trading relations with our most important trading partner are put on the best possible basis.
He spoke of Japan’s desire for ‘early conclusion of a basic treaty of friendship and co-operation’. My Government worked assiduously to conclude that treaty. One of the earliest decisions I made after taking office in December 1972 was to reverse the attitude of previous Liberal-Country Party governments which had consistently rebuffed the Japanese wish to conclude with Australia, as Japan has concluded with so many other countries, a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation. As late as October 1972 the former Liberal-Country Party Government had persisted in its opposition. Its attitude was reiterated at the first meeting of the AustraliaJapan Ministerial Committee when the Aus.tralian delegation was led by the then and present Deputy Prime Minister. We can now see clearly the lurking intolerance, the latent suspicion and xenophobia that inhibited the treaty under our predecessors. What a basis for a treaty of friendship the Deputy Prime Minister has given us! What a way to prepare for a treaty of friendship- with accusations of aggressive intent by one signatory against the other! We can imagine the reaction if Sheikh Yamani were to declare that unless Saudi Arabia made her oil available to the rest of the world the United States would obtain it by force.
There be no conceivable justification for the Deputy Prime Minister’s outburst. He knows, or should know, of the official assessment by those whose duty it is to advise the Australian Government on these matters. The assessment is that Japan has no intention of increasing her military power. In the view of these officials the recent trend of opinion in Japan has, if anything, been away from rather than towards wider military commitments. They expect Japan to continue to work by diplomatic and economic means to secure access to resources. Japan’s economy now requires so large and diverse an input of raw material imports that, according to the best advice, access to and control by military power of all the resources Japan requires is not possible.
That is a calm and rational assessment which successive Australian governments have received. It is true of course that imperial Japan, denied access to markets and raw materials in the past, resorted to military aggression to secure such markets and raw materials. That is a matter of recent and tragic history, but it has no relevance whatever to contemporary events. Germany and Japan quickly grasped the fact that a nation no longer needs military or political control of another country in order to secure the raw materials it needs. Britain, to her cost, took too long to realise that.
The statement of the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday night was inflammatory propaganda of the crudest kind against Australia’s neighbours. It emanated from a Minister and a Government that have never hesitated to appeal to jingoistic phobias and racist obsessions. Last year this was the very man who did his best to inflame fears and to whip up resentment against the ‘Communist’ Fretilin forces in Timor, as he called them. For years the present Prime Minister and his colleagues stirred the same irrational hatred of China and Vietnam. Too often we have seen the dangers and tragic consequences of inflaming Australians against people of other races, whether they be Chinese, Japanese, Arabs or Indonesians. It is tragic and unbelievable that 30 years after the Second World War, 19 years after the first Japanese trade agreement with Australia, that the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the National Country Party, should be fanning once more the old flames of bitterness and hatred towards a nation that has contributed more to Australia’s post-war growth and prosperity than any other nation. The Opposition condemns his statement. He should apologise promptly and unreservedly to the Government and people of Japan.
-For long I have thought that the country was well rid of the honourable member for Werriwa (Mr E. G. Whitlam) as Prime Minister but never have I thought this more than this afternoon. I believe that the speech he has made was one of the most disgraceful that has ever come from the leader of a party in opposition. If the Leader of the Opposition believes that what he said was true, why did he say it? He must know that if it was true he was compounding any trouble that might have been created. He knows perfectly well that, if he believes what he was saying, he was saying things which are inimical to the interests of Australia as a whole. This is something which no honest and sincere man would have done. We know that the honourable member for Werriwa is a very vain man. He thinks only of his own importance- his own interests. Whether rightly or wrongly, he will pursue those interests even if it means hitting Australia in the face. That man is not fit to lead a Party or even fit to sit in this Parliament. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony) said nothing about Japan. He made some remarks which I shall analyse in a moment, but he did not mention Japan. If it was doing some harm to Australia’s relations with Japan, why does the honourable member for Werriwa bring it into court now? He must know that if he really believes what he is saying, he is hurting Australia. Every second word in his speech was ‘Japan’‘Japan’ ‘Japan’. He was trying to make the trouble that he pretended he was alleviating. This is the action of a man who is an enemy of Australia because he puts his own vanity in front -
– Order! The honourable member for Mackellar will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw that, Sir. The Leader of the Opposition is a man who has behaved like an enemy of Australia because he has put his own vanity in front of the interests of Australia. I have looked at the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister and they do not bear the implications which treacherously the honourable member for Werriwa has tried to put on them.
-Order! The honourable gentleman will withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw the remark, Sir.
-The honourable gentleman will take more care in the words he uses in this debate.
-Yes, Mr Speaker. The honourable member for Werriwa has put on these remarks implications which they do not bear. I want to put this matter in perspective by saying something about Australia’s uranium resources. The enormity of these and the responsibility for them does not seem to have struck home as yet in the country. We are talking primarily about the resources on the Alligator River. They are not by any means our only resources but they are the ones that really are in consideration at the present moment. There are 4 main discoveries in that area. There is Nabarlek, Ranger, Pancontinental and Noranda. Those four are all open cut propositions. They can be developed very quickly indeed. In point of fact, the speed at which they can be developed depends entirely on the treatment plant and not on the mine itself. The mine itself can produce any amount of ore if the treatment plant is there.
Officially these mines have between them something like 350 000 tons of yellow cake. Those who have been onto the held as I have and have seen the thing and have talked to the people on the field know that prospecting even in these 4 mines is quite incomplete, and that in those mines it would be very unlikely if the resources were not double the officially published figures. But if one looks at the field, one knows that it has not been one-tenth prospected. One knows that probably the most valuable ground has not even been looked at by competent geologists as yet. It would be statistically almost incredible if many more mines in that field did not turn up. In other words, Australia’s resources of uranium are to be measured not in hundreds of thousands of tons but in millions of tons from that one field alone. There is no reason to think that that is the only field in Australia. It may be that other fields comparable to the Alligator River field will be found in other parts of the world. One can only say that they have not been found yet. This is a resource which I suppose is probably the most valuable mineral field in the world and is even rivalling South Africa ‘s Rand.
As I have said, the uranium can be produced quickly. The bottleneck is not in the mines; the bottleneck is in the erection of a treatment plant and the processing of the uranium. Let us look at this for a moment in terms of value. The spot price at the present moment is about US$40 a lb-in round figures about US$80,000 a ton. If we are talking about 1 million tons, we are talking about US$80 billion. I ask honourable members to just get their noughts right. We are talking about US$80 billion. Even if we are talking about one-third of that, which is the proved resources at the moment, we are still talking in terms of about US$25 billion. This is something which entirely changes the whole economic picture for Australia. This is greater than our other exports have ever been. In this there is the possibility of raising the standards of living of all the Australian people. This is as important to Australia as oil is to Arabia. It can transform the whole of our Australian economy. This is what we are talking about.
I have no doubt that the Deputy Prime Minister has full knowledge of these things. I have no doubt that he himself realises the extreme gravity of the situation. The world will be hungry for energy. As far as we can see in the future, the energy will come from uranium. At present in the uranium field, Australia is pre-eminent throughout the world. There is nothing like this as yet discovered anywhere in the world. It may well be that at some future time, in some other country, something similar will turn up. All one can say is that it has not happened yet. I can well understand how the Deputy Prime Minister would say. ‘Australia has a responsibility to develop this uranium and to make it available quickly to the world at the time when the world will need it’. As I have said, uranium is not only a great resourcea tremendous resource- but it is a resource which can be developed very quickly indeed. It is only the treatment plant and not the mine which is the bottleneck on production. I believe that the Deputy Prime Minister has done a service by bringing to the attention of the Australian people the importance of this tremendous resource.
Mr E. G. WHITLAM (Werriwa-Leader of the Opposition)- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
-Yes, Mr Speaker. The honourable member for Mackellar has misrepresented me. There is one matter only to which I wish to refer. The honourable member said that Japan was not mentioned in the speech by the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday night. I have quickly looked through the speech and in 8’A pages I notice that Japan was mentioned 28 times and no other country was mentioned.
– No other nation.
– No other nation, country or people.
– Yes, but that did not refer to Japan and you know it. You completely misrepresented the situation which is typical of you.
- Mr Speaker, if I may respond.
– The Leader of the Opposition seeks the indulgence of the Chair to respond to the comments made by the honourable member for Mackellar.
-Thank you Mr Speaker. The introductory sentence to the passage on uranium was this:
Another mineral that I referred to particularly in my discussions in Japan, Mr President, was uranium.
Uranium did arise in the Japanese context as did every other mineral that the right honourable gentleman mentioned in his speech.
- Mr Speaker -
– The honourable member for Mackellar will resume his seat. I call the Deputy Prime Minister to make a personal explanation.
Mr ANTHONY (Richmond-Deputy Prime Minister)- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) based his whole speech today on the question of Australia being threatened by overseas countries and tried to make out that I was referring to Japan when talking about the use of force. That was the basis of his argument. In the context of my remarks about security Japan was never mentioned and was never intended to be mentioned. I was talking about the total global situation and mankind as a whole. The honourable member knows it. But he deliberately tried to misrepresent the position for his own cheap political benefit.
Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar)-Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation on the same point, and I stand by what I said. In this context Japan was not mentioned. Gratuitously the Leader of the Opposition brought it into the debate.
– Order ! The honourable member will not debate the matter.
Mr E. G. WHITLAM (Werriwa-Leader of the Opposition)- Might I say again that Japan is the only nation, country or people, mentioned in the whole of the speech. Japan is mentioned 28 times. There may be others -
-Order! I cannot allow the honourable member to debate the speech. Copies of the speech are available and the words used speak for themselves.
-Japan was the only country mentioned in the context of uranium.
-We heard the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) for the first time snivelling and attacking certain sections -
-Order! That is an unparliamentary expression. It is intended to harm.
– Wingeing, whining-take your pick.
-Both of those words are unparliamentary. If the honourable member wishes to describe the actions of the Deputy
Prime Minister he should find parliamentary words to do so.
– We heard him complaining. He had obviously had 6 cuts from the prefect and there was the prospect of being expelled if he repeated the gaff that he perpetrated last Monday night. What he said to the world at large was: ‘Come and pluck us of our energy resources; come and pluck us of our reserves’. He said: ‘We are frightened and we are incompetent’. The men who have been most condemned and held in contempt throughout history were those who paid danegelds to the Danes 1100 years ago. Today the right honourable gentleman made comments in his speech that are equally contemptible and which will surely go down in history on that basis. He is so far out of touch with economic reality that he does not realise that there is no need to fight further world wars of aggression for economic penetration and for the possession of resources. Two world wars were fought for that purpose- for the possession of colonies and for the possession of resources that were available from them. The work is done now much more subtly and in a more more refined way by multinational corporations. The penetration is now economic, not physical; the aggression is not physical, it is economic. That is where we join issue with the Government in respect of its proposals.
The attitude of the then Opposition was held in contempt by me during the 3 years I held office as Minister for Minerals and Energy. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) struck the keynote in his speech today. I knew the value of uranium. I knew the value of the resources. I was not prepared to allow the multinationals to come in to get the uranium. I was prepared to see that our major trading partner Japan, which takes 56 per cent of our mineral production, got the first chance. The world today is broken up into economic blocs. There is the European Common Market, and Cominform countries under the control of the Soviet Union, an economic bloc made up of North America and South America, the emerging nations in Africa and, beyond those, out on our own and alone, Japan and Australia. These 2 countries are in a position to meet the needs of two-thirds of the world’s people who live around the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
I was right in my forecast. The Labor Government inherited a lousy set of contracts, rushed through in the final days of the former Liberal Government, providing for prices of $6 and $7 per pound for uranium oxide. I said then that the price was unsatisfactory but nevertheless we would honour the contracts when they were due. The minerals are still not due for delivery. I also forecast that by 1980 the market would be matured, and so it is. The figures quoted today by both the honourable member for Mackellar and the Deputy Prime Minister prove that to be the case. We have been told that the price for spot is $40 per pound. It will be more than that in the future. But both of these gentlemen are utterly wrong in respect of one figure. The world reliance on uranium as a power source in the year 2000 will be of the order of between 20 per cent and 25 per cent, and not 50 per cent as they have stated.
Australia is one of the four countries in the world which are wholly independent in terms of energy resources in the aggregate. We are a little short of crude oil but in respect of natural gas, uranium and, above all, coal we have enormous quantities. Thus it is a matter of the will, the wit and the wisdom of all Australians to get together on this matter and not have these resources flogged off, particularly by a National Country Party Minister. The motto of the National Country Party has always been simple in relation to Australia’s resources. It is: If it moves shoot it, if it grows cut it down, if it is in the ground dig it out and flog it. It was an economic affront to these people to find out that the Labor Government was quite capable of doing what those so-called experts in economic policy and management could not do. We introduced economic controls. We introduced controls on exports. We did it properly and our record is in Hansard for all to see. Repeatedly we told the Japanese that they would get first consideration after we had made our proper assessment of our requirements and get it they will and get it they should.
We have heard much about the threat of aggression. In this respect the Deputy Prime Minister is playing right into the hands of the world’s ‘Share the Energy Club’, known as the International Energy Authority, a Kissinger creation which has been set up for the purpose of ensuring that the older industrial countries are able to get more than their fair share of the remaining world’s energy resources. The situation today is an intriguing one. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries is only the tip of the iceberg. The former exploited colonies are now in a position where for the first time they can dictate the terms of trade. Today we are in a new situation where resources are not a function of money, but money is a function of resources. The activities of the multinational companies today are always to get physical possession of the resources of a country, and that is precisely what this Government intends to allow them to do. Later this week, or sometime next week, a statement will be made on the Government’s foreign investment policy.
The policy of the Australian Labor Party is clear. It is to get maximum ownership and control of Australia’s resources of energy and minerals. In the case of uranium our policy is for exactly 100 per cent ownership. As the honourable member for Mackellar said, it is very easy to mine uranium; it is very easy to find it. Despite the aspersions of the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday in answer to questions when he alleged government incompetence in respect of the search for uranium, the Bureau of Mineral Resources was responsible for and was able to identify and to inform intending explorers where they could find uranium or where it had already been found. During my term as Minister I was told repeatedly by foreign representatives that they received information about Australia’s mineral resources, particularly uranium resources, which would have been classified in other countries. This Minister has the uranium lobby breathing down his neck because he cannot give the uranium to them as quickly as they want it. They want to flog it off in toto and not in sequence to get the money in their sweaty little hands as quickly as they can.
– I have heard that expression before.
– Yes, and we happen to own it. What is the Minister going to do about the Atomic Energy Act 1953- which was introduced by his own coalition government and supported by the then Labor Opposition- which vested in the Commonwealth of Australia the sole ownership of uranium in the Northern Territory. What is the Minister going to do with regard to coal? What is he going to do with regard to the letter that was read out by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) relating to a deal with Japan for coal exports? He has no answer to that, and it was the height of impertinence and political indecency, when the Governor-General delivered his Speech in the other chamber, to suggest that the Japanese needed to be reassured on continuity of supply from Australia. There was the answer. There was the proof of the lie that Australia was not prepared to do the right thing by Japan. The Labor Government entered into that deal in the full knowledge that there would be a reduction in the ingot output of steel in Japan. At the same time, we knew that Japan was intensely dissatisfied with its treatment by the United States. We came into the picture and we made the deal. It is up to this Government to carry it out, but I doubt whether this incompetent Minister can do that.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) and I are electoral neighbours. We stare at each other across a creek in Dapto called Mullet Creek, and when I perceive the amount of stinking fish being spread around this chamber by the Opposition I believe that creek is appropriately named. I suggest that when the Opposition attacks the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) it is in fact attacking its own Leader. That proposition was put very clearly by the Deputy Prime Minister when ne quoted at great and apparently embarrassing length to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) his own speech. There has not been one response to his very telling points since the Deputy Prime Minister made that speech. When the Leader of the Opposition asks a question like the one he asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) yesterday or when he condones the kind of statements made here by his supporters, he is condemning himself and disowning his own words and his own views.
What the House and the Australian people need to consider is whether we have the right to deny other nations access on fair and reasonable terms to our resources and, if we did that, would other nations feel that they had the right to seek, by whatever means they might consider appropriate, to try to get that access. Would other nations feel, for example, that they could justifiably apply trade sanctions against us? Were the Japanese bans on our meat 2 years ago the direct result of the lighthearted whimsical brutality of the honourable member for Cunningham in his economic blackmail of Japan on minerals? Would our trading partners overall feel that they could retaliate, as they may well have done in the past, in terms of trade arrangements? Might they even feel that in the extreme they would have to resort to what the Leader of the Opposition spoke of when he lectured the United Nations on the threat of war for the possession of resources, as he put it- one of the oldest of all the causes of war. Why does the Leader of the Opposition talk only of Japan? Japan is only one of the many possible users of our resources, and in particular of uranium. It is remarkable that in the debate so far not one member of the Opposition has discussed who are the potential buyers of our uranium. To whom does the very reasonable comment, particularly in historical terms, of the Deputy Prime Minister apply? The facts are readily available, but of course facts are not the currency of the Opposition.
On present indications, the main customers for Australian uranium are the western European countries. Western Europe will presumably and probably buy 55 per cent of Australia’s uranium production. I remind honourable members opposite, who apparently have neither a sense of history nor a sense of decency, that Germany has been known to become involved in warfare. Germany is to be one of our major customers. Italy also has been known to become involved, fairly unsuccessfully, in warfare. I suggest not that they are once again potential warriors but that history has a lesson for us. Those wars were not lighthearted wars. They were not wars in ancient history; they were modern history wars. In addition, could I suggest that the United States of America is to be a user of roughly 15 per cent of our production. I want to stress that had the Opposition remained in government and had the various Ministers of that Government continued their hysterical anti-American behaviour, who knows but that in a reasonable amount of time we could have been confronting that nation. Who knows what history will bring? We do know what it has brought.
Getting back to the general question of supply, let me remind the House of what the then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Les Johnson, said in October last year in his second reading speech on the Aboriginal Land (Northern Territory) Bill. He said:
International assurances have been provided by Ministers that Australia will meet the uranium requirements of our major trading partners . . .
Does the Opposition now seek to back away from that unequivocal statement by its own former Minister? Does the Opposition now suggest that we should dishonour the undertaking given by the Labor Government? Does the Opposition suggest that we should now deny our obligations to the rest of mankind? The Opposition has no answers to those questions and has not even tried in this debate to provide any. It wanted no more in this debate than to drum up hostility in Japan to our Government, to our nation, to our total national disadvantage. That has been the objective of this debate. The only people who have used the words like ‘bitterness’ and ‘ hatred ‘ are members of the Opposition. Bitterness and hatred is not a new ploy for the Leader of the Opposition to drum up. He tried desperately last November to incite the Australian people to violence by using exactly the same ploy then as he is using now to try to drum up hostility in Japan to our Government. He failed last November. He will fail again.
I want to suggest very strongly that the Deputy Prime Minister’s position about how we must develop our resources and make them available at reasonable prices to give reasonable access to potential users also has a very strong economic motive. That point has been made well and truly in a report on uranium by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in which it was pointed out that there is a growing shortage and that, in effect, the consequences of that shortage have been to prompt, to encourage, to hasten the development of fast breeder reactors in order to conserve uranium. Such reactors do not use as much uranium. I submit that the whole consequence of our determined and deliberate delay over the past 3 years, our deception, I believe, of the world market, has prompted the rush of technology into saving uranium so that in effect we will not have as good a market in coming years as we would have had had the Australian Government been a government which potential users of uranium regarded as honourable. It was not regarded as honourable. It forced the effective dishonouring of contracts for purchases of uranium. It put a question mark over the whole future of the Australian uranium industry.
It is ludicrous for the honourable member for Cunningham to say what a genius he was in preventing the development of mines in Australia because he saved them from getting a lousy price- I think that was his expression- of $6 a ton. What are the economic consequences of having failed to develop those mines? We will now have a lesser period of time to take advantage of the specific period during which our yellow-cake will have a premium price, and that is not an unlimited time. We must rush to develop this resource which, as the honourable member for Mackellar has pointed out, will have such a magnificent impact on our ultimate wealth. The nonsense expressed in the Australian newspaper leader this morning, for example, that we have no impact on world prices should be totally disregarded. We will have a major impact on world prices because we will be providing a very large proportion of the uncommitted uranium around the world. To talk this nonsense, as the Australian does, about our not being important because we provide only 15 per cent of the world’s resources displays a total misunderstanding of the reality of uranium. To say that is to fall into the same sort of error as I believe this newspaper has fallen into in its total and deliberate misinterpretation of what the
Deputy Prime Minister has said. I believe the future for uranium is now at last in safe hands in Australia. It is in the hands of a man who understands market realities, a man who will not bludgeon consumers.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
Debate resumed from 30 March, on the following paper presented by Mr Street:
Unemployment Benefit and the Work Test-Ministerial Statement, 23 March 1976 - and on motion by Mr Sinclair:
That the House take note of the paper.
– Opposition supporters have been very confused in this debate. The reason why they are confused is that they know that the Government’s policy is right. They want to raise dissatisfaction. They want to raise trouble. They want to cause unemployment- that is their ploy- but they know that the policy laid down by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) is the right policy and it is for that reason that I now propose to move an amendment. I move:
That amendment will be seconded in due course. I want to say that I and other honourable members on this side of the House do share a sympathy for the unemployed and we do know that most of them are out of work not through their own fault but by reason of the economic disaster which came to Australia because of the clumsiness and the misbehaviour of the Whitlam Government. It was under the Whitlam Government that the tide of unemployment ran in. It is still far too high, but we will get it down.
– In the sweet by and by.
– The honourable member says it will be in the sweet by and by. I noted a kind of gloating satisfaction in his voice of which he should be ashamed.
– Nothing gloating about it.
– All the honourable member wants to do is to make political capital out of the unemployed. He wants to use them as election fodder. That is what he is at. I ask the House to take note of the gloating satisfaction in his voice. This is not the approach of honourable members on this side of the House. I believe, as I have said, that most of the people whom we refer to as unemployed and who are on unemployment benefit are genuine. There are some who are not and I would agree that they are only a small fraction of the total, but it could be a growing fraction unless measures are taken to prevent a deterioration in the position. I believe the Government is entirely right to take these measures now. Indeed, even our predecessors thought that some measures should be taken. They did tighten up what they called the work test and in August last they got a report from their officers advocating the reforms which this Government brought in in January this year. I can well understand that the outgoing Government did not have time to consider the matter because its supporters were at that time in disarray and in confusion and in the political turmoil that led to the election.
I have said that most unemployment benefit holders are genuine and I have said that some are not. Let me deal with the local position in my own electorate. I do this not because it is my electorate but because it is something that I know about personally and which may throw light on what is happening in other parts of Australia. There is at Dee Why in the middle of my electorate a Department of Social Security office which deals with claims by people throughout most of the Manly- Warringah peninsula. During normal times at this season of the year- I have statistics going back for some years- there would be perhaps 70 people at Dee Why on unemployment benefit. The number would vary a little. Sometimes it would be down to sixty. Sometimes it might be up to ninety, but it is within that range. Under Labor the figure rose from the normal 70 to over 2000 and it is still up round the 2000 level although it is slightly down. This is the measure of what can happen. This is a far worse general position than occurs in the average electorate in Australia.
I have been looking at the reasons for this. I think there are 2 reasons. The first is that unemployment has fallen particularly on the white collar section of the workers, and they are in my electorate. Secondly, and this is the thing which I note with some regret, my electorate is a pleasant and seaside surfing electorate and there have been congregating in it not too many but some people who have come there in order to become professional unemployed. I have had a look at the general run of what is happening. No statistics are available, but it would appear that there is an inordinate number of young people, and particularly young single men, among the recipients of unemployment benefit in my area. This is something which I think should distress every member of this House because I do not believe that this is a phenomenon which is peculiar to the electorate of Mackellar.
I think the House had better consider particularly the position of young people who leave school and cannot find a job and go unhappily and very often through no fault of their own into the ranks of the unemployed. Sure this is an economic waste. Sure we lose the value of their production. But this is not the main thing. The main thing is the impact on the morale of people in that age group and in those circumstances.
People at this point in their lives, when they are leaving school and joining the work force, are in a most sensitive position. What they learn then will colour their attitudes for the rest of their lives. The morale of these people is particularly important. Therefore it is especially important that there be no opportunity for or temptation to them to go on unemployment benefit, stay on it and deliberately evade the opportunities of gaining work. I am not saying that most of them are like this. I know that most of them are not like this. But I know that some are like this. If these professional work evaders are left uncontacted and uninvestigated and are able to get away with it, their example will be infectious. To destroy the morale of the young is a very serious thing.
I do not know whether honourable members read the comic strips. Some of them may. Those who do will know the whimsical character Andy Capp who has been a professional work evader since boyhood. He is in the comic strips. He is amusing. Honourable members may not realise that in England he has become a real character. Too many people are like him. We do not want these characters, however amusing they may be, to emerge as part of the Australian scene. Therefore I say that it is to the advantage of the genuinely unemployed, who represent the vast majority of those getting unemployment benefit, to cut back quickly on those who are making a profession of being unemployed. To tighten the work test, as the Government is doing now, is to the benefit of those who are genuinely unemployed. I think they will be glad we are getting rid of those people, the small minority, who are abusing the system.
For my part, I want to think that this change in the work test is an essential preliminary to the
Government’s new drive to reduce the ranks of the unemployed and to give more people genuine work opportunities. Unless there is a work test of this character, schemes for increasing employment are likely to fail. It is quite right to say that at present the recorded vacancies are miserably insufficient to meet the needs of those who are genuinely unemployed. I know also- I know it from my electorate- that some relatively unskilled categories have vacancies which have not been filled and which cannot be filled. I believe that in the transport system there are vacancies which have not been filled. I think this is a reproach. I am hoping that the tightening of the work test will enable some of those vacancies to be filled.
I find myself not entirely in sympathy with everything the Government is doing. I believe we must find more work for those who are willing to work and who are anxious to take work. The work test, as it is being applied by the Government under the new regulations, is, to my way of thinking, good, right and overdue. There is only one snag. To apply the work test properly there must be more work. To get more work is our great objective. The tightening of the work test is, I hope, a preliminary to a policy of getting more work. If so, the work test will once again become meaningful because it will be able to be applied under circumstances in which work is available. Regrettably they are not the circumstances today. I hope it will not be long before they are. The present move by the Government seems to me to be ultimately to the great advantage of the genuine recipients of unemployment benefit who seem to me to be the vast majority of recipients of unemployment benefit.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak later.
-I am very interested to know that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) recognises at least 2 facts. The first is that the overall majority of people who are subject to and affected by the Government’s policy on dole bludgeoning are people who would work if they could work. They do not wish to impose themselves on society. The second is a tacit recognition that the situation which confronts us in terms of unemployment is not solely the previous Government’s responsibility. It took a long time to recognise that fact. One thing which this Government has established repeatedly is that it is a government intent on attacking the little people, the groups in our community least able to defend themselves- the pensioners, the migrants, the children in need of day care, those who need retraining opportunities and the like. Now it is attacking the unemployed. It is not a pleasant thing to be out of work. For the overwhelming majority of the unemployed it is a great strain. To be unemployed represents a threat to the individual’s sense of his or her worth; a threat to his or her self image; a threat to his or her sense of pride and self respect. It is even more of a strain when the individual concerned is the head of the family. The family has previously looked to this individual as the breadwinner, the head of the household.
My electorate of Melbourne has one of the highest proportions of unemployed in Australia. Through my office I come in contact with many of these people. I know their genuine distress at being out of work, the very real attempts they have made to find employment and the desperate attempts they make to keep alive their sense of pride and self reliance. But what has been the response of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and the Government to their plight? He and his Government are bent on increasing the humiliation that these people are already experiencing. He has introduced a series of administrative regulations that treat these people as criminalsnot as people who need compassion, not as people who require a better mode of attention than they will receive in the light of the introduction of the new provisions under which they will be entitled to receive the unemployment benefit and not as people who need a helping hand. People who are not criminals are being treated as cheats and bludgers. That they are cheats and bludgers seems to be the cry from supporters of the the Government at the drop of the hat. This is a return to the philosophy of the work houses of the nineteenth century- the philosophy that it is not only a misfortune but also a crime to be poor, that any assistance should be made as distasteful as possible and that at every opportunity those requiring assistance should be humiliated.
As I said before, there are great concentrations of unemployed in and around the Melbourne area. Many of the first people to be laid off work are the unskilled workers. Many of them live in our ethnic communities. We now have the situation where everyone registered for the unemployment benefit is to be forced to take unskilled work if it is offered to them. In other words, skilled professionals will be competing for unskilled positions- the very positions that are in the greatest demand, which means that it will be even more difficult for the unskilled worker to get back into the work force. Let us not forget that at the same time the Minister is making it increasingly difficult, through his cutbacks in the National Employment and Training Scheme, for people to be retrained.
The Minister is seeking to drive people away from the Commonwealth Employment Service offices. Once they stop going there, once their benefits are cut off, he will be able to claim that the number of unemployed has decreased. He will not mention that in the process the number of homeless people has increased. He will not have to do so because they are one segment of the community that no one bothers to count. But that will be the effect of these new restrictions. People will be forced that one step further down the ladder into the skid row population. Many thousands of people exist under those circumstances in and around the electorate of Melbourne. Living in my electorate is a large number of what might be called marginal men- men who are only a step away from becoming the homeless men in our society. Quite a large percentage of those men are alcoholics. Many of them could go on to the invalid pension if they wished to do so and spare themselves the worry of having their unemployment benefit terminated, but they do not want to take that course of action. That is the easy way out. They still live in the hope that they can get back into the work force and that they are not going to be dependent upon handouts for the rest of their lives.
These men are already being harassed repeatedly by petty restrictions. Hardly a week seems to go by without one of these men approaching my office seeking assistance. In most cases they have had their benefits terminated on a technicality. In most cases they have lodged an appeal against the termination and in most cases they will win their appeals. I would like the Minister to explain to the House and to those people just how they are supposed to live during the time that they are waiting for their appeals to be heard. One of the immediate effects of these new restrictions will be a great increase in the number of cases in which benefits are terminated on a technicality. It is inevitable that the time it takes to hear an appeal will be greatly increased. It will probably double since the Public Service staff ceilings will not allow the appeal tribunal to increase its numbers, nor sit at times when it is necessary to sit to overcome the waiting list that will be increased by the actions of the Government.
Let us look at the figure for Victoria since the setting up of the appeals tribunal, which was another of the initiatives of the Labor Government to help people and which is another likely candidate for the axe given this Government’s very sorry record since it has been in office. From 10 February 1975 to 29 February 1976, 5349 appeals were lodged against the termination of social security benefits. The overwhelming majority of those concerned the unemployment benefit. Of those appeals 1317 were not upheld. Less than 25 per cent of the appeals lodged were not upheld. On the other hand, 323 1 appealsover 60 per cent of the appeals lodged- were upheld either by the tribunal or as a result of a change of heart by the Department. In other words, 60 per cent of the people taken off the unemployment benefit were unjustly . penalised. The mistake lay not with them but with the Department.
Let us look at another disturbing statistic. For the 3 months ending September 1975 the average time taken to process an appeal was 47.9 days. For the 3 months ending December 1975 the average time taken was 56 days. Not only is the number of appeals increasing but also the time it takes to hear an appeal is getting longer. Just how are these people supposed to support themselves while they are waiting for an appeal to be heard? Graeme Brewer’s study, Workers Without Jobs, which was published in Melbourne in October 1 975, and which is based on a sample of the people registered with the CES, found that 80 per cent of the sample aged 2 1 years or over had less than $400 in savings when they became unemployed and that 40 per cent had no savings at all. One of the inevitable effects of the imposition of these quite arbitrary and quite unjustified regulations is that the present situation will worsen. We are not in fact attending to the people who are screaming out for attention because of their plight. The number of people whose benefit payments are going to be terminated is going to increase greatly. I think that inevitably the number of appeals will increase. The time it will take in the future for an appeal to be heard must lengthen. It has already an average of 2 months. Will it be 4 months or 6 months?
Just how are these people to survive? The answer is that many of them will not survive. For many of them it will be the final straw, the final push, the end of their battle for self-respect. They will become part of the invisible, part of the people we love to forget- the forgotten people, the world of the homeless. I ask the Minister to make one small concession. I ask him to recognise that the new regulations he has introduced will greatly increase the number of people being taken off the unemployment benefit for technical reasons and therefore the number of people who will appeal against the decision to terminate the payment of the benefit to them. I ask him to consider paying the benefit to those people in the normal way while they are awaiting the outcome of their appeal. If there is money to recover, that can be done. The honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) may smile and laugh. He should consider the people who are unemployed. He might find himself in the same situation one of these days. I believe that only genuine cases would take advantage of this concession and that only people who knew that their benefit had been unjustly terminated would risk having to pay back the money. I call on the Minister and the Government to recognise the fact that people with limited or no resources cannot exist for 6, 8 or 12 weeks without some form of assistance.
Let us examine what this debate is really all about. It is about a myth- a figment of the Government’s and the media’s imagination. It is about the myth of the ‘dole bludger’- that wondrous beast who we are led to believe spends his time relaxing on the sands at Surfers Paradise sipping cocktails and tripping the light fantastic, and all on $36 a week. What a load of nonsense! . None of the studies that has been carried out by either the Department or independent sources, like the one to which I referred earlier, suggests that there is one iota of evidence to support the ‘dole bludger’ fantasy. In a Press statement last week the Minister stated that there is no evidence that cheating is widespread and that between May 1975 and January 1976 some. 1 12 0.00 beneficiaries were selected for visits- by the field officers of the Department of Social Security and that as a result of those visits 30 per cent of the cases had their benefits terminated. Are” those the ‘dole bludgers’ that the Minister is so concerned about? No. The statement goes on to make it quite clear that there is no suggestion of deception in every case and that in cases where there is ‘ blatant misrepresentation prosecution is considered and in most cases appropriate action is taken. As a result, in the last 10 months of 1975 there were 97 convictions throughout Australia for fraudulent dole claims. In the first 2 months of this year there were 6 convictions. In other words, a total of 103 out of the 38 000 who had their benefits terminated were convicted.
– Why were they terminated?
– Does the honourable member want to try to find out? If he did so he would know more about it. In even clearer perspective, 103 persons out of 112 000 people investigated might conceivably be described as ‘dole bludgers’. They prepresent 0.09 per cent of the total number investigated.
Will the Minister try to inform the House in some logical way just how much his new regulations will cost the Australian taxpayer to enforce, what it is going to cost to track down and convict this tiny percentage of rogues? Will he attempt to reconcile the increase in humiliation and suffering for the thousands of genuine cases of people who, through no fault of their own, find it impossible to find employment, with that figure of 0.09 per cent of convictions? Of course not. The whole exercise has nothing to do with the reality of unemployment in this country. It is an imagemaking exercise. It is an attempt to find a scapegoat. The new Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is bent on creating for himself an image as a strong, tough and ruthless leader. To satisfy that image-making process he has invented a problem that does not exist and, having created the illusion of a problem, he is now creating the illusion of having solved it. He is like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills in an effort to satisfy his ego. If in the process thousands of genuine people are hurt, who cares? Certainly this Government does not care.
If time had permitted me, I would have liked to* attempt to lift this debate from the phoney newspaper garbled level at which it currently stands. We of the Labor Party believe proudly that if a principle is involved- we do believe in a principle of democratic socialism- there are other areas that we have to consider in order to keep people employed and not have a band of unemployed who are treated in this way when their state of unemployment is no fault of their own. It is a great tragedy that our Government, a government with a sense of vision of a better, more meaningful society, has been replaced by one that can see no further than the profit percentages and share dividends, that sees its role as a, maximisation of profit for the few wealthy shareholders and not the satisfaction of the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the vast mass of ordinary Australians.
-I rise to support the timely statement made by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) on the question of the unemployment benefit and the work test. I go even further: I congratulate him. I congratulate him because he has had the courage to take the necessary steps to correct the abuses involved with the payment of the unemployment benefit which, to some extent, was a legacy of the Whitlam Labor Administration. I say ‘to some extent’ because it is important to remember that a previous Minister for Labor, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron), did attempt to rationalise the scheme for providing unemployment benefits. As early as 1973 he agreed to vary the instructions to the Commonwealth Employment Service concerning the work test. The changes placed greater emphasis on whether there was a job available for a person in his or her usual occupation or in an equivalent occupation. In April 1974 the honourable member for Hindmarsh accepted recommendations from the working party he had initiated on the subject of the work test. The work test rules were changed. Furthermore, guidelines were provided for the assistance of the Commonwealth Employment Service staff in administering the rules. I shall read the guidelines because I believe they should be included in Hansard. In brief, the guidelines were these:
Applicants will be considered not to have satisfied the Work Test if by their own actions they indicate they are not genuinely seeking employment, for example:
they deliberately choose to make themselves unavailable for work by moving to a location where no such work is available;
they deliberately make themselves unacceptable to employers;
they seek only occupations for which they are not qualified or which are extremely rare and in which vacancies would rarely, if ever, be available in their area of residence.
In May 197S the then Minister, the honourable member for Hindmarsh, amended the guidelines again. After dealing with new terms in relation to married people he had these guidelines issued in relation to travel. Again I shall read them for the purpose of getting them into Hansard:
In determining what is excessive in relation to travelling time and to travelling costs respectively the following will apply:
providing public transport is available or the applicant has his own transport, one and one-half hours travelling each way should not be excessive; and
the cost of weekly return fares should not be in excess of 5 per cent of the basic salary offering for the position in question.
– Who said that?
– That was the honourable member for Hindmarsh. Immediately after that action was taken by the honourable member for Hindmarsh, he asked for the reconvening of the interdepartmental working party to examine further the operation of the work test and related guidelines. The report was presented in August 1975 but no decisions were taken before 11 November. The point about all this is that the present Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations is not acting unilaterally; he is merely continuing the efforts made by the previous Ministers to rationalise, update and refine the unemployment benefit scheme. In January 1976 the present Minister and the Government took early action aimed at eliminating abuses which, in the words of the Minister, had become all too common. The incredible response to these initiatives by some members of the Opposition and by certain sections of the media is almost impossible to comprehend. Before the Government took its action almost every responsible Australian called for action to eliminate the bludgers.
Let me define the term ‘bludger’. By ‘bludger’ I mean, and I am sure we all mean, a person who can work, who refuses to work, but who accepts the unemployment benefit. That that type of person exists only in a minority in the community is accepted. However, what all right thinking people felt was that the system was condoning the existence of the bludger. The unemployment benefit or the dole was fast becoming an alternative life style, particularly as far as some of our young people were concerned. For example, I am sure I do not have to remind honourable members that in many schools children completing their final year of study were being given an application form for the unemployment benefit. I might add that, after surviving many years on pocket money, which in most families did not amount to much, the unemployment benefit was an extremely attractive and generous gift. It was no more than a gift. I am cynical enough to believe that it was intended by some to serve a more sinister purpose. There can be no doubt that real damage was being done to the moral fibre of our youth by the payment of this money. They were getting something for nothing. They were getting a generous handout. I even heard the unemployment benefit referred to by some young people as pay. It was considered to be no more than a reward for being alive.
I do not have anything to say about the people who are capable of working and who show no desire to work. That is an individual decision and it is an individual responsibility. But what I am certain about is that the great majority of Australians will agree with me when I say that those people should get no assistance from the community; they should get no share of the taxpayers’ money. As a member of this House I will support any initiative taken by the Minister to prevent them from getting a handout of any kind whatsover. Any system which allows such a thing to happen is a bad system. Furthermore, any system which allows, condones or actively supports a philosophy which can turn even a few of our youth into bludgers must be changed or abolished.
As I said previously, the reaction of some members of the Opposition and of certain sections of the media to the action of the Minister to clean up this whole sordid mess is difficult to comprehend. I would mention one media criticism which appeared in the 29 March to 3 April 1976 issue of the National Times under the title: ‘Dole Brutality: the unacceptable face of big government’. I might ask the question: ‘Unacceptable to whom?’ The majority of Australians are quite clearly on the side of the Government. It was an election strategy which was quite clearly stated at the time and which was acceptable to the electorate. As I have explained, it has been a continuing process. The present Minister has seen fit to take action which should have been taken a long time ago. There has been no brutality, there has been no witch hunt, there has been no desire to cause hardship, there has been only a determination to abolish the abuses of a government scheme by a few; a scheme in which the taxpayers ‘ money is involved.
Let me inform all honourable members and the media that the first and foremost responsibility of all members of this House, including members of the Opposition and particularly members of the Government, is to see that the taxpayer’s dollar is spent wisely. Too much of the argument used by members of the Opposition has been based on the development of the emotional points raised by the author of the article to which I referred. Not one member of the Government, and certainly not the Minister, has inferred that those who are getting the unemployment benefit and who are genuinely unemployed are dole cheats or bludgers. In fact I find the word ‘dole’ offensive, as would most honourable members. The word ‘dole’ is one used by the media and by some members of the Opposition.
– I find the word ‘bludger’ offensive.
– Particularly if you are one. I take this opportunity to praise publicly the work done by members of the Department of Social Security. Those who currently operate the offices in the Riverina electorate have borne the brunt of the administrative workload of the unemployment benefit scheme. They have done this job in excellent fashion. In my two years here I have not received one complaint against the officers of this Department. That is an excellent record which should not be let pass without some public recognition. We hear too much of those few public servants who provide unsatisfactory service to the public. I congratulate these departmental officers on a job well done.
Many people in my electorate, particularly shire and municipal councillors, have expressed the opinion that it would be desirable to make unemployment benefit payments only after some agreed period of work is performed. I am aware that our ratification of an International Labour Organisation convention resolution prevents us from pursuing that proposition at this time. However I believe that in the national interest we should review that resolution. If it is not working in the best interests of the Australian people surely we have the right, indeed the responsibility, to look at it and to change it if necessary. If we can offer employment at current award rates and if the work needs to be done and is for the benefit of the total community why can we not offer this work to our unemployed? Our municipal and shire councils have many jobs to offer, none of which could be described as jobs involving forced labour.
The thing that really struck me as rather strange about this debate was the complete absence of any comment on the dignity of labour by members of the Opposition. The honourable member for Hindmarsh agreed that there was such a thing in answer to an interjection I made. I sincerely ask why we differentiate between jobs to the point that we include in the new guidelines a clause which says:
As to the definition of ‘suitable work’, the Government has taken the view that while a skilled person should not be expected to accept an unskilled job for a reasonable period, this period should not be indefinite as it can be now.
Why should we have this clause? I see no difference in the quality of jobs. I believe that if you are working honestly, if you are required to do a job which provides a benefit for the community as a whole, and if you do it to the best of your ability, you have every reason to feel proud of your contribution and should do so. That is called dignity of labour. I repeat that the attitude of Opposition members to this clause is rather strange considering that it is their Party, thenphilosophy and their mandate which best represent the interests of the working man or, as the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) said, the little people. I believe that the Opposition should have made an issue of this point. In fact it argued to the contrary. I disagree completely with the honourable member for Hindmarsh who asserted that ‘there is more dignity in labour when one gets more money for it’. That attitude, or that assertion, died soon after the industrial revolution. Unfortunately time prevents me from pursuing this point.
I agree with the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) when he says that most Australians want to work. If we can give unemployed people a worthy job we will remove the unfortunate stigma of those accepting money from the taxpayer for doing nothing. As a community we still firmly support and encourage what is called the work ethic, despite some of the attacks mounted upon it by certain sections of our intelligentsia, sections probably more accurately described as our psuedo intelligentsia. In conclusion, I believe that the words of St Paul are just as true today as they were 2000 years ago: In Australia they simply mean that if you do not work and you can work you do not get fed. I support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth).
-The original question was: ‘That the House take note of the paper’ to which the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) moved an amendment that certain words be added to the motion. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be added be so added. Those of that opinion say aye, to the contrary no.
– Rather than call for a division, will you note the Opposition noes on the voices?
– Yes. I think the ayes have it. The question now is that the motion, as amended, be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye, to the contrary no.
– No. I take it that our opposition will go on the record.
– I think the ayes have it.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Before I call the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) there is one comment I want to make. There are some honourable members who, because of some personal thought about it with which I completely disagree although I understand it, do not acknowledge the Chair, when moving across the Chamber. Perhaps those honourable members are entitled to that point of view. However I believe there is one practice that even those honourable members should not adopt but which is becoming prevalent in this House. I refer to the practice of honourable members passing between the honourable member who is speaking and the Chair. I hope that honourable members will give more attention to the standing order concerned.
– by leave- In this statement I announce to the Parliament the Government’s proposals for the implementation of its election promise to introduce a restructured home savings grant scheme. I also announce, on behalf of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch), complementary changes in the home loan interest tax deduction scheme.
A Liberal-Country Party Government introduced the present home savings grant scheme in 1964 to help young married couples of Australia acquire their first home. In the same year, it brought forward legislation to establish the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation to encourage lenders to make housing loans on a higher proportion of the value of the home. Both schemes have been tremendously successful. By 30 June 1975, more than 350 000 young couples had obtained a home savings grant. The total amount of grants paid to that time was $167m. To 30 June 1975, the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation had insured 176 000 housing loans. These twin initiatives of a Liberal-National Country Party Government have been of great assistance to the people of Australia in helping them obtain their own homes. They are initiatives of which this Government is proud.
The Labor Party legislated to abolish the home savings grant scheme completely and after 3 1 December 1976, persons building or purchasing homes would not be eligible for a grant. We shall legislate for the reintroduction of the home savings grant scheme, enlarged to provide benefits to a greater range of people than ever before and incorporating other improvements which experience has warranted. This fact gives the Government great satisfaction. Not only will this announcement fully implement an election commitment, it will also provide clear evidence of our determination to ensure that every Australian shall have a meaningful opportunity, if he or she chooses to avail himself of it, to own his own home.
The new home savings grant scheme continues the basic approach of the earlier scheme but differs in many ways in its details. The basic principle of providing an incentive to save is retained- on the basis of a grant of $ 1 for every $3 saved in an acceptable form. Not only do we wish to assist people by way of a home savings grant to acquire their own homes; we also wish to encourage them to help themselves by providing institutions which are the chief sources of private housing finance with the increment of encouraged savings. The reintroduction of the home savings grant scheme at this time will give an incentive to save, and the Government hopes, it will give some renewed confidence to the private housing sector.
Experience has demonstrated that the present scheme has some features which meant that deserving sections of the community did not benefit in the way that other sections of the community benefited. For example, one had to be resident in Australia for at least 3 years; to be married, or to be widowed or divorced with dependent children; to be under the age of 36; and so on. The new scheme removes those discriminations, and other disqualifying features. It incorporates major improvements and provides more generous benefits. We intend that some of these improvements will be applied to the present scheme with immediate effect.
In his election Policy Speech the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said: … we shall introduce a new and improved home savings grant to assist first-home buyers to bridge the deposit gap. The new scheme will be available to people of any age, single persons, rural home buyers, and new settlers.
Savings from 1 January 1976 will be eligible. The grant will be $ 1 for $3 savings with the grant being a maximum of $2,000 for savings made over 3 years.
In accordance with the Prime Minister’s promise, the maximum grant will be increased from $750 to $2,000, on the basis of $1 for each $3 saved. To qualify for the maximum grant, applicants must have held savings in an acceptable form for at least 3 years immediately preceding the date of home acquisition.
Savings from 1 January 1976 to be Eligible
We will fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise. The details of our new home savings scheme were not able to be announced at an earlier date, but we intend that our election commitments shall be honoured. Provided savings are held in the requisite form at 31 May 1976 they shall be deemed to have been held from 1 January 1976 in an acceptable form for the purposes of qualifying for a grant. The election undertaking is not only being honoured, but people who have savings accumulated and placed in the appropriate forms by 3 1 May will also benefit.
As a result of the Government’s decision that these savings held in acceptable forms on 31 May 1976 will be deemed to have been held on 1 January 1976, grants of up to $2,000 on the basis of 3 years savings will become payable in respect of homes acquired on or after 1 January 1979.
I take this opportunity to urge everyone saving for a first home to ensure that their savings are held in one or more of the acceptable forms by 3 1 May next if they wish to enjoy the benefits which the scheme provides.
Grants for Savings over One or Two Years
A distinctive feature of the new scheme will be that grants will be available where the applicants have not saved in the acceptable forms for the full 3 years necessary for the maximum grant of $2,000. It arises from our undertaking to introduce a new and improved home savings grant. Grants of $1,333 on the basis of $1 for each $3 saved over a period of not less than 2 years preceding the date of home acquisition, will be payable for acceptable savings of $4,000. Grants on this basis will be paid in respect of homes acquired on or after 1 January 1978. Moreover, grants of up to $667 on the basis of $ 1 for each $3 saved over a period of not less than one year preceding the date of home acquisition will be payable for acceptable savings of $2,000 and grants will be paid on this basis in respect of homes acquired on or after 1 January 1977.
Acceptable forms of saving
I wish to make it clear that all the forms of saving which are acceptable for the purpose of the present scheme will be acceptable for the new scheme. I emphasise this because there appear to be some misconceptions. Some people are under the impression that it is necessary to save in an account styled a home savings account. This is not correct. The following forms of saving are acceptable: Savings bank accounts; fixed deposits with trading banks (but not cheque accounts); shares in or deposits with registered building or co-operative housing societies; and payments on land on which the home is to be built deposits paid on the acquisition of the home, or payments for the construction of the home.
Under the present scheme, deposits with credit unions are acceptable savings only if held with certain credit unions which have been approved for this purpose under the Homes Savings Grants Act. The Government has decided that deposits with all credit unions will be regarded as acceptable savings in respect of both the new scheme and the existing scheme. Savings with credit unions which are not approved under the existing scheme will count towards a grant only in respect of homes acquired after today.
It may assist if I explain in detail how the amount of the grant for the new scheme will be calculated. Under the present scheme, the grant is payable on a $1 for $3 basis in respect of savings held in an acceptable form at a date exactly 3 years before the date of home acquisition plus the net increases in savings held in each of those 3 years and less any net decreases in any of those 3 years. To require people to save regularly in the acceptable forms, there is a maximum allowable increase in savings in any year of $900. If applicants save more than $900 in one year, the excess is applied to offset any decrease in a subsequent year’s savings.
This basic method of calculating grants will be retained in the new scheme. However, the maximum permitted savings in each period which will qualify for a grant will be increased from $900 per year to an amount of $ 1 ,200 in each period of 6 months. This increase is appropriate because of the larger grant of $2,000 which is now payable. By reducing the savings periods to 6 months, the Government considers that the principle of regular savings will be further encouraged. Consequently, under the new scheme applicants will be required to provide certificates of savings which show their savings held in acceptable forms at 6-monthly intervals, ending on the date of home acquisition.
Where the applicants have held savings in an approved form on a date 3 years before the date of home acquisition then, providing that the initial date is not before 1 January 1976, the savings accepted for grant purposes will be the savings as at that initial date, plus the increase in each of the subsequent 6-month periods, up to a maximum of $1,200 in any one period. Where the applicants have not held savings in an acceptable form on a date 3 years before home acquisition, they may be able to demonstrate acceptable savings on a date be before, providing that initial date is not before 1 January 1976. In this case, a grant of up to $1,333 will be paid on the basis of acceptable savings held at the initial date plus the increase in savings in each of the 4 subsequent 6-month periods. Where the applicants can demonstrate savings in an acceptable form on a date only one year before their prescribed date, provided that initial date is not before 1 January 1976, the grant will be paid on the basis of savings held at that initial date, plus the increase in savings in each of the two 6-month periods before the prescribed date. In this case, the maximum grant payable would be $667.
Let me give an example. Applicants who sign a contract to buy a house on 1 February next year will be able to produce certificates of savings as at 3 1 May and 1 August this year and as at 1 February next year. Their savings as at 3 1 May 1976 will be deemed to have been held as at 1 February 1976. The grant will be paid on the basis of their savings as at 31 May, plus the sum of the increases in their savings in the periods 3 1 May to 1 August 1976, and 1 August to 1 February 1977, to a maximum of $ 1,200 in each of those periods. A grant of up to $667 on the basis of $ 1 for each $3 saved will be paid on the total of their qualifying savings calculated in this way.
During 1977, the maximum grant payable will be $667, because applicants will be able to demonstrate acceptable savings under the new scheme for only one complete year. During 1978, applicants will be eligible for grants of up to $667 or up to $1,333, depending on whether they can demonstrate acceptable savings during one or two complete years under the new scheme. From 1979 onwards, grants of up to $2,000 will be payable to applicants who can demonstrate acceptable savings of 3 complete years under the new scheme, with maximum grants of $667 or $1,333 for applicants who can demonstrate acceptable savings during only one or two complete years under the new scheme.
In his policy speech, the Prime Minister said that the new scheme will be available to people of any age and to single persons. Under the present scheme, grants are not payable to single people, other than widowed or divorced people with dependents. Grants, moreover, are not payable to people aged 36 years or more. Under the new scheme the Government will pay grants to all persons acquiring their first homes, regardless of whether they are single or married, and regardless of age. This is in accordance with our election undertaking. Most single people, of course, do not seriously contemplate home acquisition until they have marriage in mind, but we do not wish to deny single people assistance to attain the benefits of security and stability that home ownership provides. We aim to help people obtain the security of their first home regardless of age.
The inclusion of single people in the new home savings grant scheme requires a re-casting of one of the principal features of the current scheme, that is, that grants are paid in respect of the acquisition of the applicant’s first matrimonial home. In the new scheme, eligibility will turn on whether this is the applicant’s first home owned in Australia. Grants will not be paid where the applicant or his or her spouse has previously owned a home in Australia or received a grant, or where any person with an interest in the home in respect of which a grant is sought has previously owned a home or received a grant. Further, only 1 grant will be paid in respect of the acquisition of any 1 home. Thus, if 2 people, married or single, jointly acquire a home, only a single grant of no more than the maximum will be paid. The legislation will contain safeguards to ensure, as far as possible, that this entitlement is not abused.
In his policy speech, the Prime Minister said that the new scheme will be available to new settlers. Under the current scheme, grants are paid to people who are not Australian citizens only if they have lived in Australia for 3 years. This requirement of 3 years’ residence in Australia for those who are not Australian citizens will be removed in the new scheme. Under the new scheme, applicants must be Australian citizens or have the right of permanent residence in Australia. This feature of the new scheme, coupled with the payment of grants after only 1 year of saving, is intended to benefit migrants by assisting them to attain home ownership as soon as possible after their arrival in Australia. It will remove what has been regarded by some as a discrimination against migrants under the present scheme. Providing they are permanent residents they will have the same benefits which are available to Australian citizens.
The Liberal-National Country Party housing policy statement says that we shall adjust the statutory limit on the value of eligible dwellings regularly in accordance with home building costs. We shall go beyond that commitment. Under the new scheme there will be no value limit for dwellings in respect of which grants will be paid. Our experience has been that the value limit is the single most common cause for complaint by disappointed applicants. The value limit involves the undesirable and expensive administrative procedure, of valuing the chattels included in the sale price to determine whether the net cost of the home does not exceed the limit. This particularly applies in the case of persons for whom the cost of home purchase narrowly exceeds the existing limit. Moreover it causes uncertainty among people building houses under rise and fall contracts as to whether the final cost of their house will exceed the limit.
If the Government were merely to increase the value limit under the new scheme, the difficulty would be in determining what the new level should be. The cost of land and the cost of building vary widely throughout Australia. Homes in the Australian Capital Territory may cost $10,000 more, or thereabouts, than homes in South Australia. To set a limit sufficiently high to cover the cost of most first homes in the Sydney metropolitan region, for example, would be to set a limit which would be relatively speaking, too high for the Hobart market. Yet it would probably be insufficient to cover the cost of erecting a modest house in some remote settlements in Northern Australia. At the same time, it must be remembered that the scheme assists people to acquire their first home only, and few people would be in a position to acquire a relatively expensive house as their first home. In the light of the discrepancies throughout Australia and the ever-burdening cost of its administration, the Government has therefore determined to abolish the value limit in the new scheme. The Government is not in a position to increase the value limit under the present scheme. The Government is trying to achieve substantial reductions in its expenditure. To increase the value limit now would run counter to the thrust of our basic economic policies designed to control inflation.
At present, grants are paid only in respect of homes with a value not exceeding $22,500. That value limit was set in 1972, and it was then sufficiently high to enable some 41 000 grants to be paid in 1972-73. The failure of that limit to reflect current housing costs is shown by the fact that the total number of grants expected to be paid in 1975-76 is only 1 1 000. The reason is, of course, neglect of the home savings grant scheme by the Whitlam Government, which legislated to abolish it. The Whitlam Government demonstrated it did not believe in Government encouragement of home ownership. The Liberal Party and the National Country Party are wholeheartedly in support of it.
Changes in existing scheme
Although we are not able now to increase the value limit under the present scheme, there are a number of improvements we shall make to the present scheme, with immediate effect. I have already mentioned that we will provide for acceptability of savings with all credit unions. There are 3 other improvements which will also take effect in relation to all homes acquired after today, that is, where the contract for the purchase or construction of the home is signed after today or, in the case of owner builders, where construction commences after today. We shall introduce legislation to give effect to these improvements as soon as possible.
Grants payable to purchasers of Commonwealth-financed homes
First, under the present scheme, grants are not payable to people who buy from the State or Commonwealth housing authorities homes that have been built with the assistance of Commonwealth finance on concessional terms. This was an anomaly, because other homes financed by the Commonwealth on concessional terms, for example, homes acquired with the help of a Defence Service Homes or a Home Builders’ Account loan, were not excluded from the homes savings grant scheme. The position was that people buying a home with the assistance of these low interest rate loans from the Commonwealth were eligible for a grant, but people buying a home they had been renting from a State housing commission, which was also funded with low interest finance from the Commonwealth, were not. We will remove these anomalies and grants will be paid in respect of all such homes acquired after today.
Rural home buyers
Secondly, people building homes on rural properties have been unable in the past to obtain a grant because they do not own the property. For example, a farmer’s son who built a home on his father’s property would not be eligible under the present scheme if he did not have secure tenure for that home. To become eligible for a grant, he has had to acquire separate title to the land on which his house stands. This is normally an expensive undertaking. The abolition of the requirement for security of tenure of homes constructed on rural properties will apply with respect to all homes acquired or contracted to be built after today.
Removal of time limit for lodgment of applications
Third, under the present scheme, people must lodge their applications for a grant within 12 months of the date of home acquisition unless special circumstances prevail. In some cases, people fail to lodge their applications within the prescribed time because of ignorance of details of the scheme or for other reasons. The withholding of payment of a grant merely because people have failed to appreciate that they must lodge their application within 12 months or because they do not understand the scheme or thought that they were not eligible under the scheme can be a severe penalty. Therefore, the Government has decided that no-one should be denied a grant merely because of failure to lodge the application within the prescribed time and, accordingly, there will be no time limit imposed for the lodgment of grants in respect of homes acquired after today.
It is appropriate that I should acknowledge in statements of this character the splendid contribution that the banks, building societies and credit unions have made in the preparation of hundreds of thousands of savings certificates for the scheme, and in the distribution to their customers of explanatory brochures and application forms. I look forward with complete confidence to their continued co-operation with the Government in assisting the people of Australia towards the major goal of home ownership.
Summary of main features
At this point, I recapitulate the main features of the new scheme. The Government will pay grants of up to $2,000 on the basis of $ 1 for each $3 saved, to all citizens or persons with the right of permanent residence, in respect of the acquisition of their first home, and will pay grants on the basis of savings accumulated over a period as short as one year. The value limit will be removed. Disabilities operating against migrants, people on rural properties and people acquiring certain Commonwealth-financed homes will be removed. Grants will be payable under the new scheme from 1 January 1977 and there will be a period of grace to 31 May 1976 for people to ensure that their savings are placed in an acceptable form.
In his policy speech, the Prime Minister said:
There are many reforms we want to introduce. Some can, and must, be introduced immediately. These reforms will not be a charge on revenue this year. Other essential reforms will be introduced as soon as possible- as and when the money is available. The speed with which we can introduce these reforms depends largely on the success of our efforts to rein in Labor’s mad extravagances.
Clearly, the final cost of the new home savings grant will be substantial, and had been carefully considered by the Government in the light of its other financial commitments, and the paramount need to minimise overall Government expenditure. Current financial constraints preclude large new expenditures this financial year. The alterations we have been able to make to the present scheme will involve very little additional cost, will remove substantial inequities and can be met from the Budget estimate of funds required in 1975-76.
In 1976-77, the new scheme will operate for only 6 months, and it is estimated that the cost will be of the order of $ 15m. The full cost of the new scheme will not be experienced until 1979-80. By that time, our efforts to stimulate the private sector will have been effective and our strategy will then enable the nation to accept the full cost of the new scheme.
In considering the form of the new home savings grant scheme the Government has also closely examined the arrangements for tax deductibility of interest on home loans. It is clear that we cannot afford both schemes. The Government has therefore decided to amend the home loan interest tax deduction scheme so as to direct the benefits of the scheme to those most in need and to reduce the cost of this scheme.
No change will be made to the home loan interest tax deduction scheme in relation to the current income year. People submitting their income tax returns later this year may claim home loan interest paid in 1975-76 as a deduction against income, in accordance with the provisions of the scheme. However, home loan interest paid in 1976-77 and subsequent years may be claimed as a taxation deduction only by people who are making repayments in respect of their first home, and only during the first 5 years of those repayments.
These conditions are, of course, consistent with the philosophy of the home savings grant scheme, and complement that scheme. Through home savings grants we will assist the people of Australia to achieve home ownership, and we will continue to assist them, through the home loan interest tax deduction scheme, to meet the costs of home ownership through the first difficult years. The amendments proposed to the home loan interest tax deduction scheme recognise that, for most people, home loan repayments become less of a burden after a few years because of increases in money incomes.
The Government’s intentions that I have just outlined represent a combination of measures designed to assist the people of Australia towards home ownership and to ease the burden of loan repayments for those with low to moderate incomes during the years in which debt servicing is most difficult. Let it not be said, however, that the Government is insensitive to the needs of people who rent homes, whether by choice or necessity. We recognise that there is a severe shortage of rental accommodation and we are examining ways to stimulate the flow of investment into private rental accommodation. We are also continuing the policy we have maintained for many years of supporting the States in the provision of low cost rental accommodation for people of modest incomes. This is indicative of our belief that housing generally is a matter of national concern.
The family home plays a uniquely central role in the social welfare of our people. Home ownership accentuates that role by providing absolute security of tenure and economic security and fosters a spirit of independence and self-reliance which is an essential characteristic of a sturdy, prosperous nation. As we have said in our policy statement, we believe it should be a major national objective to encourage all people who wish to do so to own their own home. We believe that these measures, when enacted, will contribute, in a real way, to the promotion of this objective. I present the following paper:
Home Savings Grants- Ministerial statement, 31 March 1976.
– I will adopt the latter course, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Motion ( by Mr Newman) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Uren) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 25 March on motion by Mr Newman:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– 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 Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, or 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 both 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 will allow that course to be followed.
– It is not the objective of the Opposition to impede the passage of this legislation through the Parliament. Obviously the legislation provides for improvement in benefit rates for a number of beneficiaries of the social security system. On the other hand the legislation does make certain provisions which we find quite objectionable and separate from the overall legislation in which benefits are provided. We would take every step available to us to prevent the passage of that sort of legislation. That legislation would, if in isolation from the general improvement benefits, result in disadvantages being imposed on a number of social security beneficiaries in the community. Nonetheless with the support of my colleagues I propose to move an amendment to the second reading of the Social Services Amendment Bill and in the Committee stages I will be taking steps to oppose the provision that funeral benefits should be withdrawn. We find this unacceptable and indeed incomprehensible coming from this Government or indeed any government claiming to have a mandate from the community, claiming to have a moral commitment for those more dependent than most upon actions of government for their welfare. I move the following amendment to the Social Services Amendment Bill:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: ‘while not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House deplores the failure of the Government to index dependants allowances to meet increases in the cost of living’.
I will move an amendment in exactly the same terms to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill at the appropriate time.
The Social Services Amendment Bill will make pensioners pay approximately the $30m of the cost of the ^introduction of the superphosphate bounty by delaying the introduction of pension increases for at least one month. The cost to pensioners will be $29m. This Bill punishes the sorrow and pain of bereavement by snatching the $40 funeral benefit from pensioners. This Bill penalises the dependants, the innocent children of pensioners, by ignoring them and depriving them of a justifiable increase in the dependants allowance which would cost somewhat less than $lm for the rest of this fiscal year. This Bill gives a vivid illustration of the quality of the oft repeated slogan of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of ‘better living with the Liberals’ when he says his aim is to reduce people’s dependency for government services, allowing them to retain more of their income so that they can provide more for themselves.
I pose the challenge again to members of the Government to explain why it is, having asserted these principles, every action the Prime Minister takes is in direct conflict with the principles enunciated. -Every standard rate pensioner is to be deprived-of at least $10 and married pensioner couples at least $16 as a result of the delay in the introduction of pension increases. Such is the nature of the penalty, the fine if you like, which social security beneficiaries have to pay because of the curious philosophy of the Prime Minister when he” says that he wants less dependency on government services, he wants a situation which will allow people to retain more of their income so that they can provide more for themselves. Presumably there are some sections of the community excluded from the effects of this philosophy- social pariahs, a term I find objectionable and unacceptable, but that is the implication of his statement taken in the context of what he has been doing. Clearly pensioners in the community are being excluded from benefits flowing from any actions which he might be taking. Indeed, they are being disadvantaged and finding life more difficult as a result of the steps that have been taken by this Government. But I guess that all pensioners will be morally fortified because at least the Prime Minister has proved for them that they are $2 9m less dependent than they had expected. I guess they will sleep better at night knowing that their Prime Minister, their very own Prime Minister, will get back his good old superphosphate bounty- $5,000 at least in the year 1973.
The Prime Minister has said that this is a time for national sacrifice. Presumably he concluded that those best able to make the sacrifice are those with the most experience of having to bear sacrifices- the poor, the sick, the needy, and in this case the pensioners. Between them, those groups in the community- that is the poor, the sick and the needy- will make the sacrifice of $280m for the common good so that sturdy landholders like the Prime Minister can stand on their own feet better, with Government assistance because they are not used to sacrifice. In a way, it is a variation of the law of comparative advantage from economics. In the discipline of economics this theory refers to nations and their need to specialise in the fields where they have greatest advantage and to exchange benefits with nations that have advantages in other areas so that overall the maximum good is supposed to be achieved. The Prime Minister has given a novel twist to that theory which he is now applying, and the result is that the better off are going to be better oft” still and those who are relatively disadvantaged will bear their weal more painfully.
The abolition of the funeral benefit means one thing: It means deprivation. It means the end of a benefit which pensioners were able to anticipate at a time quite often of cruel personal experience. It means that they are worse off financially as a result of this Government’s action. It cannot be suggested that the continuation for 3 months of the married rate of pension in the event of the death of one partner is some sort of substitution for the deprivation of the funeral benefit, as is implied in statements from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) and from some members of the Government. The continuation of the married rate of pension for approximately 3 months after the death of a spouse is a long established benefit. The hard cruel fact is that the Liberals stand for denying people the benefits on which they have been able to draw for a long time. The Liberals stand for reducing the living standard and the self-respect which were derived from the level of living standards that pensioners had available in the past. The dependent children of pensioners are going to suffer too. In the case of a family with 2 children where both husband and wife are pensioners, instead of what is a reasonable expectation in the circumstances at the present time that they will get an addition of $1 a week to their pension income as the adjustment in the dependants’ allowance because of the 6.4 per cent increase in the consumer price index, which seems to have flowed to every other sector in the economy, they are going to get nothing- not even cold comfort.
This statement, taken in conjunction with statements from other Ministers of the Government, especially the Prime Minister, spells the deathknell for any further progress towards abolishing the means test. The Labor Government got the age for abolition of the means test down to 70 years and gave an undertaking to take the next step to bring it down to 69 years by at least 1 July. We recognise that there are economic difficulties, but it could still be done, and there is a moral liability on all parties in this Parliament, as the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) would attest one way or another, to move towards that objective as quickly as possible. But it has been sunken, and sunken for all time, by the statements of the Government. Every member of this Government declared when in Opposition a profound commitment for this principle. Every one of them now tacitly supports the deathknell of the abolition of the means test by the way in which they refuse to stand up and be counted, to challenge their Prime Minister and his reversion to socio-economic Darwinism at this time, with such cruel effects for so many people.
Look at the long years under the previous Liberal-Country Party Governments until the Labor Government was elected in 1972. There were 2 decades and 3 years of neglect in the field of social responsibility. They were long lean years. I illustrate that by referring to unemployment benefits. In the 22 years from 195 1 to 1972 inclusive there were only 5 variations in the rate at which payments were made. In the 7 years up to and including 1968 there was no change at all in the rate at which the basic payment for unemployment benefits was made. In that period the basic unemployment benefit as a proportion of the standard rate of pension slumped from 75 per cent in 1962 to 59 per cent in 1968. That is the record for which these people stand, as is clear from their behaviour, with their bashing of people drawing unemployment benefits, their exaggerated statements, their provocation to the point of hysteria of so many people in the community through their distortion about the qualities of those who through no fault of their own are unemployed and drawing unemployment benefits. That is the situation to which the Government wants to revert and it is preparing the ground by the way in which it is behaving at the present time. Let us consider the case of pension increases in the period from 1954 onwards. There were no pension increases in 1954, 1956, 1958, 1962, 1965 or 1967, in spite of the fact that in all those years, as was the case with the other illustrations I gave, there were significant relative increases in the cost of living. In five of those 13 years there were no pension increases. I move on to children’s allowances as a further illustration of the cold neglect that Liberal governments of the past assumed casually and of the cold neglect that this Government is seeking to reintroduce by the way in which it is treating social security benefits. Children’s allowances- that is allowances for the dependants of pensioners- were not altered from the rate of $1.15 a week for the first child in the 10 years to 1960. Then they were set at $1.50 and not adjusted for 7 years, and then at $2.50 and not adjusted for 3 years. In the case of the second child and subsequent children, the rate was set at $1 a week at the time of its introduction in 1964 and remained at that level for 7 years. It then stuck at $ 1 .50 a week for the next 5 years. That is a record of benefits jammed at levels that languished harshly in the past and were allowed to languish in that way because of a lack of understanding within the ranks of the LiberalNational Country Party Government about the needs of a very substantial proportion of the Australian community, a proportion of people who very largely are dependent and who have to be dependent on the decisions of government for the standard of living they can expect, whether there will be dignity or whether there will be degradation.
I should like the House to compare that record with the Labor Government’s record in 3 years of government, 3 years in which the most significant achievements were made in the field of social welfare. If one cared to tot up the instances where new initiatives were taken, one would find that more initiatives were taken in those 3 years than in any comparable period of government in the history of this country. The only period of government in which some semblance of concern was reflected by a substantial improvement in the rate of initiatives in social security matters was that period administered by a former Prime Minister, John Grey Gorton, a bigger man than just about any of his detractors can ever hope to be. Let us look at Labor’s record in 3 years of government. The standard rate of pension increased by 93.8 per cent, average weekly earnings increased by 64 per cent, and the consumer price index as a measurement of cost movement increased by 50 per cent. On any relative comparison, Labor improved the position of people who are dependent on pensions far ahead of any other cost index and far ahead of any wage movements in the community. The significance of wage movements is that they do measure the relative living standard available for other people.
We pledged ourselves to establish the standard rate of pension at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings by the introduction- a novel concept; it never been done before- of twice yearly increases in the pension. We pledged ourselves to do that. With the last pension increase that occurred in 1975 we took the standard rate of pension as a proportion of average weekly earnings to somewhat above 25 per cent. We fulfilled our pledge. We discharged our obligations with honour to the pensioners in the community. Let us compare that with the situation under several years of Liberal-Country Party administration. Before we came to office the standard rate of pension as a proportion of average weekly earnings slumped to and hovered around the depressing level of 18 per cent to 19 per cent. It is true that when presenting the last Budget the Labor Government said that the increases in pension for the second half of the 1975 calendar year and the first half of the 1976 calendar year would be according to the consumer price index movements. There was no deviation from the principle we had enunciated, that is, the pension would be 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. We knew from the projections taken that that would maintain the pension rates at least at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings and probably a little better. The confirmation of that is in the fact that in the 1975 calendar year average weekly earnings increased by a little over 12 per cent but the consumer price index increased by somewhat over 1 4 per cent.
We established the rate at which this pension increase would take place because we gave that commitment in the last Budget and made adequate provision for the cost of that increase in that Budget. There could be no retreat from that surely by this Government, which is preparing the ground nonetheless for a retreat from the position. The Government says, in a way which leaves me unnerved, in a speech delivered by the Minister in this Parliament that it will review the updating procedure for pension rates ‘ . . . with a view to ensuring that the amounts of pensions and benefits are determined and up-dated on a just and equitable basis’. There could be nothing fairer, nothing more equitable, than the system we introduced. The clear conclusion justified on the basis of statements made by Government spokesmen when in Opposition is that the rate of improvement in any pension adjustment in the future will be considerably less than pensioners could have expected with every confidence from a Labor Government. That is a chill warning, but a justifiable one, on the basis of the past record of Liberal-Country Party governments and on the equivocation which is now creeping into the Government’s general attitude in this matter.
Let me look at our record in respect of pensions as a percentage of the poverty line. In December 1972, when we assumed office, the standard rate of pension was about 82 per cent of the poverty line struck by Professor Henderson. When we went out of office in December 1975 it was over 97 per cent and our commitment was to get it to the poverty line. When we came to office a class A widow with 2 dependent children, one under 6 years of age, was receiving a pension a little over 80 per cent of the poverty line. When we went out of office it was nearly 89 per cent. When we came to office the rate of unemployment benefit payable to a man, a wife and 2 children was 67 per cent of the poverty line. When we went out of office it was nearly 96 per cent of the poverty line. That is the sort of moral commitment we were prepared to discharge. That is the real way in which we displayed our social conscience, our commitment, to this society and to particular groups of people who have this dependency on the government, and a reasonable dependency at that. I challenge the members of this Government to explain why they were prepared to tolerate so much deprivation for so many people dependent on social security benefits for so long. Was it really a matter of reverting to social economic determinism that belongs at least to a century or more in the past?
We increased children’s allowances 4 times in 3 years. We took the allowance from about $5 to $7.50. We introduced new initiatives because we were outraged at the neglect of important groups in the community such as double orphans. As a result of what we did 3300 double orphans are now benefiting. We introduced the handicapped children’s allowance and as a result some 13 000 children are now benefiting. We introduced the supporting mothers’ benefit and I for one make no apologies for that and will defend it as much as I am able to, because that was a most necessary social improvement. There had been too much neglect, too much moralising, stigmatisation and discrimination against these women, and too much of that was to the disadvantage of the innocent infants who were their offspring. That provision benefits about 36 000 mothers and about 59 600 children.
I am proud to put my name with those of my colleagues in the Labor Party to that piece of legislation because it does show some humanity and some concern for a group of people who were probably the most exploited and repressed in our community. There would be few honest men in this Parliament who could not enumerate great numbers of incidents where women in this category had come into their offices and detailed not only the harrowing circumstances under which they tried to make ends meet and raise their children but also the problems of maintaining equipoise with their personality, maintaining their self-respect, maintaining their sanity in the light of the discrimination that existed in the past.
Frankly, all of these people are under threat because of statements which have been made by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) who for some reason seems to feel that these women will be strengthened and their moral fibre will be enhanced if in some way the benefit is attenuated or perhaps even destroyed. I apologise if I have misunderstood what the honourable senator has said publicly, but that seems to be the very clear and heavy impact of what she has been saying and it appears largely to have been a derivative of the general philosophy of government in this field of social responsibility flowing from the fountainhead of government- the Prime Minister.
If we had not increased the standard rate pension according to movements in the consumer price index in the period we were in office- that was a principle firmly enunciated by the LiberalCountry Party Government- when the proposed pension increases went through the standard rate of pension would have been $9.25 a week less than the proposed weekly rate of $41.25. That is the difference. We were prepared to bear the great difficulties of proceeding at the rate at which we did to improve these benefits and to introduce new initiatives in the field of social improvement because people had to be cared for. There had been too much neglect of vulnerable dependent groups in the past and it was not a matter of creating a handout mentality; it was a matter of trying to catch up on some of that rather horrible neglect.
Our record is one of great achievement. We make no apologies about it. We are prepared to fight vigorously and consistently in opposition to efforts to dismantle these improvements which we have brought in. We do not subscribe to the belief of the Government that life will be better, that life will be richer and more meaningful by refusing to improve the living standards of people like pensioners by holding back increases in their pension to a later day or by destroying funeral benefits, or by denying them the children’s allowances, or by making pharmaceutical benefits dearer for the sick, or by denying significant numbers of working mothers in the community child care services, or by reducing dramatically if not disastrously for many people, the rates of benefit under the National Employment and Training program.
As we are dealing in this cognate debate not only with social security matters but also repatriation amendments, I again say that many of the things I have said about social security apply with equal force to repatriation benefits. Again we were responsible for an extremely broad range of innovations in the field of repatriation. Let me go through some of them quickly. All exservicemen of the Boer War and the 1914-1918 War became eligible to receive free medical and hospital treatment for all disabilities, irrespective of whether they were war caused. The Labor Government provided free medical and hospital treatment for malignant cancer suffered by all ex-servicemen and women. We made arrangements for artificial limbs to be provided free of charge to all persons in the community who needed them, whether they were ex-service personnel or civilians. As a step towards implementing our undertaking to disregard war pensions as income for means test purposes, 50 per cent of all war pension payments are now disregarded in the assessment of service pensions. We provided service pensions free of means test for aU eligible persons 70 years and over. For the first time repatriation benefits were extended to servicemen and women in the peace-time services. The War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal, the Repatriation Boards and the Repatriation Commission were required to publish the reasons for their decisions. Repatriation medical and hospital benefits, including nursing home care, as available to repatriation cases, were extended to all ex-prisoners of war. We improved quite generously the re-establishment loans for exnational servicemen and for regular servicemen. We provided entitlement for service pension after 10 years Australian residence for all Commonwealth ex-servicemen, but not the fringe benefits. These were some of the improvements for which we were responsible in our term of government.
In our period of government we increased expenditure on repatriation because we regarded it as of paramount importance and because we regarded the commitment to the men who had served this country, at the risk of their lives in so many cases, as one that had to be discharged and not just talked about. Talking and not acting was about all this Government did in its previous terms of office. We increased expenditure on repatriation from $422m to $823m. These are some of the outstanding initiatives we took. Their benefits for people in the community are clear. In the short term in which we were a government, a 3-year period punctuated by two elections and considerable disruption to the normal flow of government by a hostile Senate which was always prepared to abuse its position rather than to acknowledge its responsibility to the community, we achieved more than any other government had achieved in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia. We achieved more in those 3 years than the Menzies Government achieved in its 16 years of continuous office. We did that because we had what we regarded as a beholden commitment to people in the community who had been neglected for too long in the past by a rather coolly indifferent succession of Liberal-Country Party governments. We make no apologies for our record in office. We do not accept that it was a case of our being spendthrift. We accept that it was necessary for us to do these things as quickly as possible and as responsibly as possible to try to overhaul the accumulation of neglect and indifference in these very important areas, of social responsibility under Liberal-Country Party administrations.
The amendment which I have moved to the Social Services Amendment Bill will be duplicated in practically every respect a little later this evening in relation to the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill. In the Committee stage of the Social Services Amendment Bill we will be opposing the proposal to deny to pensioners the long-standing funeral benefit. We will be demanding from the Government some justification for this quite inhumane treatment of a very dependent group in the Australian community.
-Is the amendment seconded?
Sitting suspended from S.S9 to 8 p.m.
– I am pleased to support these Bills and to oppose the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) on behalf of the Opposition. Might I say at the outset, without attempting to make a cheap political point, that I was very disappointed with the speech made by the honourable gentleman, who led for the Opposition and who is a former Minister for Social Security and a former Treasurer. Even he seems to have been inflicted now by the bug with which all Opposition members seem to have been inflicted of living in the past. We had from him a dissertation of the Australian Labor Party’s advanced policies over the last 3 years, how the Labor Government was better than we were in the previous 23 years in which we were in office and how the Labor Government was an humanitarian government and we are not. We are dealing here with something involving well over one million human beings. I doubt the wisdom or the value of talking about the past and of putting one Party’s policies up against those of another.
I was particularly disappointed with the type of amendment that the Opposition has moved. It reads: . . . while not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House deplores the failure of the Government to index dependants allowances to meet increases in the cost of living.
The honourable member for Oxley did not even speak to that amendment during the course of his speech. But the fact of the matter is that this legislation does precisely what the Labor Party would have done if it had won the last election. In fact, it implements Labor Party policy. During the election campaign the Labor Party said that it would increase pensions every six months in accordance with movements in the consumer price index and that it would make the month of the first increase November. As my friend the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) interjected, although the honourable member for Oxley declined to take up the interjection, 6 months from November 1975 is in fact May 1976. So this legislation implements the Labor Party’s policy. I have made that point to show the shallowness of this amendment. I should have thought that the honourable member for Oxley would have been better engaged if he had made some constructive criticisms of the legislation and of the future of the social welfare policies because that is what we are dealing with and that is why we are here. We are here to try to assist the Government or to criticise the Government about improvements in the social welfare policy and not to live in the past.
I will concede, as the honourable member for Oxley seemed to have some pleasure in pointing out, that the Labor Party did do some good things in the area of social welfare when it was in office. I admired my new friend the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) when he also conceded that in his maiden speech the other night. The Labor Government was progressive and there were some exciting measures introduced by it. The tragedy is that, good though those measures were, the Labor Government fouled up almost every one of them through bad administration. Now that we are back in Government I am hopeful that we will not discard some of the progressive policies that ‘ were instituted by the Labor Government simply because they were disastrously administered. I think that we will be selective in the way in which we proceed with our policies.
The honourable member for Oxley kept saying how great the Labor Government’s record was in its last year in office. One of the curious things about his speech was that he went on to say that the Labor Government had changed its indexation of pensions to the consumer price index rather than the average weekly earning because the average weekly earnings had increased by only 12 per cent in 1975 whereas the CPI had increased by 14 per cent, as if in fact it were an achievement that under the Labor Party’s administration the cost of living or the rate of inflation in fact increased last year by faster than the average weekly earnings. I find it very curious that a former Treasurer should be proud of that fact.
Having said that, I say that 1 support these Bills because I believe that they implement at least partially the policy that I had the privilege of announcing on behalf of the Liberal and National Country Parties during the election campaign. The cost of living index increased in December by 6.4 per cent. That is the figure by which we are increasing the pensions. I am disappointed, and I am not hiding my disappointment, that we have not implemented the policy completely by making those increases in pensions instant and automatic, as was our promise. The whole thrust and philosophy of the LiberalCountry Party policy during the election campaign was to avoid debates like we are having tonight. I am rather pleased in a way that this debate is not being broadcast because tonight pensioners are again to be treated like a political football. There is going to be cut and thrust from that side of the House to this side of the House. If I were a pensioner listening to such a broadcast tonight it would not please me to know that my security or my future was being regarded as a political football by some politicians in this chamber in Canberra. The whole philosophy of the Liberal-Country Party policy was that we would introduce legislation early in this session to take pensions out of the round of political football by making pension increases instant and automatic. Therefore I say that I am disappointed with that.
I do not think that we can regard all pensioners as having the same resilience and the same absence of fear of the future as do those people of our own age and in our own situation. They fear for the future. They fear from quarter to quarter. They fear for inflation. To take that fear out of them I think would have been to make a formidable contribution. But I support this legislation because an undertaking has been given by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) in his second reading speech that this particular part of Liberal-Country Party policy has been delayed because the whole question of income security has been referred to an income security review committee headed, as I understand it, by the Prime Minister’s Department. I have been further encouraged by noises that have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) that some of the recommendations of that committee, which I regard as being quite vital to the whole structure of social security in this country, will be implemented in the forthcoming Budget. But I would say this, and I say it without it sounding a threat, as rancour or whatever, that if pensions are not instantly and automatically tied to an index by November the emotion I will be expressing in this place will be more than disappointment because it is a promise on which we fought the election campaign.
I shall read into the record very briefly something that I did with the full authority of the then Opposition and the then caretaker Cabinet as a member of that Cabinet. I read into the record an interview conducted of me on A Current Affair on 24 November. It is one of several interviews conducted of me at the time. I was asked the question:
Will it increase by more than 50c a year as it did during the government time?
Of course, because what our policy is and what I am personally committed to is to increase pensions automatically twice a year geared to a cost of living increase. This means that pensions will be taken out of the hands of politicians. No longer will pensions be able to be a political football kicked around. Pensioners will automatically get that increase twice a year without the legislation even having to come to Parliament.
I do not like saying things lightly; I never have. I did not say that lightly. I regard that as an unequivocal undertaking by the Liberal and National Country parties.
I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister today, if I understood him correctly, give an assurance in an answer to a question asked by a member of the Opposition that there would be no change in the components of the cost of living index or the consumer price index as far as pensioners were concerned. I have just spent 2 hours listening to some intellectual debate on why the components of the CPI might be changed if applied to wage indexation. I am certainly not going to canvass that proposition here. There are some compelling reasons why that might be looked at again. I simply point out that if government charges or indirect taxes are increased pensioners have to pay those increases. I believe it would be unthinkable to delete increases in those kinds of things- postage stamps, telephone charges, tram fares, and all those other indirect government charges- from a consumer price index which is going to add to the cost of living of pensioners. As I understand it, the Prime Minister gave that assurance today when answering a question asked by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen).
Having said that, I can understand the Government’s dilemma in not introducing into this legislation all those things which some of us on this side of the House, and indeed on the other side of the House, would have liked to see included in it. Running through the whole report of Professor Henderson, like the thread of Ariadne, was the fact that the greatest enemy of the poor, the greatest enemy of the pensioner, is inflation. Therefore I believe that if we really want to help pensioners the Government’s No. 1 priority should be to do something about inflation. Therefore unpopular measures have got to be taken, and I think it will be a test of the resilience, the loyalty and the dedication of honourable members on this side of the House that they will have to stand by the Government in doing those things, even though they may be unpopular. We inherited a situation in which pensioners were being devastated by inflation. I am encouraged also, as I said before, by the appointment of the income security review committee. I would also like to read into the record just 4 points in the social welfare policy which was unanimously adopted by the Liberal and Country parties. We said that we would move towards, firstly:
Consolidating all existing means-tested pensions and benefits into one base rate income-tested benefit and standardising means tests to provide a uniform income test.
I believe that that is absolutely vital in this area because so much confusion must surround people who are now in trouble as to which form they have to fill in, whether they have been divorced, whether they have suddenly been widowed, whether they have become of age, or whether they have become an invalid. I understand that at last count an unfortunate person in those circumstances had to choose between something like 1 7 different forms. On top of that, a myriad of different means tests present more hurdles over which such people have to jump to qualify. Secondly, we would provide income supplements for special situations requiring additional income. That refers to people with children and people in other circumstances. I am disappointed that that matter of policy has not been included in this legislation. The third part of our social welfare policy is this:
Providing emergency cash grants to cover urgent need through local offices of the Department of Social Security.
I regard that as a very important election undertaking also. I do not think any member of this Parliament who has been here for a few years would not have experienced the situation- the younger members will certainly come across it soon- of someone in diabolically sad circumstances coming into one’s office late on a Friday afternoon. We hear of a husband having just left a wife with 3 of 4 children. The wife does not have a cent in the bank and literally does not have $10 to pay for the groceries or the food for the weekend. There a dozens of people who find themselves in such circumstances needing emergency grants. To some extent those grants are now provided by State government welfare organisations. What is not provided by those organisations is made up by the voluntary organisations. For that reason we have put into our social welfare policy that we will remove from voluntary organisations the burden of providing emergency cash assistance, without infringing their ability to provide it. I am rather disappointed that that urgent reform and unequivocal promise which has been adopted by our parties has not been implemented at this time. As I understand it, the cost of implementing that reform would be very small- something between $3m and $4m. Maybe I will get more support from the newer members in this House in November, especially after they have had the experience of almost all the older members of having to lend a widow or deserted wife $20 on a Friday afternoon, so that she can buy the groceries for the family, until her pension cheque arrives some weeks later.
In closing, I would like to mention again the National Employment and Training scheme. We are not debating the NEAT scheme this evening, but we are debating a Bill which deals with social services. I would ask the Government to reconsider one aspect of the NEAT scheme as it affects widows, deserted wives or supporting mothers. I say publicly, as I have said privately, that I regard the NEAT scheme, as administered by the Labor Party, as one of the great rip-offs of its 3 years in office. There were very many injustices in it. The people who should have been helped were not helped.
Having said that, I am very conscious of one point affecting social services. Last year the widow or the deserted wife, for example, with 2 children, had an offer from the Federal Government, and that offer was this: We suggest that you do not accept social services or a pension for the rest of your life or for the next 10 years or 20 years; we will assist you under the NEAT scheme by giving you some assistance, which will be enough but not too much, to pay your rent, baby sitting fees or day care centre fees to enable you to undertake a 3-year course to become a kindergarten teacher or social worker or whatever. I can understand the turmoil that must have been in the mind of a woman when she was contemplating that offer. It would have meant interrupting her whole pattern of life- of going back to study, of being away from her children for many hours of the day. A deserted woman with 2 children, as in the example I gave, would have been receiving roughly $ 1 16 a week, which was barely enough. Had she accepted the offer that would have been cut back to something like $80 a week, which meant that she would be $36 a week worse off. The point that I make is in relation to not only the hardship caused to her but also the principle of the matter. As I see it she would be entering into a contract- not a legal one but a moral one. It was a sound proposition from the Government ‘s point of view because at the end of next year a women would be qualified- I am talking now only about those who passed- would have gone back into the work force, would have resumed a normal, vigorous life, contributing something to society, and would have been a better mother to her children. Even if one dismisses the humanitarian grounds on which I am speaking, surely on a hard, economic, cost benefit analysis the Government’s case is unanswerable because that woman would have then gone off social welfare benefits and would have been earning wages and paying taxes. So instead of her drawing on the Consolidated Revenue she would be a contributor. I hope that even at this stage that matter which affects deserted wives, widows and supporting mothers in particular might still receive the attention of the Government.
Knowing that I would not have time to read it, I gained the permission of the honourable member for Oxley before he left this evening to incorporate in Hansard a letter which I, and I think all members on this side of the House and I think in the Labor Party, received from the Association of Civilian Widows concerning 2 anomalies that affect them. One is the amount of assets they are allowed to have if they earn the maximum income of $20 a week. Such a woman is now allowed to have assets amounting to $419 if she has no dependent children. That amount has not been increased since 1954. 1 should have thought that a government like ours, which is concerned with the work ethic, would be concerned to get these women back to work and to encourage them to work rather than to penalise them. The cost involved is minimal. For the sake of the record, I seek leave to have this document incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
239 Gregory Terrace, Brisbane. 4000 25th March, 1976.
The Association of Civilian Widows of Australia is very concerned over two serious anomalies that exist in relation to the Social Security Widows’ Pensions.
Firstly, a widow without dependent children in allowed only $419 in assets if she earns her maximum permissible income of $20 a week and receives her full Social Security Pension. This amount has not been increased since 1954.
Income- Total $58.75- $4 is deducted in Income Tax!!!
I appeal to you to discuss this $4 1 9 of assets with the Social Security Minister, The Hon. M. Guilfoyle and ask her to increase the amount greatly.
Secondly, a widow with dependent children has a pension of $42.75 for herself and $7.50 for each child. Her permissible income is $26 for herself and child.
The permissible income for herself and child is $26-the married couple’s is $34.50.
The widow’s total is $76.25- the married couple’s is
I implore you to intercede with the Minister, Senator Guilfoyle on our behalf and ask her to rectify this iniquitous situation.
Yours faithfully, (Mrs)E.SCOULLER National Secretary
-Last week on a number of occasions, we had the spectacle of a number of Government supporters speaking without a member of the Opposition speaking in between. Today the position is reversed. I am now the third speaker in a row for the Opposition in this debate. I congratulate the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) for his criticism of the Government. It is completely justified. I cannot understand why he is going to vote against the Opposition’s amendment.
– Were you not listening?
-Yes I was. The amendment is couched in these terms: while not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House deplores the failure of the Government to index dependants’ allowances to meet increases in the cost of living.
The honourable member for Hotham, who was the Minister for Social Security in the temporary government just after 1 1 November- I am not quite sure what its official title was -
– It was the caretaker Government.
– It was known as the caretaker government. The honourable member told us that on behalf of the Liberal and National Country Parties he presented the policy on social security. In that policy he referred to instant and automatic increases of pensions and other social security payments. This Government is now introducing an amending Bill to update pensions, very belatedly, but it is not doing anything about the dependants’ allowances.
I draw the Government’s attention to the fact that quite a large number of children are involved. At the present time pensioners and other social security recipients with children receive $7.50 per week for each dependent child. This amount is not being increased. According to the latest figures available on eligible children, that is as at 30 June 1975, there were 9858 children of age pensioners, 46 269 children of invalid pensioners, 138 867 children of widows, 59 568 children of those on supporting mothers’ benefits, and 56 293 children of those receiving unemployment benefit. So updated allowances will not be paid in respect of a large number of children. No attempt is being made to increase the dependants ‘ allowances.
Between 1972 and November 1975 the Whitlam Labor Government increased the dependant’s allowance from $4.50 to $7.50 a week, an increase of 66.7 per cent. The present Government is doing nothing of the sort. I find it difficult to see how anybody can disagree with the proposition that the dependent’s allowance should be increased also. In the case of pensioners or other social security recipients with only one child, the amount of money involved would be relatively little. It is those with a number of dependent children who will experience the greatest difficulty and who will miss out most. I appeal to the Government, even at this stage, to include this amendment in the Social Services Amendment Bill.
At this stage I would pay a tribute to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), who was the Minister for Social Security for most of the time in the Whitlam Labor Government. He did a tremendous amount of work to improve social security benefits and the approach to them, during the time he was the Minister, a period of some two and a half years. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table setting out social security benefits and the changes to them between October 1972 and November 1975.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-
-The other point in the Bill to which we object is the omission or deletion of the funeral benefit. Personally I object to it on 2 grounds. Firstly, it is a miserly thing to do. It seems ridiculous to me that the Government should concentrate on funeral benefits for pensioners when it is talking about reducing a Budget deficit approaching or exceeding $4,500m. It talks as though it is the most important thing in the world to reduce that deficit to something approaching zero and then turns its attention to funeral allowances and says that that is where the Government is going to draw the line. Secondly, I object to the way in which this was done. The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) argued in her announcement about the deletion of the funeral benefits, that they were no longer necessary because the Government had introduced the payment of the double rate social security benefits to twelve or thirteen weeks after a spouse died.
The Press statement implied that this was something new. For the benefit of honourable members in this House who may not be aware of it, this is not something new. This benefit was introduced in 1968. There definitely has been a withdrawal of a benefit. The reason for the change in 1968 was that it is difficult to cut down expenses of a married couple when one of the spouses dies, particularly in regard to rent and such items. That is the reason why that was given and it seems a very reasonable point. I have dealt with the question of the dependants, as outlined in clause 9, not being included.
I will deal now with clause 12 of the Bill which concerns the time when the benefits provided for in the Bill will come into effect. Here again we get some of the double-speak which Orwell spoke about and which this Government is using. We heard the Government talking about the indexation of wages, going to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to support wage indexation, and then going to the Commission to try to have the rate of indexation reduced to approximately half the increase in the consumer price index.
The Minister for Social Security, in an undated statement headed ‘Emergency Telephone Interpreter Services in Australia’, said that she was most anxious to look at ways and means of improving the efficiency of the service and client help. The Press statement went on to say that as a result it had been decided to replace the manned operation with an answering service. That apparently is the way they improve the efficiency of the service. What a lovely attempt at doublespeakto call something an improvement and to finish up by revealing that something has been abolished. The Minister said that the situation would be closely watched as a result of these new arrangements. She said that she would review the position initially in 4 weeks time to ensure that the service was satisfactory.
We will never hear any more about this. How can the Government possibly argue that this is an improvement? The whole argument in the Press statement was on the basis that insufficient people were using the service. At least, that was the implication. We got the same sort of doublespeak when the honourable member for Hotham referred to the question of percentage increases.
He said that he had been told to give an undertaking on behalf of the then caretaker Government that there would be instant and automatic increases in pensions according to the CPI.
He obviously had some doubt about that policy being introduced because he said that he was pleased to hear the Prime Minister at question time today, in response to a question by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen), seem to imply that pensions would increase with the increase in the CPI. My own view is that if the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission had in fact ruled that the last increase in wages under indexation should have been only 3 per cent, 3.2 per cent or whatever figure it picked on, I am sure that this Government would have introduced legislation limiting the increase in social security benefits to the same percentage.
– That is not correct.
– The honourable member says that is incorrect. The honourable member for Hotham, who surely knows a fair bit about social security, said today that he was pleasantly surprised to hear an answer from the Prime Minister at question time in which the Prime Minister apparently- again, he said as he understood itrefuted the proposition I have put. I say that this is exactly what would have happened. In any case, what happened as far as social security payments are concerned? In the September quarter last year there was an increase in the consumer price index of 0.8 per cent and in the December quarter there was an increase of S.6 per cent giving a total for the 2 quarters of 6.4 per cent. An increase of that percentage is now to be granted to pensioners from the first payment period in May. Why is it to be granted from the first payment period in May? Why was it not granted as the increase was granted for wage earners in Australia from, I think, the first pay period in March?
– Because it is 6 months after the other rise.
-It has nothing to do with 6 months. The promise by the honourable member for Hotham on behalf of the honourable member’s party during the recent elections- he was then acting as Minister for Social Security- was instant and automatic increase of pensions or social security payments according to the consumer price index- instant and automatic. ‘Instant’ as far as I am concerned does not mean that there is a delay of 6 months or 3 months after everybody in the work force receives the increase. In fact the March quarter figures will be out long before the pensioners get increases according to the December quarter figures.
– During the election campaign the Prime Minister said it would be instant.
– And the honourable member for Hotham in this chamber tonight said that he was instructed by the Prime Minister to give that undertaking on behalf of the coalition.
– That was only part of the statement. You did not read the rest.
– The honourable member should look in Hansard tomorrow. The honourable member for Hotham referred to instant and automatic increases in pensions. The pensioners and other social security payment recipients will miss out on a fair bit under this proposal. They will miss out on at least three or four months payment at a higher rate or they will miss out on whatever will be the increase during the March quarter. Even if pensions are raised every 6 months as the Government would like to do, if the increase is granted in May surely it should include the increase in the March quarter. Why bring in an increased rate in May which allows only for increases up to the December quarter? How can that possibly be justified?
– You did not do that in November.
– Because we increased pensions more than the CPI had increased. That is the whole point. The honourable member argues that we did not increase the rates automatically. We did not say that we did it automatically. We increased rates much more. Increases in the CPI during the time we were in government were of the order of just under 50 per cent, but increases in all social security payments were at least 80 per cent. The figures in the table I had incorporated in Hansard indicate the percentage by which the rates were increased during the time we were in power. They read in order: 87 per cent, 93.8 per cent, 124.6 per cent, 124.6 per cent, 158 per cent, 127.9 per cent, 127.9 per cent, 117.5 per cent, 252.3 per cent, 380 per cent, 130.4 per cent, 93.8 per cent, 93.8 per cent, 80 per cent, 193.1 per cent and 176.9 per cent. So the least increase was 80 per cent. That was for single persons aged 16 to 17 years. They received the least increase of 80 per cent, and even that was 30 per cent higher than the increase in the CPI. Surely the important point is that we exceeded our promises whilst this Government is already dropping behind on the pretence that it is saving money.
I wish to raise another point which is relevant though I realise that it could not be dealt with in this legislation. It is relevant to the cost of living for social security payment recipients and it is therefore relevant to the importance of these increases to them. I refer to the question of pensioner treatment now not being available by specialists at outpatient departments in most hospitals in New South Wales and, as I understand it, in many other States. One of the advantages of the Medibank scheme that we introduced was that it was possible for pensioners to have the advantage of a choice of either going to an outpatients department or going to see a specialist privately. We introduced a choice. That choice has now been taken away from pensioners at least in New South Wales by co-operation between the specialists and the New South Wales Government. The Government of New South Wales has closed almost all the outpatients clinics run by specialists because the doctors had refused to man them.
The importance from the pensioner’s point of view is that he now does not have the choice any longer. He has to go and see a specialist privately. He may be perfectly happy to do that. The specialist may have to send him for, let us say, pathology tests, an X-ray, an electrocardiogram or whatever special test may be involved. This would involve another trip and more fares. The report of the test would then go back to the specialist and the pensioner might be referred to a further specialist in a different area. In many areas in Sydney- the situation would probably be worse still in the country- this would involve a fair bit of travelling to get to where the specialist services are available. Previously the pensioner was able to obtain all those services at the public hospital of his choice if he wanted to receive them. In other words he saw the specialist at the outpatients clinic, let us take it at Fairfield District Hospital in my area, and he was then sent on to the pathology department or the X-ray department or whatever was necessary and no more fares were involved. At present all these extra costs are being involved. I think it is an important point to emphasise.
I mention in passing to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) who is sitting at the table that there has been an attempt to save money by restricting car transport for repatriation pensioners attending medical clinics and medical practitioners at those clinics or at hospitals. I have no objection to saving money if it is done reasonably. I hope that the instructions on the provision of car transport will be interpreted fairly leniently because the question of cost of the pensioner is involved. It may be perfectly reasonable for a totally and permanently incapacitated pensioner to travel to the clinic by public transport or by car but the point is that a significant cost is involved. If he is on a pension that is a significant point to him. I hope that the Department of Repatriation will interpret that aspect fairly leniently. I repeat for the benefit of the House that the amendment which we have moved states that we support the Bill but we deplore the failure of the Government to index dependants’ allowances to meet increases in the cost of living. We will oppose clause 7 of the amending legislation which deletes a part of the principal Act dealing with funeral benefits.
-I rise tonight to speak on the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill in this cognate debate. I regard this Bill as a machinery measure I shall not take many minutes of the House’s time. I wish to make only a couple of comments on the Bill. The Government’s proposal to update the repatriation benefits in line with the movements in the consumer price index is certainly welcome. It should never be forgotten that the first principle of repatriation is compensation and that there is a responsibility on governments to recognise that an individual’s service in the armed forces in the defence of our country is worthy of compensation when, as a result of his service, this individual suffers some disability. Unfortunately as the length of time from the end of a war becomes greater, people are apt to forget that there are some members of the community who will remain handicapped because they received thendisability during service and that this condition could remain until death claims them. People may forget this, but governments never should.
I know that for some years, as the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) explained in his second reading speech, the main repatriation pension rates have been increased twice a year. The policy of the Government to continue this situation in line with the consumer price index changes is to be commended, but when these increases are to take effect unfortunately is left completely to the whim of governments. There have been instances over the years- I go back quite a few years- where the increase in benefits has not been allocated for some time after a rise in the consumer price index. This has caused quite an amount of hardship in a number of instances which reacts adversely against the repatriation principle of compensation. It appears to me that when any rise in the consumer price index is known at each six-monthly interval, it would alleviate a certain amount of hardship for a number of repatriation pensioners if the increase to their pensions could be allocated immediately. I am referring now of course to suggestions that I have made previously that automatic adjustments to repatriation pensions in line with consumer price index changes should be introduced. As shadow Minister for Repatriation at the time of the 1974 elections, I had the privilege of including such a clause in our repatriation policy. I am well aware that this suggestion of automatic adjustments will be considered by the Minister. But he must do this in conjunction with the recommendations of the Toose report on the inquiry into the repatriation system. I am confident that the Minister will decide on a system appertaining to the payments of increased repatriation pensions that will be acceptable to everybody.
Again I note that the proposed increase will bring the special rate pension to $78.85. This is not enough. For some time I have been advocating the establishment of a fixed relationship between the special rate- the totally and permanently incapacitated pension- and the Commonwealth minimum wage. This I also included in the repatriation policy of 1974. But I know that the Minister will be studying this in conjunction with the recommendations of the Toose report. I am also heartened quite a little by the Minister’s statement that he has requested the views of major ex-service organisations on recommendations in the Toose report. Within these organisations there are men of wide experience and discernment in repatriation matters and their opinions could assist the Government considerably.
I listened tonight to the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) when he mentioned matters of repatriation policy. He also mentioned what the previous Labor administration had done for repatriation people and said that it had done so much. I was quite proud of the honourable member because in a number of instances the Labor administration had adopted quite a number of the items that I had included in my 1974 repatriation policy. So I was very proud of him tonight when he did mention this. As I say, I regard this Bill as a machinery measure only. Again, I welcome the announcement of the increase in pensions and trust that this Bill will have a speedy passage through both Houses. I support the Government’s proposals. I most definitely oppose the Opposition’s amendment.
– The chart tabled this evening by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) will show a magnificent record by the last Labour Government. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) and the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) have spoken in fairly non-partisan terms this evening about the way in which we should address matters relating to social services and repatriation. I subscribe to the view, as I am sure all pensioner organisations do, that to the maximum extent possible, we ought to strive to take pensions away from the sort of bidding up that used to go on in years past. We can argue about whether the automatic adjustment should be in association with the consumer price index or average weekly earnings. But that kind of adjustment would be a very welcome institutionalising in the field of pensions.
I think it is important that honourable members should address themselves very carefully to the wording of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). When they look at it, they will see that in fact the adjustment which has been carried out automatically at least on the past 3 occasions is not taking place this time. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) in his second reading speech, maintained that the amending Bill will increase the pension and benefit rates in accordance with the movements in the consumer price index. I submit that the Government has not done this precisely because it has not addressed itself to an integral part of the pension rates.
If honourable members look at the previous legislation on the last 3 occasions, they will see that the section which is amended- section 28- that sets out the rates of pension, has also gone on to deal with the question of the additional pension benefit for children. The Act makes it quite clear that that is designed to be an integral part of the pension. It talks about the maximum rate of pension being increased. On this occasion we have not got that increase. On this occasion it may not be a substantial amount. It would, however, I submit, at least be about 50c a child. When we are talking about these sums in family budgets, that amount of money can be substantial. But what is important is that for the first time the Government is moving away from an important principle which is that this is a part of the pension rate.
The genesis of this additional pension benefit for children is quite interesting. It also has its origins in 1943 as does another provision which is the subj ect of this Bill which I shall come to later. It was introduced on the recommendation of a joint committee on social security chaired by a predecessor of the Minister for Repatriation as the member for Bass.
I realise that in a Liberal-National Country Party Government, social welfare does not always enjoy the highest priorities. However, I know that the Minister for Repatriation brings great personal qualities and an appropriate professional background to his portfolio. I urge that in looking at this question, he reconsider and give very serious consideration to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley. It will, I submit make sure that this part of the pension remains subject to automatic adjustment in addition to the basic rate stipulated earlier in section 28 of the Act. The honourable member for Prospect gave some of the figures. I think that they bear repeating. We are not talking about just a few thousand persons who are affected by this refusal to adjust the benefit. At 30 June 1975 more than 130 000 pensioners and more than a quarter of a million children would have been the object of this benefit. So it is a substantial benefit. It is one that the Government ought to reconsider. The amendment seeks to redress that deficiency and it is worthy of support.
I turn to some other provisions of the Bill. The honourable member for Prospect also foreshadowed the Opposition’s intention to oppose clause 7 which seeks to repeal Part IVa of the Act dealing with the funeral benefit. This provision was originally introduced in 1943. It was designed quite simply to give pensioners peace of mind. I do not suppose that the amounts involved really achieve that objective. The benefits of $20 and $40 do not go very far to meeting the cost of a funeral these days. But I think it bodes ill for pensioners when existing benefits are to be removed on such scanty grounds as those outlined in the Minister’s second reading speech. We are told that the total saving will be $ 1.7m, that the decision has been taken as part of the Government’s review of spending programs and that it is part of its endeavour to reduce administrative costs in government expenditure. But it is a piddling amount. The pensioners can see where the priorities of this Government he. In a throwaway line in justifying the rationale for doing away with this benefit the Minister states:
I might also point out that some 25 per cent of age pensioners are single and own their own homes. On the death of such pensioners, their estates would generally be sufficient to cover the funeral costs.
What of the 75 per cent of pensioners who are not in that position? Has there been any inquiry into their position? In the other throw-away line the Minister stated:
In addition the $20 funeral benefit is often paid to people who are not pensioners and who may not be m need of this assistance.
Often they may not. Why do we not bother to find out? Why does not the Government find out before it does away with the existing benefit that obviously is of benefit to some people?
The differentiation in rates was introduced in 196S by a government of the same complexion as the present Government. Presumably then there was thought to be some justification for higher payment to persons in different circumstances. The pensioners affected are, in any event, only those who satisfy the means test for fringe benefits. Half a decade after that differentiation in rates was introduced the Government at any time could have bothered to find out what people were benefiting. It has not done so. Supporters of the Government come into this place and in justification for repealing an important part of the Act which provides a benefit for pensioners they say that something ‘often’ is paid to someone and it ‘may ‘ not be useful to others.
I was interested to hear the honourable member for Hotham refer to a passage in the Minister’s second reading speech about the Government proceeding with a review of income security. The honourable member was able to flesh that out a little for me when he said that a new government committee was being appointed by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I am fairly diligent in reading documents that issue from all Ministers. But I have not seen a statement in respect of such a committee being appointed. If this committee is to deliberate in private, that is deplorable. This Government has spent a good part of its time in government deprecating the efforts of committees that have held very valuable discussions in public. These committees have received submissions in public and arguments have been presented to them in public. It would be absolutely deplorable if a committee formed to consider the very important question of income security review were to meet in private.
I will not take up the time of the House further. I think that honourable members opposite should address themselves to this question. They should at least frankly acknowledge that on this occasion they have not adjusted the rates in the way that they have been adjusted in the past. In the past it has been automatic; this time it is not. The amendment seeks to redress that deficiency. It talks about an important element that is now being left out of the legislation. If the proposed legislation is allowed to pass, the principle of automatic adjustment, which many honourable members on both sides of the House think is deserving of bipartisan and even tripartisan support, will be destroyed. So at this stage can we at least redress that anomaly?
We will be dealing with the funeral benefit later in the debate. At that time we can repeat the call that the Government should at least explain why it is seeking to save this piddling amount of $1.7m. I commend the amendment to the House.
– I am pleased to support both Bills. But in particular I should like to speak to the Social Services Amendment Bill and concentrate more on some principles implicit in that Bill. I support some of the reservations expressed by the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). Before dealing with the Bill itself I point to a number of popular misconceptions about this Government’s attitude to pensioners and to social services in general. I think this is essential in view of the degree of selfadulation in which the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) indulged. Firstly, it is often wrongly reported that the payment of these pension increases of $2.50 per week for the standard rate pension and $4 a week for pensioner couples has been delayed for one month by this Government. This is just not correct. The Whitlam Labor Government delayed the pension payments by one month from October 1975 to November 1975. The present Government is now increasing the pension exactly 6 months after the increases last granted by the Labor Government. This is in keeping with the Government ‘s pledge to increase pensions every 6 months.
Also contrary to recent Press reports, pensioners will receive the same percentage increase in their pensions as was recently granted to wage and salary earners by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. These pension increases honour the Government’s undertaking to maintain the real value of pensions by incorporating the full increase of 6.4 per cent in the consumer price index for the 6 months ended 31 December 1975. It is this adjustment process which I am particularly pleased to support. For too many years pensioners, particularly those whose income is almost entirely dependent on the pension, have not been given an adequate sense of security or social justice. Security has been denied them by the way in which successive governments have refused to set down a clear policy regarding payment of pensions according to a regular and clearly defined adjustment mechanism. For too long the pensioner’s income has been determined more by political expediency than by humanitarian criteria. Surely a pensioner, as a person who has worked all his or her life for this country, is entitled to more compassionate treatment from the present generation of workers and policy makers.
It should also be noted that the former Labor Government promised in 1972 to increase pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. But this was a promise it was unable to achieve. On the basis of average weekly earnings for the December 1975 quarter the pension at the November increased rate represented 23.7 per cent of average weekly earnings and on the date of payment prior to this it represented just over 24 per cent of average weekly earnings. The figure of 25 per cent was not achieved. Furthermore, the method of adjusting the pension at this time was changed by the Labor Government. The previous Government decided in the 1975 Budget that pensions should be adjusted in line with CPI changes, as this Government has now decided. With broken promises and short-term changes to an adjustment mechanism where is the security for the pensioner? That is Labor’s record.
The present government is now providing a pensioner with the security of knowing that each 6 months the CPI will be used as a regular adjustment mechanism by which the real value of the pension is preserved. That is an essential guarantee in view of the record inflation rate experienced in this country over the past 3 years. Another misconception is that a Labor government is the only government which can possess an enlightened social welfare policy. How magnanimous was a government which produced the highest level of unemployment since the Depression? One must remember that Professor Henderson stated that unemployment- (Quorum formed) I am grateful for the increased audience. I had referred to the magnanimity of the previous Government in matters of social welfare and I was asking how magnanimous was it when it created the highest level of unemployment since the Depression. Professor Henderson has stated that unemployment is a major cause of poverty in Australia. Further, how enlightened was the Labor Government’s social welfare policy when that Government’s permissiveness caused the highest level of inflation in this country’s history. Again I refer to the report of the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty, which stated: … no country with a continuing inflation rate of over 10 per cent per annum has been able to prevent this causing hardship to important groups of poor people.
Under the Labor Government, inflation was always well above that figure. By hurting the poor in that way, the Labor Government inflicted hardship on the pensioner, and the relationship in Australia between the pensioner and the poor is quite obvious. The income survey referred to by the Henderson Commission indicated that the largest group of people living in poverty in this country consists of those who are over 65 years of age. Where is the enlightened welfare policy in a government which imposes that rate of inflation on pensioners? How magnanimous was its attempt to revolutionise Australian society by turning upside down rather than modifying existing social service systems in Australia?
It should be noted that the late Professor Downing in the 1974 George Judah Cohen Memorial Lecture estimated that the introduction of Labor’s compensation, superannuation and health insurance schemes would mean an increase in taxation of 25 per cent. That figure was expressed in 1973-74 money terms and did not include all Labor’s welfare programs. So much for those popular misconceptions. I am prepared to admit that in the past both Liberal and Labor Governments have not treated welfare recipients as well as they might have. Both the level and the method of adjustment of pensions over a longer period of time has not been completely satisfactory. However, at the present time this Government in my opinion is applying the most appropriate form of adjustment- that is via the consumer price index- for the present economic circumstances and is to be commended for ensuring a regular stipulated increase in the pension according to that adjustment.
There has been much debate over many years regarding the most suitable method of adjusting pensions, and generally this debate has centred between discussion as to the efficacy of the average weekly earnings series and the consumer price index as the most appropriate method of adjustment. This Government’s present policy of adjusting pensions according to changes in the CPI has been criticised in the past by pensioner groups and by the Labor Party. In that respect, it is interesting to note that in the 1975 Budget the Whitlam Labor Government adopted just such a procedure. In view of that, the Opposition cannot now criticise it. It should be realised that while wage indexation is operating in Australia, both pensions and average weekly earnings are being influenced largely by the same forces. Discussion as to the best adjustment mechanism has therefore become slightly less meaningful. Nevertheless, it should be noted that although historically the incomes of wage earners, and hence average weekly earnings, have moved at about the same rate as incomes overall, recent events have shown that sharp differences can occur. In 1975, whereas average weekly earnings increased by 11.3 per cent the consumer price index rose by 1 4 per cent. That was a period which coincided with the decline in Australia’s gross domestic product at constant prices, and if the pension had been indexed to average weekly earnings last year there would have been a decline in the real value of the pension.
The influence of such factors as over-award wages and overtime payments on average weekly earnings is likely to diminish with the severe stagflation conditions which have prevailed in the past, but the impact of inflation on those conditions has been both severe and very ^discriminate. To the extent that the 1975 relationship between average weekly earnings and the CPI was characteristic of stagflation periods, adjusting pensions by the CPI is surely the most appropriate policy at this particular time and in these particular economic circumstances. However, it is to be hoped that present economic circumstances will be changed by this Government, and they will be changed. The Treasurer (Mr Lynch) has already stated in this House the Government’s objective to reduce inflation and thereby increase the level of domestic economic activity and reduce unemployment. In striving for that objective the Government is really attempting, in the context of this debate, to reduce the rate of increase in the CPI and increase the rate of increase in average weekly earnings via productivity increases. Surely that is a desirable economic and welfare objective.
In those circumstances, and statistics bear this out, over a longer term adjusting pensions to average weekly earnings is of more benefit to the pensioner. Although that is not the case at present, when this Government’s economic objectives are achieved a reappraisal of the method by which pensions are adjusted will be required. At this point I refer again to the findings of the Henderson Commission of the close correlation between poverty and the aged, and I draw on a definition of poverty used by J. K. Galbraith in his book The Affluent Society:
People are poverty stricken when their income, even if adequate for survival, falls markedly behind that of the community.
That definition is in line with contemporary thinking on the nature and concept of poverty. In other words, if inflation is to become negligible, and we all hope that that will be the case, and if community living standards increase, as we also hope will be the case, an adjustment of pensions to account only for inflation would merely sustain an absolute standard of living rather than provide an assurance that a standard relative to the community at large was maintained.
There are many factors which make the index of average weekly earnings an imperfect measure of community living standards. Nevertheless, over a longer period of time the average weekly earnings series provides a reasonable indicator of the level of earnings in the community and, as such, is a more suitable indicator than the CPI, which makes no allowance for rising productivity and changes in real living standards. For those who are concerned about the future of pensioners when the CPI reaches a respectable lower level, I would say that a change in the adjustment mechanism would then be appropriate, but not before then. To the extent that such a decline in the CPI will lead to economic recovery and increase productivity, which this Government maintains is the proper causal relationship, a movement to an indicator of real income changes would be more appropriate. The Government could then reasonably convert its concern for adjusting money incomes to preserve the real value of pensions to a concern to alter their real value. In the present circumstances the CPI is the most appropriate mechanism and I am pleased to support the pension increases recommended in the legislation, as no doubt honourable members opposite are because it was their 1975 Budget policy to use the CPI as the basis for adjusting pensions.
However, should high rates of inflation, such as those we have experienced over the past 3 years, prevail in the near future I would suggest several things: Firstly, the Government might consider increasing pensions quarterly in order to prevent the erosion of the value of pension increases which were paid on the basis of previous quarterly price index changes. Secondly, consideration might be given to finding a price index of more relevance to pensioners than the present CPI. The CPI is a quarterly measure of variations in retail prices for goods and services representing a high proportion of the expenditure of wage earner households. Such wage earner households, according to the commission of inquiry into poverty, are much better off than pensioners. Their pattern of expenditure therefore is not the same. I would also suggest that when economic conditions improve the Government might examine the merits of adjusting pensions by using an index of gross domestic products per head of population. I am not suggesting that this would prove to be the most acceptable method of adjustment, but being aware of the deficiencies in both the average weekly earnings series and the CPI adjustment methods I do feel that some investigation of the alternatives is desirable.
The discussion as to what is the best method of reserving the real value of pensions and benefits is certainly important, but it is equally important to assess what is the appropriate level to be preserved. This involves value judgments as to both the nature of the pension and its level of remuneration. All social service pensions are set at arbitrary levels although not without due consideration of what might be adequate. In determining what is adequate subjective evaluation becomes dominant. That is what determines whether the pension should be 22 per cent, 28 per cent or any other percentage of average weekly earnings. More importantly, how often are such arbitrary levels reviewed? Is not too much emphasis placed on methods of preserving a certain real pension level rather than deciding the level which should be preserved? Surely the level of the pension which is considered adequate at any point of time should be reviewed at regular intervals in the light of changing economic, social and technological circumstances. Even the nature of the pension itself should be considered periodically and outside the constraints of contemporary or conventional welfare thinking. I am therefore particularly pleased that this Government is to proceed with a review of the income security system as a whole, including the effectiveness of guaranteed minimum income proposals in an endeavour to overcome poverty.
I am pleased to support both Bills and the thrust of the Government’s social welfare policy generally. The thrust of the policy is, firstly, to concentrate resources on areas of need and secondly, to preserve the real value of pensions and other major welfare benefits. I applaud the Government’s courage in being prepared to make in the short term difficult and politically unpopular decisions in order to remedy the disastrous economic circumstances inherited from the Labor Government and thereby improve the living standards of all Australians including age pensioners, the unemployed, the sick and the handicapped. These Bills represent this Government’s very genuine concern for the hardships imposed on the disadvantaged sections of the community which have been affected very seriously by the economic difficulties experienced over the past few years. I am pleased therefore to have been given the opportunity to support both the Social Services Amendment Bill and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill. I also reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley.
-There is no new thrust in the proposals before the House. The honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean), who preceded me in this debate, is a new member of this House. How the House must miss the former honourable member for Perth, Mr Joe Berinson, who was steeped in a genuine understanding of social welfare and social security matters and who worked assiduously to formulate Labor’s policy in these areas which the honourable member for Perth had the temerity to disparage. The greatest range of achievements that has ever been seen in the history of this and probably any other nation has just been roundly criticised by the honourable member who obviously has no understanding of the events that preceded the Labor Government’s administration of this area. This legislation is in slavish pursuit of a pattern of updating social service benefits which was set by the Labor Government. All this legislation does is to increase pensions by $2.50 a week for single people and $4 a week for a married couple, and that general theme runs through to the other range of beneficiaries. This pattern was set by the Labor Government.
The idea of updating pensions twice a year in terms of average weekly earnings for the purpose of achieving Labor’s target of equating pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings was never heard of before Labor came to office. Prior to that time there had been 23 years of neglect and indifference. I will tell the House a little about it in just a moment. Those who have been members of this place for a few years will remember the syndrome that operated during those 23 years. There was a pension increase every 3 years, but never in a non-election year. There was an increase only in the third year. Then there was this half-dollar or five bob mentality, as it used to be called.
– It meant something then.
-In terms of the percentage of average weekly earnings it did not mean very much because Liberal-Country Party accomplishments in respect of pensions were such that pensions ranged from about 1 8 per cent to 19 per cent of average weekly earnings.
– What is your present policy?
-I am going to cite figures which will inform the honourable member in such a way that he might be a little more respectful.
– Tell us your present policy.
– The bottle-o from Petrie.
-Order! The honourable member for Petrie is due to speak in this debate. He might save some of his comments until he makes his own speech and allow the honourable member to continue his speech in an orderly fashion.
– I raise a point of order. I find objectionable the comment made by the honourable member for Hughes.
– Frankly, the Chair is at a bit of a disadvantage. I did not hear the comment. If the honourable member for Hughes wishes to withdraw he may do so. I cannot do much apart from that.
– The fact of the matter is that we on this side of the House have no expectation at all in relation to any real objectives from this Government. There has been no indication of the Government’s objectives and for some time to come we are just going to see this pursuit of Labor’s policies because the Government has no other thinking on the matter. Legislation concerning superannuation for public servants has been introduced into this House. One would have thought that there might have been some heralding of the Government’s intention to think in terms of a national superannuation scheme for all Australians, but that is not indicated in this legislation as it might have been appropriate so to do.
Everything done from the other side of the House in relation to social services is done in a niggardly way. We have heard of the threat to deny pensioners the hearing aid benefit for the purpose of saving $270,000. In the legislation under discussion it is proposed to delete the funeral allowance for pensioners in order to save $1.7m.
-Tell us what you did to blind pensioners.
-The Country Party is getting its lavish handouts as well as the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). This legislation talks about a saving of only $1.7m by abolishing the funeral allowance which has been in operation since 1943- a time honoured commitment to the older people of this community. The Government is slashing pharmaceutical benefits to the extent of $34m. Many of these onslaughts affect the well-being of pensioners. There is also a proposal to reduce prescription charge benefits for long term beneficiaries of unemployment and sickness benefits for the purpose of saving, I think, some $2m.
Since we are talking about repatriation measures as well in this cognate debate, let me remind the House that there is talk of cutting back the car service for ex-servicemen, totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners and old diggers who go to the repatriation hospitals. That is designed to save some $400,000. The approach taken in respect of pensions is an exceedingly niggardly approach. I heard the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) talk about the delay associated with the introduction of these new increases. In effect the Government is taking $ 1 0 from each single pensioner and $ 1 6 from each pensioner couple, to save $29m. To my way of thinking, that is a niggardly attitude as well. I have before me a copy of the publication Pensioners’ Voice. It states:
To delay for one month payments of autumn increases in pensions, thus taking $10 from single pensioners and $16 from each married couple, and boast of saving $29m by that means.
We claim the delay is really 3 months, not one month, because Prime Minister Fraser pledged at Rockhampton on 6 December (reported in Melbourne Sun 8.12.75) . . .
So honourable members can check it for themselves- a Liberal-National Country Party government would give automatic twice yearly increases in pensions, and would raise pensions directly in line with price rises. Mr Fraser said there would be no need to wait 3 months as with Labor’s proposed adjustments for price index changes.
There will be instant and automatic pension increases as soon as the new consumer price index is announced.
The article in the publication also states that there were 1 1 023 age pensioners in the Rockhampton division, and this false commitment was given to defeat Dr Everingham in Capricornia. In contrast to this Government’s actions, when the Labor Government came into office, on the first day of the first session it introduced a Bill to increase pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits because that was its commitment, which it honoured. The honourable member for Perth, who preceded me in this debate, might like to know that. The Labor Government did not rat on the deal, in the way that this Government did, as I have described. The Labor Government did many other things. A common benefit rate was introduced to remove anomalies. The honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) laughs. He has not had much experience of these things. He could possibly be aware that people with similar needs were receiving differing rates of pension. Those differing rates were removed, and a common rate was introduced. The principle of periodic adjustments was introduced. The adjustments were made twice yearly, which achieved the target of 25 per cent of average weekly earnings, as I will show. Dependants’ benefits were faced up to. There had been a denial of dependants’ benefits for student children over 16 years of pensioners all the time the Liberal-Country Party coalition was in office. Benefits are now paid to student dependants of pensioners and of recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits.
The discrimination between A, B and C class widows was removed. The amounts paid to B and C class widows was at a pathetic level until Labor attended to the matter. The supporting mothers benefit was introduced. I remember, when the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) proposed its introduction, the cries from members who now sit on the other side of the House had to be heard to be believed. They felt that an unmarried mother had to pay the price; she could live in purgatory and deprivation. Today, as a result of the innovations of the Labor Government, unmarried mothers, deserted wives and de facto wives who have a need receive a benefit. Do honourable gentlemen opposite disparage the idea in 1976? I would not be surprised if the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) does because he is still back in the horse and buggy days. He will probably be crooked on the double orphan pension, too. I am simply giving an historical account of Labor’s achievement. The double orphan pension was introduced. It is paid to the guardian of a child who loses both parents, but it was not paid for 23 years. It was not paid until the Labor Government introduced it.
We made pensions portable. Think what this means to migrants who decide on their retirement to return to their homeland. Think what this means to people who want to live with a relative overseas. There was a great deal of talk about this when the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) was Minister for Social Services. He went on with the negotiation with country after country, year after year, but Labor legislated for it with one stroke of the pen. Today it is a reality. I could go on.
The Australian Assistance Plan was introduced. We did not have it previously. The honourable member for Bowman probably does not even know what it means. It is designed to provide self-sufficiency in terms of social security arrangements and organisations that are capable of catering for people in every eventuality in every region of Australia. I do not think this Government will breathe much life into it. I think it is bound to suffer financial malnutrition as a result of the lack of understanding and enthusiasm for it on the other side. The supporting fathers benefit was introduced for those fathers who have to pay people to look after their children. The honourable member for Riverina would no doubt oppose that as well. Great initiatives were taken in rehabilitation training allowance, supplementary rent pension, abolition of the means test, assistance to the handicapped, home care for the elderly, support for senior citizen centres and subsidies for the welfare officers who service them, Meals on Wheels, assistance for homeless men and matters of that kind. There were inquiries into poverty, the national superannuation scheme and the national compensation and rehabilitation scheme.
Time goes very quickly. There is so much I could say about these great achievements of the Labor Government about which the honourable member for Perth has not known anything to this point of time. He will be educated. If he goes to any pensioner organisation in his electorate and seeks to disparage the achievements of Labor in the way that he sought to do tonight he will soon be put in his place, and rightly so. I will tell him now, in a very cryptic way, if he likes, of the great achievements of Labor. The rate of pension paid to married couples under the Labor Government increased by 87 per cent in the short time Labor was in office. If the honourable member for Perth can laugh at that, he has a very great sense of humour. The rate of pension paid to single pensioners increased by 93.8 per cent while Labor was in office. I could go through the other benefits. The class A widows pension increased by 93.8 per cent. The class B pension went up by 124.6 per cent. The same figure applies to the class C pension. Unemployment and sickness benefits for married people went up by 158 per cent. The honourable gentleman looks stunned. Is he prepared to acknowledge that it is a good record? The unemployment and sickness benefit for single people aged 21 and over went up by 127.9 per cent. There are a number of other age groups to which I could also refer. The supporting mothers benefit was greatly increased. I do not have the precise figure. The long term sickness benefit went up by 130.4 per cent. So the record goes on.
Let me put several figures into sharp relief for honourable members opposite. The married rate pension went up by 87 per cent. In less than 3 years the single rate pension went up by 93.8 per cent. In the same period there was an increase in the average weekly earnings of only 58.6 per cent and in the consumer price index of 42.2 per cent.
Honourable gentlemen opposite ought to remember that it was the pensioners who received the first consideration under the Labor Government and it was the pensioners who were effectively insulated against inflation and who gained a great deal as a result of that short period of reign by the Australian Labor Party.
I want to make brief reference to the funeral benefit, which is to be eliminated. It was introduced, as I have said, by the Chifley Government in 1943 and it is now being eliminated for the purpose of saving $1.7m, which these days can be regarded as an infinitesimal amount as a proportion of the Budget. I do not think that the rates have never varied. They are paid to the tune of $20 to persons liable for the funeral costs of a pensioner and to the tune of $40 to a pensioner responsible for the funeral costs of another pensioner. The Australian Pensioners Federation’s policy is that the funeral allowance should be $200. It is interesting to note that in 1974-75 there were 55 453 beneficiaries. So there is no point in saying that the funeral allowance does not count. It is important to many very needy people. Before honourable gentlemen opposite continue to disparage this provision they ought to have a look at the report of the independent inquiry into the repatriation system that was recently presented by Mr Justice Toose. He took evidence from the Returned Services League. Mr R. C. Allison from the Legacy Co-ordinating Council- he is a funeral director- gave some very interesting figures about the cost of funerals. He said that the average cost of funerals had risen between 1950 and 1972 by increases ranging from 380 per cent to 650 per cent. But, quite apart from the costs one has to pay to a funeral director, there are many factors to take into account, such as the increased cost of a grave, the payment of cemetery and cremation expenses, the cost of special certificates of cremation and newspaper notices and the offers to clergy, organists and the like. Even in Queensland the allowance for a pauper’s funeral is $100.
The evidence in the report of Mr Justice Toose indicates that the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Act provides for a sum of $300 for the funeral allowance. It indicates that the average cost of a funeral as at February 1 972, according to Mr A. G. W. Keys of the RSL, was $250 in Queensland, $215 in New South Wales, $285 in Victoria, $243 in South Australia and $233 in Tasmania. The honourable member for Perth might like to know that for some unaccountable reason it was $340 in Perth. Yet he seems to be anxious to get this legislation through, which will take away the funeral allowance from pensioners. In the United States of America the allowance paid to veterans is $250. An allowance of SA60 is paid to pensioners in the United Kingdom. In Canada it is of a high order and the trend is to increase it. But here, under this Government, we are going backwards in relation to a matter which the pensioners regard so importantly. The facts are that in the 3 years of the Labor Party’s administration pensioners were dignified and rates of increase took place which never occurred as a prospect to honourable gentlemen opposite.
-The Australian Labor Party speakers in this debate have concentrated on only one or two aspects. They have either lived in the past by mentioning, without referring to the taxation arrangements, the inflation rates and so on at that time, what we may have done when we were in office at an earlier time, or they have quoted masses of figures that they believe prove beyond doubt, that what they did when they were in office is better than what we are now doing. I have several pages of figures that I could quote, but I am not going to do so. The way in which those figures are presented indicate that what we are doing is as good as or better than what the Labor Party has done. Many of the figures which have been quoted really do not take everything into account. For example, if we wanted to live in the past we could argue from our point of view about the effects that the levels of inflation caused by the actions of the previous Labor Government had on the basic security of all pensioners. I think that they have been more harmful to pensioners than to anybody else in the community.
If one wants to argue on the basis of figures one could ask members of the Australian Labor Party whether they have taken into account in the figures they have produced the taxation that the Labor Government imposed on certain categories of pensions which were not previously subject to taxation, whether they have taken into account the effect of inflation on the real value of savings or other incomes that many pensioners have, which are now not worth what they were previously, and whether they have also taken into account the phasing out of the taxation concessions for certain categories of older people. If one likes to look at some of these figures in a little more depth I think one will see that a different answer might emerge.
I prefer to live in the present rather than in the past and to talk about the situation now without confusing people with a great muddle of figures. I think it is fairly obvious why the Labor Party has argued on that basis. It is because what we are doing at the present time is identical with what the Labor Party would have done if it had been in office at this time; that is, we have passed on the full consumer price index adjustment for the June and December 1975 quarters and we are passing it on 6 months after the last pension increase was made. Anybody who wants to criticise the fact that that payment is coming in May of this year rather than April, as was the position last year, should blame die Labor Government because it put the increase date back a month to November. To anybody who wants to argue about the merits of using the average weekly earnings instead of the consumer price index as a basis I point out that the information I have is that the average weekly earnings in those 2 quarters rose at much the same rate as the CPI and that therefore the final result would be the same. One can always remind anyone who wants to argue about the merit of the use of the CPI that the Labor Party introduced that concept itself in the last Budget.
There are other provisions in this legislation. I notice that, in line with inflation, one of them allows for a reasonable increase in income and property qualifications before a recipient is means tested out of a pension. I welcome the announcement in that respect. I move on to the reference that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) made in his second reading speech to the income security review committee. I believe that it is a most important committee from a number of viewpoints. I understand that this committee will be reporting in the coming months. I hope that it will propose a number of improvements to the present arrangements. The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) referred to his hopes in this direction during his speech. I agree with him most decidedly on the important point of simplifying and reducing the number, types and varieties of means tests that we presently have for the different benefits and pensions. I particularly agree with his remarks about the introduction of what we proposed as a policy in the last election campaign; that is, the abolition of a separate assessment for assets in some of the means tests. To me the only accurate means test is that related solely to income. A person ‘s theoretical assets in a number of occupations and situations in this country bear no relationship to his ability to earn a minimum income. That is becoming the case more and more in my electorate at the present time.
I believe that when these provisions were introduced they were probably relevant to the situation at that time in the sense that self employed people- farming people, people with assets- were above average perhaps in relation to the wealth of the community. But the provisions do not take into account the dramatic shift in wealth that has taken place in our society. Although that shift has been gradual over a period of years particularly in relation to certain sections of the self-employed and farming communities, it has been dramatic in the last 3 years in relation to the wage and salary sector of our community. That sector has improved its position dramatically at the expense of the self employed.sector. I am not here to argue whether that is right or wrong; I am here to argue that that puts out of date any means test arrangements and any criteria that were introduced basically many years ago, including those relating to assets. I believe also that that anomaly carries over into the assessment of unemployment benefits. I know I referred to this matter yesterday; there has been a certain amount of flack today in relation to what I said yesterday. I want to repeat what I said, namely, that the criteria for unemployment benefits does not take into account this new situation of many of the self employed people in rural areas not earning a minimum income or the matter of end of season work or even the matter of those people perhaps being relieved of their job.
Yesterday I referred particularly to the fact that in my area many dairy farmers, and even more so share farmers, have not received even a minimum income this year and will be leaving their occupation. I referred to the fact that different criteria are being applied in different parts of the State of Victoria in relation to the eligibility of dairy farmers for unemployment benefits or their registration for employment. I know that those matters cover two different offices. Also there is the matter of the time lag between the application being made and the assessment. On Monday my office received a telephone call which concerned a dairy farmer who has to decide whether he is going to walk off his place, if he cannot sell it- he may not be able to do so at the present time- and try to register for employment. He was able to do that all right, but he was told that it would be 6 weeks before there would be any indication as to whether he would be eligible for a benefit. I do not think he has got 6 weeks in which to decide whether, in relation to the question of the historic income situation, it is worth while trying to hang on.
I referred also to some other problems that I hoped would be looked at by the income security review committee or, if not that committee, the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle).
I refer again to what the honourable member for Hotham said concerning emergency assistance. He made the most valid point that the average member of Parliament does have some sort of responsibility to provide contingency emergency assistance for people who find themselves in need late in the week or something like thatpeople in most unfortunate circumstances. I want to add another dimension to that point by referring to the situation of a pension or benefit cheque, whatever it may be, being posted to a person from the computer centre in Melbourne or wherever- in my case it is Wangaratta because that is base office- and that cheque has not arrived for a number of reasons. If the person concerned goes to the counter at the Social Security office he cannot get that cheque paid out over the counter. If he could get through to the senior management at that office I am sure the cheque would be paid out. I have every respect for the senior management. If people in that sort of situation come around to my office I ring the senior management and the matter is sorted out. But that should not be necessary. There should be flexibility in the system so that that sort of situation is covered. I hope that the income security review committee will propose some sort of net which will cover the varying complexities in the minimum benefit area.
I want to mention two other points. One concerns pensions for the blind. I have not brought my notes with me, so I may be incorrect in certain aspects. I believe the blind were put in a most unfortunate situation by the previous Labor Government when it introduced taxation on the age pension. Previously a means-test free pension was paid to the blind of all ages- those assessed as being worthy of receiving or unfortunate enough to receive that pension. My understanding is that when Labor came into office it broke its election promise that it would not change anything in relation to the blind so that we have the new situation, I think, of there being no means test for blind people up to 65 years of age, there being a means test for blind people between 65 and 70 years of age, and there being no means test again for people older than 70 years. Those people in the age group from 65 years to 70 years probably need this form of assistance at least as much as any other age group. If I am wrong in what I have just stated to be the position, I stand corrected. However, I know that an anomaly does exist, even if I have got the age groupings wrong.
The final point I want to make concerns the special benefit and the fact that it is not an appropriate benefit to be paid to a supporting father, a deserted father. I believe that some other assessment is necessary. I know that I am contradicting what I said earlier about simplifying means test arrangements, but I think this is a special case that requires an assessment different from that which applies in other areas. In fact, at the moment I am dealing with a combination problem in this regard. It concerns a dairy share farmer whose wife has deserted him. He has three or four school-age children but he is not eligible for any sort of special benefit or unemployment benefit. Unlike the ordinary supporting father who perhaps may be able to help the children get ready for school early in the morning, he is out milking the cows. All right, one can say that he should not be doing that. I hope he gets out of that situation because it is a hopeless one. That is the sort of hopeless combination situation, which includes the element of the supporting father situation which many men find themselves in at the present time.
I want to comment once again on the importance of a humane approach being adopted at the counter of a Social Security office. I have always received most courteous service from people at all levels of the Department of Social Security and other government offices. I do not want to single out particularly the Department of Social Security but these Bills are concerned with that particular subject. However, I believe that there is a difference between the service I receive as a member of Parliament and that which the ordinary public receives. I do not think that is right. I believe that people must have explained to them why they are not eligible for something, and I believe it should be explained in a reasonable manner. To me there are two important points: One is that justice must be seen to be done as well as be done, and the second point is that the Public Service is there to serve the public. I make the suggestion once again that there is a need for counter staff in all government offices to wear name tags. I am not singling out the Department of Social Security here; I mean all government offices. I make that suggestion for 2 reasons: Firstly, it helps the public identify the person who gave them certain advice or who was rude to them. Secondly, I believe it would also help senior management in all government departments, including the Department of Social Security, to identify definitely who is the offender when a complaint is lodged and can do something about it. I am sure that branch office managers and senior officers in the Department generally would be just as anxious to correct that sort of attitude when it occurs at the counter as would the public and members of Parliament. I support the Bill and reject the amendment.
-I support the amendment moved by my colleague, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), for the reasons which have already been well outlined in the debate. I always have the greatest respect for the opinions offered by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) in debates such as this. I give him credit for the fact that he always gives the subject a great deal of thought. I disagree violently often with the conclusions he reaches, but at least he does not pose as one of those pseudo small ‘1’ liberals in these affairs. He puts forward his arguments as a result of having given the matter some consideration. However, despite that respect, I must admit that I have to ignore his admonition about looking into the past, because when I hear government supporters talking in this debate about the new thrust that this type of legislation brings forward I regard it as being just such a giggle. Really it is time they were honest with themselves. They might remember the 1967 Budget when the then Treasurer, Mr William McMahon, could not find a cent for pensioners. The coffers were empty. He expressed sympathy for the pensioners and yet before that Budget was passed $120m had been found for devaluation relief in the rural areas. There was compensation for the farmers but no increases for pensioners.
At least the Labor Government set a target for the level of social service payments, a reference point which had some relation to purchasing power and comfort. It aimed at 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. It adopted the idea of twice yearly regular adjustments to those pensions. I think that that, in itself, set an example which this Government is carrying on in the present adjustment to the pensions, although it is not following up that sort of adjustment with other allowances. I think that it has been accepted that the previous Government adopted an innovative attitude to pensions. Its job was made more difficult by the neglect that had occurred in previous years. I suppose that one must exempt the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), who did try to get proper adjustments to pensions when he was the responsible Minister but, of course he could not get his way with his colleagues.
I would like to make some comment on the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill. This Bill contains a simple adjustment of the base rates. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr Newman) referred in his second reading speech to the
Independent Inquiry into the Repatriation System, the report of Mr Justice Toose, as did the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) in his contribution to the debate. This inquiry was conducted over a number of years and the report became available only recently. Before you, Mr Deputy Speaker, remind me, I freely admit, as is stated in the report of Mr Justice Toose, that the terms of reference of the inquiry specifically precluded the making of any recommendations in relation to levels and actual rates of pensions and allowances. The Minister brought the matter before the House in his second reading speech and I think it was quite proper that he did so. He said that the Government would consider this matter.
The Toose inquiry was such a wide ranging one that I believe it would be proper for the Parliament to consider its report. It contains innumerable factors that one would want to discuss. The question of entitlements under this legislation probably is one of the most vexed questions that has arisen in the repatriation field over the years but it has not yet been determined. Recently there were Press reports stating that former members of the Services felt that when they appeared before tribunals for their entitlement they were bullied or disadvantaged. I hope that this does not reflect an economy measure imposed by the Government- that restricting entitlements would restrict expenditure. I do not know the validity of those Press reports but I did read them. I am sure the Minister could comment on their validity or otherwise.
It might be as well for the Parliament to have the opportunity to discuss entitlement. The Toose report commented that the basis of entitlement for entry to the system generally was clear but that the manner in which it was expressed in the legislation was unnecessarily complex. That has been known for decades and it is about time the Parliament got down to settle this matter. Even in the report it was stated that there must be a temporal relationship or a causal relationship. There is reference to the balance of probabilities and to phrases such as ‘it is contributed to’ or ‘aggravated by’. All these terms are pretty indefinite. We have to get down to an understanding of those terms in ordinary lay language. We cannot afford the legalistic or medical concepts of those terms. There must be reasonable understanding of the legislation by former members of the forces and by the tribunals who deal with them.
Failing a full debate on the Toose committee report, I want to refer to another matter related to repatriation benefits- the repatriation hospitals. The repatriation hospital at Heidelberg is not in my electorate but is very close to it I have known it for many years. I am disappointed that there are so many vacant wards and unused facilities in that hospital. Even if the Government believes that there are financial stringencies, it ought to consider the principles in the summary of the Toose report where it is suggested that repatriation hospitals be integrated with community health facilities and that to keep them viable they should be there for the benefit of the community as well. In the area in which the Heidelberg Repatriation General Hospital exists there is great strain on local hospitals. To integrate repatriation hospitals into community health services would be a darn sight cheaper than putting up with the problems that exist in those general hospitals.
I refer now to the Social Services Amendment Bill. I was disturbed to hear Government supporters suggest in a recent debate that this sort of benefit should be a privilege, not a right. I do not accept that statement. The people who receive these social services have, in the main, had productive lives. They have paid their taxation. They have played their part in the production of this community. They have not been fortunate enough to follow employment which provided superannuation schemes to which they could have subscribed. I do not know whether they should be termed disadvantaged but many of them never enjoyed that level of income which would enable them to protect themselves in the future.
I believe that 18 per cent of the voters in my electorate are in receipt of these payments. I think that I would probably crack even on the votes of that 1 8 per cent. Anyone who thinks that he can sway this section of the voting public has another think coming. In general these people have become fixed in their ways. We can divorce that cheap effect from the discussion of the benefits which they should receive. An example has been set by using 25 per cent of average weekly earnings as the basis for social services and having this twice yearly adjustment.
I believe that such adjustments should apply to the other allowances as well. One of the things that happens- this is a criticism of State governmentsis that every time there is an increase in the pension, the tenants of Housing Commission houses or flats, welfare housing, in Victoria at any rate, always have their rentals raised and this generally absorbs most of the increase. I think this is something on which a Commonwealth government can have some influence. I think it is a subject on which the Commonwealth should stand up to the States and in housing agreements ensure that these people receiving the limited income from social security payments do not have the increase ripped off them by a State housing authority as soon as they get it.
My colleague the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) spoke about the funeral benefit and pointed out just how small it is in Australia compared with other countries and really how little it is compared with today ‘s costs. I think it is unfortunate that in his second reading speech on this Bill the Minister equated the removal of this benefit with the upgrading of the amount to be received by the widow or widower for 12 weeks following the death of the pensioner spouse. There are so many demands in that 12-week period that it is a bit rough to lay another load on the individual and to suggest that the funeral benefit can be removed just because the ordinary benefit will be upgraded or adjusted.
Finally, I am a bit amused that the Government made a great deal of fuss about dole bludgers. We have just had a debate in the House on the subject. Apart from the guidelines the Government has laid down for eligibility for unemployment benefits it has adjusted the fine from $100 to $500 to try to prevent offences against the Social Services Act. What real effect will that have in the area? Surely the thing to do is to ensure that the Department of Social Security has the proper staffing and set-up that will allow detection of these offences. The Department of Social Security has the same problem, although not quite with the numbers , as the Aus.tralian Taxation Office has in picking up tax evaders. The penalty is no good unless the administrative set-up allows detection of offenders. I do not think this increase in the penalty from $ 100 to $500 will have the slightest deterrent unless administrative procedures are toned up. I know that the House is anxious to get this legislation through. I support the amendment moved by my colleague the honourable member for Oxley.
– I rise to support the Social Services Amendment Bill and the Repatriation Acts Amendment Bill now being debated and to oppose the amendment. The major issue being dealt with in these Bills is the fulfilment of an election promise given by the Government in the election campaign preceding 13 December. That promise was an undertaking to adjust pensions in accordance with the consumer price index. It is public knowledge that the consumer price index over the 6 months ended 31 December 1975 rose by 6.4 per cent. A few weeks ago wage and salary earners, as a consequence of indexation in the wage system, received that increase. This legislation is designed to pass on that increase to the pensioner population.
The point has been well made that although one can draw an analogy between the wage and salary earners and their indexed wage awards and the pension increase, there is a distinction and an important distinction. I want to stress that distinction, the pensioner who is dependent on a pension for his or her income is very susceptible to the pressures of inflation and without the knowledge that his or her income will be increased to reflect the effect of inflation, pensioners live in a situation of serious worry and concern about the future.
The Government, as a significant plank in its election platform, promised to the nation’s pensioners that their pensions would be automatically increased. The commitment was contained in the Government’s social welfare policy. There it was expressed in these terms. It was stated that the Government would protect the benefits from erosion by inflation through automatically adjusting benefit levels every 6 months according to movements in the consumer price index. I am sure the House and the pensioners of the nation were assured today by the manner in which the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) answered a question on this topic because the word used was ‘automatic’- not ‘regular’ but ‘automatic’. I think there is a clear, identifiable distinction of emphasis between a regular adjustment in pensions and an automatic adjustment in pensions. The reference to automatic adjustment was also reflected in the words contained in the Governor-General’s Speech. In that Speech he said:
The Government proposes to introduce to the Parliament amending legislation to increase social service pensions and benefit rates every 6 months in accordance with movements in the Consumer Price Index.
I want to draw to the attention of the House the place in which the reference to ‘every 6 months’ is to be found in that Speech. It was not expressed in these terms. The Governor-General did not say that the Government proposes to introduce every 6 months to the Parliament amending legislation to increase social service pensions, but the Speech indicated that the Government proposes to introduce amending legislation to increase social service benefit rates every 6 months in accordance with the consumer price index. I look forward to the day when the legislation is introduced whereby those increases take place automatically as a consequence of established legislation on the statute book and are not dependent on the introduction every 6 months of legislation to achieve that purpose.
I am sure that the commitment contained in the Governor-General’s Speech, reflected today in the very strong statement given by the Prime Minister, is an indication of the Government’s good faith with the pensioners and the Government’s intention to ensure that there is, as was expressed by the Prime Minister in his policy speech, a desire to ensure that there is a basic level of security below which no one can involuntarily fall. In circumstances in which there is a rapid rate of inflation people constantly fall below their present level as a consequence of the declining value and purchasing power of money. So in order to achieve the fulfilment of that undertaking it is necessary that we look to the automatic increase in the pension in accordance with the consumer price index.
I was impressed with the speech of my colleague the honourable member for Perth (Mr McLean) and would adopt much of the argument that he put before this House. It is one thing to establish a relationship between the pension and some form of index that enables the pensioner income to maintain relative values in a changing economic climate; it is another thing to determine the link, the index, to which the pension payment should be fixed. The Government has chosen quite rightly in the current circumstances the consumer price index. Indeed it is interesting to note that in respect of the sixmonths period that we are now looking at, the pensions are to be increased by 6.4 per cent whereas average weekly earnings- another index often used to compare relatives in incomes from one time to another- on preliminary forecasts has increased in respect of that period by only 6. 1 per cent.
It will be necessary in providing the pensioners with the safety net below which their incomes will not fall by relating it to the consumer price index, to go a further step to ensure that from time to time the relationship in real terms is maintained. We must take account of productivity and increases in national wealth so as to ensure that the pensioner population shares in that benefit. Otherwise pensioners will fall back in real terms in the income that they are entitled to enjoy. We must remember that the pension income does not only support those who have had an opportunity during their working lives to make some private provision for their old age. There are many who due to circumstances beyond their control, have not been able to do this.
The pension is also paid to widows with dependent children whose circumstances are very different. In many instances they have had no opportunity to build up any means by which they can supplement the income that is available from the pension. For that pension on a long term basis to be merely related to the consumer price index will not ensure that those pensioner families, whether they be the aged or the widows with dependent children, share adequately and equitably in the growing wealth of this country.
I was interested to read in the Minister’s second reading speech that he sees as one of the objectives of the review of the income security system as a whole that is now taking place a desire to ensure that the amounts of pensions and benefits are determined and updated on a just and equitable basis. We have taken a significant step in making the announcement that the pension would be automatically increased in accordance with adjustments in the consumer price index. That commitment will be further confirmed when the time arrives for that automatic process to be put into legislative form. But the next and vital step in order to ensure that .there is justice and equity for those dependent upon the pension is to do what the honourable member for Perth so cogently pointed out this evening is necessary to assess the adequacy of the index to which pensions are related.
It may well be that pensions may need to be looked at on a two-level basis. The first is an automatic adjustment in accordance with the consumer price index because of its effect in helping pensioners to adjust their incomes in accordance with the inflationary pressures. The second is a regular review to take account of productivity and increasing levels in average weekly earnings. As the honourable member for Perth pointed out, average weekly earnings as an index may not be adequate. After all, the changing pattern of single income and two-income families in themselves must throw into some doubt the adequacy in the future- in 10, 15 or 20 years time- of merely adjusting pensions against the income of one of a two-income family. Very often this pension is used to support a widow with dependent children or an aged person whose income has to support him or her in a single household.
I turn now to another aspect that arises out of the Minister’s second reading speech. I refer to the examination that is now going on into the income security system. We have heard much in criticism of this legislation from honourable members opposite. One of the greatest criticisms that can be levied can be levied at honourable gentlemen opposite for the fact that they have placed the Australian economy in the inflationary spiral which now exists. As pointed out by the Henderson committee, the people who suffer most as a consequence of inflation are often the poorest in the community. There are many of today’s pensioners who, when they reached retirement some few years ago, through hard savings and hard work had put aside some resources that they thought would be adequate to look after them in their old age. But the value of those savings was reduced by 50 per cent as a consequence of the policies of honourable members opposite. So whereas today we are putting up the pensions to adjust to the consumer price index, we cannot directly arrest the decline in the puchasing power of pensions resulting from the inflation caused by the defeated Labor Government. Pensioners have now become even more dependent upon their pension income.
When we look at systems for income security, I hope that we will study very closely the recommendations of the Henderson committee with regard to the operation of the means test. We must, at the earliest opportunity, move from a means test to an income test- a test which, in the words of the Henderson committee is a ‘rational integration of the pension means test with other income tested benefits and with the income tax’. At the present time, some pensioners who suffer a loss of pension because of the operation of the means test and who pay a tax which was imposed by honourable gentlemen opposite, pay a rate of tax that is higher than the rate of tax paid by those in the community on the highest incomes. It is time that we moved our whole structure of pensions and the operation of an income test to a situation that in the words of the Henderson committee ‘assures all citizens of a logical sequence of income retention rates as private income rises’.
I do not believe that any pensioner should suffer a loss of income at a rate greater than 50 per cent as a consequence of the operation of the means test while that remains or of tax which is payable on pension income as well as other income. I do hope that the committee looking into the income security system will give this whole matter the most careful consideration. As a result of inflation, the several means tests that now operate are having a very severe effect on those people who lose benefits as a consequence of it. For example, the first $400 of a pensioner’s saving is exempt altogether from the operation of the means test. When that $400 level was first introduced, it was a significant sum. Today, as we have heard in this debate, that sum would not even pay for the funeral of a pensioner. So long as we have a means test- I hope it will be abolished as quickly as possible m accordance with the commitment to abolish the means test contained in the speech of the Prime Ministerwe must be prepared to examine the various limits that can affect people as a consequence of the declining value of money. The other means test which gets tighter and tighter as time goes on as a consequence of inflation induced by honourable gentlemen opposite is that which affects those entitled to fringe benefits. I know of many cases of people who have sought to improve their position by taking a job. A young widow in my electorate with 2 dependent children and with a part-time job is faced with the consequence that if she takes the money to which she would be entitled as a consequence of the rise in wage rates she will lose the fringe benefits which in her case are probably worth between $8 and $10 a week. But if she accepts the income to which she is entitled as a consequence of the time she is prepared to work she loses those benefits. These anomalies must be removed, and at the earliest opportunity. I am delighted that the Government is looking into the whole income security system. I hope that it comprehends an examination of the operation of the means test in all these respects.
I now turn very briefly to the question of funeral benefits. There has been much debate at an emotional level in respect of the Government’s decision in this regard. I would urge the Government to set up a review to examine ways and means of giving people the security of knowing that they have made adequate provision for their funerals. This is a topic that worries many aged people. It worries far more than it need worry because, as has been pointed out by the Minister, many more pensioners have adequate resources. But many of them like to be assured that adequate provision has been made for them. I do not believe that there are adequate structures which enable pensioners to provide for themselves through funeral benefit funds. I think this is a matter which should receive the attention of the Department of Social Security. The Department should examine legislation operating in each of the States to ascertain the circumstances in which funeral benefit funds now exist or can be set up and to get some assurance as to their actuarial liability and the standards of their management so that those who wish to provide for their funeral payments can do so in an easy way to enable them to have the assurance that resources will be available to meet those commitments when the time comes for their funeral to be conducted. I do not think the question of $40 is the real nub of the issue. The real problem is the circumstances in which people can provide for that commitment. Finally, I want to turn -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It would be churlish of me not to admit that the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) is a trier and that scattered through his 20-minute speech were a lot of thoughts that were based upon compassion but perhaps with not a great deal of understanding of what this subject is all about. One must say firmly that he is now going to continue to support one of the most reactionary and pettifogging governments with which this country has been inflicted in many a long year. During the course of his operations of course he cannot get out of the intellectual affliction known as looking in the past and living in it- the demonology of Labor Budgets, that Labor created inflation and all the other nonsense that goes into the non-thinking behind it all. We inherited some of the inflation. We possibly created wage and other pressures by all sorts of actions we took. But to say it was Labor created inflation, a government created inflation, of course is to dodge all the issues with which Australia is faced.
Tonight I want to say a few words about the repatriation system. But in view of the remarks made by the honourable member for Sturt I believe it is important that I say something from this side of the House. First of all I refer to the Government’s attitude to funeral benefits. I do not think that anything exemplifies better the approach of the present Government to the whole system of human benefits and social relationships than the decision to remove funeral benefits. The sum involved is minute by any national standard. As the honourable member for Sturt has said, this is a great emotional issue for many people in the community, particularly for people living in areas such as the industrial area that I represent and in which basically a big proportion of the working people are living on around about or below average weekly earnings and a fairly large percentage are pensioners of various sorts. I believe that the removal of the benefit is a demonstration of a total lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the Government.
The Government’s approach to social security matters is also exemplified by the date on which the benefits proposed in this legislation are to commence- 13 May 1976. Honourable members opposite may well say that this has been the traditional practice. But I suppose what shook the community more than anything else was the statement that by removing the funeral benefit we will save X million dollars. This is a very miserable exercise indeed. The honourable member for Sturt, of course, is inclined to think that basically all is well in the social security system. His attitude is that there are many things to be done, of course, but we can gently plod along and do them. He pointed out that we are looking for justice and equity for pensioners. He says that we must examine average weekly earnings as an index for the system. I suppose that what we should be looking at in a community such as this- and I take issue with the honourable member on the use of the words ‘automatic’ and ‘regular’- is the standard of living of a person receiving benefits, be they pensions due to age or invalidity or unemployment benefits. We should be looking at what is a reasonable standard of living in an Australia such as this- a country which is one of the wealthiest in the world and probably in many respects one of the easiest countries to organise.
– Except in Wills.
-No, Wills is a very well organised society. The people there have great political perception and have managed to stand steady no matter what the rest of the continent has done. They are a remarkably gifted political group. In fact I am quite confident that probably the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) would receive the benefit of their judgment too because they are perceptive enough to see past his Queensland background and recognise that basically he is a first class, highly talented person. But that is by the way.
Our social security system is the inherintance of the past. It is a tangle with which we are inflicted. As one compares the benefits in the repatriation system with the benefits in the social security system one sees the anomalies that flow. I will admit, with the honourable member for Sturt and with many other people in the community, that it is time we analysed the whole system and came around to what one would call a reasonable standard of living. I take issue with the honourable member not on the question of semantics but on the question of automaticity- if that is the way it is pronounced- and regularity. It is true that there ought to be automatic adjustments as the economy changes. But really the regularity of such adjustments is more important.
Over the last 3 years there has been a remarkable increase in the standard of living of the average person in Australia. There is no doubt in my mind that the average citizen, up until the last month or two anyhow, has had more money left over after meeting the general demands of living costs than he has ever had before. But there is no doubt in my mind that the transfer of wealth from the profit area to the wage area of the economy produced the great area of social satisfaction and greater quality of life for a large number of Australian people. Of course, in these circumstances it is easy for the pensioned person to fall behind in relativity. As the honourable member for Stun pointed out, there are many families in the community that are receiving 2 incomes and the person relying on benefits is likely to be receiving 1 income. Therefore we have to examine the whole status of the situation. We have to start to make some value judgments about what is the real standard of living in Australia. I look for a community in which the distance between the lowest salary levels and the highest salary levels is less than it is at the moment. That does not mean that the standard of living of people further along the line is reduced but the standard of people lower down the line is raised. I would suggest that we consider not only the amounts but the general principles upon which they are calculated. I wanted to deal tonight -
Motor Vehicle Industry- Australian Government Centre, Parramatta- Russian Naval Units in the Indian Ocean
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 18 February 1976 I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
-My contribution cannot equal that made by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) to the debate on the Social Services Amendment Bill, which I am sure he will continue next week. However, because time will be short for debating the announcement made by the Government about the car industry, I should place on record the history of the automobile industry in Australia over the past two or three years. Further, I think that listening to me for 10 minutes will be much better than listening for 10 minutes to anybody on the other side of the chamber. The announcement by the Government merely reaffirms all the things that the Labor Government said over the past 3 years, including its last decision in regard to the car industry. In spite of all the statements by honourable members opposite, including those of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the decisions of the Labor Government have proved to be correct. The history of the industry which I will put before the House will go into Hansard for everyone to read, and I do not wish to add to that history the Opposition’s views about the recent announcement I understand that we will be doing that on Tuesday of next week. But because of the lack of time it is important that we should look at the development of the approaches of the McMahon Liberal-Country Party Government up to 1972 and the Whitlam Government from the end of 1972 to 1975, and at what has occurred subsequently
Late in 1972, prior to the election of the Labor Government, the Liberal-Country Party Government decided to phase out the high local content plan by the end of 1974 and to introduce in its stead a reduced local content plan. That was at the end of 1972, before the election of the Whitlam Labor Government. In July and August 1973 the Labor Government referred to the Industries Assistance Commission the question of the car industry, with particular emphasis on the fact that at a time of shortage of local products we had a right to imports and consumers had a right of choice. The IAC was asked to look at the question of the smaller car being favoured by the consumer and the regional factors affecting the employment of people in the car industry. In June 1974 the IAC submitted its report, which was received without very much favour by anybody concerned with the car industry- the trade unions the manufacturers and/or the Governmentbecause one of its recommendations was that 15 000 people in the manufacturing sector of the automobile industry work force would have to be retrenched and find work in other industries. That recommendation was regarded at the time by the Government as being unacceptable. In July 1974, following the considered rejection of the IAC report, the Labor Government set up a committee charged with looking at what would be an acceptable policy in Australia for the future of the car industry. The committee was to consult with all affected parties.
In December 1974 the Government announced a new policy which was essentially the same as that announced yesterday by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton). Despite all the flowers and fringes that were put around the announcement by Senator Cotton, the policy announced in December 1974 by the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, was substantially the policy announced yesterday by the Minister in relation to matters such as the question of Japanese entry, Chrysler’s role in South Australia and the engine consortium. It is interesting to note that at that time in 1974 General Motors, in a quite unprecedented step, took advertisements in all the national newspapers welcoming the moves that had been made by the Government.
– I regret having to interrupt the honourable member for Port Adelaide, but unfortunately a ministerial statement has been made on motor vehicle policy and there is a motion before the House which was moved yesterday that the House take note of the paper. I appreciate the fact that it is extremely difficult for the honourable member to remember everything that was said in the statement, but I ask him to avoid as far as possible actually referring to the things that are in the ministerial statement. In the last couple of minutes he has mentioned two or three things that are referred to in the statement.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you to bow to my knowledge of the car industry. What I am saying is in fact what happened in 1973 and 1974. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly), if you were to refer the question to him, would back my judgment on this matter. What I am saying may well be contained in the statement but it happened a long time before that statement was made. Obviously the Opposition is not going to be given the time to go through the history of the car industry. We have been subjected to a great deal of criticism about the way in which the Labor Government implemented its policies in relation to the car industry, but the fact is that the matters announced yesterday had already been implemented by the Labor Government between 1972 and 1975. 1 think it is important to record the historical development of the Labor Party’s policy on the car industry so that people can read in Hansard not only the announcement made by the Minister but also one short statement in the adjournment debate on what actually happened.
Following the negotiations with the Nissan and Toyota companies, which started in January 1975, sales tax was cut in January and February 1975, thus allowing the car manufacturers to get rid of built up stock. The sales tax cuts were to expire in 6 months and the tariffs and quotas were to be reviewed within a year of the report by the Industries Assistance Commission. In October 1975 the IAC submitted a report recommending that quotas remain until the end of 1976 and that high tariffs remain until the end of 1977, with a trigger tariff thereafter. We all know what has occurred since then. All the major aspects of yesterday’s announcement were implemented by the Labor Government. A couple of interesting points should be made about what might occur in the motor industry. Firstly, it was said during all those years that there is no room in Australia for 5 automobile manufacturers. The honourable member for Wakefield, who has become the spokesman for the wool growers and graziers associations, seems to think that the more car manufacturers we have in Australia the more the beef industry will pay to prop up the people working in the car industry and the more the textile industry will be propped up by the tariffs that are placed on some of these industries. What the Labor Government did in trying to meet the needs of the consumer and rationalise the resources that go to the car industry has proved to be correct.
The abolition of quotas is a very interesting subject. Quotas were taken off in Australia for a while and we saw the effect that that had. Japanese or any other manufacturers who could produce their products at a lower price could stand off outside Sydney Heads at a 45 per cent rate of duty and compete very favourably with the Australian industry. It is interesting to note that quotas are to be lifted by the end of this year. I think that the impact of that has yet to be felt by the industry. I know that some people will welcome it, but it may be that the Temporary Assistance Authority will be inundated with applications for assistance to see some manufacturers through their problems. It is a little contradictory that we have reverted to the Labor plan of 85 per cent, when one considers the work that was done between 1972 and 1975 and the consultations that took place between the Government, the trade unions, the manufacturers, the component industry and everybody else. After all this time, after all the talk we have heard about the high rate of unemployment and about ignoring the plight of the industry, all it means is that the only thing this Government has done has been to adopt the Labor plan.
-Last night during the adjournment debate the honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) raised an important matter which is of great concern to me and my electorate. It concerns the proposal for the development in Parramatta of a Government centre. Unfortunately he did not advise me in advance that he intended to raise this matter. If I had not been in the House at the time I probably would not have been aware that the discussion was taking place. In speaking towards the end of the evening, when he could have given me an opportunity to introduce some material in relation to this important question, the honourable member endeavoured to use all of the time available to wander on in his inimitable way dealing with points that he was raising over and over again to ensure that no time was left for me to speak. What was he doing last night? He was beating up some old news that had already been before this House and had already been substantially reported in a local newspaper. In fact, his whole speech was to beat up some news from the Parramatta Press.
Whilst he was alleging last night in this House that a Parramatta project had been abandoned it had already been made clear that the project had only been deferred and that was in a statement made by the Minister for Construction (Mr McLeay). The honourable member for Chifley endeavoured to draw some solace from the fact that the paper circulating in my district was the Parramatta Advertiser and that the proprietor of that newspaper was one Rupert Murdoch. He endeavoured to suggest that because this statement had been made in a paper belonging to Mr Murdoch it somehow showed that this particular matter was worse than it might otherwise be. Quite frankly, the only observation I could draw from the fact that it appeared in the Cumberland newspaper was that it demonstrated quite clearly the lack of bias in the Murdoch papers that has been demonstrated through all the issues they have had to deal with both nationally and locally.
In his treatment of this important matter the honourable member for Chifley brought a great deal of ridicule, I believe, on this important project and did it no benefit whatsoever. I would like to say to the honourable member, nicknamed previously in this House ‘Rent-a-Mouth’, that I do not want him rented out to deal with important matters concerning my electorate. I would rather he stayed in his own place. If his people in Mt Druitt have problems, and no doubt they do, I would be grateful if he would deal with those and not feel obliged to offer any service on this important matter to Parramatta.
This is an important question. Problems in Parramatta cannot be seen in isolation from problems that face the Australian community in general. I am prepared to accept this and the people of Parramatta are prepared to accept this. Quite clearly the honourable member for Chifley wants to see what happens in Parramatta in isolation from what affects the Australian people as a whole and he wants to try to say that this issue ought to be seen in isolation from the important matters that face Australia, such as our economy and employment. I do not want to ignore these questions, nor do the people of Parramatta.
As a result of the policies which the Australian people asked this Government to implement we are going to see a transfer of resources from the public sector of the community to the private sector. This means that in terms of the development of government projects there probably will not be in the immediate foreseeable future- I put that in terms of one or perhaps 2 years- the same number of public servants in the Public Service as there are now. What the honourable member for Chifley is asking us to agree to is the building of a project to accommodate 5000 public servants when there will be some thousands of public servants fewer in the Public Service than we have now. In other words, if we have to consider the number of bottoms on seats in the Public Service there will be numbers of desks at which and numbers of seats on which people could sit that will be vacant. I do not think the people of Parramatta can properly demand- and I am not demanding it for them- that a Government centre be built at great cost to the Australian people which will be empty at completion. That is the important consideration. I am prepared to accept that and I have put that view out to my local paper in the form of a handout I made this week. I am not going to run away from the real issue because bottoms on seats is the real issue when it comes to deciding to construct a building of this nature.
It is important, in my view, that this project ultimately should go ahead. I have had conferences with the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I have been to him. I have spoken to him about it. I have spoken to the responsible Ministers about this and I have put this view. I am confident that they see it and recognise it. My view is that when the Government needs a place of this type clearly Parramatta will be the site to be developed and it will be the place in which the Government will proceed with a development which will meet its needs. I stand behind the statements that I have made all through. This project, in the form in which it was proposed and with the community facilities that were offered and associated with it, ought to go ahead as a whole when the funds are available and when the need is there and I cannot ask for anything more, nor would the people of Parramatta ask for anything more.
I do not have any guilt about this matter. I believe that in every respect I have represented my people as fully and as responsibly as I should. I cannot ignore the important questions that face
Australia as a whole and I cannot, as RentaMouth does, see this matter in isolation from the other issues that face Australia. I cannot simply say we should go ahead with this project and build a building which will be empty at completion, and that is the real issue. Clearly there has been co-operation with me by responsible Ministers. The people that the honourable member for Chifley relied upon for his advice, the Australian Labor Party aldermen on the local council- defeated ALP candidates- do not speak for Parramatta and do not speak for Parramatta in this House. I am the person who will speak for the people of Parramatta. I am their duly elected representative and I know their real concern. I know the reason why I was elected with a majority of 12 000 votes. It was because of the approach that the Government will take in relation to the economy and in relation to employment that it won and will keep on winning, and when it is responsible to build this centre in Parramatta it will be built.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I do. I will be very brief. The honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock) said in effect that I had shown discourtesy because I had dealt with a matter in respect of his electorate without first advising him of my intention to raise it. I want to make it quite clear that this matter is of vital concern to my electorate of Chifley just as it is to all the outer western suburb electorates because it involves employment in those electorates.
– I think the honourable member is now going on to debate the matter.
-There is a thin line in the honourable member’s comment about the importance of this matter in the sense that his comments could be construed to be debating the matter. I think the honourable member has already explained how in his opinion he has been misrepresented. He is now debating the issue, not making a personal explanation.
– I had finished with that point. As I said, I wanted to be very quick about this. The honourable member for Parramatta also said I dealt with an article in a newspaper which circulates in his electorate. I would like the honourable member to know that it also circulates in my electorate. I am sorry I offended him. I am sorry he is so sensitive.
– Order! That is not a personal explanation.
– I desire to raise a matter tonight which I think will balance what has been said in the House in recent weeks, particularly during the Address-in-Reply debate, when approximately 6 members of the coalition Government denounced the presence of components of the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean, which was commonly referred to by members of the Government as the build-up of Soviet submarines in the Indian Ocean. We know that the Government wholeheartedly supports the build-up of the United States leased base at Diego Garcia, which does not have the unanimous approval of the United States Senate. I fear what might eventuate in years to come as a result of the build-up.
Getting back to the Russian presence in the Indian Ocean, I feel that members of the Government who have used this political gimmickry are endeavouring to re-introduce into this Parliament the McCarthy era of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some Australian journalists have expressed in a fairer way the presence of the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean than have our political opponents, including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). In the Australian Financial Review of 29 January last John McIlwraith wrote an article headed ‘Laying some myths about Russians in the Indian Ocean’. The article stated:
There is little possibility of the Indian Ocean becoming a Russian lake’ in the foreseeable future, says Mr Geoffrey Jukes, senior fellow in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University.
The article also stated:
Mr Jukes said that at most times there were no more than four minor units of the Soviet Navy in the Indian Ocean, which covers 28 million square miles.
This was increased to ten or more during rare periods of tension in the area (the Bangladesh war, the 1973 Middle East conflict).
The article also stated:
In fact the Russians had not used the canal . . .
That was referring to the re-opening of the Suez Canal- to move warships since it had been re-opened 6 months ago (although the U.S. and British navies had).
The article continued:
There was strong evidence to suggest that the Black Sea fleet did not have the numbers to contribute many ships to the Indian Ocean.
In the Sydney Morning Herald of 15 February last Michael Richardson wrote an article headed Soviet Navy spends less time in Indian Ocean’. The article stated:
The time spent by Soviet warships in the Indian Ocean dropped last year . . .
That means 1975- to 3000 ship-days from 4600 the year before.
The same article also stated:
The 1974 total is artificially inflated by the inclusion of about 1000 ship-days involving Soviet mine clearing operations in Bangladesh waters.
But even excluding the mine clearing ship-days, the decrease in recorded sailing time by the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean last year is more that 20 per cent.
The real reason for honourable members opposite raising this matter is to justify the United States build-up in the Indian Ocean. These scares are thrown out to condition the taxpayers of the United States and Australia into permitting the expenditure on defence in the Indian Ocean of greater sums than would ordinarily be spent. The Soviet Union is a country whose friendship we enjoy. We exchange diplomatic relations with it. I return to the article in the Australian Financial Review. It stated:
The diplomatic restraints imposed on submarines . . .
That was referring to Soviet submarinesusing the Turkish Straits would provide further problems in building up Indian Ocean strength from the Black Sea.
The article also stated:
In the cycle of naval power the West had scrapped many old vessels in post-war years, just as the Soviet navy was being built up with modern ships.
I think members of the Government have been unfair in their criticism of the build-up by the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean. It is not to their credit, because they have only to go back a few years to remember that allied soldiers were fighting shoulder to shoulder with Russians against the threat of world domination by Nazism. We know that Diego Garcia was used by the British in World War II as a fueling base and that the United States Government entered into a long term agreement as far back as 1966 to take over Diego Garcia and to build up its defence forces there.
The multinationals have been reaping millions of dollars in profits from countries surrounding the Indian Ocean for some years. The build-up of the United States forces is in the interest of United States based multinationals which are causing so much controversy in the world today. The total capital assets of countries bordering the Indian Ocean show that Britain has great interests in the countries of southern Africa. The governments of Iran, Somalia, India, Yemen and Bangladesh have repeatedly denied that they have any Soviet bases on their soil. The Foreign Minister of India recently refuted on the floor of the Indian Parliament an allegation that the Soviet Union had any bases in India or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. The Acting Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations, in a letter to the Secretary-General in May 1974, said:
The position of my Government, which emanates from its strict adherence to the principle of non-alignment opposes the presence of any foreign naval equipment in our area, more emphatically in my country. We categorically reject as false and unfounded the implication that the access to the port of Hodeidah (Yemen) is discriminatory as ‘favouring only the Soviet navy’.
-Who said that?
– The Acting Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations. The point is that most of the countries bordering the Indian Ocean want it turned into a zone of peace. That was the policy of the Whitlam Administration. I believe it was the correct policy, in the interests of peace throughout the world. Even William Colby, head of the United States Central Intelligence Agency is on record as saying:
The movement of Soviet ships in the Indian Ocean, which has been so much publicised by Western countries and which is being used as a pretense for the military expansion of the imperialist powers in the Indian Ocean, has been discounted.
It has been discounted by no less a person than the Chief of the CIA, William Colby. He considered the movement of the Soviet ships in the Indian Ocean as ‘miniscule’ and ‘no real threat to Western interests ‘. I wanted to put to rest these criticisms of the U.S.S.R. and of the presence of the Soviet navy in the Indian Ocean.
– Whose side are you on?
– I am on the side of truth and justice, not hooliganism and barbarity as you are always advocating. I believe that Government members should take a more realistic and truthful view of. the presence of Soviet ships in the Indian Ocean and give away this war-mongering for which they have known for many years.
– I wish to make it very clear that the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr Ruddock), as 1 said previously, seemed to be very upset -
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order! Is the honourable member claiming again to have been misrepresented?
-He cannot speak twice in this debate.
– I was making a personal explanation previously. I made the point very clear. The honourable member for Parramatta still has not given an undertaking that the Australian Government Centre will proceed. He still says that a decision on it has been deferred. Contrary to what he said, the Australian people, particularly those in Parramatta and the western suburbs of Sydney, will not accept that decision.
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister, representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
(as at 29.2.76)
The figures are recorded as above. A split up of monthly figures is not made progressively.
asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 March 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760331_reps_30_hor98/>.